History of Whitley
Whitley is a neighbourhood of Coventry, within Cheylsmore Ward and situated about 1 ½ miles south east of the city centre on London Road.
The name is said to mean “white wood clearing” and it was first mentioned in King Stephen’s time when the chapel, with several others, was granted by the Earl of Chester to Coventry Priory. Among the manor’s many different owners, the best known families were the Wheelers and the Hoods (viscounts of the naval family) who were buried in St. Michael’s Church, Coventry.
In the 17th century the only known buildings were a chapel, a mill and a manor house. The chapel has long since disappeared, but the mill lasted into the modern era and was demolished in 1955. The manor house became Whitley Hall, later renamed as Whitley Abbey. It was a good sized mansion of many architectural styles, and King Charles I is said to have stayed there while conducting military operations against Coventry. It was renamed Whitley Abbey in 1808 after some alterations, but it had no connection with any religious institutions. Quarries in the ground supplied stone for a number of churches in the city. A fire in 1874 destroyed the older west end, and the building was used to house Belgian refuges in World War I before it fell into decay. Coventry Corporation acquired the property and finally demolished it in 1953,and built Whitley Abbey Comprehensive School in its place in 1955.
Whitley Common was the scene of public executions until 1831. Mary Ann Higgins was the last person to be hanged there in that year. Coventry Golf Club had a course on part of the common from 1887 to 1912, and after 1927 the open space became a recreation ground. Rubble and unexploded bombs were dumped there during the last war, while the neighbouring airfield produced the famous Whitley bombers. Butlin’s playing fields were opened by the Duke of Edinburgh in 1953, and Coventry Zoo was established in 1966. Many people will remember the large Zulu that dominated the entrance. The zoo closed in 1980.
Whitley Isolation Hospital has been in use since 1934, but on the whole the area is residential, with a good deal of between the wars housing development and some modern building in the Abbey Road region.
An interesting curiosity about Whitley is that it must be the only suburb of Coventry, which does not have a street in it. It has roads, avenues, closes, ways, lanes, a drive, a grove, a village and a corner (work that lot out!) but not a single street. For several years, in the twenties, there were even residences in Whitley known as Railway Carriage Bungalows, numbers 1 to 8. These were at Whitley Wharf, adjacent to London Road railway bridge, and they are believed to have been old London and North Western Railway carriages converted to living accommodation for railwaymen.