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time tunnel: Pungent past of Cow Lane.


DAVID McGRORY reveals the strange origins of a famous Coventry landmark TODAY we journey down the evocatively named Cow Lane, as smelly a place as you could find in Victorian Coventry.

Our two pictures of 1936 give a flavour of the grimness of this city centre thoroughfare. In earlier years it was an affront to the nostrils as well as the eyes.

No messing about in those days with fancy names. It was called Cow Lane because it was regularly used by cows to gain access into the Great Park for grazing.

It was also used to bring cattle into the city to be slaughtered by the numerous butchers here. Coventry wouldn't have its first official abattoir until 1932.

Cow Lane was not the place to linger for man nor cow. Things did however improve in the 20th century with improved sanitation.

During the l9th century Cow Lane would often be clogged up with cattle as they were driven down into Little Park Street or from Cheylesmore.

The lane was described in 1870 as being rather smelly and in the poorer part of town. Here stood Baker, Billing and Crow's Charity School, described as light and cheerful, but with "a stinking stone trough for urinals; two sets of privies, with two seats each; and a great ash (sewerage) pit at the back of them."

This pit was also used by other properties, so that "the air is tainted ... not only of the school ... but the whole neighbourhood."

Most properties along the lane added to the smell with privies reported as being built close to the main lane.

In October 1886, as a herd was being driven from Little Park Street to Cow Lane, a child opening and closing an umbrella panicked the two leading cows.

One cow burst into the home of partially-sighted Phoebe Hoggins, aged 70, and gored her in the stomach.

As the animal thrashed about, the floor collapsed trapping the beast and ending the attack, but despite this Phoebe died six weeks later.

Cows were still driven down Cow Lane up until the First World War.

The entrance of the lane is now Salt Lane (off Greyfriars Lane) and continues along the line of a footpath behind the telephone exchange.

Shopping delights in store for 1936 MODERN-DAY central Coventry is criticised because it lacks smaller, specialist shops.

The opposite was true in the 1930s when the city was crying out for a large department store.

In 1936 when the first Owen Owen store was being built Coventry had an estimated population of 306,000.

Its most prestigious shops at the time were the Co-op store at the bottom of Smithford Street and the gas showrooms in Corporation Street which boasted "robot-controlled" cookers, water heaters, clothes dryers and radiators.

Owens, as it came to be known locally, was built over the site of the old Cross Cheaping and Little Butcher Row.

The basement was entered from Palmer Lane (behind the Burges) and is still used by Owens successor Allders.

It was once part of an ancient quarry, which was excavated and extended.

When the first Owens eventually opened in September 1937 it boasted that it was: "built by request ... a store where all shopping could be done under one roof".

It was said that now there was no need to go to other towns for here were all the conveniences of a "modern" store.

The store was just that with lifts and escalators, a restaurant and luncheonette for light snacks.

Apart from selling a plethora of goods it also had hairdressing salons, a furniture removals department and, most surprising of all, a lending library.

Coventry's most modern department store didn't however have long to serve the good people of Coventry just three years later it was destroyed by incendiary bombs and stood a burnt-out shell.

The building was demolished in the middle of 1943 and thereafter Owens traded on a much more reduced scale in parts of other buildings such as the old Timothy Whites building (present Flying Standard) and part of the lower building in Trinity Street.

The new store (now Allders) was opened in Broadgate on October 1, 1954 and modern shopping once again returned.

If you have memories or photographs of the old Owens building or Cow Lane or anything other recollections of old Coventry and Warwickshire please write to David McGrory at the Features Department, Coventry Evening Telegraph.

did you know? IN 1785 it was claimed that a woman named Neale died in Foleshill, Coventry at the unbelievable age of 123.

GREYFRIARS GREEN was once nicknamed Graffery Muckhill due to the fact that the Corporation used it as a dumping ground for the accumulation of horse droppings in the city. Still it was good for the roses.

OAKS were once so common in Warwickshire that they were called Warwickshire weeds.

IN Fleet Street once stood the warehouse of Phinehas Ayton purveyor of among other things the "Shaking Quaker's Herbal Pill" a cure-all created by the founder of the Quakers Ann Lee.

what's in a name? LYDGATE ROAD, COVENTRY. Lydgate Road in Radford takes its name from Lideat Lane, pronounced 'Lid- e-at' the latter part of the word derived from 'yate' or 'gata,' a roadway that was recorded in the 16th century as a small lane, which ran across the common joining the Radford and Foleshill Roads.


MODERN SHOPPING: The new Owen Owen store under construction in Cross Cheaping in 1936. The road on the left by the Talbot Inn is West Orchard which still partly follows its old course and (inset) a drawing of the completed store in 1937; SMELLY THOROUGHFARE: Cow Lane from Little Park Street, showing Bushell's the printer on the left and the spire of Christchurch on the right and (left) further down the curve of the lane before it joins on to Cheylesmore/Greyfriars Lane.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Jan 19, 2002
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