A History of Nuneaton

By Tim Lambert

Nuneaton began as a Saxon farmstead (tun), by the water (ea). By the time of the Domesday Book (1086), it had grown into a fairly large village. In the middle of the 12th century, the Lord of the Manor gave the village to a French Abbey. They built a priory (small abbey) for nuns there. The nuns, of course, gave Nuneaton its modern name. In the late 12th century Nuneaton grew into a town. At that time trade and commerce were booming and many new towns were founded in England.

The King granted the nuns of Nuneaton the right to hold a weekly market. (In those days there were very few shops and if you wished to buy or sell anything you had to go to a market).

The king also granted the nuns the right to have an annual fair. (In the Middle Ages fairs were like markets but were held only once a year and attracted buyers and sellers from a wide area). Once the market was up and running merchants and craftsmen came to live in Nuneaton. Soon it was a flourishing little town although it would seem very small to us. Medieval Nuneaton only had a population of (at most) 1,000.

Pewter vessels

In 1539 Henry VIII closed the nunnery, which had given the town its name. However, Nuneaton was still a flourishing market town, and a grammar school was founded in 1552.

Industries in Tudor Nuneaton included leather tanning and brick making. From the mid-16th century, there was also an ironworking industry. Furthermore, although coal mining began in the Nuneaton area as early as the 14th century it boomed in the 17th and 18th centuries. From the late 17th century there was a silk ribbon weaving industry in Nuneaton. The weavers worked on looms in their own homes. However cheap imports destroyed the industry in the early 19th century.

By the 17th century, the population of Nuneaton had risen to about 2,000. It was only a village by our standards but by the standards of the time, it was a respectably sized market town.

By the time of the first census in 1801, Nuneaton had a population of over 5,000. It grew rapidly during the 19th century. By the end of the century, Nuneaton had 25,000 inhabitants. The growth of Nuneaton was boosted by the railway, which arrived in 1847.

In the late 19th century textile and engineering industries grew up in Nuneaton. Silk and cotton factories opened. There was also a hat-making industry in Nuneaton and coal mining in the area prospered. Furthermore, there was also an important brick and tile-making industry in Nuneaton in the 19th century. There was also a brewing industry.

Conditions improved in 19th century Nuneaton. In 1893 Nuneaton was given an Urban District Council. Nuneaton gained an electricity supply in 1897. The first public library opened in 1899.

After 1900 Nuneaton continued to grow rapidly. In 1907 Nuneaton was incorporated (given a corporation and a mayor). Nuneaton Museum and Art Gallery opened in 1917. Riversley Park opened in 1923 and the Council House opened in 1934.

In the 1920s and the 1930s, the first council houses were built in Nuneaton. They were needed to replace the slums which were demolished at that time.

Nuneaton suffered badly from German bombing raids in the years 1941-42 and 131 people were killed.

The writer George Eliot 1819-1880 (her real name was Mary Ann Evans) was born in Chilvers Coton, which was then, just outside Nuneaton. In 1948 a hospital was named after her and in 1986 a statue of her was placed in Nuneaton.

A new library was built in Nuneaton in 1962 and by the 1970s the population had risen to over 70,000.

Nuneaton is noted for its electronics industry although many people travel to work in Coventry.

Today Nuneaton is a flourishing town. The Pingles Leisure Centre was built in 2004. Ropewalk Shopping Centre opened in Nuneaton in 2005. Today the population of Nuneaton is 86,000.