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Coventry, Warwickshire

Historical Description

Coventry, a market-town, a parliamentary and municipal borough, a county borough under the Local Government Act of 1888, the head of a county court district and a poor law union, in Warwickshire. The town stands on the river Sherbourne, at the depot of a ramifying canal, and at a convergence of railways, nearly in the centre of England, 9 miles NNE of Warwick, 18¼ ESE of Birmingham, and 91 by road, but 94 by railway NNW of London. The canal connects with the Oxford, the Ashby-de-la-Zouch, the Fazeley, and the Trent and Mersey canals. The railways form part of the L. & N.R. system, comprising the main line of that railway, and branches to Nuneaton and Leamington.

History. -Coventry claims a high but obscure antiquity. The original town is believed, from traces of extensive foundations, to have stood on the north of the present one, and it possibly was founded by the ancient Britons, but does not appear to have been occupied, at least in any military way, by the Romans. A nunnery existed here as early as the 9th century, and was destroyed in 1016 by the Danes. A new nunnery of great wealth was founded in 1043 by Leofric, fifth Earl of Mercia, and his Countess Godiva, and this is thought to have originated the name Conventtre, signifying " convent-town," and corrupted into Coventry. Godiva is traditionally said to have freed the town from some grievous imposts, and obtained for it many privileges by acts of self-sacrifice; and she has been held in high esteem by all subsequent generations of the townsmen. The manor came soon after the Conquest to the Earls of Chester; passed to the Montalts, the Arundels, and the Crown; and was settled by Edward III. on the Black Prince, under the name of the manor of Cheylesmore, as a perpetual appanage of the dukedom of Cornwall. Cheylesmore, situated on the south side of the town, had been the seat of Leofric, and a castle of great extent was built there by the Earls of Chester. The town was walled and fortified, and acquired a prosperous cap and clothing trade in the times of Edward III. and Richard II. The hostile meeting between Henry Boling-broke, Duke of Hereford, and Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, immortalized in Shakespeare's " King Richard II.," took place near it, at Gosford Green, in 1397. A parliament was held in the town by Henry IV. in 1404, known as the " parliamentum indoctorum," from the circumstance that the writs forbade the return of lawyers. Henry VI. visited it in 1436, 1450, and 1456, to see religious plays, hocktide sports, and other pageants for which it had become noted. A parliament was held in it in 1459, passing many attainders against the Yorkists, and thence called by them " parliamentum diabolicum." Edward IV. visited it in 1474 and 1477; Richard III. in 1483; Henry VII. in 1485,1492, and 1495; Princess Mary in 1525; and Elizabeth in 1565. Mary Queen of Scots was for some time a prisoner in it in 1566 and 1569. James I. visited it in 1616. It took part with the Parliamentarians against Charles I., and was dismantled at the Restoration. James II. visited it in 1687. A pageant of great splendour long took place annually in commemoration of the services rendered to the town by the Countess Godiva, but known to have originated in the licentious times of Charles II. A romantic legend, to which the incidents of it allude, has been well rendered in his own style by Tennyson in the lines ending " Even then she gained Her bower; whence reissuing rob'd and crown'd, To meet her lord, she took the tax away, And built herself an everlasting name."

Streets and Public Buildings. -The town stands partly on low ground, partly on a gentle ascent. The old streets are generally narrow, and obscured by high, projecting, richly-ornamented gable ends and upper storeys; while the modern ones are well built and commodious. Many remains of the olden times appear in the edifices, both public and private, and are preserved with care. The town walls were 9 feet thick and about 3 miles in circuit, and had 32 towers and 12 gates; and though demolished at the dismantling in 1662y some interesting remnants of them, with three of the gates, still exist. A striking effect in exterior views of the town is produced by its beautiful .tapering spires. A market-cross, erected in 1544, was hexagonal, three-storeyed, and 57 feet high, with pillars, arches, pinnacles, and numerous niches and statues; but was taken down in 1771. St Mary's Hall, or the Guildhall, was built in the 14th century for an ancient guild. The great hall is a noble room 76¼ feet long, 30 feet wide, and 34 feet high, with a timbered roof and minstrel's gallery; it contains a series of portraits of English sovereigns from Elizabeth to George IV., some celebrated tapestry, and a collection of armour; one of the windows has nine compartments filled with stained glass, and each containing a full-length figure. This window has been recently restored at a cost of £300. Other rooms are the mayoress's parlour,-the council chamber, the prince's chamber, the armoury, the muniment room, and the kitchen. St Mary's Hall is now used for municipal purposes. The County Hall was built in 1785, has Doric columns, and is commodious. A Corn Exchange was built in 1866. The Drapers' Hall was rebuilt in 1832, and is a Doric edifice. The Barracks, in Srnithford Street, occupy the site of an inn where Henry VII. was entertained and Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned, and have accommodation for a squadron of cavalry. The Free Public Library was opened in 1873, since which a large reference library has been added. It contains over 43,000 volumes. The Coventry and Warwickshire Hospital is a handsome cruciform edifice, erected in 1867. Handsome and convenient public baths were erected in 1893. Other public buildings will be noticed in subsequent paragraphs.

Ecclesiastical Affairs. -A bishopric, first founded at Lichfield, was moved in 1075 to Chester, and in 1102 to Coventry. The five bishops who followed were styled Bishops of Coventry; their successors till the time of Charles II. were styled Bishops of Coventry and Lichfield; and the successors thence till 1836 were styled Bishops of Lichfield and Coventry and Coventry and Lichfield alternately. The church of the priory, founded by Earl Leofric, was the cathedral, and till the time of Henry VIII. had its own dean and chapter distinct from Lichfield. The edifice resembled Lichfield Cathedral, but was destroyed at the Eeformation, and a portion of one of its western towers and doorways to a crypt are the chief fragments of it which remain. An archdeaconry of Coventry, comprising fourteen rural deaneries, represents the territory over which the cathedral ruled, but was tranferred in 1836 to the diocese of Worcester. In 1891 a suffragan bishop of Coventry, under the see of Worcester, was appointed. A whitefriars' monastery was founded in the town about 1342, a greyfriars' monastery about 1358, and a Carthusian monastery in 1381. The white-friars' monastery, greatly altered, but with many portions of the original edifice in good preservation, is now the workhouse; the greyfriars' church steeple, a structure in good Early Decorated English, stands now attached to Christ Church, built by Eickman in 1834; and the Carthusian monastery has disappeared.

The livings in the borough are St Michael, Christ Church, St John the Baptist, St Thomas, Holy Trinity, St Peter, St Mark, and All Saints; and St John is a rectory, Christ Church a perpetual curacy, the others vicarages in the diocese of Worcester; net value of St Michael, £400 with residence; of Christ Church, £74 with residence; gross value of St John the Baptist, £385; net value of St Thomas, £220; of Holy Trinity, £608 with residence; of St Peter, £2 50 with residence; of St Mark, £239 with residence; of All Saints, £232 with residence. Patron of St Michael, the Crown; of Christ Church, the Vicar of St Michael; of St Thomas, alternately the Crown and the Bishop; of Holy Trinity, the Lord Chancellor; of St Peter, the Vicar of Holy Trinity; of St Mark and All Saints, the Bishop. Populations of the ecclesiastical parishes: —St Michael, with Christ Church, 7546; St John the Baptist, 5765; St Thomas, 7332; Holy Trinity, 9001; St Peter, 11,202; St Mark, 6599; and All Saints, 5676. St Michael's Church was pronounced by Sir Christopher Wren a masterpiece of architecture, and is not unaptly called the boast of Coventry. It measures 240 feet by 119, has a nave of seven bays and 50 feet high, built in 1434 —a chancel of six bays, ending in a hesagonal apse —light pillars, very broad aisles, panelled clerestory, chapels founded by various trade guilds, and numerous stained-glass windows, chiefly memorial. The tower is a magnificent Early Perpendicular structure of three storeys, niched and panelled, built in 1373-95, surmounted by a two-banded spire springing from an embattled lantern 32 feet high within the parapet, and built in 1434. The tower and spire together are 303 feet high. The church was restored in 1885 at a total cost of £40,000, including that of the new organ. Christ Church is an edifice in the Early Decorated style, erected in 1834, and, as already noticed, has incorporated with it the ancient steeple of the greyfriars' monastery. The church of St John the Baptist, or Bablake Church, is a cruciform structure of the time of Edward III.; was erected by the members of St John's guild, stood some time in neglect after the suppression of the guilds, and was made a parish church in 1734; has a panelled clerestory, a good west window, and a handsome central square tower; and contains a font, copied from that of St Edward's Church at Cambridge, and erected in 1843. It was restored in 1875 by Sir Gilbert Scott. Holy Trinity Church was erected before the end of the 14th century, and was at one time attached to the priory, was partly rebuilt:, partly repaired in 1832, is cruciform, and has a choir 86 feet long, several chapels, a central tower and spire 237 feet high, and contains a font of 1394, a large stone pulpit of 1500, an ancient lectern, a modern reredos by Sir Gilbert Scott, and some stained glass, chiefly modern. A curious fresco representing the last judgment was discovered under the whitewash of the tower in 1832. St Peter's Church was erected in 1841; St Thomas' in 1849; St Mark's and All Saints' in 1869; and St Nicholas', Radford, a chapel of ease to Holy Trinity, in 1874. There are Roman Catholic, Congregational, Baptist, Wesleyan, Primitive Methodist, and Unitarian chapels, and places of worship for Plymouth Brethren, the Society of Friends, the Catholic Apostolic Church, and Jews. The Coventry cemetery was laid out by Sir Joseph Paxton, a monument to whom stands within the gates.

Schools and Charities. —The grammar school, where amongst other eminent persons Sir William Dugdale, the learned antiquary, was a scholar from 1615 to 1620, was till 1885 held in the chapel of St John's Hospital, founded in the time of Henry II.; it was converted into a school by John Hales in the time of Henry VIII.; the new buildings, opened in 1885 at a cost of £22,261, are situated close to the town; the school has an endowed income of about £1200y with school scholarships, four exhibitions and two scholarships to St John's College, Oxford. Bablake Boys' School -, founded by Thomas Wheatley in 1560, is now administered under a scheme of the Charity Commissioners, and Fairfax's endowed school has been incorporated with it. There is another endowed school for boys, one for girls, and one for orphans, and board, national, and Roman Catholic schools. school of art is situated in a handsome building erected in 1863. The Technical School was founded in 1883 for the encouragement of the local industries. Ford's Hospital was founded in 1529 as an almshouse for aged widows, and is a well-preserved specimen of the half-timbered architecture of the 16th century. Bablake Hospital was founded in 1506 by Thomas Bond, was a number of years ago renovated and enlarged, stands in a square near Wheatley's School and St John's Church, has a hall with good timber roof, and serves. as an almshouse for poor men. The Spon Hospital or St Mary Magdalene's Hospital for lepers, was founded by one of the Earls of Chester, and some portions of it, with rich woodwork, still remain. The workhouse, as already noticed; was originally the whitefriars' monastery, and has remains of a gate and Early Perpendicular cloisters, and of the refectory and dormitory.

Trade, &c. -Coventry has a head post office, four banks, gas and water works, a mechanics' institute, a theatre, and several political and social clubs. It is a seat of petty sessions for county and borough, and publishes one daily and seven weekly newspapers. Markets are held on Fridays,. and fairs on the third Tuesday in each month, 2 May, Whit-week, and 1 Nov. Manufactures are carried on in ribbons, trimmings, silk, elastics, cotton, watches, bicycles and tricycles, and sewing machines. There are also iron-foundries, large printing works, mailings, and mineral water manufactories. A field battery of Royal Artillery is stationed here, and it ia also the headquarters of the 2nd volunteer battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment.

The Borough. -Coventry was first chartered by Edward III., sent two members to Parliament from the time of Henry VI. till 1885, when its representatives were reduced to one by the Redistribution of Seats Act. The municipal borough is governed by a mayor, 10 aldermen, and 30 councillors. It comprises 3126 acres. The parliamentary borough comprises 3665 acres of the parish of St Michael-with-St John,. and 1824 acres of the parish of Holy Trinity, and includes also the parish of Stoke, Population of the municipal borough, 52,724; of the parliamentary, 54,755. The corporation is the urban sanitary authority, and the city has a commission of the peace. The town gives the title of Earl to the Earl of Coventry, and it numbers among its natives Vincent, the eminent Franciscan of the 13th century; Maklesfield, the eminent Dominican; Bird, the last provincial of the Carmelites, afterwards Bishop of Bangor and of Chester; Wanley,the antiquary, and author of the "Wonders of the Little World;" Carte, the-antiquary; and Miss Ellen Terry, the celebrated actress. 1 Coventry Canal, a canal in "Warwickshire and Stafford "shire, northward from Coventry to Nuneaton, and northwestward thence to Fradley Heath, 4 miles NE of Lichfield. It was formed in 1790, is 32½ miles long, and rises 96 feet, with 14 locks. It goes from Coventry to Longford, is joined there hy the Oxford Canal, goes thence to Marston, where it is joined by the Ashby-de-la-Zouch Canal, passes Nuneaton and Atherstone, is joined at Fazeley, near Tamworth, by the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal, and at Whittington with the Birmingham Canal, and thence extends to Fradley Heath, where it forms a junction with the Trent and Mersey Canal.

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England & Wales, 1894-5


The following is a list of the administrative units in which this place was either wholly or partly included.

Ancient CountyWarwickshire 

Any dates in this table should be used as a guide only.

Church Records

The Warwickshire County Record Office hold the following registers for Coventry:

All Saints1869-19671869-1969 
Christ Church1875-19761892-1967 
St Anne1930-19601930-1964 
St Barbara (Earlsdon)1914-19491917-1985 
St Barnabas1947-19721939-1962 
St John the Baptist1734-19551734-19671734-1893
St Margaret (Argyll Street)1909-19401913-1941 
St Mark1869-19711869-1971 
St Mary (Mission church of St Michael)1888-1904  
St Mary Magdalen1918-19731920-1968 
St Peter1841-19931842-19741841-1931
St Thomas1849-19731849-1974 

Most of the records prior to 1911 have been digitised and are available on

Directories & Gazetteers

We have transcribed the entry for Coventry from the following:

Land and Property

The Return of Owners of Land in 1873 for Warwickshire is available to browse.


Online maps of Coventry are available from a number of sites:

Newspapers and Periodicals

The British Newspaper Archive have fully searchable digitised copies of the following Warwickshire papers online:

Visitations Heraldic

The Visitation of Warwickshire 1619 is available on the Heraldry page.

RegionWest Midlands
Postal districtCV1
Post TownCoventry