Sir Alfred Herbert
Alfred Herbert was the son of a building contractor who made a fortune and bought land at Whetstone, Leicestershire. He was born on 6 September 1866. He came to Coventry to work as manager of Coles & Matthews, The Butts. This firm produced machinery for the cycle trade. He bought out the business in 1888. Later, with a talented and inventive school friend, William Hubbard, he set up an engineering business manufacturing machine tools, lathes and drilling machines. The partnership foundered and Herbert continued on his own, setting up a limited company in 1894. As Herbert Machine Tools Ltd, The Alfred Herbert Company was once the world’s largest machine tool manufacturer.
During the First World War, Alfred Herbert was Controller of Machine Tools to the Ministry of Munitions. He was knighted in 1917 in recognition of his service. He also received the Legion of Honour from the French and further honours from the Belgian and Russian Governments. Sir Alfred was married three times and had four daughters.
He gave generously to his adopted city. A one and a half acre site, once a slum in the area behind the old Cook Street Gate was transformed into a tranquil garden in remembrance of his second wife, Florence. It is known as Lady Herbert’s Garden. In the site are twelve almshouses, built and endowed for ladies with close connections to the company. They are known as the Lady Herbert Homes. In the 1930s and 40s he poured money into his dream of an Art Gallery. In all he gave a quarter of a million pounds to that project. The Art Gallery and Museum bears his name.
Sir Alfred took the Mansion and about 25 acres of land surrounding it. It included two gatehouses and is the entity seen today. It is unclear why he bought the property. He did not live in it.