I was recently in Clarendon Street watching the demolition of the old chapel, originally known as the Free Baptist Chapel. The construction came about when a group broke away from the Warwick Street chapel, ostensibly over the lack of provision of a school. The new chapel cost some £2, 098 and was opened in June 1863 with the Rev Salter in charge. There was an impressive coloured glass window, donated in memory of her sister by Miss M Pilkington, presumably a member of the St Helen’s glassworks company of the same name. The chapel survived until 1921, when the congregation returned to the Warwick Street chapel.
The next recorded tenant, from 1948 onwards, was a company called Gor Ray, specialists in expensive pleated skirts, at that time top of the range ladies’ wear. Like all fashion products, they eventually went out of fashion, possibly in this case as a result of the advent of the miniskirt. One of my fellow demolition-watchers was a lady who had worked at Gor Ray for the princely sum of £14 per week. Gor Ray also had a factory at Enfield, and suspecting that the management was playing Enfield workers against those in Leamington, she left and went to work at ‘The Lockheed’ for £23 a week.
Gor Ray products seem now to be highly sought after, especially in America, and curiously, the name Gor Ray still survives as the name of an office block in Enfield, – which would seem likely to have been the site of the original skirt factory mentioned above and presumably now also no longer a going concern. However, the Gor Ray company survives, with a registered office in a cottage on a Scottish farm. Its accounts can be viewed for a small sum. Whether they are awaiting the return of the pleated skirt, or whether they are just collecting rents from the Enfield office block can only be surmised.
Once Gor Ray had moved on, the Leamington firm of Karobes were the next users of the chapel buildings. There they manufactured car seat covers designed to jazz up the boring seats offered by mainstream car manufacturers. Karobes eventually branched out into a vast range of gadgets, all designed to make the average car look as if it would, or should, go faster. It is difficult to trace the history of Karobes, as the chapel was not the company’s recorded home, but it seems likely that only the seat covers were made in the chapel, possibly on the machines originally used by Gor Ray. Eventaually, just as with Gor Ray, fashion caught up with Karobes. Safety legislation also played a part, and the company ended its days in the hands of Betterware, the door-to-door brush and cleaning products vendors.
After Karobes, the chapel appears to have been used as a store, with little to help identify the business owners. The only clues were that when the business was being closed, the main doors were left open, and nosey passers-by could be seen wandering in and out, viewing the contents, – which seemed to consist largely of fairground paraphernalia, painted boards and dismantled stalls.
The next tenants remain anonymous, but they did build an elegant office extension at the rear, with a roofline reflecting the original steeply angled roof of the chapel, its barge boards painted in bright primary colours, marking it out clearly from the original building.
The houses and flats that will grace the site will, according to the artist’s impression on the hoarding around the site, reflect the style of the old chapel in the roofline at least. The demolition of such old buildings which played significant roles in Leamington’s past is in many ways a shame, but if no worthwhile use can be found for them, perhaps demolition and replacement is the best bet.