A chilly visit to Polesworth, in northern Warwickshire. This includes a bit of local history, some old buildings, shops, and some canal history, and revisiting a court case.
Winter has arrived. Frosty, misty mornings, chilly days. But the stove is going nicely and the cabin is cosy enough. People often ask about the boat getting cold in winter. Well it does, but, in truth, it is easier to keep warm than cool: sometimes overdoing it with firewood and coal can get the boat so warm that shorts and t-shirt can seem over dressed!
Polesworth is a good stopping off point for boaters: there are some good shops and historical buildings only a few minutes’ walk away. The moorings (north of bridge 54 – there are others nearby) have rings and a wooden strake to avoid grating against the stone edging. TV is not great, but broadband is pretty good.
A short walk around the village:
This stroll took only about 45 minutes, stopping here and there. I didn’t go into the abbey, partly because it was getting a bit late (it closes at 3 pm) and I wanted to get back to the boat.
The shops include Spar, Premier, butcher, greengrocer, hardware (where you can get kindling and logs), pharmacy, and various others, and there are a few pubs.
The parish church is dedicated to Saint Editha, who was the daughter of St Modwena and Egbert, king of Mercia. The abbey was founded in Egbert’s reign, in AD 827, and Editha was among the first nuns.
More about the abbey here:
Who was St Editha? Well, it something of a mystery.
Coal has been mined in Polesworth at least since the time of the Abbey. By the 17th Century the industry was firmly established, with many small pits being worked in and around the village. The extension of the Coventry Canal through Polesworth in 1790 and the opening of the Trent Valley Railway by 1847 encouraged a steady growth in coal production.
By 1900. work had become concentrated in just three sites: Pooley Hall (;eft), Birchmoor and Birch Coppice collieries. Now the location of the Pooley Fields Heritage Centre, the Pooley Hall site had a long history of coal production, with the first deep shaft being sunk there in 1848. Pooley Hall Colliery (established in 1897) had one of the first pit head baths and, in the 1920s, provided electricity for Polesworth, Tamworth and Birmingham.
IN 1951, Pooley Hall Colliery merged with nearby Amington and Tamworth Colliereis to form North Warwick Colliery, under which name it traded until its closure in 1965. Mining carried on in the area until 1987, when Birch Coppice finally closed.
Boat building and repair of narrow boats was carried out at Sephton’s Yard (right), alongside the canal in Grendon Road, on the site now occupied by Lime Kilns Close. The yard, later acquired by Lees and Atkins, was well known for the quality of its work and its “castles and roses” paintwork.
[Author’s note: I have encountered Sephton before, in The hapless boatman, under “ALLEGED PERJURY BY A PLAINTIFF”, in which he prosecuted a George Henry Dennis for defaulting on a contract to purchase a canal boat. From the 1881 Census, it appears this Frederick Sephton, boatbuilder of Polesworth, was born about 1847 Hawkesbury, Warwickshire, where the Coventry and Oxford Canals meet. His wife was Ann Pemberton, whom he married at Polesworth on 14 September 1893. At that time Frederick’s father was Francis Sephton (deceased), also a boat builder.]
Both steam and water mills were once used in Polesworth. Of the water mill (shown left) only the former millstream, on the eastern side of the river bridge can now be seen. The steam mill, located next to the canal in Market Street, was partially converted into a cinema in 1912, before becoming a soft drinks factory in 1956. The whole site was eventually redeveloped for housing.
Basket weaving was based at the Nunnery Gateway, in High Street, until the 20th Century. Willows used in the process were gathered from the River Anker. The illustration on the left shows willow canes, to be used in making baskets, being dried in a room above the Nunnery Gatehouse, located in High Street. The canes were gathered from trees growing beside he River Anker. The room, itself, was used for this purpose from the 19th Century onwards.
700 Years of Monastic Life
Egbert, King of Mercia , founded Polesworth Abbey in 827. His daughter became Saint Editha and she was among the first nuns here. This Abbey served Polesworth for 700 years, with a continuous history from Saxon times to the Dissolution in 1539. After the Norman Conquest the nuns built this Gatehouse. It provides a secure entrance and a place for the Porter, as we would expect. Unusually, this Gatehouse also provides high-quality accommodation, meant to attract wealthy guests to the Abbey. The nuns left in 1539. The last Abbess, Alice Fitzherbert, was forced to leave by Henry VIII’s Act of Dissolution, and the Gatehouse, built in 1343, was left behind.
The Dungeon Entry
After the Dissolution, the main Abbey buildings were replace by an Elizabethan house called Polesworth Hall. By then the Gatehouse had been extended on the west side. In 1583 the wealthy Goodere family remodelled this part of the Gatehouse, building the ‘storied porch’ you see at the rear, and new accommodation – no longer visible externally – in the roof space. It seems likely that the Gatehouse then became a school building. Much later the ground floor of storied porch became the village ‘lockup’. Local people call the Gatehouse the ‘Dungeon Entry’.
People in Polesworth say that William Shakespeare was educated here, at the School established by the Goodere’s in 1583. Certainly the Elizabethan poet Michael Drayton was educated here, and Inigo Jones, John Donne, Ben Johnson and the historian Raphael Hollynshead met at Polesworth Hall and formed the influential ‘Polesworth Circle’.
Poems connected with Polesworth, old and new, can be seen around the village – follow the ‘Poetry Trail’.
Polesworth in the 1920s