Skip to main content

Warwick (1,100th Anniversary)

Volume 589: debated on Wednesday 17 December 2014

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Mel Stride.)

It is an honour to represent the constituency of Warwick and Leamington, particularly in this anniversary year. The constituency includes the towns of Leamington, Whitnash and Warwick and a number of surrounding villages, but in this debate I wish to celebrate the 1100th anniversary of the founding of Warwick, a town steeped in history and characterised by a strong community spirit.

Many of the iconic buildings that make up part of this history are still standing today, and are integral to the fabric of the community. The transition from a defensive stronghold in 914 to the impressive county town of Warwickshire in 2014 is clear for all to see; Warwick has developed over many centuries and is now a remarkable place to live and a popular tourist destination. I would like to put on the record details of its long and illustrious history, and reflect on the characteristics that shape our town today.

Historic buildings are a defining aspect of Warwick, including St. Mary’s collegiate church, dating back to 1123, and the Chantry chapel at the Lord Leycester hospital, dating back to 1126. Alongside this historical grounding and rich heritage, Warwick is home today to a range of fantastic schools, voluntary organisations and businesses, all supported by local residents with a dedicated, hard-working and neighbourly nature. It also stages nationally-renowned festivals, from the ever-popular folk festival, now in its 35th year, to the annual Victorian evening which starts the festive season in a spectacularly traditional way.

Our open green spaces remain a picturesque part of Warwick—not least St Nicholas park, alongside the river Avon. As a Warwick resident, I hope to see our open spaces preserved and the beauty of the town maintained. Given the nature of Warwick, excessive development would not be in our best interests and I have campaigned against it.

It is widely accepted that the founding of Warwick came in the year 914, when Ethelfleda, Lady of the Mercians, established the settlement—a lady whose face has appeared on many mugs, tea-towels and other merchandising this year. The town was built on a small hill that controlled the river crossing on the road to London, and was strategically placed to control the Fosse way, built by the Romans. It was therefore an excellent location to protect locals from the threat of invasion. According to the etching from 1731 in my office

“the town has a pleasant situation on the North side of the River Avon upon a hill”.

However, the etching also suggests that there were settlements on this land prior to 914, and that Kimboline, a British King, established a town there around Christ’s nativity.

The fortified dwelling was one of 10 built to defend Mercia from the threat of the Danes, and the settlement became the county town of the new shire of Warwickshire in 1001. In 1068, William the Conqueror built a motte and bailey castle to gain control of the region and to respond to various uprisings. The famous castle is still an integral part of Warwick, providing a majestic backdrop and attracting vast numbers of visitors every year.

In 1086, 244 dwellings were recorded in the Domesday Book as the settlement started to grow. The fortification of the town was completed with the construction of a town wall. A market was based in a number of streets and buildings across Warwick. Because of its location away from the main trading routes, there was significant competition from nearby towns for trade. The main prosperity came from the castle, but trading was certainly a major feature, and the market remains a part of weekly life in our town today—come rain or shine, traders still operate in the square every Saturday.

The square also has the statue of Randolph Turpin, the boxing champion who won the world middleweight title in 1951. He was considered to be one of the best in the sport throughout the 1940s and 1950s. Wandering through the square and around the centre of Warwick, we find a huge array of pubs and restaurants and a fabulous night scene.

By the 15th century, many of the suburbs we see today were formed, including Saltisford and Smith Street. By the early 17th century the general street pattern was clear, and the town was being shaped as a tight community that continues today.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the Adjournment debate. His constituency is right next to mine, although mine is in Coventry and at one time Coventry was part of Warwick. Will he join me in congratulating Warwick university, which is partly in Coventry and partly in Warwickshire, as next year will be the 50th anniversary of its foundation? I know he takes a great interest in that.

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s contribution. We work closely together to celebrate the contribution that the university makes. It was good to join him in marking that anniversary a couple of weeks ago. I hope Coventry and Warwick can work together to make sure that the university continues to flourish.

In 1552, the court leet was established by a royal charter, and is still in existence. The group of jurors represent the best interests of the borough, and includes interesting positions such as constables, overseers of pavements, an ale taster and a brook looker. This hat-tip to history is representative of what Warwick is about. I pay tribute to the current mayor of Warwick, Councillor Moira-Anne Grainger, who helps to continue the fine tradition of civic leadership and pride.

As the county town, Warwick attracted many visitors. The market remained a feature, and the town became a popular destination. Horse racing was becoming a crowd-pleasing form of entertainment in the 17th century, and with the financial help of Lord Brook, the first race took place on St Mary’s common in 1707. The racecourse remains a distinct part of the town, holding regular meetings, and is nationally recognised. Entertainment was provided for all tastes as the town grew, and a theatre was built in the 1790s.

During the civil wars of the 17th century, Sir Robert Greville sided with the parliamentarians and put the castle in a state of readiness, yet Warwick managed to remain unscathed. However, the town’s luck came to an end on the afternoon of 5 September 1694. The great fire, which almost destroyed the town, spread swiftly across much of Warwick, destroying or damaging about 250 shops and houses owing to their timber frames and close proximity. The impact that this had on the town was far reaching, requiring financial support to rebuild the affected buildings. Plans were put in place by the owner of Warwick castle, together with local gentry. Most of the rebuilding was completed within a few years, and the designs were subject to an Act of Parliament. This discouraged alterations to the town for a number of years, but in the 18th century the design of Warwick became more creative.

The court house was built in the 1720s and the shire hall was replaced in 1758. Although the current shire hall is one of the most shocking pieces of architecture in the town, it houses the county council. I hope that in 2015 we can start the process of consultation as to the merits of a unitary authority. I would like to praise Warwick town council for reopening the beautiful building that is the court house on Jury street, with the financial assistance of the Heritage Lottery Fund. The grade 1 listed building has this year become a place for community events, and it is wonderful to see it being utilised in this way. The court house holds fond but anxious memories for me personally, as it was at a meeting there in 2002 that I was selected to stand as the candidate for the Warwick and Leamington seat.

I should like to add a little more detail on the castle, which is undoubtedly one of the most striking features of the town. William I began its construction in 1068 and it still stands today as a landmark, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. Passing through generations of families, the castle provided protection for nearly 200 years, and was converted into a stone structure in 1260. Four years later, Simon de Montfort successfully attacked the stronghold as leader of the rebellious barons. Caesar’s tower and the dungeons were built in 1350, and Guy’s tower was completed in 1395. A number of our monarchs have visited the castle over the centuries, including Queen Elizabeth I, King William III and Queen Victoria. The castle was attacked in 1264, besieged in 1642 and damaged by fire in 1871, but it has stood the test of time.

St Mary’s church also dominated Warwick in its early days and is an important part of the town today. It was established in 1123 by Roger de Beaumont, the second Earl of Warwick. The only surviving part that de Beaumont built is the crypt, with the chancel vestries and chapter house being extensively rebuilt in the 14th century by a later Earl of Warwick. The church, along with much of Warwick, was significantly affected by the great fire. The nave and tower were completely destroyed, and the church as we know it today was rebuilt in the early 18th century by the brothers Francis and William Smith.

There is much to see in St Mary’s church, including the chapel of the Warwickshire Regiment, several monuments to Warwick dignitaries, and the Beauchamp chapel. In this stunning chapel is the tomb of its builder, Richard Beauchamp, the 13th Earl of Warwick. Beauchamp served Henry IV, Henry V and Henry VI and was a great landowner of the time. His daughter married Richard Neville, who was known as Warwick the Kingmaker, due to wielding the balance of power through the weakness of kings during the first half of the wars of the roses. I am pleased to be a member of the congregation, and I pay tribute to the rector, Vaughan Roberts, who has for many years led services at St Mary’s. I also thank the choir and the organist, who put on a wonderful performance at the carol service on Sunday.

Each year at St Mary’s, the feast of Thomas Oken is celebrated. Oken made a considerable fortune, and left most of it to fund education and housing in the town. His attitude to helping those in need is reflected in his will, which distributed funds to the town. A deeply religious man, Oken put the town and fellow residents first, and provided £1 annually for a feast. His house has been converted into Oken’s tea rooms in Warwick, located near the castle, and his name lives on in Warwick folklore.

The Lord Leycester hospital, an historic group of timber-framed buildings dating back to the late 14th century, is another eye-catching part of the centre of the town, and has a beautiful 12th century chapel attached to it. The word “hospital” is used in its ancient sense, meaning a charitable institution for the housing and maintenance of the needy, infirm or aged. For nearly 200 years, it was the home of Warwick’s medieval guilds. In the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, it became a place of retirement for old warriors, and it remains today as an independent charity providing a home for ex-servicemen and their partners. The man in charge of the hospital is still referred to as “Master” throughout the town.

A little further out of town, Guys Cliffe is a large manor house that is now sadly run down, but it provides a fascinating story about the famous Guy of Warwick. The legend goes that Guy, the son of a castle steward, won the heart of Lady Felice, daughter of the Earl of Warwick. Owing to their different roles, it was unacceptable for the romance to flourish, so Guy went away to fight as a knight to prove his worth. On returning to Warwick, he married Lady Felice but regretted his violent past and embarked on a pilgrimage. On returning once more, he settled in a cave at Guy’s Cliffe, overlooking the Avon, living the rest of his life as a hermit.

Another institution with its roots in history is Warwick school, the oldest boys’ school in the country. The school was certainly in operation during Edward the Confessor’s reign in the 11th century, and there is a statue of him in the entrance hall, but it was probably in existence around the time of the founding of the town itself. The school was situated in the market place, before Henry VIII re-founded it as the King’s New School of Warwick. At that point, the school moved to what is now the Lord Leycester hospital, having being situated in a number of locations. His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales visited this year to congratulate the school on its anniversary. Fittingly, the under-15 rugby team became national champions this year, while the under-18s reached the final at Twickenham.

Schools across the town have much to pride themselves on. I have had the opportunity to meet many groups of students across the area over the years, and the energy, passion, maturity and attitude to hard work are clear to see in all our younger people. As a patron of Myton school, I find that it is always a highlight to visit and to welcome students to Parliament each year, and it will be a great honour to present awards at the school’s ceremony tomorrow evening. Tomorrow morning, I shall be visiting Aylesford school to join the official turf cutting ceremony on the playing fields, marking the start of the new Aylesford primary school build, which is due for completion and to open for its first reception intake in September 2015.

Warwick hospital is also an excellent example of an outstanding local institution, and recent figures in the 2014 Quality Health survey illustrate that 93% of A and E patients that responded felt they were treated with respect and dignity. The dedication and commitment of those who work in the hospital are phenomenal, and only on Monday I had the chance to visit the hospital to see the beginning of the construction of a new ward, which will yet further increase their capacity. Myton hospice also provides an incredible quality of care and is the pride of many in the district. I hear many moving stories about its work, and have had the pleasure of meeting many of the staff and volunteers who are involved.

Community projects generally are a real feature of Warwick. As its Member of Parliament, I have had the opportunity to become involved with a number of fantastic initiatives. The Friends of Warwick Station is an excellent example, aiming to improve the facilities and aesthetics of our railway station. Recently, children from a number of schools across the area joined the group for a flower-planting session, typifying our community spirit. I pay tribute to our local papers, the Warwick Courier and the Warwick Observer, for raising awareness of such initiatives.

On the political aspect of Warwick, the town is first known to have returned members to Parliament in 1275. The parliamentary seat of Warwick and Leamington that I represent was formed in 1885, bringing to an end the election of two Members in each parliamentary Session. Among other predecessors was Sir Anthony Eden who represented the constituency between 1923 and 1957, which gave it its nickname ‘The Garden of Eden’. In his first election victory, Frances Evelyn Greville, the Countess of Warwick, stood against Eden as the Labour candidate. Daisy, as she was known, had joined the Social Democratic Federation in 1904, donating large amounts of money, and supported the great October socialist revolution in Russia.

The rich history of Warwick and the heritage that is stamped on the town can be reflected on with much pride. Industrially, our area is well known for its manufacturing expertise, and the recent growth of the sector is a welcome return to our roots. Our local performance in business is a credit to the array of qualities that the town possesses. Firms operating in more established sectors are also excelling, such as the National Grid Company, and DCA Design International, a world-leading product design consultancy. As many Members will be aware, we recently celebrated small business Saturday, and I have long been an advocate of promoting the value that small firms bring to our economy. I was delighted to walk around the town to visit many of the businesses that are behind the recent resurgence of our local economy, and even managed to purchase my Christmas turkey!

In the 2015 UK vitality index, promoted this week, for local economies by Lambert Smith Hampton, Warwick is fifth overall. In addition, our town ranks equal first for education in the index. Mr Deputy Speaker, if you would indulge me briefly, let me say that jobs figures released today show that in my constituency there has been a 73% fall in the number of unemployed claimants since 2010. That is a remarkable decrease, and I pay tribute to the businesses that have been instrumental in strengthening our local economy.

As I have alluded to, the architecture and aesthetics of the buildings in Warwick are well known, with areas of special historical interest. Wandering through the town and the streets that were set out centuries ago is a reminder of our extensive history. J. R. R. Tolkien married in Warwick in 1916 and was an admirer of our town, with some people suggesting that his stories and writings were based on it. As reported in “Warwick: A Short History & Guide”, Tolkien

“found Warwick, its trees, its hill, and its castle, to be a place of remarkable beauty”.

Since the establishment of Warwick in 914, the town has developed across centuries with a continuous sense of strong attachment for local residents. Next year, we will celebrate the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta and 750 years since the Simon de Montfort Parliament, both important in developing democracy, and it is incredible to think that the town I represent predates that.

The castle has always been an iconic and picturesque feature, and St Mary’s church has always stood tall on the skyline. The market square is a great focal point of the town, and is often a hive of activity, as it has been for centuries. Only last week, I was sitting in the square watching the film “Frozen”, thanks to Warwick Rocks—one of many events that local organisers have done so well to put on for residents.

Today, we have an excellent hospital, successful schools, thriving local businesses, and a wonderful community spirit. Warwick may have come a long way since its establishment in 914, but there is a sense of continuity with our predecessors, which makes it a truly special town.

Mr Deputy Speaker, may I take this opportunity to wish you a happy Christmas? To the Minister, a happy Christmas, but also to the residents of our fine town, a very happy Christmas indeed.

May I add to the great Christmas wishes “Happy Chanukah”? I was privileged to go to the Speaker’s apartments this afternoon to celebrate Chanukah. I heard the Chief Rabbi refer to the Speaker as a mensch, which I think should be the new parliamentary term that we adopt to praise our wonderful Speaker.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Chris White) for his wonderful speech, and for allowing me a small walk-on part in this Adjournment debate. It is not often that we get to deliver our maiden speech twice, so I praise him for doing so. I missed a trick with the 850th anniversary of Wallingford in my town, which is a stripling adolescent compared with Warwick, but after hearing his brilliant speech I intend to stick around for its 900th anniversary, when I will be 87. I serve notice on my constituents that I have another 40 years to serve to echo the celebration that my hon. Friend has held this evening.

It is quite right that my hon. Friend gave an important and lengthy speech, because such a moment only comes around every 1,100 years. After all, the next time we celebrate a similar anniversary it will be 3014 or, if we want to be a bit premature, 2914 for the 2000th anniversary. I know my hon. Friend as the Member for Leamington, which is not, I hasten to add, before anyone gets the wrong end of this stick, to disparage his loyalty to Warwick. It is important to remember that he represents Leamington because, as the Minister responsible for the video games industry, I was privileged to make a visit with him and see the extraordinary companies based in that part of his constituency. It echoes to a certain extent the remarks he made at the end of his speech about the fact that we are lucky to have cities and towns such as Warwick that have an extraordinary heritage spanning hundreds of years but which, at the same time, can adapt and accommodate the modern economy.

Yet again, I am afraid, my hon. Friend outbid me, because not only is Wallingford a pathetic adolescent—not a pathetic adolescent; just an adolescent—compared with Warwick, but his unemployment figures are slightly better than mine. His have fallen by 73%, and mine have fallen only by about 67%, but they are still very good figures indeed.

I note the presence of the hon. Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham), with whom I have shared many conversations. Indeed, a couple of years ago he and I visited the mediaeval Charterhouse in his constituency, which he has worked so hard to help restore, and I will continue to work with him on that. At one point he was so taken with my hon. Friend’s speech that he crossed the Floor to have a word with me. I thought that he might stay with us, so blown away was he by the rhetoric.

The people of Warwick have not been backward in coming forward to celebrate this important anniversary. There have been the brilliant St George’s day celebrations, the walking tours that explain the history of the town and the beer festival at Warwick race course, which included—I cannot remember whether my hon. Friend mentioned it—a celebratory beer brewed locally and specially for the occasion. I think that huge commitment to the anniversary is to be commended.

I was delighted to hear that the Prince of Wales visited Warwick to recognise the importance of the anniversary. I pay tribute to the extraordinary work he has done over so many years to support not only our heritage, but our modern economy. I was with him yesterday at the science museum, where we were celebrating engineering, and particularly the role of women in engineering.

My hon. Friend pointed to numerous ornaments in Warwick, and of course Warwick castle stands out as one of the greatest. One does not actually have to visit Warwick to appreciate the castle, because a little-known fact is that it is the building in this country that is most represented by the great Venetian painter Canaletto—there are five paintings and three drawings extant—who was commissioned by its owners. If you cannot visit the castle, Mr Deputy Speaker, I urge you to have a look at those pictures.

My hon. Friend also mentioned Warwick school, which is indeed the oldest public school in the country. I hope that it continues to have a thriving future, despite the plans of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt) in his war with our great public schools. The school is also noted for educating two Conservative MPs: my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Dan Byles) and the famous Harry Greenway, the former Member for Ealing North, who I think was known to you, Mr Deputy Speaker. The current permanent secretary at the Department of Energy and Climate Chance, Mr Stephen Lovegrove, also attended Warwick school, as did Christian Horner, the head of Red Bull racing, but better known as the fiancé of Geri Halliwell. She will be known to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, as Ginger Spice—I know that you stopped engaging in popular culture about 20 years ago. Of course—this is more in tune with your cultural tastes—Sabine Baring-Gould, the author of “Onward, Christian Soldiers”, attended Warwick school in the mid-19th century.

Warwick’s rich historic wealth is demonstrated by the number of designated assets within its borders. There are just under 1,500 listed buildings, 30 of which are grade I, 40 are scheduled monuments, 11 are parks and gardens and 31 are conservation areas.

If I was to make a policy point, I would say that my hon. Friend has demonstrated the importance of anniversaries. When we talk in this country about community cohesion and identity, we should remember anniversaries. When we worked with the heritage lottery fund, for example, I was pleased to be able to set aside a ring-fenced fund of £10 million that could be awarded for anniversaries. I hope that some of the money will support the important anniversary of the battle of Waterloo next year and the very important anniversary of Magna Carta, to which my hon. Friend alluded. Of course, it is also supporting the important commemorations we are conducting at the moment for the first world war.

My hon. Friend also talked about Warwick’s vibrant economy. Our heritage buildings not only provide a wonderful backdrop for the running of modern businesses, but are modern businesses in their own right, attracting thousands of visitors. Around 80,000 people a year visit Warwick town, and many more visit the surrounding area. I know that my hon. Friend has done extraordinary work as a Member of Parliament to promote tourism and discuss with the Government the best ways to help tourism and support the modern economy.

That may be so.

I commend Warwick, old and new. I have here a press cutting with a picture of St Mary’s church that points out that Warwick is one of the top 10 towns in Lambert Smith Hampton’s annual UK vitality index, where it has moved from eighth to fifth place as a place of economic growth. When we commemorate Warwick’s well-deserved 1,100th anniversary, let us remember that it is not only a great historic town but one of the top 10 most vital towns in the country.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.