Lying in the heart of the Midlands, the town’s history goes back to Roman occupation and the town was mentioned in the Domesday Survey of 1086 AD. For hundreds of years, Kenilworth was a market town supporting an agricultural hinterland, as shown when Henry III and Queen Elizabeth I granted charters for its market and fairs.
In 1120, Kenilworth, which prior to the Norman Conquest had been little more than a farm and a few cottages, was firmly placed on the map of England when Geoffrey de Clinton founded the Castle and the Priory (later to become the Abbey) of St Mary the Virgin on lands granted to him by King Henry I.
Until the dissolution of the Abbey in the reign of Henry VIII, the administration of Kenilworth was split between the manors of Castle and Abbey.
Through much of its functioning life, the Castle was held by the Crown, but was also owned at various times by some of the most powerful and interesting characters in English history, who all played a part in its development. In the second half of the sixteenth century Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester completed the Castle’s transition from fortress to palace by building the state apartments for the visit of Queen Elizabeth I in 1575. He also extended his Kenilworth Estates by acquiring the Abbey Fields in 1570.
Times of Change
The Castle reverted to the Crown in the reign of James I. During the Civil War, it was occupied by the Parliamentarians after King Charles withdrew his garrison. In 1649 Parliament ordered that most of the Castle should be dismantled. Following the Restoration it was granted to Laurence Hyde, son of the statesmen and historian, Lord Clarendon. His descendants retained the Castle until 1937, when it was purchased by Sir John Siddeley, first Lord Kenilworth. His son, who was the last private owner, gifted the freehold to the Town in the 1950’s.
Decline & Revival
With the Castle no longer a stronghold and royal place, Kenilworth stopped being a place of national significance. However, the success of Sir Walter Scott’s novel ‘Kenilworth’ (published in 1821) put it on the map once again. The Castle became a major tourist attraction, visited by the great and famous such as Charles Dickens. It was also a popular subject for landscape painters including J.M.W. Turner.
Kenilworth expanded steadily in the nineteenth century. With the coming of the Railway, by 1840 the town had become a popular home for rich industrialists from Birmingham and Coventry, many of whose mansions have since been demolished to provide land for housing estates. A number of industries were based in Kenilworth, notably horn comb making (at its peak circa 1830), tanning and brick making as well as market gardens producing excellent tomatoes and strawberries.
Growth & Change
By the 1870’s, the population exceeded 4000, with a rate-able value of £19,000 the town became a District in 1877 with it’s own Local Board of Health that remained in existence until 1895. The Local Board was replaced by Kenilworth Urban District Council (KUDC) until the reorganisation of Local Government in 1974. This restructuring resulted in the town, together with Warwick and Leamington Spa, being administered by the newly formed Warwick District Council (WDC). Kenilworth then was accorded a Town Council with a Mayor.
With the Town’s population today approaching 22,500 WDC has responsibility for planning, housing, amenities, and most of the services previously managed by the KUDC, with Warwickshire County Council (WCC) providing and maintaining roads, schools and social services. The only real estate remaining in the Town’s control or ownership is the freehold of the Castle, Castle Green car park, Brayes Bungalow and three allotment sites.