Atlantic Islands in the Coventry Streetscape

IMAG1361When I moved from Liverpool to Coventry this summer, one of the things that stung the most was having to peel myself away from the familiar co-ordinates of the Anglo-Spanish history I’d been living with for the past six or seven years. Hispanic Liverpool might not have left many physical traces – the memorial to José Blanco White I discussed in my last post is a striking exception – but having spent so much time tracking down the residences and workplaces of some 2000 nineteenth-century Hispanic Liverpudlians, I was very used to feeling them around me wherever I went. It would be different in Coventry, I knew that. But the histories of Britain and Spain are so inextricably entangled that traces of their shared history pop up in the unlikeliest ways – and so it proved.

1937_Coventry_Teneriffe RdFlicking through a Coventry A-Z, I was intrigued to spot a reference to ‘Teneriffe Road’ in the northern suburb of Foleshill (see location), and with the help of Coventry street directories, managed to trace it back to the mid-1930s. At this point, you will be unsurprised to hear, I declared a fieldtrip to be in order. And so a grey Sunday morning saw us heading north out of Coventry along a Foleshill Rd lined with domed Sikh Gurdwaras and brightly-coloured Indian sweet shops full of jalebi and gulab jamun (if I ever go missing, you know where to start the search). As you can see from the 1937 Ordnance Survey map above right (click to enlarge), Teneriffe Rd is one of a small cluster of short, residential streets surrounded by light industrial buildings. The railway runs to the south, the tramway to the west. As you might be able to tell from the map, it was built in two phases: the east side was completed in around 1914, the west side by 1924. The dates chime with the archaic -ff- spelling, common until the mid 20th century, when the Spanish spelling ‘Tenerife’ made its way into English.

1913_Coventry_Madeira RdBut here’s the thing.  When Teneriffe Rd was built, it wasn’t called Teneriffe Rd. As I discovered when I tried to trace it back through the archives, it was originally named after another Atlantic island that was hugely popular with British tourists at the turn of the 20th century: Madeira. Planned between 1911 and 1913, what is now Teneriffe Rd appears in its unfinished state on the 1913 Ordnance Survey map (above left; click to enlarge). So the street name changed, from one Atlantic island to another – but why? Thanks to Robert Witts at Coventry History Centre, I was able to see the Council Minutes from 1935-36, which record that the street’s name was one of a group of similar-sounding ones (Marion, Marner, Manor, Medina, Madeira) altered at the request of the Post Office to avoid confusion. The council decided that new names should have ‘some association’ with existing names, and so, despite a formal protest from ‘a number of residents,’ Madeira gave way to Teneriffe.

IMAG1360The residents might have been unhappy, but in making the switch from Madeira Rd to Teneriffe Rd back in 1935, Coventry council inadvertently conferred an unusual distinction on their street. Tenerife might be more familiar to the average Briton these days than Madeira, but a quick look at streetmap.co.uk confirms that Coventry’s is one of just two current UK streets named for the largest Canary Island (the other is Teneriffe Street in Salford, which dates back to at least 1850). In contrast, Madeira has given its name to more than sixty UK streets, at least eleven of which were in existence by the time of the 1911 census.*

Sunny South_FunchalSo what started out as an investigation into why a Coventry street might have been named for Teneriffe in the middle of the 1930s, has turned into a quest to find out, instead, why one was named for Madeira in 1911. I like to think of a Coventry councillor or builder, newly returned from one of the Booth Line’s cruises to the island (this publicity postcard, above left, gives something of a flavour) and inspired to embed a souvenir of his experience into the city streetscape. I haven’t found the answer yet, and maybe it isn’t there to be found, but something persists. Look at the edge of Teneriffe Rd’s tarmac (above right, click to enlarge), and the cobbles of its predecessor cling to the line of the kerb, looking for all the world like the shore of an Atlantic island.

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Ordnance Survey Maps ©Crown Copyright and Landmark Information Group Limited (2013). All rights reserved. (1937; 1913).

* The 1911 census also shows at least 23 individual properties, terraces and groups of cottages named for Madeira. Of the seven individual properties named for Tenerife (all with the -ff- spelling), two are in Poole, and one each in Bognor, Eastbourne, Ventnor, Bristol and Hillingdon suggesting a maritime affinity that might repay some further reflection.

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