Barras Heath and Stoke Heath were areas of wasteland which had commoning rights, and were part of the great swathe of common lands that encircled the city of Coventry. Although enclosure went on apace in the County of Coventry during the eighteenth century, Barras and Stoke Heaths survived. The commoning rights were not extinguished until 1927 by the Coventry Corporation Act when they became recreation grounds.
In 1874 Walter William Neale had a practice at 6 Hay Lane, Coventry. He was a 'solicitor, solicitor to the Coventry Industrial & Provident Land & Building Society Limited and to Foleshill and adjoinig parished Licensed Victuallers Protection Association' (rather ironic, given the later use his house was put to!). He was also Captain of the 2nd Volunteer Battalion, the Royal Warwickshire Regiment and legal advisor to the local Conservative party. As well as his Coventry practice, he also attended at King Street, Bedworth, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and lived in between the two practices at Exhall Grange. Quite the respectable member of society, it would seem.
Mr Neale had a new house built and in 1876 moved into it - Barras House. It must have stood in splendid isolation on Stoke Heath, looking out over Barras Heath, a large country house with stone-built ground floor and half timbered first floor. But how did he manage to have his house built on, what was still at that time, common land?
Within 11 years Neale fell into disgrace. A warrant for his arrest was issued in 1887 on charges of fraud and embezzlement and he fled to Spain and then Australia, where he was apprehended. 30 years later, on 1.11.1917, the house was purchased by Phillips & Marriott for £3,550. In order to obtain a license for the Barras House, Phillips & Marriott had to surrender two exisitng Coventry licenses - the Hospital Inn on Stoney Stanton Road in 1918 and Priory Tavern, New Buildings, on 10.2.1919. The Barras House opened on the same day.
The authorities were very much influenced by the 'reform' or 'improved house' movement, which meant that pubs had to be spacious, airy and well-lit in order to 'discourage rowdyism and hard drinking by the dignified fronts they present to the world, and to offer in place of stimulated excitement the comfort and sociability of a well conducted clubhouse in the old English spirit'. They were supposed to offer 'a quiet rending of eighteenth century English classic' architecture. Whilst other breweries were building new pubs in this mould to achieve respectability, Philips & Marriott were buying old buildings, such as the Barras House and Foleshill Old Hall.
Phillips & Marriott then let out the Barras to Trust Houses Limited. This was a business established by Earl Grey to run reformed houses. Although alcoholic drinks were available in Trust Houses, the manager had no share in the profits from their sale, only from sales of food and non-alcoholic beverages. Trust Houses specialised in running old coaching inns as they were large buildings yet cheap to buy as the advent of the railways had reduced their trade to such an extent that they were in decline. They also purchased buildings that were not originally pubs, such as the Barras.
In 1924 Phillips & Marriott sold out to Bass and so the Barras became a Bass pub, later Bass M&B. The Barras had a large lounge with wood panelling and stained glass windows and a small bar tucked at the side. This was one of the last pubs in Coventry to have a bagatelle table in the bar. The table was over 60 years old and the game was enthusiastically supported.
At one time the Barras was known as 'The Bolshie'. There are competing theories as to why:
1. The most likely is the most mundane. It is said to have been the meeting place of the local Communist Party
2. A top level Russian delegation is said to have stayed there during the Second World War
3. Some Russian soldiers are said to have been interned there with the Germans during the First World War
Eventually the pub became a sizzling steak house and once they had done their worst and painted the beautiful panelling pink, demolition was probably the kindest thing to do. This was duly done in 2005 and the pub was replaced with a block of apartments.|