This blog is dedicated to ancient at-risk rights of Way. Each post focuses on a specific right of way, giving the historical context and evidence for the route. This post is about ancient routes in Coventry, the home of the research project.
Coventry Ancient Paths (CAP) 1 and 4 make up a short section of footpath that runs outside of Coventry’s Sky Blue Way. Today the paths are nestled behind Coventry’s environmental waste disposal center. CAP 1 begins at the edge of the Shortley Road, running through a playing field before following the River Sherbourne to the West Coast Mainline Railway. CAP 4 continues on the north of the railway, connecting with the Humber Road.
If you’re in the city, you’d only need to look for the tall slim, metal chimney to find CAP 1 and 4. They are shown on this OpenStreetMap, but are not shown on contemporary Ordnance Survey Maps. A quick email to the Coventry Council Rights of Way office also confirms they are not on the Definitive Map for Coventry. They are at-risk rights of way.
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The paths are close to Charterhouse Fields, a historic region of the city with an ancient priory (currently under renovation) and a grassy floodplain popular with dogwalkers. My fellow geographers take our students to the Fields to study flooding. Charterhouse fields is the site of the lost medieval village of Bissely (later called Shortley, hence the ‘Shortley Road’). It may lie under the Charterhouse Priory.
In the 14th Century, Coventry’s City Walls roughly ran around the track of the City’s Sky Blue Way ring road. CAP 1 and 4 would have connected the rural regions beyond Coventry to the small city, following the path of the River Sherbourne out of the City’s Walls from the Gosford Gate, one of the 12 entry points into the city.
How do we know this is a legal right of way?
We teach every Geography Student at Coventry University to how to read the historical landscape. CAP 1 and 4 have numerous telltale signs they are legal Rights of Way. You can observe them from simply walking them.
CAP 4 crosses under a railway via a tunnel. This is strong evidence of , a legal highway. If CAP 4 wasn’t a legal route that had to be maintained, then the London Midland Railway Company wouldn’t have bothered with the expense of creating a tunnel. A visit to the Warwickshire County Records Office (WCRO) confirms this. CAP 1 and 4 are mentioned on the deposited 1846 railway plans for the proposed Coventry, Banbury and Oxford Junction Railway.  We can’t show an image here for copyright reasons, but we do have a photograph of the tunnel.
More evidence of the paths crops up on historical OS maps. OS Maps that recorded at 1:25 Inches, surveyed in 1886 and published in 1889, show the land at great detail. They were some of the most comprehensive surveys OS undertook to date. Ordnance Survey only mapped areas with 5,000 or more urban inhabitants. Thankfully, copyright laws do allow us to reproduce this map from the National Library of Scotland’s online database.
Detailed 25 inch maps were accompanied by ‘area reference’ or ‘parish books’. Area reference books published before 1879 contain land use information and tell us exactly what was happening on specific ‘parcels’ of land. They are further evidence of a Right of Way While we can view these original 25 inch maps online, this is not true of the area reference books. These are found in County Records Offices, The National Archives and the British Library.
This is sadly true of other evidence at WCRO. The whole of the Western route (CAP 1) from Swift’s Mill was created by the Manor of the Coventry Inclosure Award 1875. We can see CAP 1 as ‘path I: Private Carriage and Occupation Road and Public Footway’ in the Parish of St Michael and St John the Baptist, 20 feet wide.
Happily, this path has a full application with even more historical evidence that has been submitted to Coventry City Council. While this doesn’t ensure the path will be accepted by the council, it means there is a good chance it will be saved.
1] ‘Coventry, Banbury and Oxford Junction Railway.’ 1846, QS111/197,
 ‘Manor of the Coventry Inclosure Award 1875’ QS75/38, WCRO