The late Mr. Samuel Carter at once gave £1,000 towards the new building, and Mr. Gulson then handsomely undertook the completion of the work, which cost more than £4,000. The internal fittings cost about £2,000, contributed by citizens. The erection was carried out by Mr. J. Marriott, Coventry, from designs by Mr. E. Burgess, of London, and the building was opened in 1873. The reading-room is commodious and well lighted and arranged. Tuesday, July 8th, 1890, saw the completion of another generous gift to the town, by Mr. John Gulson — a new Reference Library. The room is 66 feet long and 53 feet broad and is built of red brick, with Ancester stone dressings. Inside, above the corridor or alcoves on the ground floor, runs a gallery, which as below, is occupied by books. The walls are partly covered with encaustic tiles, and the floor is of pitch pine blocks. The Library is a well conducted Institution, and borrowers are allowed free access to the books.
Mr. Gulson spent upwards of £11,000 on the buildings, which form a noble memorial of both his generosity and foresight. Mr. Carter’s contribution was devoted to internal fittings. The Committee of the Coventry Industrial and Fine Art Exhibition with which the Market Hall was opened in 1867 had a final balance of £775, which they donated to the purchase of books (vide brass plate inscription in the entrance lobby of the Reference Department). On the death of Mr. Gulson in 1904, the Library was further enriched by his collection of books and etchings, together with a sum of £500. A fine portrait of the deceased gentleman adorns the wall at the west end of the Reference Library, and special book cases and furniture constitute his memorial; his memory is held in the greatest reverence by all citizens.
At the east end of the Reference Library is a large painting by Luca Giordano, entitled “Bacchus and Ariadne,” presented to the city by the late Right Hon. Edward Ellice, who for a long period represented Coventry in Parliament. It formerly hung above the Minstrel Gallery in St. Mary’s Hall. Several other pictures are exhibited, and there is also a fine collection of water-colours.
It should be mentioned, however, that all the work of the Library Committee is not now carried on at the central institution. In 1910, the Council accepted an offer from Mr. Andrew Carnegie to provide new Libraries at Foleshill, Stoke, and Earlsdon, at a cost of £10,000. Sites were obtained and buildings erected, each comprising a news and reading room with reference books, a lending department, and a juvenile department. All three were officially opened on the same day, 20th October, 1913, by the Mayor (Col. Wyley).
On June 4th, 1914, Mr. Carnegie was the City’s guest. He expressed himself as delighted with the libraries, and he remarked that America had nothing to teach Coventry in planning, constructing, and equipping such buildings. As part of the day’s function Mr. Carnegie was presented with the honorary freedom of the city.
According to the last published report, on March 31st, 1915, the stock of books in the libraries numbered 77,721 volumes, and the total number of issues during the year ending at the same date was 350,591. The number of books issued in the Reference Library was 43,409, and this in addition to constant use of works on the “open shelves,” of which, of course, no record can be made.
We now walk along the road between the Library and Holy Trinity Church, a spot where once stood an old building called Jesus Hall, taken down in 1744. At the end of the road we have the main entrance to Holy Trinity Church. Opposite this is Derby Lane, which still exhibits some of the characteristics of Coventry’s ancient thoroughfares.
Trinity Church, it is thought, was built some time before St. Michael’s, the date at which it is first mentioned being 1269. It is of Gothic architecture, and the steeple is 232 feet in height, rising from the centre of the church, and supported on four massive pillars. The original spire was blown down in 1664, causing much damage to the body of the church. The east window, erected in memory of Mr. B. S. Cox, a parishioner, is a beautiful work of art. The church is in the shape of a cross, and consists of chancel, nave, and north and south aisles.
The aspect of the interior is as pleasing as the effect of the exterior is bold and striking. In 1855-6 the church underwent a thorough repair and restoration, the galleries being taken down, the ceiling illuminated with blue and gold, and some fine windows introduced. At the same time the tower was opened and the bells removed from the lantern, the whole structure being, it was thought, endangered by their ringing. During the progress of the work a curious fresco painting was discovered in the space above the springing of the west arch that supports the tower. This picture, which is now invisible, was a representation of the “Last Judgment,” and as far as could then be made out the centre figure was that of our Saviour in a crimson robe, seated on a rainbow, with the earth for a footstool. Below were the Virgin Mary, St. John, and the Twelve Apostles. Two angels were sounding the summons to judgment, and the tombs were giving up their dead.
On the right was a flight of steps leading to a portico, over which angels were looking down on the dread scene. Others were giving welcome to a figure wearing a tiara, evidently intended to represent a Pope, who, having passed by St. Peter, was the first to enter heaven. On the left of the Judge were unhappy spirits being dragged to the place of torment. Another fresco was found near the north vestry door, but that too, has faded away.
There are but few monuments in this church, and perhaps the only one to call for note is the tablet on the south wall of the choir to the memory of Dr. Philemon Holland, who was a physician and a schoolmaster, and prided himself on having written a folio volume with one pen—an old one when he began, and not worn out when he had finished. The pulpit is of stone, and is handsomely carved. The font is very old, and is painted and gilded. The finely-sculptured reredos in Caen stone was erected to the memory of Mr. John Bill, the father of the late Mr. John Bill, the work representing the visit of the Magi, the Crucifixion, and the Ascension. The vestry contains a portrait of the late Dr. Hook, Dean of Chichester, who was for some time vicar of this parish. The organ has been re-built and enlarged at a very heavy cost, and is now a magnificent instrument.
Leaving the church, we find ourselves in a small square formerly called the Spicerstoke, or Grocers’ quarter, and then come to the Butcher Row, with a cluster of old houses on our left, and Broadgate appearing through the opening in front. We turn to the right, still in the Butcher Row, which, as its name denotes, was formerly the quarter in which the meat trade specially flourished. The butchers had houses on each side of the row, the upper parts being used as the dwelling places, and the lower as slaughterhouses and shops. A short distance down on the left is the Little Butcher Row, with a quaint bit of architecture at the far end, where the overhanging storeys nearly touch the next building. The wider part of the street below the row is known as the Bull Ring. The Spotted Dog public-house now stands on the site of the west entrance to the old cathedral.
Retracing our steps for a short distance, we turn to the left and enter Priory Row, passing more old houses, some of them being in a very good state of preservation. Next to these we find the Girls’ Blue Coat School, built upon a portion of the site of the ancient Benedictine Monastery and Cathedral. The school presents a handsome appearance, and harmonises well with its surroundings. The charity was founded in 1714 by voluntary subscriptions, for the purpose of educating and training poor girls. The income of the school is about £300 a year, derived from bequests and other sources, including a collection after an annual sermon at Holy Trinity Church. A recent scheme has somewhat modified its ancient character.
In 1856, during the re-building of the school, the interesting remains we now admire were laid bare. The neighbourhood is of interest to the antiquary, for here once stood the convent from which the city is said to have taken its name, and which, according to Dugdale, was founded by “the Holy Virgin St. Osburg, and destroyed in 1016 by Canutus, King of Denmark, and that infamous traitor, Edricus, who, invading Mercia with an army, burned and wasted many towns in Warwickshire.’’
On the ruins of the convent, in the time of Edward the Confessor, Earl Leofric and his Countess, Godiva, founded a Monastery for the Benedictines, who derived their name from St. Benedict. The Monastery, with its Cathedral and Bishop’s Palace, comprised a splendid collection of buildings, extending from the lower.part of the Butcher Row down to Priory Street.
The remains before us are those of the west front of the Priory Church, which was one of the Cathedrals of the united Diocese of Coventry and Lichfield until the Reformation.
In the 12th century the Prior of the Cathedral held the position of a mitred Abbot, with a seat in Parliament as a spiritual Peer. Robert de Limsey was appointed to the custody of the Monastery in the reign of William Rufus, and removed his seat from Chester to Coventry, thus becoming the first resident Bishop of Coventry. He seems, however, to have had little regard either for the building or the monks, for it is recorded that “besides his scraping much silver from a beam, he suffered the buildings to decay for want of repair; plundered the church of many ornaments ; and as for the monks he kept them to poor and miserable commons; neither regarding their regular living or anything that might advance learning among them; to the end that being thus brought low and in ignorance their thoughts should not soar so high as to consider the redress of these, his great injuries.”
The Bishop’s Palace stood at the north-east corner of St. Michael’s Churchyard. The Cathedral is supposed to have been in construction similar to that now standing at Lichfield (Lichfield Cathedral is older than that at Coventry : Coventry Cathedral is supposed to have been a copy of it), and to have occupied a site on a gentle declivity from the north side of Trinity and St. Michael’s Churches down towards the Sherbourne.
Within the walls of this Monastery many historical events took place. In 1404 Henry VI. held a Parliament in the great chamber at the priory, at which no lawyer was allowed to be present: hence it was called Parliamentum Indoctorum, and sometimes the Laymen’s Parliament.
In 1411 the Prince of Wales (afterwards Henry V) was arrested here by John Horneby, then mayor of the city. In 1453 the place was visited by King Henry and Queen Margaret, who slept within its walls. Parliament again met here in 1459, and this time was called Parliamentum Diabolicum, on account of the number of attainders passed against Richard Duke of York and his followers; but these proceeding’s were set aside the next year at Westminster.
In 1510 Henry VIII. and his Queen came to witness the pageants of the city, and afterwards stayed at the priory. Two days were spent within its walls by the Princess Mary, who came to see the Mercers’ pageant in 1525. The Monastery, of course, shared the fate that the Reformation brought upon all similar institutions, and all now left of the magnificent structure are these ruins and other fragments that we shall meet with.
Proceeding along Priory Row, we have on our left a burial ground belonging to Holy Trinity Church, whose bells, eight in number, hang in the curious wooden erection now seen. On our right are Trinity and St. Michael’s Churches, of both of which we have fine views. Passing by Hill Top we see some handsome houses, and under one of them we find the offices and stores of a spirit merchant. There is here a fine range of vaults, extending under the ground some distance, and forming a remarkable portion of the Monastery remains.
Going down to Priory Street on the left, we see another burial ground which is connected with St. Michael’s Church, in which is a memorial to Thomas Sharp, author of several works on the History and Antiquities of Coventry, who died 1841, aged 70 years. His memory is also perpetuated by a stained-glass window in the Mercers’ Chapel, St. Michael’s Church. A short distance down the street, on either side, are the extensive works of the Triumph Cycle Co, and a little further, on the right-hand side, are the Public Baths. These were opened in 1894, and cost (exclusive of land, which was already the property of the Corporation), £20,361 3s. 1d. Alterations and additions were made in 1905 and 1907. There are a gentleman’s first class swimming bath, 90ft by 35ft, gentlemen’s second-class swimming bath, 90ft by 35ft, a ladies’ swimming bath, 60ft by 35ft, and 53 “slipper’’ or private baths. The want of further accommodation is now being keenly felt in the summer months. During the winter months the gentlemen’s first class swimming bath is used as a public assembly hall. There is a branch establishment at Primrose Hill, opened in May, 1913, containing 35 private or “slipper” baths.
Turning to the right, we cross into New Street, supposed to have derived its name from some tenements put up to accommodate the workmen employed in building St. Michael’s Church. Old houses are to be seen even in “New” Street, and also in Cox Street, which runs at the bottom. In Grove Street, found by crossing Cox Street, is a building, formerly, a chapel belonging to the Primitive Methodists, but now used as a printing office. Returning to the top of New Street, to our left stands the Coventry Provident Dispensary, a building worthy of the name and objects of the institution. The older part of the building was the original Dispensary, which was established in 1831; but such has been its progress that considerable additions have been made. The members, of whom there are some thousands, subscribe one penny per week, which entitles them to medical advice and medicine when required. The Institution is registered under the Acts relating to Friendly Societies, and is of great service to the community.
Taking now a look at the restored east end of St. Michael’s Church, the noble edifice on which our eyes have often rested as we passed around it, we move along the beautiful avenue of lime trees which extends the whole length of the churchyard, and presently reach one of the chief entrances to the edifice, the survey of the interior of which will not disappoint the highest anticipations of the beholder. For its size as a parish church, St. Michael’s claims first place in the United Kingdom. The earliest mention of the church is in the time of King Stephen, about the middle of the 12th century, when it was given by Ranulph, Earl of Chester, to the Monks of Coventry. The tower and steeple were afterwards added.
The tower was built at the cost of two brothers, who for twenty-two years expended annually £100 on the work, commencing in 1373 and finishing in 1394. Their names were William and Adam Botener, citizens and many times mayors of Coventry. To their two. sisters, Ann and Mary, the erection of the spire is due, as is also the middle aisle of the church. An old brass plate once in the church declared that
“William and Adam built the Tower, Ann and Mary built the Spire; William and Adam built the Church, Ann and Mary built the Quire.”
The tower rises immediately from the ground at the west end to a height of 130 feet 8 inches. It is enriched with well proportioned windows, carved figures, and tracery work of fine character. Upon this tower stands an octagon, 32 feet 6 inches high, supported by flying buttresses, and from within the battlements of this octagon springs the graceful spire, rising to the total height of 295 feet. This perfectly-proportioned and graceful structure never fails to win the admiration of those who behold it, and it is naturally an object in which the inhabitants of the city take great pride.
The church itself is 293 feet 9 inches in length, and 127 feet in breadth, and consists of nave, chancel, two aisles equal in length to the nave, and two smaller aisles. The church is intersected by massive pillars, supporting the arches of the roof, and the scene, from whatever point of view, is most impressive. In 1849 the galleries were removed and the pews made low and open, and in 1851 the church was first lighted with gas, now superseded by electricity. The windows are a beautiful feature, many of them being filled with stained and painted glass, some of it very old. There is a fine window to the memory of Albert Prince Consort, and the names of others are honoured in like manner.
The church was at one time divided into a number of chapels, with separate altars. The monuments are not very numerous, but several will be found worthy of notice.
One is a brass with the portrait of a woman kneeling, temp. James I, with the following lines engraved :—
“Her zealous care to serve her God,
Her constant love to husband deare,
Her harmless harte to everie one,
Doth live although her corps lye here.
God graunte us all, while glass doth run,
To live in Christ as she hath doone.”
“Ann Sewell, ye wife of William Sewell, of this cytty, vintner, departed this life ye 20th of December, 1609, of the
age of 46 years. An humble follower of her Saviour Christ, and a worthy stirrer up of others to all holy virtues.’’
The most noteworthy brass in the church, however, is fixed on the wall near the south porch. It is called Scrope’s Brass. Of the time of Queen Anne, it bears the following inscription :—
“Here lies the body of Captain Gervase Scrope, of the family of Scropes, of Bolton, in the County of York, who departed this life 20th of August, Anno Dui 1705, aged 66.
“An epitaph written by himself in the agony and dolorous pains of the gout and died soon after.”
“Here lyes an old toss’d Tennis Ball;
Was racketted from spring to fall,
With so much heat and so much hast,
Time’s arm for shame grew tyr’d at last.
Four kings in camps he truly served,
And from his loyalty ne’er swerv’d,
Father ruin’d and son slighted,
And from the Crown ne’er requited.
Loss of estate, relations, blood,
Was too well known but did no good ;
With long campaigns and pains oth’ gout
He cou’d no longer hold it out,
Always a restless life he led,
Never at quiet till quite dead,
He marry’d, in his later days,
One who exceeds the common praise;
But wanting breath still to make known
Her true affection and his own,
Death kindly came, all wants supplied
By giving rest—which life deny’d.”
Connected with the church is a splendid peal of ten bells, cast in 1774, and a clock with a chiming apparatus. There was a peal of bells here as early as the year 1429.
Tuesday, April 22nd, 1890, brought to a successful issue one of the most important works of parish church restoration ever undertaken in this country, for tower and spire, and much of the church, including the east end, which had never before been finished, were restored at a total cost of nearly £38,000. The whole structure is now one of great beauty and magnificence. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Benson, preached the re-opening sermon. The organ is a very fine one, by Willis, of London.
Leaving the church, we complete the walk up the avenue, and standing near the Free Library can obtain a view of ecclesiastical architecture that is well nigh unique. Then, turning to the left, we walk between the two churchyards and enter Hill Top, a curiously steep and narrow cobbled thoroughfare passing over the site of the Priory.
We now come into New Buildings — a name arising from some houses built here to make room for people whose homes outside the city had been destroyed in anticipation of a siege, in the time of Charles II. Passing on and turning to the left, we find old houses on the right, and on the other side a large brick factory and house, at first built for the manufacture of ribbons, but, by the generosity of the late Mr. John Gulson, for many years used as the drill rooms and armoury of the Coventry Rifle Volunteers, now merged in the local Territorial Battalion.
The premises have also for many years been used by the Coventry Ragged Schools, which, notwithstanding modern progress, appear still to be a necessary, as they are a useful, institution. Entering the yard by the gateway, we see the Stevens Memorial Hall, a most useful recent addition to the Ragged School premises. Further remains of the Cathedral are also seen, with the Girls’ Blue Coat School built upon them.
We now go past the Bull Ring, on the left, into Ironmonger Row, and at once come to a corner building on the right-hand, which, until a comparatively recent date was a public-house called the “ Pilgrims’ Rest.” The windows, the cornice of the roof, and the porch of this house are worthy of attention, the materials of which they are constructed having been portions of an ancient building for pilgrims that once stood here, in connection with the Priory, the gatehouse of which was near at hand. On a stone inserted in the building are the words:
“Upon this site stood the western part of a large and very ancient edifice called the Pilgrims’ Rest. It was supposed to have been the hostel or inn for the maintenance and entertainment of the Palmers and other visitors to the Priory of Benedictine Monks which stood near, to the eastward. It became ruinous, and was taken down MDCCCXX.”
Next comes Palmer Lane, being the way the Palmers came from St. John’s Hospital to the Priory. We can see that this lane is a very old part of the city, but the houses have lost their distinctive features. If we go up court 3, however, we shall find a building bearing evidences of age and importance. There is a fine old staircase, with the remains of an opening for a lift and a pulley. The beams of the rooms are of oak and very massive, while the sides are wainscotted with oak also. The place is now let as tenements.
Further down the lane we see old timbered houses with projecting storeys, and then make our way through the passage into the Burges, and turning to the right go on to Well Street, which contains many old houses, on the right being some with gables of black and white. In Chapel Street, on the right-hand side, is Well Street Congregational Church, built in 1827, providing seats for 800 persons. It is a brick building, with stucco front, the entrances being under a portico. Several alterations and improvements have from time to time been carried out, the most important being in the year 1888, when it was found necessary to provide larger accommodation, both in chapel and schools. At a cost of £1,500 the chapel was considerably enlarged and the schools entirely rebuilt on a greater scale. Further considerable additions were made in 1898, a new Lecture Hall and Class Rooms being erected on land presented by Mr. J. T. Moy, a deacon of the church, and in 1905 a new building was erected at the side of the main edifice to provide for Young Women’s Classes.
Coming down to Well Street again we see in front the cycle factory of Messrs. Clark, Cluley & Co., while next are some old timbered houses. Down a yard between two of these are a number of houses showing the old style of construction very plainly. One of these was in 1883 struck on two different occasions by lightning, and the end taken away. The Workhouse for Trinity Parish stood at one time nearly opposite this spot.
Passing on, more old houses appear, one with a gable facing the street having the vine carved on the ends; another shows, well the framework, and the cornice to the roof is carved with a Vandyke open pattern; still another shows a remarkable old style of building. Leaving Bond Street to the left, we go along Upper Well Street, and come to a junction of several streets called Hill Cross, with Lamb Street on the right.
On the opposite side is Cherry Street, with a chapel of the Plymouth Brethren. Leaving this and turning to the left we move into King Street, named after a person who owned land here. On the left we find the carpet and coach trimming manufactory of Messrs. Dalton & Barton, and then comes the British School, erected to carry on the institution started in the Lancasterian Yard, and previously noticed. This school was disbanded some time ago, and a girls’ school took its place, thirty-six of the girls being for two years clothed and educated from a charity founded in 1731 by two ladies named Bridget Southern and Frances Craner. Since 1911, however, it has been used as a school clinic, under the Education Department.
We now make our way down Upper Well Street and enter Bond Street. Turning to the left into Hill Street, and passing through Fleet Street we enter West Orchard, where once was an orchard belonging to the old Priory. On our right are the extensive premises of the Coventry Perseverance Co-operative Society, including a useful Assembly Hall. Herein is conducted by the Society a large and successful Evening Continuation School. A little further along, on the left, standing back from the street, is West Orchard Congregational Chapel, succeeding a former edifice, erected in 1777, and afterwards on several occasions enlarged. It was formerly hidden by buildings in front. In 1820 the old chapel was taken down, and the present fine building erected, and at the same time some houses in front were cleared away. In 1856 the frontage was renewed, and the interior rearranged and modernised, with seats for 1,000 persons. New rooms built at the right front of the chapel, have an effect that is scarcely pleasing to the eye, the chapel being hidden from view on that side.
In this ancient thoroughfare a number of old houses with wooden frames and of various heights and descriptions are to be seen on the right, followed by the Market Hall. We now emerge into Cross Cheaping, a short distance from where we started on this, not the least memorable of our walks through the ancient city.