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Nuneaton is a large market town in the Borough of Nuneaton and Bedworth in northern Warwickshire, England, near the county boundaries with Leicestershire and the West Midlands. The population was estimated to be 91,334 in 2020, making it the largest town in Warwickshire.

George Eliot was born in 1819 on a farm on the Arbury Estate, just outside Nuneaton, and spent much of her childhood there. Nuneaton is depicted in her novel Scenes of Clerical Life (1858). The George Eliot Hospital is dedicated to her memory. In the town centre, there is also a statue of George Eliot.



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    HISTORY

    History from the beginning

    Nuneaton was originally known as ‘Etone’ or ‘Eaton,’ which translates literally as’settlement by water,’ referring to the River Anker. ‘Etone,’ according to the Domesday Book, was a small farming settlement with a population of about 150 people. The settlement was taken over by the Beaumont family in the early 12th century, and in around 1155, Robert de Beaumont granted his manor of Etone to the French Abbey of Fontevraud, which established a Benedictine nunnery here, which became known as Nuneaton Priory. As a result, Etone became known as Nuneaton. During King Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539, the nunnery was closed and eventually fell into ruin. However, a portion of the Abbey church was rebuilt in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

    Nuneaton received a market charter from Henry II around 1160, which was reconfirmed in 1226, causing Nuneaton to develop into a market town and the economic focal point of the surrounding villages.

    The Battle of Bosworth, the final significant battle of the Wars of the Roses, took place in 1485 about 5 miles (8.0 km) north-west of Nuneaton, across the border in nearby Leicestershire.

    King Edward VI School was founded in 1552 through a royal charter granted by King Edward VI. The school was originally a fee-paying school, but the county council provided some scholarships, and it became a non-fee-paying school as a result of the 1944 Education Act. In the 1960s, the voluntary aided school had around 400 boys. The grammar school was closed in 1974 and reopened as a sixth form college in 1975.

    Nuneaton was recorded as having 169 houses in 1543, with a population of around 800; by 1670, this had grown to 415 households, with a population of 1,867; and by 1740, it had grown even further to 2,480.

    The expansion of industry
    Weaving ribbons
    A silk ribbon weaving industry developed in the local area, which included Nuneaton, Bedworth, Coventry, and much of North Warwickshire, in the mid-17th century. The arrival of French Huguenot immigrants in the latter part of the century, who brought with them new techniques, boosted this industry. This was a cottage industry, with weavers working from top-shops; a type of building unique to the area, with living space on the two lower floors and a workshop with large windows on the top floor. This industry thrived for nearly two centuries, albeit with ups and downs. However, by the early nineteenth century, the industry was struggling to compete with factory-produced textiles from northern manufacturers, and local weavers were adamant about not adopting factory production methods because they valued their independence. Nonetheless, the ribbon trade employed 46 percent of Nuneaton’s workforce in 1851. Following the Cobden–Chevalier Treaty, which removed duties on imported French silks, the industry was eventually wiped out after 1860 by cheap imports. This resulted in a local economic downturn that lasted nearly two decades.

    Mining for coal
    Coal mining was another major industry that grew in the area: because Nuneaton was located in the Warwickshire coalfield, mining was recorded locally as early as 1338, but the lack of efficient transportation and primitive mining techniques kept the industry on a small scale. The industry did not begin to grow on a larger scale until the 17th century, with the advent of the industrial revolution, which resulted in increased demand for fuel and technological advancement. The drainage of water from coal pits as they were dug deeper was a major issue. The use of a waterwheel to power drainage pumps was first documented in 1683. The first recorded use of an atmospheric engine; a primitive form of steam engine to pump water from coal pits was recorded at Griff Colliery in 1714; this was Warwickshire’s first recorded use of a steam engine. Nonetheless, poor transportation was a major issue for the industry. In the 1750s, Sir Roger Newdigate, who owned several local coal mines, built a turnpike road to Coventry, which partially solved this problem. Newdigate recognised the potential of canals as a means of transporting bulk cargoes early on. From 1764 to 1790, he developed a system of private canals on his land on the Arbury Estate to transport coal, and he helped promote the Coventry Canal, which opened from Coventry to Nuneaton in 1769, before finally reaching Staffordshire in 1790. He also assisted in the promotion of the Oxford Canal. Ironically, the new canal system led to a decline in the Warwickshire coal industry after 1800, as it was used to capture the local market by Staffordshire coal producers. The coal industry would not be exploited to its full potential until the development of the railway network in the nineteenth century.

    The Trent Valley Railway, which opened in 1847 and connected Nuneaton to the growing national railway network at Rugby and Stafford, was the first to reach Nuneaton. In 1850, a branch line to Coventry was added. In 1864, a line from Birmingham to Leicester via Nuneaton was opened, and this proved to be the most important for the local economy because it connected Nuneaton with the rapidly growing town (later city) of Birmingham. Because of this, the local coal industry grew rapidly in the latter half of the nineteenth century, with production from the Warwickshire coalfield nearly doubling between 1860 and 1913, from around 545,000 tonnes to over five million tonnes. The industry peaked in the early twentieth century, with miners accounting for one-third of the male workforce in Nuneaton in 1911. However, the industry declined rapidly in the 1950s and 1960s, with the last coal mine in Nuneaton closing in 1968 and Newdigate colliery in Bedworth closing in 1982. The last coal mine in Warwickshire, Daw Mill, closed in 2013.

    Other industries Nuneaton experienced rapid growth beginning in the 1880s, with the rapid development of a variety of industries. These included brick and tile production, brewing, hat and leather goods production, and engineering. Nuneaton, with a population of 5,135, was one of the largest towns in Warwickshire at the time of the first national census in 1801. By 1901, this figure had risen to 24,996.

    History of civic engagement
    Nuneaton had a local board of health established in 1848 to provide the town with necessary infrastructure such as paved roads, safe drinking water, street lighting, and sewerage. Nuneaton’s old parish included the settlements of Attleborough and Stockingford. In 1894, the parish was merged with Chilvers Coton parish to form an urban district. Nuneaton became a municipal borough in 1907, and the parishes of Weddington and part of Caldecote were added in 1931. The Municipal Borough of Nuneaton merged with the Bedworth Urban District in 1974 to form the Borough of Nuneaton and Bedworth.

    The Great War
    Nuneaton was heavily bombed during the Second World War’s Blitz between 1940 and 1942. On 17 May 1941, the heaviest bombing raid on Nuneaton killed 130 people, destroyed 380 homes, and damaged over 10,000 more.

    Postwar to the present day
    Frederick Gibberd, an architect and town planner, was commissioned in 1947 to create a masterplan for redeveloping the bomb-damaged town centre. The redevelopment, which lasted until the 1960s, included features typical of 1950s town planning, such as a new ringroad, indoor shopping centre, administrative centre, and library.

    Nuneaton continued to grow in the late twentieth century. The need for low-cost housing arose in the early postwar years, and around 2,500 council houses were built in response. The largest such development was at Camp Hill, where 1,400 new houses were built by 1956, and around 1,100 new council houses were built at new estates at Hill Top, Caldwell, and Marston Lane by 1958. Following this, private developments in Weddington, St Nicolas Park, Whitestone, and Stockingford fueled Nuneaton’s growth.

    

    GEOGRAPHY

    Nuneaton is located 8 miles (13 kilometres) north of Coventry, 18 miles (29 kilometres) east of Birmingham, 16 miles (26 kilometres) south of Leicester, and 103 miles (166 kilometres) northwest of London.

    The town centre is located 2 miles (3.2 km) south-west of the Leicestershire border (defined by the A5 road, the former Roman Watling Street), 9 miles (14 km) south-east of Staffordshire, and 13 miles (21 km) south-southeast of Derbyshire’s southernmost point.

    The town is bisected by the Anker River. Nuneaton town centre has historically been prone to flooding from the Anker, with particularly severe floods in 1932 and 1968. The construction of a flood relief channel in 1976 alleviated this problem.

    Nuneaton is the most populous village in the Nuneaton built-up area, which also includes the large villages of Hartshill and Bulkington. According to the 2001 Census, it had a population of 132,236 people. Hinckley had a significantly lower population of 92,698 in the 2011 Census because it was no longer considered part of the urban area.

    Bedworth, Atherstone, and Hinckley are nearby towns, with Tamworth, Rugby, Coleshill, and Lutterworth a little further away.

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