Spon End is one of the oldest areas in Coventry. In the 12th century it was known as ‘Sponn’ or ‘Spanne’, a wooded approach to the west of the city. It was an independent community, with its own common, fields, wood, mill and waste. Spon End was outside of the City Wall. It was the main approach to the city from Shrewsbury and Chester – important centres at that time. People entered the city through Spon Gate which was next to St John the Baptist Church, which is still standing and is a much loved and used Parish Church. The Spon Gate stood from circa 1391 to 1771. This was approached by a causeway (now Spon Street) which led to a packhorse bridge, in existence in the late 13th century.
There was a ford for wheeled vehicles, but travellers often had to wait for hours until the River Sherbourne had subsided. The river was much more substantial in those days and flooded on a regular basis. The present Spon Bridge was constructed in 1771 following a disastrous flood. The area remained prone to flooding until a major flood relief scheme was completed in 1972.
By 1410, Spon End stretched from St John’s Church to the junction of what isnow Allesley Old Road and Hearsall Lane, the site of the leper hospital in Chapelfields, which survived until about 1800. One of the distinctive landmarks of Spon End is the Coventry – Nuneaton railway that runs through Spon End over a quarter-mile-long arched railway viaduct which was built in 1848. However disaster struck in 1857, when 23 of the 28 sandstone arches collapsed overnight. Fortunately no one was injured because the collapsed was in the early hours of the morning and no people were in the street and no train travelling over the bridge. The line was not reopened until 1860 when the replacement arches were constructed of blue brick. The rest of the viaduct is still the original Warwickshire sandstone.
Records going back to the 14th and 15th centuries reflect the trades that took advantage of the River Sherbourne in Spon End – dyers, tanners,whittawers and carriers. Several weavers’ topshops survive in old Spon End Broomfield Place. In Upper Spon Street there is a weavers cottage that has been fully restored and this heritage building is open to the public from time to time.
By the 19th century the watch making trade was the main source of work. The 1851 census shows the area was given over almost entirely to watch making and associated trades. Until the development of Chapelfields, Spon End was the centre of the Coventry watch making industry.
During the 18th and 19th centuries the land to the north and south of SponStreet was rapidly developed to house a rapidly expanding population. Spon End was the only area outside the city wall where development had been permitted in the 18th and early 19th Centuries. The area to the south of Spon Street became a working class area of terraced streets, back to back housing and courts with small dwellings. To the north of Spon Street was an area of houses developed for the professional classes. Development continued along Holyhead Road and Coundon Road.
An increasing population and an expansion of industry needed a good water supply as well as housing. In 1844 by the Coventry Water Act was passed, which authorised the construction of a waterworks and the sinking of a deep artesian well in Doe Bank Lane. The works was completed in 1847 at a cost of £29,000 and later expanded to two large pumping houses with tall chimneys visible from all over the area. The works closed in the 1970’s and the chimneys have gone but the well is still there and is still supplying water. The well house can be seen in Cumbria Close. The original waterworks manager’s house is still at the end of Doe Bank Lane with the original sandstone wall. The house is now privately owned.
Many famous industrial names are associated with Spon End. Among themwere Renold Chain and Rotherham’s. J. K. Starley, inventor of the modern safety cycle and founder of Rover, lived in Gloucester Street. The Rudge-Whitworth works (now the site of the SkyDome complex) employed 1,800people and in its time was the largest cycle works in the world (later takenover by GEC and demolished in 1992). As well as the cycle, Coventry is the birthplace of the British production motor car. Alvis cars were firstproduced at their works behind Northumberland Road, which took a direct hitby a bomb in 1941 and never reopened on this site. There is also evidence of motor manufacturing in Barras Lane and Spon Street.
On the whole, the area escaped major destruction during World War II, particularly the heavy bombing raids of 1940 and 1941. There was somebomb damage to the Alvis works, Spon Street School, St Osburg’s Church(the oldest Roman Catholic church in Coventry) and private houses, but not on the scale seen in other parts of Coventry.
Ironically, after the war in the 1950s and ’60s the area saw extensive demolition and redevelopment. Virtually all of the medieval and Victorian buildings to the south of Upper Spon Street/Spon End, and some to the north, were demolished and replaced by concrete social housing. A small portion of Spon Street within the ring road was preserved and restored. The larger part of Spon Street/End outside the ring road was left cut off from the city centre by the ring road. Because of its history, the historic buildings that have survived are worth protecting.
Spon Enders are very proud of the area and it is interesting that although some of the buildings from the 60’s, 70’s and later have been victims of some minor vandalism, the older heritage buildings are not vandalised even though they are unprotected.
This bicycle is rather nondescript and of no particular interest in itself. Its name and badge, however, fascinated me …as its name is Starley.
Dingley Bros was established by Philip Dingley in Coventry in 1890, and they later marketed their top-of-the-range bicycle as ‘The Starley.’
The original Starley Bros, founded in Coventry in 1870, comprised James Starley and his sons James, John and William. Starley Bros, makers of The Psycho, was sold in 1896 although the company continued to use the name (alongside that of Westwood Mfg Co, as you can see in the advert further down the page).
Starley & Sutton was formed by John Kemp Starley in 1878. James Starley Snr (of Starley Bros) was his uncle. John Kemp Starley designed and introduced the first Rover safety bicycle in 1885. The name of the firm was changed to J. K. Starley & Co in 1888, and it became the Rover Cycle Co in 1896.
Although neither of the above companies still made bicycles under the Starley name after WW1, there would still have been Starley bicycles around that had been made by them. I would have thought that Dingley Bros’ Starley might have been confused with the previous companies. So why did they use the name Starley and what was their connection – if any – with Starley or The Rover Cycle Co?
I spent some time researching the connection and, eventually, I found it!
I first wondered if they purchased the defunct company in order to use the name. But I could find no record of this.
Did they just use the Starley name unofficially to help them sell their bicycles? I have never previously come across a company using a previous company’s name or badge in the same country without the rights to do so.
There is a lot of confusion about the history of Rover bicycles, with contradictory information having been published in the last 40 years. Rover bicycles were certainly manufactured for a time – believed to be during and after WW1 – by another company. However, nobody knows the identity of the third-party manufacturer, so that line of research came to a dead end.
Were their factories connected? They were certainly close to each other, Dingley Bros’ factory at Viaduct Works in Spon St being only a four minute walk from Rover’s Meteor Works in Garfield Rd (subsequently renamed Rover Rd).
A year after buying the bicycle that started me on the path to unravelling the mystery, I found a 1930 Dingley Brothers cycle catalogue (reproduced here). I felt there was some sort of legitimate connection between the two companies, because, to add to the mystery, the 1930 Dingley Bros catalogue has a dedication to James Starley on its rear cover and, on the front cover, is the following statement:
‘SUCCESSORS TO STARLEY & CO’
…so I went back over my previous research, and eventually thought further about the location of Starley’s factory rather than Rover’s factory. Starley Cycles adverts (example below) showed an address at St. John’s Works in Coventry. Although I could find no elaboration on this address, a search for St. Johns in Coventry revealed the following: ‘The Collegiate and Parish Church of St John the Baptist is located in the City Centre of Coventry in the Medieval area of Spon St.’
My conclusion is therefore that the Starley Cycle Co St. John’s Works factory was located in Spon St. and Dingley Bros‘ Viaduct Works factory was in the same street. Either the factories were in the same location, in close proximity, or connected? Or Dingley Bros bought the remains of the Starley Cycle Co factory equipment when the latter closed. And that is why Dingley Bros considered themselves ‘successors to Starley & Co.’
1918 Starley Regal (Dingley Brothers)
DINGLEY BROTHERS CYCLES
Viaduct Works, 74 Spon St, Coventry
The site of the factory was apparently a purpose-built watch-makers’ house, at 74 Hearsall Lane, Errington, Coventry. This area was a centre for watchmaking, and I assume that as the watch trade declined and the cycle trade started to prove viable, many workers migrated to the new trade.
The motorcycle sold by A.C Davidson, 1902-1904, shares the same address: Viaduct Works, Coventry.
1930 DINGLEY BROS CATALOGUE
Info on Spon End thanks to – http://www.coventrysociety.org.uk/coventry-neighbourhoods/spon-end.html