Turning to the right we approach the pretty entrance to the Coventry Cemetery, and if there is a feeling of pleasure at the outside appearance of this “hallowed ground’’ that feeling is enhanced when we make a closer acquaintance with what is reputed to be one of the most beautiful burial places in the kingdom. The cemetery comprises eighteen acres of land, the natural features of which were favourable for the purpose, and were fully taken advantage of by the late Sir Joseph Paxton, under whose direction the work was designed and carried out. The ‘’ample gravel walks,” says one who writes upon the subject, “winding in all directions, and revealing at every turn some new beauty to the eye, attest the artistic skill of the plan; and the long broad promenade next the turnpike road commands a most charming view.” There are two chapels, and many monuments, the one near the entrance (to Sir Joseph Paxton, who for some time represented Coventry in Parliament), claiming special attention. A portion of land at the south-east corner is assigned to the Hebrew community. The Cemetery was opened in 1847, and the cost of it was more than £12,000. The London and Northwestern Railway runs along the south side, and beyond is Whitley Common, a large portion of which was, in 1887, added to the Cemetery, being connected therewith by a bridge over the railway. The total area is over 30 acres.
Leaving the Cemetery, and turning to the right a short distance down the London Road, on the left we find an avenue of trees, at the other end of which is the Charter House, the site of an old Carthusian Monastery. The order was founded by one Bruno, of the Monastery of Chartreuse, of which word “Charterhouse” is a corruption. The life led by the monks was of most exclusive and hermit-like character. A large part of the boundary wall is still standing at the back of the present buildings, and in the garden are traces of some of the ruins. About a mile further along the main road stands Whitley Abbey, and the ruins of the fire-destroyed Baginton Hall are some three miles distant.
White Friars’ Monastery
Making our way back towards the city, the “three tall spires” come in sight, and at one point we find that Holy Trinity spire is obscured by that of St. Michael’s, the first effect of this eclipse being rather bewildering.
Leaving Paradise Street to the left, with Gulson Road to the right, we reach the Workhouse, the buildings in connection with which are on the site of, and indeed some of them actually formed part of, the ancient Monastery of the White Friars, who appeared in Coventry about 1343, and who claimed the prophet Elias as their founder. Their house was built by Sir John Poultney, Lord Mayor of London, and was enlarged by a gift of land from William Bottener in 1413. The annual income of the monastery in the time of Henry VII dwindled down to £7 13s. 8d, and the monks were turned out without pension or allowance of any kind. The place afterwards passed to several owners, among whom was John Hales, who in 1565 entertained Queen Elizabeth there. Mr. Hales here originated the Grammar School. After his death, the house passed to other hands more than once, and in 1801 it was sold to the Directors of the Poor of the city, who at once adapted it to the requirements of a workhouse. There are still many interesting remains of the Monastery to be seen here, notably the cloister, now the dining-room of the inmates; but in the alterations which have necessarily been made there is a large mixture of the modern with the ancient. There were formerly two workhouses — one for Trinity Parish in Well Street, and one for St. Michael’s Parish in Hill Street. The present establishment has room for about 500 inmates. A large infirmary was in 1890 added to the main buildings, but there have since been important extensions.
Continuing our perambulation we notice a modernised public-house, “Ye Olde Salutation Inn,” the first within the boundary on this side of Coventry, and having a pictorial sign with the legend “You are welcome to the city.” A few steps further on there is a stone against the front wall of a house, the inscription on which is hardly legible : — “90 miles from London.”
Leaving White Friar Street on the right, we enter Much Park Street, which has been supposed to derive its name from being the way to the Great Park already mentioned, but it was well-known in former days as “Misford Street,” and the etymology is doubtful. Immediately to the left hand are St Michael’s Schools, stone built, and having for the purposes of elementary education accommodation for 546 children. Old-fashioned houses abound hereabouts, and a little way down the street, on the right, is an old gateway, which was connected with the White Friars’ Monastery, and now leads into White Friars’ Lane, in which is St. Mary’s Mission Church, attached to St. Michael’s. Nearly opposite this will be noticed with pleasure a fine old building of timber and plaster, part of which is devoted to the purposes of a brewery. Some good old houses are passed on the right, then we cross Earl Street, and, bearing a little to the left, enter Bayley Lane.
St. Michael’s Church now appears, which in passing along we shall have on our right, while we notice some of the buildings in the neighbourhood. Immediately to our left is the Hall of the Drapers’ Company, built in 1832, in the Grecian style. The chief feature of the interior is the ball room, measuring sixty feet by thirty feet. The lane was formerly monopolised by drapers’ shops. St. Mary Street follows, on the right-hand side of which stand the new Police Offices, previously noticed.
ST. MARY’S HALL
A few steps further bring us to that fine mediaeval relic, St. Mary’s Hall, one of the chief glories of the city. Erected in the time of Henry VI for the guilds of St. John, the Trinity, and St. Katherine, the building affords striking evidence of the wealth and importance of those bodies, though there were many other guilds connected with the trades of the city. On passing through the doorway, the curious carving on the roof of the porch will be noticed; it is said to represent the Deity crowning the Virgin Mary, and the Annunciation. On the right of the courtyard are some massive vaults, with groined roof and arches, containing some interesting relics.
Crossing the yard, we enter a lobby with doorways leading to all parts of the building. Turning up the noble staircase, passing by a fine tapestry, we enter the Great Hall, a noble room, 76 feet long, 30 feet broad, and 34 feet high. This was the banqueting hall of the guilds, whose entertainments were on a princely scale, and which monarchs and nobles did not refuse to honour by their presence. The timber-work of the roof contains figures of angels with musical instruments. The grand window at the end of the hall is divided into nine compartments, filled with stained-glass figures of several of our kings, with their coats of arms, each placed under a canopy. Originally, the work of putting in this window was executed by one John Thornton, a native of this city, who also put in the east window of York Minster.
Under the window, and extending along the whole breadth of the hall, with a depth of ten feet, is the celebrated piece of old tapestry. This exquisite work is divided into six compartments, formed into two rows of three each, one above the other. The figure representing Justice in the centre of the upper square occupies the place where there was originally a representation of the Deity, which for some reason was cut away. A few years ago the tapestry was restored, and afterwards exhibited for a time at South Kensington.
At the other end of the hall is the Minstrel Gallery, approached by a narrow staircase, and behind is a large room called the Armoury. In front of the gallery hang some specimens of the ancient civic armour, which are brought into requisition for the “city guard” that generally marches at the head of the Godiva procession.
On the west side of the hall is the oriel, containing a figure of Godiva, and sometimes the chair of state, of carved oak, bearing the City Arms (Elephant and Castle). This chair has often been the seat of royalty. There are some good paintings on the walls, and the windows are of modern stained glass, with the names of some of the mayors of the city. The Mayoress’s Parlour is found up the steps opposite the oriel, and in it are many interesting pictures and antiquities. Returning through the Great Hall, under the gallery we have a look into the old Council Chamber on the right.
Another room on the left formerly contained the splendid collection of muniments of the city, but these are now preserved, in a building (specially erected for the purpose) adjoining St. Mary’s Hall. Of these documents a writer has said—”Few, if any, of the corporate towns of the kingdom are possessed of such a vast collection of muniments, so historically precious, so genealogically valuable, so locally interesting. Adopted, as the city was, by one of the most influential of Saxon thanes, cherished amongst the most powerful Norman barons, basking in the sunshine of royal favour during the reigns of succeeding sovereigns; in its monastic institutions, the abode of learning; in the houses of its merchant princes, the home of riches — it is not to be wondered at that during the lapse of more than eight centuries so many literary treasures should have been accumulated.”
A cursory examination will show that this eulogy is not undeserved, and that the Corporation have acted wisely in providing a separate building for the storage and preservation of this priceless collection. In 1895, Mr. John Cordy Jeaffreson, B.A., one of the Inspectors of Ancient Writings for Her Majesty’s Commissioners of Historical Manuscripts, prepared a “Calendar” of these ‘’Books, Charters, Letters Patent, Deeds, Rolls, Writs, and other Writings,” and stated that “the number of MSS. in the Muniment Room that still are, or were some fifty or sixty years since (i.e., prior to part of them being bound up in volumes) separate writings, may on a cautious and moderate computation, be said to exceed 1,000.”
Under the Minstrel Gallery are some steps which lead into the kitchen, where there is evidence of the scale on which preparations were wont to be made for civic feasts. “What is that curious effigy on the buttress, there ?” it may be asked. Ah! that nearly life-sized figure is a painful reminder of less civilized days. Read the inscription on the brass plate :—
THIS KNAVES’ POST
was formerly affixed to the wall of a house in MUCH PARK STREET.
It was usual to sentence offenders to be whipped at the cart tail from the Mayor’s Parlour (in the Market Place) to the Knaves’ Post and back.
The post was erected in this place
AS A RELIC OF THE PAST,
By order of the Corporation, May, 1900.
Leaving the Hall we turn to the left, and on the west wall of it we find a similar reminder of more barbarous times in the City Stocks, which were used as lately as the boyhood’s days of some living citizens. The inscription reads :—
formerly stood in the Market Place (where they were used for the punishment of offenders) until the year 1865.
They were erected in this place
AS A RELIC OF THE PAST,
By order of the Corporation, May, 1900.
A favourite subject for artists comes next in the shape of a fine old-timbered house, which is maintained in perfect condition; and immediately following is St. Michael’s Baptist Chapel, built in 1858, for about 600 people. In 1898 the authorities of the chapel provided a new organ, by Nicholson & Lord, of Walsall, which is one of the most satisfactory in the city. A Sunday School is held in a room under the chapel.
Hay Lane runs to our left, and Bayley Lane continues in front, with many old houses and the County Police Office. Turning here to the right, we have on our left the recently enlarged County Hall, formerly the Assize Court. Here are now held Quarter Sessions and weekly Petty Sessions for part of the county, also monthly sittings of the County Court. This building, with the gaol which once stood at its side, was erected in 1785, and belonged to the Corporation, but in 1842 it was transferred to the county, at the price of some £17,000. The assizes being removed to Warwick, the gaol was rendered useless, and Mr. Alderman Gulson purchased the site, presenting it to the city for the purpose of erecting thereon a building for the Free Public Library, that for some time had been carried on in the premises in Hertford Street of the old Coventry Library, the 17,000 volumes of which were transferred to the city on advantageous terms.