Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 20 (1989)
In the short time at my disposal I would like to talk briefly about four aspects of my interest in George Eliot and this area, from the standpoint of my position as chairman of The Bedworth Society. The four are the buildings in Bedworth; the buildings associated with George Eliot, especially Coton Free School; future developments for local societies like ours; and the need for integrity in all we do.
To start then, with buildings in Bedworth. As a preliminary to deciding what I would say today, I was making a mental list of the buildings still existing in Bedworth which George Eliot would have known. I confined my list to the buildings in the town before George Eliot left the area in 1840. Travelling from Griff, the house itself is still there, as is the Griffin Inn, and the cluster of cottages between those two. One farm in Arbury Lane remains. Certainly this is in contrast to Collycroft where nothing that George Eliot might have seen now remains. Into Bedworth and the Old Meeting chapel remains, a fine building. Despite her strong early Anglican connections, I can't help thinking that she would have liked this outpost of non-conformity, with its ability to prick the pomposity of the Anglicans! In the town centre the line of shops in Mill Street would have been there, possibly as ribbon weavers dwellings and workshops rather than shops.
Of the present parish church, only the tower would be recognisable. During her early life the church was rebuilt by Rev. Henry Bellairs and by the time of her death plans for a second, major, rebuilding were well advanced, ironically by her nephew, Rev. F. R. Evans. He, of course, is still remembered by older Bedworth residents, since he did not die until 1927.
In Bedworth marketplace, George Eliot would have seen the building of the second almshouses in 1840, just as she was leaving the area, but such a large project in what was then only a village would not have escaped her notice. The only other building still there would have been the White House in Coventry Road, which was built in 1832.
Such is the nature of change, that in our area only a handful of buildings remain after 150 years. The Fellowship is aware of the buildings in the Nuneaton area mentioned in her publications. One in particular has concerned us during the last twelve months. This is Chilvers Coton Free School, in recent years used by the Parks Department. In our view it is a building which should be Listed and saved, regardless of its connection, or not, with George Eliot. But the building was very nearly lost through a combination of ignorance by the general public and their elected councilors, of financial pressures on local authorities, and by the continuing intransigence of English Heritage.