History of Berkswell Parish
The Civil Parish of Berkswell, like all other Parishes in England, emerged from the Church of England Ecclesiastical Parishes after the Poor Law Amendment Act 1866. Until that time the Ecclesiastical Parishes performed both the role of governing local church matters and local government matters such as the relief of the poor.
Berkswell as a Parish dates back to before the Norman invasion but records show that in 1086 the manor was held by the Count of Meulan.
Whilst the Parish bears the name of the village of Berkswell and that is where the Manor House and church stood, it has always been a Parish with many different centres.
The agricultural land is not of the highest quality and the Parish is bigger than many to make the original manor economically viable. The spread out nature of the population reflects the changing economic activity of the area over time.
At one time there were many widely spread farming hamlets making best use of the land but also activities such as brick making using the local clay, flax growing and weaving took place.
Some of this economic history can still be seen. Most obviously there is the Berkswell Windmill near Catchems Corner. The current mill dates from 1826 but stands on the site of a much older post mill and there are several old cottages in the Catchems Corner area with the earliest dating from the 17th century.
Catchems Corner once has two shops with one still open in 1985
The Brickmakers Arms dates from the 17th Century indicating another old local industry.
With the coming of the railway a community developed on what is now called Station Road but then called Dockers Lane and the Railway Inn was built.
The Old Berkswell Stores, butchers, two pubs on Station Road plus Berkswell Station show this area as one of the founding parts of Balsall Common.
Not far away is Lavender Hall Farm which dates from the 16th Century.
Nailcote on the south eastern boundary with Coventry dates from the 16th century and there are other small settlements at Carol Green, Bradnocks Marsh, Benton Green and Back Lane.
Children have attended school in Berkswell for over 500 years. The current Berkswell School opened in 1839. Today the majority of its pupils come from Balsall Common with most of the remainder coming from Coventry and Meriden.
Berkswell, the suffragettes and the Berkswell Women’s Institute
In 1918 women over the age of 30, with certain property qualifications, received the vote for the first time. This was achieved through campaigning by non violent “suffragists” and more assertive campaigning by “suffragettes”.
Miss Maud Watson, daughter of the Reverend Dr Watson, rector of Berkswell, was the first Ladies Lawn tennis Champion at Wimbledon in 1884. She was also the Founder President of Berkswell Women's Institute. Maud Watson, together with three other ladies holding office in the then newly formed Women's Institute, was a keen supporter of the Suffragette Movement before the First World War. They took stones from Berkswell to throw through the window of No 10 Downing Street and were later imprisoned. During their detention they embroidered their names on the hems of the men's shirts that they were forced to make.
The women’s institute remains an all female organisation both in Berkswell and nationwide. (see next article)
The Berkswell Association for the Prosecution of Felons
Prior to the establishment of a police force, people were deterred by the trouble and expense from prosecuting alleged offenders. Berkswell Society for the Prosecution of Felons was formed to encourage prosecutions by paying towards the costs. A scale of reward to non-members for the apprehension of persons guilty of certain offences was laid down, ranging from £20 for murder to a token shilling for "stealing or taking fish in the daytime". This rose to £1 if the person was apprehended at night.
The Berkswell Association is one of the oldest in the country and still exists today. However, it is no longer involved in police work and meets annually for a dinner and to raise money for charity. It is still an all male association, not changed by the activities of the suffragettes. (see above article)
Whilst at one time Berkswell village had several shops including a butcher, post office and a blacksmiths it now has just the village store which gets most of its business from visitors and tourists.
There are currently 1342 homes in Berkswell Parish, with about 700 of those in Balsall Common proper and around another 100 close to Balsall Common mainly in the Catchems Corner & Windmill Lane areas.
Remarkably the village, from which the Parish gets its name, has only around 75 homes with perhaps another 30 or 40 close by. The remainder of the Parish’s homes are mainly spread between 5 or 6 other “hamlets” or lanes.