Reports of the riots generated by mechanisation in the silk-weaving industry reminded me that there are former silk-weavers’ homes to be seen locally. Here are three examples: two from Bedworth and one from Coventry.
What was a ‘top shop’?
In the days before electric (or gas) lighting, candles and lamps provided very limited illumination. Detailed work therefore required making use of sunlight and houses were constructed (or adapted) with larger windows than normal to make the best use of natural daylight. These windows were on the top floor of the building to avoid being overshadowed by neighbours. The weaving loom would be set up in a workshop lit by these large windows and the family would have lived in the two floors below (with normal sized windows).
Local top shops
The example in Coventry is in Lower Holyhead Road (the cul de sac off Spon Street) close to the inner ring road. A plaque on the building gives the history. It is one of the few surviving examples: most of the original buildings with top shops were either destroyed in the 2nd World War or demolished to make way for development. The examples in Bedworth stand in Mill Street and Rye Piece respectively (and again many more have been lost to development). The houses in Rye Piece are particularly interesting because if you look carefully you can see from the brickwork where the old wide windows have been partially filled in to produce the more conventionally-sized windows in the houses today.
Tell us about any other top shops you spot in local towns and villages.