Archive for 2012
Walks Thro Coventry – Part 10
Posted on: January 26th, 2012 by pj

At the corner of Cox Street is the Sydenham Palace Hotel, with the celebrated Stevengraph Works standing in close contiguity; and at an opposite corner has for some years stood the Alexandra Coffee Tavern, now undergoing transformation into a picture palace.  Proceeding along Ford Street a fine view of the spires of St. Michael’s and Trinity Churches is shortly obtained, while we pass on the left a roller-skating rink and the tobacco manufactory of Messrs. Banks & James, and on the right Wheatley Street Council Schools, opened in 1894, reckoned among the finest of their kind in the Midlands, and having accommodation for 1,112 children.  At the back of these schools stand the large flour mills of Messrs. Robbins & Powers.   A few steps further and we reach the Ford Street Primitive Methodist Church, opened in 1895, while opposite is a small edifice belonging to the Catholic Apostolic Church.  The next place of interest is the Municipal School of Art on our left, an interesting building of brick and stone, erected in 1863, though the School itself was established in obscure rooms in the Burges in 1844. Over the front windows and door are semi-circular panels, in which are carved groups representing painting, sculpture,, architecture, mechanics, and pottery.

Next to these premises are the Holy Trinity Schools, built of local stone, and with their turret and spire much resembling a church in appearance, but now devoted to other purposes. There was formerly accommodation for about 1,000 children. Passing on, we reach Hales Street, when, turning to the left, we get a good view of the Market Hall tower and clock, while close at hand is the handsome and well-equipped Fire Station, opened in the autumn of 1902.  The building stands on a portion of the Pool Meadow, a piece of land once covered with water, known as St. Osburg’s Pool, and where the Coventry Great Fair is now annually, held for five -days at Whitsuntide.  At the rear thereof is the public mortuary, opened in 1913. Nearly opposite is one of the only two remaining gates of Coventry, called Swanswell Gate, to which a portion of the city wall is attached.  Adjoining the old gate is the Coventry Hippodrome, a handsome variety theatre.

Retracing our steps a few yards, we turn to the left up Jesson Street to the Stoney Stanton Road. On the right is St. Mark’s Church, similar in design to All Saint’s, and both of which were consecrated January 12th, 1869. The Schools connected with this church are some distance up the road, and have accommodation for 343.  Adjoining the church are Swanswell Pool and Recreation Grounds, given to the city by Sir Thomas White’s Trustees.    The grounds were laid out and  planted  by  the   Corporation, and, as  before   stated, thrown open for the free use of the people.

By walking as far as the church, we may enjoy a pleasing view of the Coventry and Warwickshire Hospital. The original building, of the Victorian Gothic style of architecture, in the shape of a Maltese cross, contracted for at £5,162, was opened in 1866.  To cope with the ever-increasing needs of the institution several important extensions have been made from time to time, the last additions being the Nurses’ Home and the King Edward Memorial Wing.  The Hospital is now complete and modern in every respect.  The Hospital is a monument of voluntary effort, and the artizan classes contribute generously towards its support. The adjacent buildings are the several detached blocks of the City Hospital, a municipal undertaking where infectious diseases are treated under the superintendence of the Medical Officer of Health. The Corporation also has an Isolation Hospital for small-pox patients, which is situated at Pinley, in the rural district.

Returning to the space at the top of Jesson Street, on our right is a school for orphan daughters of freemen of Coventry. Leaving Leicester Street on the right (in which is the Girls’ Industrial School and Home), we enter Cook Street, and pass under another ancient city gateway (lately purchased and presented to the city by Aid. W. F. Wyley) to the left of which the town wall may be traced to Swanswell Gate—the best remains of the wall now to be found.  Cook Street contains many ancient houses.  Chauntry Place, built on the orchard belonging to the old Priory, is passed on the left, and also St. Agnes’ Lane, containing old buildings, and at one time a well, named after St. Agnes, to the waters of which were ascribed healing qualities. The “petrified kidneys’’ here illustrate the manner in which the whole of the city was paved years ago. Near the wide part of the street once stood Cook Street College, the only remains of which are seen in some stone walls found in Rood Lane, on the right, where also will be seen above a doorway some curious stones with a defaced coat of arms.

Passing under a gateway, we enter Bishop Street – there are many ecclesiastically named thoroughfares in Coventry – and, turning to the right, we find at the top the terminus, offices, and wharves of the Coventry Canal Co.  The Coventry Canal, constructed under Parliamentary powers obtained in 1768, is in length rather more than 32 miles, terminating at Fradley Heath, Staffordshire, a few miles north of Lichfield.  By its junction with other canals it is an important medium of communication with London, Liverpool, Manchester, and other commercial towns and districts.  The Coventry and Bedworth section was opened in August, 1769.

On our left hand is King Street, and on our right is the Foleshill Road, leading to Bedworth, Nuneaton, and Leicester. Adjacent to this road, lying a little to the left, on the opposite bank of the canal is a conspicuous building, originally erected by the Coventry Cotton Spinning & Weaving Company, to introduce a new industry to the city. In 1890 a serious fire took place, and owing to the trading of the company having almost continually resulted in a loss, business was not resumed. After a time it was re-built, enormous additions were afterwards made, and the whole of these immense premises are now occupied by the Daimler Motor Co. (1904) Ltd.  About half-a-mile beyond this, and on the right-hand side of the road, is Bird Grove, the house in which the celebrated novelist, “George Eliot,” resided with her father, her birthplace being about six miles further on. The house and grounds are now in the hands of the speculative builder, and will soon be entirely obliterated.  Streets of artizans’ dwellings now stand on this historic site. The municipal  Electric Light Works  and  Refuse  Destructor stand near the canal on the left of the road. A little further distant are the factories of Messrs. J. & J. Cash, Ltd., textile manufacturers, and then the handsome works of Messrs. Courtaulds, manufacturers of artificial silk and silk goods.  A tram-car ride for a couple of miles along this road is full of interest.

The line of Bishop Street is continued by St. Nicholas Street, taking its name from a church long ago standing on this, the most ancient site of the town. At the other end of St. Nicholas Street is situated “Rose Hill,” where “George Eliot” spent much time with Mr. and Mrs. Charles Bray, both well-known for their literary and philosophic work.  The ground here is very elevated and is called Barr’s Hill, “Barr” being, it is said, an old Gaelic or Welsh word for summit.  Corley Rock, an escarpment of interest to the geologist, but very much “weathered,” is about four miles away, and less distant in this direction also, at the summit of an eminence, are situated the Corporation reservoirs, which were brought into use in 1895. The water stored there is pumped from borings at Whitley, about three miles distant across the city, and a supply of pure water is thence distributed by gravitation.  Coventry now derives an auxiliary supply of water from the Shustoke Reservoirs, by agreement with the Birmingham Corporation.  Owing to the tremendous growth of the population serious measures will now have to be taken to further augment the water supply.

Walks Thro Coventry – Part 9
Posted on: January 25th, 2012 by pj

Walking up the street, we pass on the left a number of old timbered houses, and also, near the end of the street, the Pitt’s Head Inn, noted for the stabling of racehorses during the time that the Coventry races were held at Stoke, a short distance away. The stone-faced building further on to the left was formerly a cycle and motor works, but has recently been converted into shops, etc. At the top of the street is the fine triangular piece of common land called Gosford Green. It was on this plot of ground that the lists were appointed for the intended single combat between Henry Bolingbroke, Duke of Hereford (afterwards Henry IV), and Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, in 1397.  Richard II caused these two to meet at this place, he and a great array of his nobles being present.  The Duke of Norfolk stayed the previous night at Caludon Castle, about two miles distant, while Hereford lodged at Baginton Castle, about the same distance away in another direction.

On the day named the two Dukes and their followers met, but when everything was in readiness for the fray the King stopped the proceedings, and banished Hereford for ten years and Norfolk for life.  This remarkable scene is immortalised by Shakespeare in his play of “Richard II.”  It was on this Green also that Earl Rivers and his son were beheaded.  Coombe Abbey, of some historical and antiquarian interest, and a seat of the Earls of Craven, lies about four miles up the Binley Road on the right, while Walsgrave Road on the left leads by the remains of Caludon Castle, to Wolvey and Leicester, the latter town being distant about twenty-four miles. Many new streets have recently been laid out in this vicinity, and the district is much favoured for residential purposes. A handsome church, dedicated to St. Margaret, has been erected on the Walsgrave Road; a little further on is Stoke Congregational Church; while yet further is Stoke Parish Church. Some distance to the right of Binley Road are the enormous cycle and motor car works of Humber, Limited.

Turning from the Green, we proceed along Payne’s Lane, so called from a person who formerly owned the land.  On the right we notice a large building surmounted by a figure of Britannia, this is the carpet and coach-lace manufactory of Messrs. Perkins & Co.  A little further up on the left stand the extensive premises of the Sparkbrook Manufacturing Co.Ltd., while on the right will be noticed several streets leading to an entirely new district of well-built and convenient houses, adjoining which are the football grounds of the City Football Club, which plays under Association Rules.

We now turn to the left down East Street, in the lofty houses of which ribbon weaving was formerly carried on, the chief seat of that industry being the district of Hillfields, away on the right.   Taking the first turn to the left, we find the South Street Council Schools, a fine set of buildings in red brick with stone dressings, well adapted for their purpose, and with accommodation for 1,156 children. These were one of the two blocks of buildings first built under the Education Act of 1870.

Proceeding down  Read  Street, on the left we pass the extensive cycle works of the Premier Cycle Co.,  Limited, and those of the Auto Machinery Co., Limited, where steel balls for machine gearings are made.  In Hood Street, which we now cross, we notice to the left a large building, formerly occupied by Humber Limited, the well-known cycle manufacturers.    A great fire occurred here in July 1896, completely destroying the factory, of which the present one is the successor, and doing damage to the extent of £100,000.    It is now the works of the British Thompson Houston Co., used for the manufacture of electricity meters, etc.  Proceeding into Alma Street, we find the Coventry works of the Dunlop Pneumatic Tyre Co., Ltd., occupying the site of what was at one time the Coventry Skating Rink, erected at the time when roller-skating was popular.   On the right are premises formerly in the occupation of Singer & Co., Limited  (whose immense works are to-day in Canterbury  Street,   away  to  the  right), and later occupied by several firms connected more or less with the staple trade.

Skidmore’s Art Metal Works Co. were once located in Alma Street, one of whose productions was the beautiful screen erected in Hereford Cathedral, which was exhibited in the International Exhibition of 1862.  Another production was the metal work of the Albert Memorial in London (the memorial to the Consort of the late Queen Victoria).   In Raglan Street, close by, to the right, is the Roman Catholic Church of St. Mary, an edifice of brick with stone dressings, attached to the church being a convent, with a school which is conducted by the sisterhood. Leaving behind us Alma Street, we enter Lower Ford Street, with Lea & Francis’ Cycle Works on our left.  On our right is a fine brick building formerly used as a ribbon manufactory.  The works have lately been modernised, and are now the splendidly equipped works and offices of the Coventry Plating and Presswork Company, Limited.  In Perkins Street, adjoining, are the large works of Messrs. Wyleys, Ltd., wholesale manufacturing chemists. The modest building which comes next is the Rehoboth, or Calvinistic Baptist Chapel.  Near by is the Parish Church of St. Peter’s, constructed chiefly of red brick, the first stone of which was laid in 1840, its original accommodation being 1,254 sittings.  The church was provided for a working class district, and it may be told in an whisper that its style of architecture has never excited the undue admiration of churchpeople.  St. Peter’s Schools, in Yardley Street, a few yards from the Church, have in their time done useful work. The present accommodation is for 468 scholars, but the building having been condemned by the Board of Education will be closed for public elementary school purposes, when circumstances permit.

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.

Walks Thro Coventry – Part 7
Posted on: January 23rd, 2012 by pj

After Edward III granted the incorporation of the town in 1344, the city was encircled with walls three yards in thickness and six yards in height, with thirty-two towers and twelve principal gates, the first stone being laid by the Mayor in 1355, but the progress of the work was not continuous, and it was not till forty years had elapsed that the wall was completed. It withstood all attacks for 300 years, enabling the inhabitants to bid defiance to the mandates both of Edward IV and Charles I, when those monarchs appeared before the gates with armed forces and demanded admittance. Shut Lane, a small lane off Far Gosford Street, leading to the Charter House district, marks the spot where the royal armies were refused admittance to the city, and history says that Charles II, piqued at his father being refused an entrance, ordered the destruction of the city walls in 1662.

In the year 1392, Richard II. made the administration of justice in the city distinct from the county by constituting a mayor, a recorder, and four of the chief inhabitants, justices of the peace. By a charter of Henry VI in 1451, “the County of the City of Coventry” was formed, and continued till after the passing of the Municipal Reform Act, 1835. During the Wars of the Roses, the gates of the city were closed against Edward IV, and he was compelled to retire; but after the battles of Tewkesbury and Barnet, he returned, and deprived the city of many of its privileges, which were afterwards restored on payment of a fine of 500 marks.

In 1842, Coventry was incorporated with the County of Warwick; in 1888 it was constituted a County Borough, and so it remains.  Extensions of the boundary took place in 1890 and 1899, as already stated.

Having thus taken a cursory glance at the history and present position of Coventry we will start on our first walk. No visitor can fail to notice the beauty of the principal approach to the city. At the end of Eaton Road we are attracted by an ornamental ground a little over two acres in extent. Let us take a walk along the path towards the west, and pausing about halfway across enjoy a favourite view of the city, with the “three tall spires” pointing heavenward.  This enclosure, Grey Friars’ Green, so-called from the Grey Friars’ Monastery, which once flourished close by, was formerly a part of the waste land of the Manor of Coventry, and was used as a common playground; it was also for a long time the chief site of the Annual Great Fair, which then lasted eight days, and is one of the eleven recreation grounds (large and small) which Coventry possesses, totalling to 97 acres.  In this ground, at the narrow end, nearest the city, is a statue of Sir Thomas White, a native of Reading, whose benefactions to Coventry in the 16th century are largely enjoyed in the city. The statue was unveiled in October, 1883, by Mr. A. S. Tomson, then Mayor, whose good fortune it was on the same day also to declare open to the public for ever Spencer Park (the gift of Mr. David Spencer), and Swanswell Recreation Grounds (presented by Sir Thomas White’s Trustees)—an occasion of much rejoicing throughout the city.

On the right-hand side of the main road are some modern and well-built villa residences, erected on leasehold land forming part of the Park Estate, belonging to Lord Cheylesmore. This Park was in olden times attached to the royal palace of Cheylesmore and, as before stated, was sold by the Prince of Wales to the Marquis of Hertford, by whom the demesne was enclosed. A portion is let in garden allotments, but a considerable and increasing area has in recent years been laid out for building purposes.

A little further, the Quadrant, a well-built series of residences, will be seen standing a little back from the road on the right. No. 10 is the home of the Y.M.C.A. and No. 2 is the headquarters of the District Nursing Institution, which is doing a beneficent work among the sick in the city.  At the end of the Quadrant, fronting to Warwick Road, and also running some distance along Union Street, are the buildings of the Liberal Club, which, in addition to the usual clubhouse accommodation, has a spacious hall, much used as a place of public assembly.  The handsome structure, which, with towers and domes stands nearly opposite, is the Warwick Road Congregational Church, erected in 1891 for the congregation of Vicar Lane Chapel, which dated back to 1723, the first minister being the Rev. Robert Simpson, grandfather of a vicar of St. Michael’s bearing the same name.  Imposing as is its exterior, the interior will be found quite in keeping, while in the rear are Sunday school and other rooms.

The neighbouring building with the flagstaff is the Reform Club, a well-appointed house of the Liberal party, opened by Lord Carlingford in 1883. Christ Church (to be hereafter noticed) stands to our right hand, and passing Bull Yard, the back entrance to the Barracks, on the left of the road, and Union Street and Warwick Lane on the right, we come into Hertford Street, where we have a full view of Holy Trinity Spire. Shortly, on the west-side we notice the handsome offices of Mr. Edgar Whittindale, a well-known auctioneer.  The present edifice was erected in 1911, after a destructive fire, on the site of a stucco building with a castellated parapet.  This was originally built for the use of a body of Dissenters : it afterwards became a Subscription Library, and being transferred to the Coventry Corporation in 1867, it was used as the first Free Public Library and Reading Room.  Higher up on the same side of the street, with a useful projecting clock in front, are the offices of the Midland Daily Telegraph, Autocar, Cyclist, Photography, and other publications of the well-known house of Messrs. Iliffe & Son, Ltd.     Here also is a branch of Parr’s Bank.

On the right-hand side stands the Queen’s Hotel, an elegant three-storied stone building, erected by a Company in 1879, which is usually the home of the Liberal candidate at Parliamentary elections. The next building is the Coventry Savings Bank, which, previous to extensive reconstruction and alterations, was the Coventry Institute. The adjoining pile of buildings formerly belonged to Messrs. J. & J. Cash, textile manufacturers, but was purchased some years ago by the Government and converted into an up-to-date Central Post Office, of which the city had long stood in need. The wine and spirit stores of Messrs. Johnson & Mason stand next.

Almost directly opposite is the Empire Theatre, originally known as the Corn Exchange, which was a handsome structure of the Italian order, in red and white brick. The chief entrance was approached by a flight of steps surmounted by an open balcony ornamented with pillars. This building, which consisted of a corn exchange or concert hall, assembly room, etc., was erected at a cost of  £7,000 by a Company formed in 1853, and was opened in 1856;   but   some   years   ago   the   Company disposed of the property to Mr. William Bennett, proprietor of the Opera House. The great hall was 110 feet by 52 feet, had a noble appearance, and would seat about 1,300 persons.  In 1906 the building was converted into the present Theatre of Varieties, the memorial tablet of which was laid on 30th June by Miss Ellen Terry, the famous actress, who was born in Coventry.  The handsome building next on the same side is the King’s Head Hotel—a famous rendezvous—in a niche at the corner of which is the official effigy of Peeping Tom. And it may be remarked that this effigy is not a mere public-house sign.

The open space at the top of Hertford Street, where all tramlines meet, is called Broadgate; but leaving this to the left, and Grey Friars’ Lane to the right, we enter High Street (forming part of the London and Holyhead Road), when we see on our left one of the old houses for which Coventry is so noted. This house, at the corner of Pepper Lane, is a good specimen of the half-timbered houses which form one of the most interesting features of the city.

Walks Thro Coventry – Part 6
Posted on: January 22nd, 2012 by pj


At this time, if we are to credit the legendists, Leofric for some reason or other oppressed the people of the town with grievous taxes, on account of which they made many complaints to the Earl and his Countess. The latter was deeply moved by the sufferings of the people, and their relief was due to an act of great self-sacrificeon the part of the Countess Godiva herself, who was constrained to plead their cause with the stern old Earl.    As Tennyson says :—

“She  sought her lord, and found him where he  strode

About the hall, among his dogs, alone,

His beard a foot before him, and his hair

A yard behind.  She told him of their tears,

And prayed him, ‘if they pay this tax they starve.

Startled, and half-amazed, the Earl cried in scorn—

“You would not let your little finger ache For such as these?”

The Countess replied,  “But I would die.”

According to tradition he laughed, and by St. Peter and St. Paul took an oath, exclaiming “O, ay, ay, ay, you talk!” The Countess, however, still persisting,  said—

“But prove me what it is I would not do.”

Then, in keeping with the rough nature of his heart and the times in which he lived, he gave her this reply

“Ride you naked through the town,  and I repeal it “

The conditions were doubtless thought by Leofric to be impossible. Nevertheless, the Countess accepted them, and to set the people free, on a certain day she rode forth till she beheld

“The white-flower’d elder-thicket from the field Gleam through the Gothic archways in the wall, Then she rode back, clothed on with chastity.”

And a charter of freedom from servitude, evil customs, and exactions was granted to the city by the Earl, and presented to the Countess, who thus

“took the tax away, And built herself an everlasting name.”

It is in commemoration of this romantic episode that the far famed Godiva Pageant is occasionally held in the streets of the city.  The Mayor and Corporation used to join in the celebration, and it is also composed of representatives of royal and other historic personages, friendly societies, local industries, with trade devices, and so forth, the central figure of course being an impersonation of the noble Countess, whose clothing of chastity only is suggested as far as conforms with modern notions of propriety.


Whatever truth there may be in the legend of Lady Godiva — and she certainly is historic — the story of Peeping Tom may be safely called more picturesque — even grotesque — than veracious. The old tale runs that disobeying the request of the Countess to the people that, as she rode forth, “no foot should pace the street, no eye look down” one tailor did basely and artfully bore a hole through his shutters in order that he might take a peep at the charitable lady; but, in the words of Tennyson again,—

“His eyes, before they had their will, Were shrivell’d into darkness in his head, And dropped before him.”

This tradition of Peeping Tom, we may note, is not mentioned by the early historians, it is an excrescence, and most likely was added as a kind of attraction in the reign of Charles II at the time of the “celebration of the freedom of City” by a Lady Godiva procession.

Leofric died in 1057, and was buried with the Countess in the porch of the Church of the monastery they had founded. The lordship of Coventry then became vested in the Earls of Chester, afterwards passing into the hands of Henry III. and William d’Albany. In 1338 the manor of Cheylesmore, near Christ Church, was settled upon Edward the Black Prince, after the death of Queen Isabel, his mother. Under the Act redeeming the Land Tax, the Prince of Wales, afterwards George IV sold the manor to the Marquis of Hertford, who again sold it to Mr. H. W. Eaton, and he, on being raised to the peerage, took his title from the estate as Baron Cheylesmore.    The family still own the estate.

Walks Thro Coventry – Part 5
Posted on: January 21st, 2012 by pj


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.’’

Walks Thro Coventry – Part 4
Posted on: January 20th, 2012 by pj

The manufactures of the city are, indeed, most varied, the older industries of watch-making and ribbon weaving being now secondary to an extensive cycle and motor car industry.  Coventry productions now include engineering, etc., woollen goods, hosiery, coach trimmings, textile sundries, iron and brass founding, printing, electrical engineering, and various subsidiary trades; while among the later additions are the manufacture of steam valves, silk textile fabrics, artificial, ordnance, and aircraft.

The watch trade has been established here for at least two hundred years.  In 1727 a watch-maker was Mayor of Coventry.  The trade gradually grew in importance, until about fifty years ago it was considered to be one of the two “staple” trades of the city, and gave employment to about 2,000 persons.  About 1858, however, a depression set in, and keen competition with American and Switzerland having had to be met, the organised factory system and machine methods have largely displaced the former domestic workshops and individual handicraft.

The enormous growth of the cycle trade has been the great feature in the history of the city during the past fifty years.  The world practically owes the bicycle to Coventry.  In the early seventies a small band of intelligent mechanics, by their inventive genius, laid the foundation of what has now become a great and almost world-wide industry.  Coventry has the highest reputation for its cycles and motor cars, and no efforts are wanting to retain its pre-eminence.


The earliest intimation of the approximate population of Coventry is given by Dugdale, who states when the great Benedictine Monastery, for which the city was formerly famous, was at the zenith of its prosperity, the inhabitants numbered 15,000 – a populations which at the time was considered extraordinary.  Indeed, by the roll-tax of 1377, in the notices which it contains of the population of all the principal towns, Coventry appears third on the list in point of magnitude, next to London; York and Bristol being the only two taking precedence of it.

After the fall of the monastery the glory of the city appears to have departed, and the inhabitants dwindled down at one time to 3,000.  However, the foundations of a healthy and vigorous community were deeply laid, and the city regained – though gradually – tis position, not indeed as third or fourth in the kingdom, but as a large centre of population.  Upon the taking of the first national census in 1801, three centuries after its decline, the city contained 16,049 inhabitants.  The successive stages by which lost ground was recovered may be traced thus:  In 1586, where there was an enumeration of the inhabitants on account of the scarcity of provisions, the total number returned was 6,502.  Under the provisions, the total number returned was 6,502.  Under the apprehension of a siege during the Civil War in 1643 between the Parliament and the King, the people were numbered, with the result that they were found to be 9,500.  According to “Bradford Survey” taken about 1748-49, the population was 12,817, so that it had not even then by over 2,000 reached the highest point at which it previously stood.  The second national census showed a population of 17,242 – an increase of about 1,200 – and at the census of 1821 the number had increased to 21,242.

The population as enumerated at subsequent periods had been as follows:

1831: 27,298

1841: 31,042

1851: 36,812

1861: 40,396

1871: 37,670

1881: 42,111

1891: 52,720

1901: 69,878

The only decrease was between 1861 and 1871, when a falling off of nearly 3,000 was due to depression in the ribbon and watch trades.

In 1911 the enumerated population was 106,377—an increase of 36,399, or more than 52 per cent.  To the population of the County Borough (Urban District) has to be added that of the parishes of St. Michael and Holy Trinity without (the Rural District of Coventry) within the Coventry Poor Law Union and the Parliamentary Borough, of 582—the grand total for “Greater Coventry” being 106,959.’ It is estimated that by the present year (1916) the total population had further increased by upwards of 10 per cent. The population may now be taken as bordering on 130,000.

The area of the city in acres is 4,147; the assessable rateable value as at 31st March, 1916, is £483,324. The number of voters on the burgess roll for 1914-15 is over 23,000, and on the Parliamentary Register over 20,000.

Walks Thro Coventry – Part 3
Posted on: January 19th, 2012 by pj

Returning to the railway bridge, recently considerably enlarged, we have an indication of the primitive accommodation originally thought to be sufficient for a station.  Hereon, we may take our stand, like Tennyson, when, on the less spacious structure, he wrote:

“I waited for the train at Coventry;

I hung with grooms and porters on the bridge,

To watch the three tall spires; and there I shap’d

The city’s ancient legend”…

and for a few moments review the chief characteristics of this well known county borough.

Many quaint scenes of the past rise before our vision.  We think of the time of the when the old Mystery Plays were acted in the narrow streets of the city; when the White and Grey Friars peopled the monasteries; and of occasions when the Parliament of the realm made Coventry its meeting place.  Our imagination calls up many striking events in the historic past of the city, and we revel in the richness of the field thus opening up before us.

There is, of course, a great contrast between the busy commercial centre of today and the Coventry of Queen Margaret; but on the whole it may be said that the modern city is worthy of its traditions.

In 1642, Nehemiah Wharton, an officer in the Parliamentary forces, under the Earl of Essex, described Coventry as a “city environed with a wall, co-equal, if not exceeding that of London for breadth and height, and with gates and battlements, magnificent churches and stately streets, and abundant fountains of water; altogether a place very sweetly situate, and where there is no hint of venison.”  Some of these features have disappeared, others remain in part, but many are still in existence, and go far to justify the eulogium, whilst the modern developments, both material and picturesque, are both numerous and important.

The largest town in Warwickshire, with the exception of Birmingham, Coventry is almost surrounded by a wealth of amenities.  The north-east side of the city, however, reaches nearly to the Warwickshire coalfield, and here, of course, the scenery is not so pleasing, though lovers of of the picturesque need not search in vain, and there is some compensating advantage in the contiguity of so extensive a supply of fuel.

It will be seen that, for a manufacturing centre, Coventry is clean and salubrious, and this happy condition is partly due to large percentage of the power used in various industries supplied by gas or electricity, and thus diminishing the smoke nuisance.

That the city is a decidedly healthy place is proved by the low death rate, which averages about 12 per 1,000, the mean age at death, about 39, having risen by 4 in twenty years.

Though to a great extent modernised, the town still contains a large number of curious old buildings, churches, halls, alms-houses, etc, with rare historical associations and legends.

On November 1st 1890, a portion of the suburban districts were absorbed into the municipal area, and a further extension took place on November 1st 1899, when parts of Foleshill and Stoke came within city boundaries.  These extensions were rendered necessary by the rapid growth of the town during years of industrial and commercial prosperity, the surrounding districts have become essentially urban in character, and being, in all but name, actually parts of the city.  At the present time further extension of the city boundaries are badly required.  Large neighbouring areas, notably those adjacent o the Stoke, Foleshill and Hearsall Wards, are densely populated mainly by city workers.  For many reasons it is desirable that these should be included in the city’s population, and serious movements in this direction were maturing, but like many other activities were interrupted by the European War.  In 1888, Coventry resumed its old status and title of a county, which had been in abeyance since 1842.

Manufactures – In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the staple trade was the manufacture of woollen goods, but early in the eighteenth century the weaving of ribbons was introduced, and soon became an important industry, there being in 1818 in Coventry and the surrounding district no less than 3,003 power looms, and 5,438 single hand looms.  Over half a century ago, however, the ribbon trade began to decline, and during a period of great distress many citizens emigrated.  But from those evil days the modern prosperity of the city may be distinctly traced – new trades then introduced being the germs of its industrial development.

Walks Thro Coventry – part 2
Posted on: January 17th, 2012 by pj



“Welcome every smiles” – Shakespeare

Coventry enjoys the distinction of being the central city of England; it is equi-distant from sea to sea, except due north.  There are three reputed “centres of England,” each being about eight miles away in different direction.  But Coventry has more solid claims to world-wide fame than its geographical situation, as closer acquaintance reveals.

We will presume the visitor to our ancient and interesting city has arrived by railway, and having given him a cordial greeting we will engage his attention with a few general remarks, prior to our perambulations.

In one respect Coventry is not to be envied.  Although several railways run through the neighbourhood – the Great Western within ten miles, and the Great Central within twelve – this now important city is bound to one: the London and North-Western, plus any advantage that results from its practical amalgamation with the Midland Railway.  Its station is on the London to Birmingham line, being 94 miles from the Metropolis and 18 1/2 miles from Birmingham.  There are branch lines running to Leamington in one direction and Nuneaton in the other.

On the whole, however, the London and North-Western may be said to afford the utmost facilities which are within the power of any one company.  The station is only a short distance from the heart of the city, a little to the east of Warwick Road, and has lately been enlarged and made more convenient.

Leaving the Railway Station and proceeding towards the city, we enter Eaton Road, a modern thoroughfare named after a former M.P. for Coventry, afterwards Lord Cheylesmore, over whose land the road was constructed.  There will first be noticed the floral and horticultural establishments of Mr. John Stevens, part of whose nurseries lie to the left.  At this point, also, is the terminus of


The lines run from the Railway station through the centre of the city to Foleshill and Bedworth on the north east, and have branches to the districts of Hillfields, Stoke, and the Stoney Stanton Road as far as Bell Green, and other branches to Chapel Fields and Earlsdon via Spon Street.  Since 1st January 1912, the whole system has been the property of the Coventry Corporation.

By reason of narrowness of the streets a single track only is used, consequently the service is not wholly satisfactory and sufficient, although the Manager and Tramway Committee deserve credit for making the best use of the plant at their command.

The station for generating electrical energy is on Stoney Stanton Road, whence the whole system receives its supply of electricity.  The cars are lighted both inside and outside by electricity.

At the end of Eaton Road we will turn left (passing the conservatories of Messrs. Perkins and Sons on the right), and, proceeding up the Warwick Road a short distance beyond the railway bridge, reach the “Top Green,” a pleasant enclosed promenade, where lawn tennis and other light games may be played.  The handsome buildings on the right are those of King Henry VIII School, which was erected in 1885, at a cost of about £21,000, and are constructed of Woodville red brick, with Ancaster stone dressings.  The main entrance is in the centre of the building, which at the south end has the head master’s house.  The school was founded by John Hales, in the reign to Henry VIII, hence its name, and, until the erection of the present buildings, was conducted in the Old Grammer School, Hales Street, an ancient structure, formerly known as the Hospital of St. John the Baptist, naturally deficient in all the requirements of modern education.  In the battlements of the tower surmounting the entrance to the building a shield is bearing the arms of Henry VIII, and under this is another panel carved with the motto of the school.

If we walk up this road for a short distance we come to Stivichall Grove, where there is “a parting of the way” that is to the right leading by extensive common lands and a grand avenue to Kenilworth (five miles), and via Guy’s Cliff to Warwick (ten miles); the road to the left leading through beautiful scenery, by the Parks of Stoneleigh, where is the seat of Lord Leigh, to the Royal Spa of Leamington (eight and a half miles).  The drive in either direction is considered to be unsurpassed in England for sylvan beauty.

Edwin’s book
Posted on: January 16th, 2012 by pj

In 1916, during WWI, my great, great grandfather revised, enlarged and rewrote a book about Coventry, England that took the form of four walks around the town. You can find extracts of this book below or if you’d like the complete book you can download the free Kindle version in the sidebar —->.

Oh yes, it doesn’t have a map, that was missing from my copy of the book.   Many of the streets mentioned can be seen on a 1900 map featured on Rob Orland’s Historic Coventry website.