Our new Free Town Trail is based on a Commonwealth Theme to echo the Games this summer. It will be a free guided walk around Central Leamington to learn more about the town’s past connections with the Commonwealth. The walk will visit around ten locations including the Royal Pump Room, the Town Hall, Imperial House and the building previously used as the Commonwealth Club. It is expected that each guided walk will last for about 90 minutes.
The walks will commence at the Royal Pump Room on the Parade at 2.30 pm on the following Tuesdays in 2022:
2nd, 9th and 16th August
A leaflet promoting the walks has been designed for us by students at Warwickshire College (WCG) –
Note that pre-Booking is essential
Numbers will be limited on a ‘first-come’ booking basis.
Book your place at the Visitor’s Centre, Royal Pump Room, Parade, Royal Leamington Spa.
Phone 01926 334418
An Exhibition of related pictures of Leamington Spa will be on display at
the Arts Trail Gallery in the entrance to the Upper Mall, Royal Priors during August 2022.
Click Here for poster
Details of the Trail. This Trail has been organised in partnerships with Leamington History Group, Leamington Town Council, University of Warwick, Warwickshire College (WCG) and the Arts Trail gallery.
If you wish to explore the sites and learn about the people who were involved along the trail, we have prepared a Guide in addition to the leaflet mentioned above.
You may download this Guide in pdf format here –
or Read it here –
Commonwealth Leamington Walking Tour (see map below)
Introduction. This walking tour has been designed to coincide with the 2022 Commonwealth Games, part of which will take place in Leamington. The Commonwealth Games began life as the British Empire Games in 1930 and now features teams from 54 countries, most of which were former British colonies. It is this imperial history that the tour explores, showing how Leamington is connected to Commonwealth countries including Australia, Canada, India, Guyana and St Kitts. This is a challenging history that takes in slavery, colonialism and racism, but also an essential history for understanding the origins and legacies of the Commonwealth today.
1. Royal Pump Rooms. The Royal Pump Rooms were built on land belonging to Bertie Greatheed, whose family had become one of the major landowners in Leamington thanks to proceeds derived from colonial slavery. Bertie’s grandfather had emigrated to St Kitt’s in the early part of the 18th century and established a sugar plantation called Canaries. Wealth from this plantation was then used by Bertie’s parents to buy the Guy’s Cliffe estate on the River Avon, along with 236 acres of land in Milverton and Leamington. Bertie had a conflicted relationship to his inheritance. He supported the abolition of slavery and referred to his plantation in his diaries as ‘that odious property’ but at the same time kept a close watch on its profitability and never sold it off. Forming a syndicate with local businessmen, Bertie diversified into property development, selling off land north of the river and investing in the building of the Pump Rooms, Assembly Rooms and likely the Regent Hotel. T
2. Town Hall. In 1886 Leamington Town Hall played host to 150 visitors from the Colonial and Indian Exhibition then taking place in South Kensington. The visitors were on a four-day trip around Warwickshire and Oxfordshire to help strengthen imperial links beyond London, and the guest of honour was Raja Pratap Singh from Narsinghgarh, a princely state of the British Raj. At the banquet in the Town Hall, the first toast was given by Mayor S. T. Wackrill and made to Queen Victoria, who he described as the ‘acme of union through whom they shook hands together as members in common of one mighty empire’ – a sentiment later reflected in the inscription to Victoria Queen Empress on the statue erected outside the Town Hall. Speakers at the banquet then discussed how the Empire would be held together as the dominion of Canada and colonies of Australia and New Zealand pushed for greater political autonomy. Self-government for India, by contrast, was given no such credence.
3. Chapel Court. Chapel Court on Hamilton Terrace began life in 1849 as the Congregational Church. In 1872 it played host to a meeting of the National Agricultural Labourer’s Union (NALU) whose officials were invited there for tea by the Reverend F. S. Attenborough. He and other supporters of the labour movement in Leamington helped the NALU to become one of the biggest trade unions in the country. One of their most significant legacies was to assist tens of thousands of English farmworkers and their families to emigrate to the settler colonies of Canada, Australia and New Zealand, which were sometimes referred to as ‘Greater Britain’.
4. Imperial House. Imperial House is a 1960s office block built for the food division of Imperial Tobacco at the top of Holly Walk, but prior to this it was the site of Byron Lodge. During the mid-nineteenth century Byron Lodge was occupied first by Frederick Manning, an esteemed philanthropist previously involved in the West India trade as a merchant and slave-owner, and second by William Mellish Parratt, a retired officer of the 12th Regiment of the Madras Native Infantry. These are real-life counterparts to the fictional characters of Paul Dombey and Major Joseph Bagstock in Charles Dickens’ 1848 novel Dombey and Son, part of which is set in Leamington. Dombey is the head of a colonial trading company that operated out of London whereas Bagstock is a retired officer who had seen service across the British Empire. They spend time in Leamington after the death of Dombey’s son, and whilst there, also meet Dombey’s future wife Edith, who is featured in a scene of that some historians believe is Holly Walk.
5. No. 6 Willes Road. During the 1920s the basement flat in 6 Willes Road was home to the Turpin family. The father, Lionel Turpin, was born in British Guiana (now Guyana) and served in the British Army in World War I. He came to Warwickshire to convalesce after suffering a serious gas shell wound and here met his future wife, Beatrice Whitehouse. In 1929 Lionel died as a result of his war injuries, leaving Beatrice as a single mother to five children. Despite the hardship and prejudice they faced, all three sons became renowned boxers: Dick was the first Black boxer to win a British title after the colour bar was repealed in 1948; Jackie had a ten-year professional career before running the Warwick Racing Boxing Club; and Randy became the first British boxer of any colour to win a modern world middleweight title.
6. No. 31 Parade. 31 Parade was formerly a lavish residential town house that was rented by the wealthy businessman John Gladstone. He was a regular visitor to Leamington between 1828 and 1837, accompanying family members who were receiving medical treatment from Dr Jephson. During this period Gladstone was heavily invested in Caribbean sugar plantations and owned 2,500 slaves. He successfully lobbied the British government to pay an unprecedented amount of compensation to slave-owners when slavery was abolished in 1833, and was also the prime mover to replace the freed slaves with indentured workers from British India to ensure a continued supply of cheap labour on the plantations.
7. Salisbury Hall. At Salisbury Hall in 1928, a pioneering female lawyer from India called Cornelia Sorabji gave a public address to the Leamington branch of the Church of England Zenana Missionary Society. Zenana refers to the women’s quarters in a Hindu home and the aim of the Society was to reach into this domestic sphere and help convert Indian and other Asian women to Christianity. The Leamington branch of the Zenana Missionary Society met continually from 1880 to 1948, the year after India gained independence from Britain, and was one of the largest contributors to the Society’s central fund.
8. No. 57 Avenue Road. In 1968, representatives of twenty different immigrant organisations from around the country met at 57 Avenue Road to form the Black People’s Alliance (BPA). Three years earlier Avenue Road was the target of high-profile racist attacks against Indians in Leamington when burning crosses were placed outside the front doors of two houses. Although the BPA was ultimately short-lived, by taking a militant stance against racism and bringing people of colour together around the idea of ‘political blackness’ it had a lasting legacy in shaping the British Black Power movement.
9. Gloucester Street. From April 1831 to March 1834, the newspaper proprietor John Fairfax lived at 10 Gloucester Street. Fairfax founded The Leamington Spa Courier and The Leamington Chronicle and Warwickshire Reporter, but after he was bankrupted by a vexatious libel action he sought a new life in Australia, emigrating to New South Wales in 1838. Three years later he took over a local newspaper and transformed it into The Sydney Morning Herald. Thanks in part to the gold rush, by the 1860s the Herald’s circulation had risen to 6,600 copies daily; a figure only exceeded in the British Empire by the Times and Telegraph of London. Control of The Sydney Morning Herald remained in the Fairfax family until 1990 and it is still one of Australia’s leading news outlets.
10. No. 3 Church Street. From 1964 to 1994, the building at 3 Church Street was home to the Commonwealth Club. The club was founded by Shree Nath Rohilla, a resident of Leamington who had moved to the town in the mid-1950s from India. The Commonwealth Club was intended to provide a welcoming space for migrants and help them integrate into English society at a time when some clubs in Leamington operated a colour bar that denied entry to people on the basis of their race.