The suburb of Coundon started to develop in the 19th century as a residential area for wealthy city businessmen and the retired. It remained a scattered agricultural district dotted with fine gentlemen’s houses until after the First World War; then the city burst upon it.
The first corporation housing estate was built on land owned by the Sir Thomas White Charity in the 1920s and another was completed in the Manor House Farm area in 1931. Most of the parish was then incorporated into the city. Further development followed before and after the Second World War, including the building of schools and churches and the laying of recreation grounds. Period houses were converted into schools and public institutions. Today’s Coundon Court School in North Brook Road grew from the family home of George Singer, founder of the Singer Motor Company and a former mayor of Coventry and built on the site of a medieval monastery.
Coundon’s roots are planted deep in history. Some believe its name is Anglo-Saxon; others that it is of Celtic origin and it was one of the few Coventry villages mentioned in the Domesday survey of 1086.
Lower Coundon, previously the site of Alvis Motors and now the Alvis Retail Park, was the scene of some interest in 1926 when the 80,000-year-old skull of a hippopotamus was unearthed, bearing evidence that it had died there and not been swept there by glacial movement.
There was more excitement in the 1990s when a piece of a Celtic horse bridle bit, dating from the 1st century BC to the early 1st century AD, was found in Coundon Green, indicating the passage of a Celtic chariot through the area.
Coundon’s oldest structure is St Catherine’s Well in Beaumont Crescent, off Holyhead Road, which dates back to the early 1400s.
Its first factory, the Alvis engineering works, was set up by by T.G. John on the Holyhead Road by the railway bridge in 1919. A larger Alvis factory followed nearby in 1935 where car production continued until the 1967. Before, during and after the war, the company also made armoured vehicles and aero engines. The factory was demolished in 1990, but the name lives on in the Alvis Retail Park which now occupies the site.
From 1921 until 2004, Coundon was also home to Coventry R.F.C. The last match was played at the Coundon Road ground on 17 April 2004 – a win for Coventry against Manchester – and the stand was demolished later that year – to make way for more housing. Although the ground was known as Coundon Road, the stadium was actually on Barkers Butts Lane, opposite the Coundon Pub.
Coundon’s own picture palace on Moseley Avenue was two years old when talkies arrived in 1930. Owner Charlie Orr had had the two tier cinema designed by Coventry architects T.R.J.Meakin and Son with seating for 756 in the stalls and 275 in the circle and only silent films were shown at first. Musical accompaniment was provided by a small orchestra from Orr’s La Scala cinema – a pianist and two violins, with two double bass, trumpet, trombone and drums. Modernisation was carried out in 1936 when a ballroom was added to the complex with a row of shops at pavement level. It’s believed that a Compton three manual organ with Hawaiian guitar was installed at this time and was played by Leslie James until he moved to the Savoy cinema in Radford Road.
The Rialto became part of the Odeon circuit in 1939 when Orr sold the cinema as part of a five cinema package to Oscar Deutch. But the ballroom remained the ownership of Orr. The cinema itself was blitzed in November 1940, but ironically the ballroom survived and later became the Rialto Bingo Club. After the death of Orr in 1978 it was sold to Granada who continued the bingo enterprise.
(The source for most of this page was an article in the Coventry Evening Telegraph. Information about the Rialto was provided by the late Gil Robottom).