Among other things in its history on which Coventry prides itself is the fact that for nearly six centuries it has had a Mayor and Corporation. Still to be seen is the Charter granted by King Edward III, dated January 20th, 1344, conferring these privileges upon Coventry, which, even at that remote period, was remarkable for its opulence, prosperity, and notable institutions. Thus was constituted a regular and permanent municipal government, and Coventry has ever since borne the coveted title of “city. “ The first municipal council numbered 12. It now numbers 48, viz. : 12 aldermen and 36 councillors, the latter representing twelve wards. Among other responsibilities of the Corporation are the streets, which total up to a length of over 60 miles.
A Board of Guardians administers the Poor Law, maintaining a workhouse, officially termed the London Road Institution, with accommodation for about 500 inmates, a large infirmary, and several scattered homes for children.
The interests of the community as regards primary education were for upwards of thirty years cared for mainly by a School Board, who, in relinquishing their work to a Committee under the Education Act, 1902, transferred eleven schools, having accommodation for 7,110. There are now 15 Council Schools, with accommodation for 14,195, and 11 non-provided schools with accommodation for 3,386, making a total of 17,581 places. Schemes for the building of two new schools and enlargement of two existing schools to provide 3,123 more places have been postponed until after the war. At several centres instruction is given in special subjects—cookery, 7; laundry and housewifery, 6; housecraft, 2 ; manual training, 6; gardening, 2 ; and a school for mental defectives. There are likewise several evening Continuation Schools, which form a link between primary and higher education.
As to secondary education, a Technical Instruction Committee, appointed by the Corporation, formerly carried on the School of Art and the Technical Institute. There are also a Day School of Science for Boys (Bablake), the Grammar School, a Girls’ Secondary School, and other educational institutions, conspicuous among them being a Central Free Public Library, and several Branch Libraries, which are well administered and highly appreciated. By the Education Act of 1902 the City Council, acting through a committee of twenty-five members, fifteen of whom are members of the Council, became responsible for supplying or aiding the supply of the whole of the educational needs of the city.
The lighting of the city, both by gas and electricity, is in the hands of the Corporation. The old gas works in Hill Street have been superseded by new works of a very extensive character at Foleshill. The electricity works adjoin the district of Radford, and supply current for the arc lamps which illuminate the central streets, and also for the numerous incandescent lamps used by tradesmen and private citizens. The Gas Department has for many years yielded a profit for the reduction of the local rates, and the electricity undertaking, after a somewhat troublous infancy, is also profitable to the ratepayers, and has of late years proved itself a magnificently managed concern, its percentage of profits being the largest in the Kingdom.
In religious matters the Church of England comes first as regards amount of accommodation, but the Congregationalists, Baptists, Wesleyan Methodists, and Roman Catholics are strongly represented, while several other denominations have also a footing in the city, including the Society of Friends, Primitive Methodists, Free Methodists, Salvation Army, Plymouth Brethren, Spiritualists, Christadelphians, and Unitarians.
For 600 years Coventry sent two representatives to Parliament, but at the re-distribution of seats in 1885 the city was deprived of one of its members. The Parliamentary Register includes the “freemen,’ who have qualified by serving seven years’ apprenticeship to one and the same trade in the city, who possess a valuable estate bequeathed by Sir Thomas White, the proceeds of which are given in weekly allowances to the senior freemen, and are entitled to certain grazing rights on the common lands. There are also many charities connected with the city, under the management of the General Charities Trustees and other bodies.
With reference to the ancient historical connections of the city, it may be observed that in old documents its name has been variously written Coventre and Coventria, both of which are supposed to have been derived from a convent established here in the seventh century, of which St. Osburg was the Abbess. This convent was destroyed by fire in 1015, when Edric invaded Mercia. An ingenious probable derivation of the name of the city was given by the late Mr. Doggett, of Bristol, who stated that in olden times a tree was planted near to monasteries called the covin tree, where barter and exchange were carried on. As it is well known that a convent was situated here, we may assume that there was a covin tree, and the name may hence have been derived. But, leaving conjecture, it is recorded that in the year 1043, during the reign of Edward the Confessor, Leofric, Earl of Mercia, and his Countess, Godiva, erected a monastery on the site of a former convent. This monastery they richly endowed with money and land, one-half of the town and twenty-four lordships being appropriated to it. Its interior, according to an old writer, was covered with precious metal, and among other treasures it included an arm of St. Augustine, with an inscription recording that “it was purchased by Agebnethus, Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1020, for the sum of one talent of silver and two hundred talents of gold, from the Pope of Rome.’’