TIME TUNNEL: How Abe left us an insight into the past; DAVID McGRORY LOOKS AT THE NOTES OF ABE JEPHCOTT...
I WAS recently privileged to be given the long-term keep of a box of notes belonging to the late lamented Coventry artisan and historian Abe Jephcott, who died in 1971.
Abe is well remembered for his writings on local history and his Godiva Scroll and Dame Ellen Terry scroll.
He was also a founder member of the Coventrians formed to promote Coventry and its history. Abe was also a builder and did most of the rebuilding of Ford's Hospital after the war.
Abe was obsessed with old Coventry and spent a good deal of his free time talking about the city's past to others and, of course, making notes.
These handwritten rough notes on scraps of paper and in old insurance books, are often incomplete, but are still of great interest as he records many things we have long since forgotten.
In one he writes: "Quite a few of us remember the days when Victoria was Queen and later when Edward came to the throne. Those days were perhaps the golden fire of our youth as we picture them in our minds today, but we still have vivid memories of the past."
In another note he recalls a now lost section of the city wall saying, "The City Wall at Parkside looked very high to us when we were lads. Doorways had from time to time been cut through it to form the back entrances to some of the houses in Dead Lane (St John's Street)."
Abe writes of a mythical tunnel which was supposed to have run from Coventry Priory to Kenilworth Castle and suggests that it was in fact Simon de Montfort who created a sort of tunnel in 1244 by cutting a road through the forest between the two places. There is a similar tale connected with a tunnel at Kenilworth Castle.
Abe writes: "There was another tunnel near Hill Top leading St Michael's way, this was bricked up many years ago. There were a few creepy ghost stories about the haunted tunnel."
Talking of the priory, Abe recalls that on the site of the central tower an earlier dig took place. "A private dig recently carried out near the site of the tower has revealed a piece of carved stone in the form of a hand. This interesting relic is in the safe custody of Mrs Rosemary Helmsley, a learned scholar and Coventry antiquarian." I have never come across Rosemary and wonder what happened to her and the hand relic.
Another item found led to the design of a school badge as Abe records: "Re. Badge on Stoke Park School girls' blazers. The design was taken from a tile found on the Harefield Estate." This refers to the discovery of the medieval tile kilns on the estate in 1911.
These kilns supplied decorative encaustic tiles to all the great medieval buildings in the area and of course the school badge.
Other scraps tell of Primrose Hill: "On the site of Suttons Butchers shop opposite Catchem's Corner [by Swanswell] an effigy of a character [called] Carrotty Pole was buried more than 100 years ago." Who or what Carrotty was sadly Abe hasn't recorded, but the only other effigies found on buildings in the city in the 19th century tended to be medieval.
Another figure he mentions was medieval and existed in Cross Cheaping until 1936 - The Little old Man of Coventry. This was a quaint figure of a man carved from solid oak. It was complete as a figure about 3ft high, yet part of an ancient upright king post on the front of Franks opticians next to Matterson's in Cross Cheaping.
On the other side of another folio-sized page from a Victorian/Edwardian policy book with the words, "Renewals falling due to midsummer quarter" are lots of short notes including, "One report stated that a small marble figure, a pavement and a Roman coin of Claudius Caesar were unearthed from the old Cross Cheaping in 1768."
Whether this is a mixed-up report of the 18th-century finds in Broadgate and Bishop Street or another totally separate find I do not know.
Finally Abe records a touch of derring do: "George Smailes, a well-known local character put his head in the lion's mouth at Bostock and Wombell's Menagerie on Pool Meadow. George was licensee of the Lady Godiva Vaults, Smithford Street at that time, about 1886."
Hope you enjoyed it or as Abe put it: "Cheerio! All the best, yours sincerely, Abe."
Special thanks to Abe's daughters Sonia and Audrey for giving me Abe's papers.
I am writing a book called Haunted Coventry. If you know of any local ghost stories, write them down and send them to David McGrory, Time Tunnel
HISTORIAN: Abe Jephcott with the scroll he made out of relics from the Coventry Blitz and (left) some of his notes