A few facts about Southam’s past

I am writing a few facts about Southam’s past which you may or may not know.

Granted the Manor of Southam by Earl Leofwine of Mercia, the father of Leofic, husband of Lady Godiva, the Prior of Coventry built a church on the site of the present St. James church. We do not know the dedication of this church although an early document attributes it to St. Nicholas, but that may have been confused with the church at Ufton. However early in the 1260’s it was recorded that the King’s Justices had occasion to judge some inhabitants of our town with some lads from Ladbroke. Emerging from Mass one Sunday morning our local men were confronted by some inhabitants from Ladbroke armed with such weapons as swords, flails and battleaxes, naturally they defended themselves against this attack, hence the later involvement with the King’s Justices.

Thanks to the Prior of Coventry obtaining charters from the King the small town flourished with its weekly and monthly markets, fairs also until the Reformation. With the dissolution of the Catholic Church in England by Henry VIII the old Manor House of Southam was given to Sir Edmund Knightly in 1542. Upon his death in that same year it was then divided between his five nieces. One of these ladies married Sir Clement Throckmorton, a wealthy landowner in the district and secondly Sir Thomas Porter the later seemed, to have had most of the old house, the hall, parlour, upper chamber, one closet and a court between it and what is now Park Lane. We do not know the fate of this early Manor.

A new Manor House was built on Market Hill, now partly occupied by Southam Pharmacy; this became famous as the accommodation of Charles I before the battle of Edgehill in 1642 and later after that action at the start of the Civil war. However before that battle a skirmish had occurred at Southam in August when Lord Brooke leading Parliamentary supporters from Warwick had met some King’s men near the town. Altogether 13,000 men were encamped in and around the town on that chilly August night. This second battle of Southam took place around the town between Bascote and Long Itchington. As various gentlemen had dressed their retainers in different colours some confusion occurred when a certain Colonel Legge dressed in green realised he was fighting on the wrong side.

The Rector of Southam supported Parliament so when the King arrived in town the Southam church bells were not rung. His Majesty therefore imposed a fine upon the town. Later to raise money to pay his troops the king melted down silver at the Olde Mint.

The Pharmacy and the Olde Mint are both said to be haunted, the former possibly by a servant, who is heard upon the staircase of the cycle shop at regular intervals but never seen, and above the chemists shop walking in a corridor. There have been 23 ghosts reported in Southam.

In the 1740’s three fires destroyed much of the small town, the thatched cottages easily catching fire. The building of the canals increased the town’s size this nearby transport system was convenient for moving slate which in the Georgian period became a popular roofing material. Many new houses were built in the Georgian and Victorian periods and Southam became a very important centre for stagecoaches from all parts of the country. At one time Southam had 23 inns, which catered for the stagecoaches and also for the Welsh drovers who passed through the town en route to London and the markets in the east. The drovers had been passing through the town since medieval times, the last drove of 30,000 sheep coming in 1902, hence we have Welsh roads East and West.

Lloyds Bank can also be attributed to the drovers having been started on their route in Tregaron.

Houses built during the Victorian period in Coventry St. in what was then called Newlands did have coffins carried through the front doors; they were through the back entrance along the bridle path to the church.

A prominent sight in Southam is a tall cedar tree planted by a girl of 7yrs in 1705 in the grounds of a Jacobean house called The Abbeymore or less opposite the Stoneythorpe Hotel. The hotel was originally built as an Eye and Ear Infirmary by a local man a former military surgeon, Mr Henry Lilley Smith. Southam Holy Well contained water deemed to effective for curing eye infections and also used for centuries as the town’s water supply, it is said never to freeze. It is certainly always very cold. The Infirmary used water from the Holy Well. There is a monument at the front of the hotel listing Mr Lilley Smith’s other philanthropic acts for his home town.

For many years on the site of Southam’s County Primary School stood the town Workhouse, catering for the surrounding area. Then this institution closed it was used for living accommodation known as the Dwellings. After the destruction of the dwellings a large bonfire was constructed just before November the fifth. Some lads could not wait for the yearly celebrations and set fire to the woodpile, many rats became homeless rather quickly.

We now have a Fire Station in Coventry St, this was not always so however, the early home for Southam’s Merryweather Fire Engine was in Pendicke St. the town Fire Service was established in 1893 wit volunteer’s. The fire engine was obtained after much endeavour by the men so was given the name Perseverance. It was horsed drawn and kept in a very damp hut, these conditions ruined the uniforms and paperwork so an irate Chief Fire Officer marched his men into a Council meeting thrust the paperwork at the Council and demanded action. So in 1947 Southam after the establishment of the County Fire and Rescue Service Southam had the first new Fire Station in Warwickshire.

The Welfare Hut in Craven Lane was formerly the base for the British Legion. A tailor Mr Fitchett spent his time there and provided tea for ex-servicemen, whilst drives and other entertainments were also provided there.

During the war many evacuees were billeted in Southam. Mrs Margaret Murphy, a former nurse recalls one man who walked from Coventry during the blitz. As she was on night duty she gave him her bed for the night. This same lady in acknowledgement of her many services to the community was later to become a recipient of the Maundy Money from the Queen.

Many evacuees were housed in the Covent founded by the Sister of the Poor Child Jesus in 1876. The congregation established an orphanage and school, the later was taken over the by archdiocese of Birmingham and is now the town’s Roman Catholic Primary School. The adjacent church of Our Lady and St Wulstan was also due to the presence of the Sisters in Southam. A large conventual building was for many years a landmark in the town, but was recently replaced by housing known as The Cloisters.

These are just a few miscellaneous facts about Southam, it is still a small town but has influenced our country in many ways over the centuries.

This article has been kindly written by Mary Rock.

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