Walks Thro Coventry – Part 8

Posted on: January 24th, 2012 by pj

Walking along High Street we pass on our right the Craven Arms Hotel, formerly a well-known old commercial and posting inn, and recently rebuilt in picturesque style; while next to it is the fine stone building of Lloyds Banking Co.  On the left will be noticed the handsome building of Barclay & Co, Bankers, the front portion of which is utilised by Messrs. Gilbert & Son as a jewellers’ shop.  Proceeding, we leave Hay Lane on the left, and notice opposite thereto the London City and Midland Bank, Ltd, a really imposing block of buildings at the corner of Little Park Street. We now enter Earl Street, so named from having been part of the Earl of Chester’s portion of the town. Immediately to the left is the new Council House, a magnificent pile, worthy of a great city. The foundation stone was laid, with much ceremony, on June 12th 1913 by Colonel   Wyley, then Mayor. It comprises Council Chamber, Committee Rooms, accommodation for officials, etc, on a somewhat elaborate scale, but—no Town Hall, which is felt to be a deficiency.


If the visitor be not accompanied by a “guide, philosopher, and friend,’’ he may at this point miss a “bit” of old Coventry worthy of more than a passing glance. Through the gateway there, to the left of the Herald Office, will be found the Old Palace Yard, so called on account of a building in which royal personages have been entertained.

Miss M. Dormer Harris, who has of late years written much on Coventry, notably a volume of Dent’s Mediaeval Towns Series, in an illustrated article (Country Life Sept. 11th, 1915) says: “Palace Yard, anciently known as ‘Mr. Hopkins’s house in High Street,’ has an unpretentious brick frontage with an entrance leading to a lovely gabled court adorned with lead work. Though the tradition, noted in an auctioneer’s bill of 1831, that the house contained the ‘ancient palace and state rooms of Queen Elizabeth’ is pure fiction, Sampson Hopkins did entertain an Elizabeth of Royal blood, and if the family already held Palace Yard in 1605, then it was here the Princess had her lodging—the Stuart Princess, not the Tudor Queen, but her namesake, who reigned for a winter in Bohemia, she to whom Sir Henry Wotton wrote the lines beginning: ‘You meaner beauties of the night.’ The other ‘palatial’ associations of the Hopkins’s house gather round less romantic members of the House of Stuart—James II, his daughter Anne, and George of Denmark, Anne’s husband, of whom Charles II said he had tried him drunk and tried him sober, and, drunk or sober, there was no making anything of him.  Though the quadrangle is a medley of stvles—at the north end oriels, fifteenth century barge-boards,  and gables of steep pitch,  at the south a classic portico with Venetian window and bell turret—the whole is wonderfully harmonious.’’ Time will not permit of an exhaustive examination. It may, however, be briefly quoted that to this “palace fallen on evil days,” Princess Elizabeth was hurriedly brought in November, 1605, for safety within Coventry’s walls, her tutor, Lord Harrington, of Combe, boding evil from the news of the baulked conspirators’ wild ride through Warwickshire. The chief remaining architectural glories consist in the artistic lead work: on an east side spout-head is inscribed the date 1655, on a western one 1656. The accompanying letters H stand for Richard Hopkins and his wife Sarah (Jesson).  Few to whom the place is familiar will disagree with Miss Harris’s conclusion:— “Probably there exists no town house of this type and importance in England—save, may be, the New Inn, at Gloucester—better worth preservation; and yet the fear is always imminent that the site may fall a prey to the speculator, and the glories and memories of Palace Yard vanish.’

Leaving this interesting place, we cross over to St. Mary Street, where are the Police Buildings and modernised Justice Rooms, which were opened in September 1899, and cost the city upwards of £24,000.

The authorised strength of the police force is :—1 chief constable, 1 superintendent, 6 inspectors,  14 sergeants, and 115 constables — total,  137.

Leaving St. Mary Street, we have on our right the Technical Institute. The mean and narrow front gives no sort of indication of the extent and usefulness of this Institution. It was opened in 1887, the aim of the managers being to afford an organised system of technical education, in which both theoretical and practical instruction are so co-ordinated as to assist the trade and commerce of the city. Under happier circumstances a New Technical Institute would be nearing completion, plans having been passed two years ago for the erection on the Pool Meadow of a building in every way worthy of the cause. A little further, on the right, is an ancient residence, with overhanging- upper stories, and also the Old Star Inn, of some renown in former times. Opposite is Bayley Lane and with Much Park Street on our right, we enter Jordan Well, which received its name from Jordan Sheppy, once Mayor of Coventry, who sank a well here.

Further on, a number of old buildings are seen. Passing on the left Freeth Street and Cox Street (formerly called Mill Lane, on account of the Earl’s mills once standing at the other end of it), and on the right hand White Friar Street, we reach Gosford Street, at the commencement of which will again be seen specimens of old houses, in good repair. Further along this street, on the right-hand side, is passed White Friars’ Lane, which is entered by an ancient passage, while on the left is seen a brick-built chapel, with rooms for Sunday Schools at the rear, belonging to the General Baptists. The colossal building on the right hand side is a new engineering factory, erected partially on the site of a number of old houses at the front, and in the rear encroaching on the Workhouse Infirmary and grounds. In this particular locality are many timber-framed tenements—picturesque, but old. Shortly, the main street becomes wider, and then crosses the river Sherbourne. At this point there formerly stood a chapel dedicated to St. George, the patron saint of England, who, according to tradition, was born in Coventry (vide Percy’s Reliques).  St. George, who lived in the early part of the fourth century, is reckoned among the seven champions of Christendom, and the day set apart for him in the calendar of the church is the 23rd April.  In 1474 Edward IV, then visiting Coventry, kept St. George’s feast here, attending the chapel on this bridge for the service. Entering Far Gosford Street, we may find that a little further on the street crosses another bridge—called in former times Dover Bridge—now almost unnoticeable,  although a copious stream of water at one time flowed beneath it, which was until recent years an important local boundary line. The space between the two bridges was called Dover — hence the name of the bridge.

On the right are the works of Messrs. Calcott Bros., Ltd., cycle and motor-car manufacturers, and the narrow passage next them, adjoining the stonemason’s yard, is “Shut” Lane, where Edward IV and Charles I were shut out of the city. Edward IV tried to enter the city at Gosford Green and was refused admittance.  To our left are other industrial premises. Lower Ford Street follows, and again on our right are All Saints’ Schools, a brick building with stone dressings, containing accommodation for 347 children.  Nearly opposite is an opening leading to Harnall Row, and a little higher up is All Saints’ Church, of Gothic architecture, erected in 1868, the material used being the local red sand-stone.

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