Henry Bellairs was one of Bedworth’s long serving rectors serving the Parish of All Saints for 45 years from September 1819 until April 1864. He came to the town as a young curate taking over as rector in 1830 after the death of the previous rector Edward Finch. A man who had led a full and interesting life, Henry Bellairs served in the Royal Navy as a Midshipman and had previously fought with Admiral Lord Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar in October 1805. He was wounded in the battle and was awarded a sword, £25 and a medal from the Admiralty.
He was discharged from the navy but it was not the end of Bellairs' military service as he then joined the army. His brother William Bellairs was a lieutenant in the 15th Regiment of Light Dragoons at Waterloo.
On leaving the army Henry Bellairs decided to join the Church of England. Henry studied at St. Mary’s Hall Oxford and was ordained as a Deacon at Radley in Hertfordshire in July 1817. A man who was considered to be going places he was given the position of Curate at Bedworth after less than 12 months at Radley. Strange as it may seem the rector, Rev. Edward Finch was not living in Bedworth but on the Island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean.
Bedworth at this time was not a good place in which to live. Its population of 3,500 who mainly worked in coal mining and silk ribbon weaving were suffering great distress because of unemployment and a lack of support from the church because of the absence of the rector.
Conditions were so bad and the town had such a bad reputation it was known as ‘Black Beduth’.
When he arrived in the town Bellairs found the church empty and the schools which were founded by the will of Nicholas Chamberlaine almost as bad. Sports such as dog fighting, cock fighting, even bull baiting were rife, public disorder was so bad that both men and women would fight in the streets after spending too much time in the pubs of the town.
Henry, a large and strong man, was not afraid of the townspeople. A man who had fought at Trafalgar was not going to be beaten by drunken weavers and miners. Using all his energy and character Henry Bellairs changed the town to such a degree that it began to lose its poor reputation.
He was not adverse to using physical means to impose his will on the town. On at least two occasions, one in the Market Place and one in the churchyard he fought with troublemakers, beating them every time. He eventually won the respect of the town. People started to attend church again and children returned to the old schools standing next to the church. Bedworth changed for the better as Bellairs imposed his personality on the town.
Henry and his wife Dorothy had thirteen children, most of whom did not contribute to the history of Bedworth. However their daughter Nona is remembered for her help and assistance to the Bedworth silk weavers after the collapse of the trade in 1860. She also contributed money towards improvements of the parish church.
Henry Bellairs retired as Rector of Bedworth in April 1864 and moved to Paignton in Devon, where he died in April 1871 at the age of 81. He is buried next to his wife Dorothy in St.Giles Churchyard, Exhall.
Henry’s name is now only remembered locally in Bellairs Avenue. Henry Bellairs Church of England Middle School no longer exists, having been merged with Hob Lane School in 2002 to create St. Michael's School.