ANCIENT ANIMAL POUND RE-OPENS IN COVENTRY
The problem of stray animals is nothing new as Ann Evans discovers as a 400-year-old animal pound is reopened in Coventry.
Marking the start of Coventry’s Heritage Open Days, the Lord Mayor of Coventry Linda Bigham officially opened the ancient Stivichall Animal Pound on Saturday 14th September. It was a very special day for Styvechale Grange Residents Association (SGRA) who have spent the last six months clearing the weeds, bramble and ivy away from the 17th century walled animal pound.
Stivichall, or Styvechale as it is now called, is a suburb on southern outskirts of the city, rich in history with its historical buildings and sites of local interest, including its 119-acre War Memorial Park where a 90 ft tall Cenotaph stands in commemoration to those who died in two world wars and more recent conflicts. Nearby is a brick bridge bearing the Gregory Hood Coat of Arms – a family who played an important role in financing the park. Adjacent to that, hidden in the leafy woodlands, is the ancient Animal Pound. A Grade II listed building which has been reclaimed from decades of undergrowth by the diligent volunteers of the Styvechale Grange Residents Association (SGRA).
Mick Fitzpatrick, treasurer and website editor for the SGRA explained the purpose of Animal Pounds and how they were run:
Back in the Middle Ages nearly every village had its animal pounds for stray cattle, pigs, geese and other livestock. Should someone’s pig stray away from home, it would be rounded up and driven into the local pound, where it was kept at the expense of the owner, until he could pay the fine – that was the amount claimed by the person on whose land they had strayed, for damage done, and the fee to the pound keeper for feeding and watering the animal during its stay.
We’re told that if the animal wasn’t claimed within three weeks, it would be driven to the nearest market and sold. The proceeds going to the impounder and pound-keeper. An ingenious method of receipt was used. The person who found the animals on his land cut a stick and made notches, one for every creature, and then split the stick down the centre of the notches so that half each notch appeared on each stick. One half he kept, the other he gave to the pound keeper.
When the owner came to redeem his property and had paid for the damage done, the impounder gave him his half stick. He took this to the pound-keeper and if the two pieces tallied, it proved he had paid, and his beast was freed. Hence the word tally-stick and the pound-keeper being referred to as the tallyman.
Local resident and woodsman, Jim Passmore has been researching the history, discovering that the Pound was first mentioned in records in 1663 and had certainly been around before then. It’s thought to have been built 1650. The belief is that the coping stones and large cobbles date from those times. Research goes on with new information coming to light all the time.
In March of this year Jim and fellow woodsmen Tony Rose began the clearing operation after the Friends of the War Memorial Park responded to a request from Norman James, whose ancestor John James had been a keeper of the pound in the 1850s. Rene Whitlock of the FWMP asked Jim and Tony to carry out the work. They were later joined by the SGRA who had the idea to erect a rustic fence around the old Animal Pound. More people became inspired to help clear the area, and volunteers came armed with rakes, spades shears and cutters to clear away the decades of overgrowth.
Former Lord Mayor of Coventry, and SGRA member, Cllr John Blundell was delighted to see so many people turning out for the opening ceremony and said, “The SGRA have worked so hard and will be maintaining the site – it’s an ongoing project.”
The opening ceremony saw key players in project, talking about their involvement, and how everyone has worked so hard in getting the area cleared, including those who ensured coffee and sausage rolls were always on tap for the workers.
In her speech, Lord Mayor Linda Bigham talked about how local history is a great passion of hers, and how delighted she was to be officially opening this ancient Animal Pound. “We have magnificent volunteers who are going to maintain something awesome in Coventry.”
She then unveiled two commemorative plaques one for 1975, when the area was cleared by local residents Mr Stanton Mr Hodget and his son, and the 2019 clearing. Mr Stanton’s wife Muriel – or Bobs to her friends, was delighted to be part of the occasion.
Councillor and Blue Badge Tour Guide, Roger Bayley who has been playing a major role in the organisation of the Coventry Heritage Open Days added, “Every year we strive to find something new and different to include and we’re very happy for the Lord Mayor to be launching our 25th anniversary Heritage Open Days with the official opening of the Animal Pound.”
For more information go to: www.sgra.org.uk