An Ancient Footpath

Footpaths must be one of man’s earliest creations, even hunting and gathering needed footpaths to follow. Generally speaking every footpath had/has a reason for its existence, even if that reason is now difficult to discern. Usually paths radiated from a given point of habitation, for example from a village out into the surrounding fields and adjacent villages.

mapThere is however a footpath in Leamington that, apparently, does not follow these rules. It can be found on the earliest maps passing from Whitnash to the top of the modern town, by-passing the original Leamington Priors village main street. A conjectural map of 1768 Leamington (left) has this footpath crossing the River Leam at the mill, where it gets a mention on the Inclosure documentation . There is however an indication on this map which claims that the target of the path is Kenilworth, and on other maps Lillington is also mentioned. The reason why the travellers between Whitnash and Kenilworth wished to avoid the centre of Leamington Priors is probably because the village was restricted to the south side of the river, with the mill bridge, or the earlier ford the most convenient point to cross the Leam.

1We start our photographic journey at the beginning of Clarendon St., which was originally the road to Lillington, at the point at which it joins Holly Walk, once the drive into the Willes estate, and part of the route from Leamington Priors to Lillington. The original road to Kenilworth also followed this route as far as the left turn along Sandy Lane.

Turning south, we cross Newbold Terrace and enter the ‘underpass’, apparently designed to keep the common folk using the footpath out of sight of the wealthy users of what was originally a private park. Initially the Jephson Gardens were intended for the sole use of the inhabitants of the villas along Newbold Terrace, however in 1848 the gardens were opened to all, for a small fee, by Lady Somerville. Europe was in turmoil in 1848 with revolutions springing up like a red rash and Leamington opened it’s park to the common folk! Well, – those who could pay.

2To avoid dividing the Jephson Gardens into two separate parts a bridge was needed. This also made a picturesque attraction for the strollers, but left a dark tunnel for the users of the path.

3Photographs 2 & 3 seem to indicate that two bridges were constructed, although actually there are three tunnels/bridges, the first two being more artistic mini humpbacked bridges, the third a more basic utilitarian version. Curiously more is made of the bridges in the tunnel, whilst in the park they appear almost hidden, with innocuous brick walls. It is claimed that these tunnels were turned into bomb shelters during WW2.

4We now reach the grand suspension bridge, designed by William de Normanville, the late 19th century town surveyor. Opened in 1903, it replaced several earlier versions, including a wooden footbridge. Various old maps show a two–stage affair,centred on a now lost island, which seems to have been somewhat larger than the present bird sanctuary island.

5Once across the bridge the route passes along Mill Street, past the side of the Urquhart Hall before entering Satchwell Place, which then becomes an alley running along the back of George Street. It soon changes from the width shown, down to a more normal 4ft.wide path.

6These delightful looking houses in Satchwell Place front onto the footpath, and apparently do not have any other access.

7Beyond the houses, there is an alleyway, with a paved surface and street lights. At the far end there is a fork, with the left hand path signed Radford Semele on one map. The footpath then crosses Russell Terrace before entering another, slightly less salubrious passage which exits on Radford Road.

8The path leaves the rear of the George Street houses, then travels diagonally left across Radford Rd. into Camberwell Terrace. This photograph shows the footpath alongside Camberwell Terrace, although it seems to be slightly detached from the road, possibly because it pre-dates the con-struction of the road.

9The footpath now passes under a railway arch, of the redundant railway line, with a designated pathway, complete with lampposts,. Then it crosses an access road, passes through another similar arch under the still working railway into an alleyway. [This second arch has six bricked up semi-circular arches, three on each side, purpose unknown.]

10On leaving the railway arches, the path follows the railings to exit at the top of Althorpe St.

11The footpath now enters the ‘Rec’ through this ornate arch, before passing along the pathway at the side of the ‘Rec’. South of the ‘Rec’ the path becomes Alexandra Road. and then St. Margarets Road, both of which follow the line of the original rural footpath, before reaching the old Leamington parish boundary with Whitnash.

So a rural footpath, originally following ancient field boundaries, and probably laid out during the 1768 Inclosure Act, has survived and imprinted its presence on the urban landscape with paving and lighting and providing the pathway of both Alexandra and St. Margarets roads. The 1923 map of Leamington still shows fields bordering the path as far as the ‘Rec’. The footpath is now a popular thoroughfare, used by many people for short cuts, but it is certain that few travellers are using the path to reach Kenilworth or Lillington from Whitnash, or even vice versa.

Mick Cullen