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WEEKEND: TIME TUNNEL: Cherished building has fallen on hard times; ... A JOURNEY INTO OUR RICH HERITAGE.

Byline: David McGrory

A BEAUTIFUL piece of Coventry's heritage is now under threat as DAVID McGRORY reports in this week's Time Tunnel.

A LONG-CHERISHED listed building in Keresley - Akon House - has fallen victim to the mindless elements in our society.

The building, which has stood empty for some time, is thought to date from the 15th century, although other sources say the 17th century.

Presently it stands with boards ripped from the windows, leaded glass smashed and graffiti painted across its ancient brick and timbered walls.

Now more than ever such buildings should be protected. That said, for the good citizens of Coventry who do appreciate their heritage, let us look at the history of this building and hope for better days.

It is recorded that the great Mercian warlord Ranulf Gernon, Earl of Chester, gave a chapel in Keresley and many others around the city to Coventry Priory.

The lawned area in front of Akon House has turned up stones which are thought to be all that remains of this ancient lost Keresley chapel.

Tradition has it that the priest who served the chapel lived in a house on the site of Akon House in Sandpits Lane. It has also been suggested that the central fireplace of the present building might have some connection with this ancient priest's house.

Documents suggest the building was subdivided into three cottages in the middle of the 15th century. Up to about 1800 they appear to have been thatched and looking something like Anne Hathaway's Cottage at Shottery.

Apparently around this time, the present Beechwood hotel situated nearby, was rebuilt. The Keresley Tithe Award map of 1843 shows the Beechwood as a much smaller building with outbuildings around a courtyard, in the occupancy of Richard Warner.

Akon House, meanwhile, was basically the same as now - divided into cottages and belonging to Edward Phillips. There was also a fourth home, outbuildings, gardens and croft, occupied by Charles Green and others.

Much of this group of buildings gradually deteriorated during the 20th century until 1967 when they were given to Alfred Harris, of Penny Park, a great lover of Keresley and its past, who restored them with financial aid from Coventry City Council.

Mrs I Wells, in a Keresley and Coundon Women's Institute book called Just Amongst Ourselves, published in 1988, recalled Akon House during the war.

She said: "In Akon House lived Mr and Mrs Sanders. During the last war an army camp was hurriedly built on the opposite side of the lane and occupied by American forces.

"They were black and the Keresley people, knowing nothing of racism, affectionately called them the 'chocolate soldiers' and took them into their hearts and into their homes."

In this same excellent local book we are informed that Akon House is "one of the oldest and most attractive buildings in our area ... a charming example of domestic architecture".

We are also informed that Akon House was once a farmhouse, but one of the Sanders' sons died fighting in the First World War, affecting Mrs Sanders so much that she persuaded her husband to sell all his cows and stop farming.

It had previously been a successful dairy farm producing fresh local "acorn" butter, which was distributed from a wagon, which proudly bore the Sanders name and boasted the freshness of its products.

Mr Sanders is remembered by many for riding around the lanes of Keresley on his rusty bike. He was public spirited, converting unused outbuildings into a billiard room and laying out two tennis courts next to Akon House for the public to use.

In Just Amongst Ourselves, Mrs Sykes, the daughter of Mr Sanders's surviving son, recalled "many happy hours spent playing around the farm, with its stable and cowpens, since demolished, and swinging in the 200-year-old copper beech. This huge beautiful tree (from which the Beechwood takes its name) and the huge wych elm on the other side of the house were alas removed in recent times". This would have been in the 70s or early 80s.

One tale about the ancient wych elm was recalled in 1971 by Alfred Harris, who said: "At one of the cottages, a very tame parrot used to sit well up in the elm tree to watch the people go by.

"A Cockney kid evacuated from London noticed this pretty bird sitting quite still. 'I'll have that', he thought and started to climb the tree, but when he approached the bird it called out 'whatyer want, whatyer want!'

"The boy, almost falling from the tree with surprise, replied: 'Very sorry sir, I thought you were a bird'."

What's in a name? I BELIEVE Akon House takes its name from the Anglo-Saxon "ac-corn" meaning the oak corn, the fruit of the oak, the acorn. This name was understood by the Sanders who called their butter "acorn" butter after the farm. By 1931 the farm was known as Cottage Farm.

CAPTION(S):

CHANGING FORTUNES: Akon House (above) before the First World War and (inset) in its forlorn, graffiti-strewn condition today
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:May 3, 2003
Words:840
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