The Churches of Coventry
Frederick W. Woodhouse

Part 1 out of 2

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[Illustration: ARMS OF COVENTRY]





The principal authorities for the history of Coventry and its churches
have been Dugdale's "Antiquities of Warwickshire" and the "Illustrated
Papers and the History and Antiquities of the City of Coventry," by
Thomas Sharp, edited by W.G. Fretton (1871). Besides these the many
papers by Mr. Fretton in the Transactions of the Birmingham and
Midland Institute and other Societies, and the "History and
Antiquities of Coventry" by Benjamin Poole (1870) have been the main
sources of historical information. The Author is, however, responsible
for the architectural opinions and descriptions, which are mainly the
outcome of a lifelong acquaintance with the city and its buildings,
fortified by several weeks of study and investigation recently

He desires to acknowledge his deep obligations to the Vicars of the
several churches for leave to examine, measure and photograph the
buildings in their charge; to Mr. J. Oldrid Scott for the loan of
drawings of St. Michael's; to Mr. A. Brown, Librarian of the Coventry
Public Library for advice and help in making use of the store of
topographical material under his care; to Mr. Owen, Verger of St.
Michael's and Mr. Chapman, Verger of Holy Trinity, for help in various
directions, and to Mr. Wilfred Sims for his energy and care in taking
most of the photographs required for illustration.

The other illustrations are reproduced from drawings made by the























































The opening words of Sir William Dugdale's account of Coventry assert
that it is a city "remarkable for antiquity, charters, rights and
privileges, and favours shown by monarchs." Though this handbook is
primarily concerned with a feature of the city he does not here
mention--its magnificent buildings--the history of these is bound up
with that of the city. The connection of its great parish churches
with the everyday life of the people, though commonly on a narrower
stage, is more intimate than is that of a cathedral or an abbey
church, but it is to be remembered that without its Monastery Coventry
might never have been more than a village or small market town.

We cannot expect the records of a parish church to be as full and
complete as those of a cathedral, always in touch through its bishops
with the political life of the country and enjoying the services of
numerous officials; or as those of a monastery, with its leisured
chroniclers ever patiently recording the annals of their house, the
doings of its abbots, the dealings of their house with mother church
and the outside world, and all its internal life and affairs. In the
case of Coventry, the unusual fulness of its city archives, the
accounts and records of its guilds and companies, and the close
connection of these with the church supplies us with a larger body of
information than is often at the disposal of the historian of a parish
church. As therefore, in narrating the story of a cathedral some
account of the Diocese and its Bishops has been given, so, before
describing the churches of Coventry, we shall give in outline the
history of the city which for 700 years gave its name to a bishop and
of the great monastery whose church was for 400 years his seat.

Though Dugdale says that it is remarkable for antiquity, Coventry as a
city has no early history comparable with that of such places as York,
Canterbury, Exeter, or Colchester, while its modern history is mainly
a record of fluctuating trade and the rise and decline of new
industries. But through all its Mediaeval period, from the eleventh
century down to the Reformation, with an expiring flicker of energy in
the seventeenth, there is no lack of life and colour, and its story
touches every side of the national life, political, religious, and
domestic. The only evidence of extreme antiquity produced by Dugdale
is the suffix of its name, for "_tre_ is British, and signifieth the
same that _villa_ in Latin doth;" while the first part may be derived
from the convent or from a supposed ancient name, Cune, for the
Sherborne brook.

The first date we have is 1016, when Canute invaded Mercia, burning
and laying waste its towns and settlements, including a house of nuns
at Coventry founded by the Virgin St. Osburg in 670, and ruled over by

But there is no sure starting-point until the foundation of the
monastery by Earl Leofric and the Countess Godiva, the church being
dedicated by Edsi, Archbishop of Canterbury, in honour of God, the
Virgin Mary, St. Peter, St. Osburg, and All Saints on 4th October,
1043. Leofwin, who was first abbot with twenty-four monks under his
rule, ten years after became Bishop of Lichfield. The original
endowment by Leofric, consisted of a half of Coventry[2] with fifteen
lordships in Warwickshire and nine in other counties, making it (says
Roger de Hoveden) the wealthiest monastery of the period. Besides this
the pious Godiva gave all the gold and silver which she had to make
crosses, images, and other adornments for the church and its services.
The well-known legend of her ride through Coventry first appears in
the pages of Matthew of Westminster in the early fourteenth century.
The Charter of Exemption from Tolls is not in existence, and the story
of Peeping Tom is the embroidery of the prurient age (1678), in which
the pageant was instituted. In a window of Trinity Church figures of
Leofric and Godiva were set up about the time of Richard II, the Earl
holding in his right hand a Charter with these words written thereon:

I Luriche for the Love of thee
Doe make Coventre Toll-free.

Abbot Leofwin was succeeded in 1053 by Leofric, nephew of the great
earl; and he by a second Leofwin, who died in 1095. The first Norman
bishop of Lichfield had, in compliance with the decision of a Synod
(1075) in London fixing bishops' seats in large towns, removed his to
St. John's, Chester. But his successor, Robert de Lymesey--whose greed
appears to have been notable in a greedy age--having the king's
permission to farm the monastic revenues until the appointment of a
new abbot, held it for seven years, and then, in 1102, removed his
stool to Coventry. Five of his successors were bishops of Coventry
only, then the style changed to Coventry and Lichfield, and so
remained till 1661, when (in consequence of the disloyalty of Coventry
and the sufferings of Lichfield in the royal cause) the order was

In 1836 the archdeaconry of Coventry was annexed to Worcester and its
name disappeared from the title, and now it is probable that Coventry
will soon again give her name to a See without dividing the honour.
For the joint episcopal history the reader must be referred to the
handbook in this series on Lichfield Cathedral. In this place will
only be given that of the Monastery as such, and specially in
connection with its "appropriated" parish churches and the City in
which it stood. That history is not essentially different from that of
other monasteries. Though its connection with the See and the rival
claims and antagonisms of the respective Chapters produced a plentiful
crop of serious quarrels, its relations with the townsfolk were free
from such violent episodes as occurred at Bury St. Edmunds or St.
Albans. The Chapter of Lichfield consisted of secular priests (Lymesey
and his next successor were married men), while the Monastery, though
freed by pope and king from any episcopal or justiciary power and with
the right of electing its own abbot, was, like all monastic bodies,
always jealous of the encroachments of bishops, and regarded secular
priests as inferior in every respect. The opinion of the laity who saw
both sides may be gathered from Chaucer's picture of a "poore Persoun
of a toun." He knew well enough how the revenue, which should have
gone to the parish, its parson and its poor, went to fill the coffers
of rich abbeys, to build enormous churches and furnish them
sumptuously, to provide retinues of lazy knights for the train of
abbot or bishop, and to prosecute lawsuits in the papal courts.

But when bishop and abbot were one and the same, the monks still
claimed the right of election, and so for generations the history of
the diocese is a tale of strife and bickering, and how it was that
pope, king or archbishop did not perceive that it was a case of
hopeless incompatibility of temper, or, perceiving it, did not
dissolve the union or get it dissolved is difficult to see. Probably
the injury done to religion weighed but lightly against vested
interests and the power of the purse. The Monastery was, however, as
Dugdale says, "the chief occasion of all the succeeding wealth and
honour that accrued to Coventry"; for though the original Nunnery may
have been planted in an existing settlement, or have attracted one
about it, the greater wealth of the Abbey, its right to hold markets,
and all its own varied requirements would quickly increase and bring
prosperity to such a township, as it did at Bury St. Edmunds,
Burton-on-Trent and many another.

In the thirteenth century the priory was in financial straits, through
being fined by Henry III for disobedience. Later, however, he granted
further privileges to the monks, among them that of embodying the
merchants in a Gild. In 1340 Edward III granted this privilege to the
City. From an early period the manufacture of cloth and caps and
bonnets was the principal trade of Coventry, and though Leland says,
"the town rose by making of cloth and caps, which now decaying, the
glory of the City also decayeth," it was only destroyed by the French
wars of the seventeenth century. But in 1377, when only eighteen towns
in the kingdom had more than 3,000 inhabitants, and York, the second
city, had only 11,000, Coventry was fourth with 7,000. Just one
hundred years later 3,000 died here of the plague, one of many
visitations of that terrible scourge. At the Suppression it had risen
to 15,000, and soon after fell to 3,000, through loss of trade for
"want of such concourse of people that numerously resorted thither
before that fatal Dissolution."

But if the town grew apace so did the Monastery. Thus, when in 1244
Earl Hugh died childless his sisters divided his estates and Coventry
fell to Cecily, wife of Roger de Montalt. Six years later the
Monastery lent him a large sum to take him to the Holy Land, and
received from him the lordship of Coventry (excepting the Manor House
and Park of Cheylesmore) and the advowson of St. Michael's and its
dependent chapels, thus becoming the landlords of nearly the whole of

[Illustration: COOK STREET GATE.]

Civic powers grew with the growth of trade. Before 1218 a fair of
eight days had been granted to the Priory, and later another of six
days, to be held in the earl's half of the town about the Feast of
Holy Trinity. In 1285 a patent from the king is addressed to the
burgesses and true men to levy tolls for paving the town; one in 1328
for tolls for inclosing the city with walls and gates, while in 1344
the city was given a corporation, with mayor, bailiffs, a common seal,
and a prison. As the municipal importance and the dignity of the city
increased, the desire for their visible signs strengthened, and so, in
1355, work was begun on the walls, Newgate (on the London Road) being
the first gate to be built. Such undertakings proceeded slowly, and
nine years later the royal permission was obtained to levy a tax for
their construction, "the lands and goods of all ecclesiastical persons

Twice afterwards we hear of licence being granted by Richard II to dig
stone in Cheylesmore Park, first for Grey Friars Gate, and later for
Spon Gate, "near his Chapel of Babelake." The walls so built were of
imposing extent and dimensions, being three yards in breadth, two and
a quarter miles in circumference, and having thirty-two towers and
twelve gates.[3] Nehemiah Wharton, a Parliamentary officer in 1642,
reports of the city that it is:

Environed with a wall co-equal, if not exceedinge, 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 stint
of venison.

To return to the monastic history. We have seen how, in the
mid-thirteenth century the Monastery had become the landlord of the
city; shortly before this it had been so impoverished with ceaseless
quarrels with the King and the Lichfield Chapter, involving costly
appeals to Rome, that the Prior was reduced to asking the hospitality
of the monks of Derley for some of the brethren. A period of
prosperity followed and many benefactions flowed in, including the
gift of various churches by the king. It was after twenty-six years of
quarrelling that the Pope, in 1224, had appointed to the bishopric
Walter de Stavenby, an able and learned man. During his episcopacy the
friars made their appearance in England, and by him the Franciscans
were introduced at Lichfield, while at Coventry Ranulph, Earl of
Chester, gave them land in Cheylesmore on which to build their oratory
and house.

They were not generally welcomed by the monks. A Benedictine laments
their first appearance thus "Oh shame! oh worse than shame! oh
barbarous pestilence! the Minor Brethren are come into England!" and
at Bury they were obliged to build outside a mile radius from the
Abbey. The parish priests also soon found out that they were undersold
in the exercise of their spiritual offices and although no doubt many
badly needed awakening they were not, on that account, the more likely
to welcome the intruders.

Another innovation, affecting the fortunes of the parish priest, had
its beginning under the rule of Bishop Stavenby though its greatest
development occurred in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. This
was the foundation of Chantries designed primarily for the maintenance
of a priest or priests to say mass daily or otherwise for the soul's
health of the founder, his family and forbears. The earliest we hear
of are one at Lincoln, and one at Hatherton in Coventry Archdeaconry
while the Bishop himself endowed one in Lichfield Cathedral. Many were
perpetual endowments (_L_5 per annum being the average stipend),
others were temporary, according to the means of those who paid for
the masses--for a term of years or for a fixed number of masses,
Although chantry priests were often required to give regular help in
the church services or taught such scholars as came to them or served
outlying chapelries, the system permitted a great number to live on
occasional engagements and was doubtless productive of abuses. Chaucer
tells us that his poor parson was not such an one as

...left his sheep encumbered in the mire,
And ran unto London, unto Saint Foul's,
To seeke him a chantery for souls.

The number of chantries in the different cathedrals varied very
greatly, Lichfield had eighty-seven, St. Paul's thirty-seven, York
only three. Monks' churches had few or none while in town churches
they were numerous, London having one hundred and eighty, York
forty-two, Coventry at least fifteen besides the twelve gild priests
of the chapel of Babelake. Most were founded in connection with an
existing altar, some had a special altar, at Winchester, Tewkesbury
and elsewhere they were enclosed in screens between the pillars of the
nave, or a special chapel was added to the church.

It was in the thirteenth century also (1267) that the monastery
obtained the grant of a Merchants' Gild; with all the privileges
thereto belonging, the earliest of those which contributed so much to
the renown of Coventry. These were Benefit Societies, insuring help to
the "Brethren and sistren" in old age, sickness or poverty, securing
to them the services of the church after death and in all cases
established on a strictly religious basis and placed under the
protection of a Saint, or of the Holy Trinity. The regulation and
protection of trade interests, generally aiming at monopoly and the
exclusion of outsiders, were later developments. But without doubt
they were public-spirited bodies according to their lights,
maintaining schools (as at Stratford-on-Avon) hospitals and
almshouses, and giving freely on all occasions of public importance.
By pageants too, they contributed to the happiness and amusement of
the people as well as by the presentation of Mysteries and Moralities,
to their instruction and edification. But in the eyes of the
Reformers, or of grasping courtiers, all this went for nothing when
weighed against the heinous offence of supporting chaplains to pray
for deceased members and so (6 Edward VI) they were suppressed along
with the chantries, and their property confiscated, "the very meanest
and most inexcusable of the plunderings which threw discredit on the

Here, the city bought back everything which had belonged to the
Trinity and Corpus Christi Gilds, with various almshouses and the
possessions of the majority of the Chantries; while previously at the
Dissolution it had bought the abbey-orchard, and mill, and the house
and church of the Grey Friars.

In 1340 Edward III granted Licence to the Coventry men to form a
Merchants' Gild with leave "to make chantries, bestow alms, do other
works of piety and constitute ordinances touching the same." This was
St. Mary's Gild. Two years later that of St. John Baptist was formed
and a year later that of St. Katherine, the three being united into
the Trinity Gild before 1359. Of the chapel (now St. John's church)
begun in 1344 by the St. John's Gild and the "fair and stately
structure for their feasts and meetings called St Mary Hall" built in
1394 by the united Gilds more will be said later. The end of the
fourteenth century and the fifteenth brought to Coventry a full share
in the events and movements of the time. In 1396 the duel between
Hereford and Norfolk was to have taken place on Gosford Green
(adjoining the city) and Richard II made the fatal mistake of
banishing both combatants. At the Priory in 1404 Henry IV held his
Parliament known, from the fact that no lawyers were summoned to it,
as the "Parliamentum Indoctorum." Setting itself in opposition to
ecclesiastics, it proposed to supply the King's needs by taxing
church-property. As in the matter of the city walls, the church
contrived to avoid bearing its share of the public burdens and the
chronicler ends thus: "Much ado there was; but to conclude, the worthy
Archbishop (viz. Tho. Arundell) standing stoutly for the good of the
Church, preserved it at that time from the storm impending." One
branch of his argument is noteworthy, that as the confiscation of the
alien priories had not enriched the King by half a mark (courtiers
having extorted or begged them out of his hands), so it would be were
he to confiscate the temporalities of the monasteries. Henry VIII had
reason to acknowledge the fulfilment of the prophecy.

Soon after this, in 1423, Coventry showed its sympathy for Lollardry
when John Grace an anchorite friar came out of his cell and preached
for five days in the "lyttell parke." He was opposed by the prior of
St. Mary's and by a Grey Friar who however were attacked and nearly
killed by the mob.

The royal visits which earned for Coventry the title which it still
bears as its motto 'Camera principis' were frequent in this century.
In 1436 we hear of Henry VI being there, and in 1450 he was the guest
of the monastery and after hearing mass at St. Michael's Church
presented to it for an altar-hanging the robe of gold tissue he was
wearing. The record in the Corporation Leet book is interesting enough
to quote:

The King, then abydeng stille in the seide Priory, upon Mich'as even
sent the clerke of his closet to the Churche of Sent Michel to make
redy ther hys clossette, seying that the Kynge on Mich'as day wolde
go on p'cession and also her ther hygh masse. The Meyre and his
counsell, remembering him in this mater, specially avast hem to pray
the Bishop of Winchester to say hygh masse afore the Kynge. The
Bishop so to do agreed withe alle hys here; and, Aegean the Kynge
coming to Sent Michel Churche, the Meyre and his Peres, cladode in
scarlet gowns, wanton unto the Kynge Chamber durra, ther abydeng the
Kynge coming. The Meyre then and his Peres, doing to the Kynge due
obeisance ... toke his maze and here it afore the Kynge all his said
bredurn goeng afore the Meyre til he com to Sent Michels and brought
the Kynge to his closette. Then the seyde Bishop, in his pontificals
arayde, with all the prestes and clerkes of the seyde Churche and of
Bablake, withe copes apareld, wanton in p'cession abowte the
churchyarde; the Kynge devowtely, with many odur lordes, followed
the seyd p'cession bare-hedded, cladode in a gowne of gold tissu,
furred with a furre of marturn sabull; the Meyre bereng the maze
afore the Kynge as he didde afore, tille he com Aegean to his
closette. Att the whyche masse when the Kynge had offered and his
lordes also, he sende the lorde Bemond, his chamburlen, to the
Meyre, seying to him, "hit is the Kynge wille that ye and your
bredurn com and offer;" and so they didde; and when masse was don,
the Meyre and his Peres brought on the Kynge to his chambur in lyke
wyse as they fet hym, save only that the Meyre with his maze went
afore the Kynge till he com withe in his chambur, his seyd bredurn
abydeng atte the chambur durra till the Meyre cam ageyne. And at
evensong tyme the same day, the Kynge, ... sende the seyde gowne and
furre that he were when he went in p'cession, and gaf hit frely to
God and to Sent Michell, insomuch that non of the that broughte the
gowne wolde take no reward in no wyse.

In 1451 he made the city with the villages and hamlets within its
liberties into a county "distinct and altogether separate from the
county of Warwick for ever," and in 1453 the King and Queen again
visited the Priory. Perhaps out of gratitude for all this royal
favour, Coventry adhered to the Lancastrian cause and in 1459 was
chosen as the meeting place for the "Parliamentum Diabolicum," so
called from the number of attainders passed against the Yorkists. The
year 1467 however saw Edward IV and his Queen keeping their Christmas
here, while less than two years later her father and brother were
beheaded on Gosford Green (Aug. 1469).

After the king's landing at Holderness in 1471 the king-maker,
declining a contest, occupied the town for the Lancastrians, and
Edward passing on to London soon after turned and defeated the earl at
Barnet. After Tewkesbury Edward paid the city another visit, and in
return for its disloyalty seized its liberties and franchises, and
only restored them for a fine of 500 marks. Royal visits still
continued. Richard III came in 1483 to see the plays at the Feast of
Corpus Christi; in 1485 Henry VII stayed at the mayor's house after
his victory at Bosworth Field; and in 1487 kept St. George's Day at
the Monastery, when the Prior at the service cursed, by "bell, book,
and candle," all who should question the king's right to the throne.
The importance of the Gilds is shown by the king and queen being made
a brother and sister of the Trinity Gild; and the part that pageantry
played in the lives of all men is seen in the many occasions on which
kings and princes came hither to be entertained, not only with the
plays "acted by the Grey Friars" but those in which the "hard-handed
men" of, for instance, the Gild of the Sheremen and Tailors, "toil'd
their unbreathed memories" in setting forth such subjects as the Birth
of Christ and the Murder of the Innocents. But although Henry VIII
himself was received in 1511 with pageantry and stayed at the Priory,
royal favours and monastic hospitality availed neither men nor
buildings when the Dissolution came. On 15th January, 1539, Thomas
Camswell, the last Prior of St. Mary's, surrendered. "The Prior,"
reported Dr. London, the king's commissioner, "is a sad, honest priest
as his neighbours do report him, and is a Bachelor of Divinity. He
gave his house unto the king's grace willingly and so in like manner
did all his brethren." The Doctor asks for good pensions for the
dispossessed, not on the plea of justice but so that "others
perceiving that these men be liberally handled will with better will
not only surrender their houses, but also leave the same in the better
state to the King's use."

The yearly revenue had been certified in the valuation at _L_731 19
_s_. 5_d_. Deducting a Fee-Ferme rent to the Crown, reserved by Roger
de Montalt, and other annual payments, the clear remainder was _L_499
7_s_. 4_d_. Bishop Rowland Lee, writing to "my singular good Lord
Cromwell," implies that he had a promise from him to spare the church.
"My good Lord," he says, "help me and the City both in this and that
the church may stand, whereby I may keep my name, and the City have
commodity and ease to their desire, which shall follow if by your
goodness it might be brought to a collegiate church, as Lichfield, and
so that fair City shall have a perpetual comfort of the same, as
knoweth the Holy Trinity, who preserve your Lordship in honour to your
heart's comfort."

But his entreaties, and those of the mayor and corporation, were all
in vain, the church and monastic buildings were dismantled and
destroyed piecemeal, and like so many other magnificent structures
became a mere quarry for mean buildings and the mending of roads.

The site having been granted by Henry VIII to two gentlemen named
Combes and Stansfield, passed soon into the hands of John Hales, the
founder of the Free School, and in Elizabeth's reign was purchased by
the Corporation.

The changes in religious opinion of the successive sovereigns were
felt here by many poor victims. Seven persons were burnt in 1519 for
having in their possession the Lord's Prayer, the Ten Commandments,
and the Creed in English, and for refusing to obey the Pope or his
agents, opinions and acts that would have been counted meritorious
twenty years later. In 1555 Queen Mary burnt three Protestants in the
old quarry in Little Park--Laurence Saunders, a well-known preacher,
Robert Glover, M.A., and Cornelius Bongey.

Ten years after this Queen Elizabeth's visit was the occasion of much
pageantry and performing of plays by the Tanners', Drapers', Smiths',
and Weavers' Companies, and in 1575 the men of Coventry gave their
play of "Hock Tuesday" before her at Kenilworth Castle. In 1566 Queen
Mary of Scots was in ward here, in the mayoress' parlour, and in 1569
at the Bull Inn.

Coming down to the opening of the Civil War we find that a few days
before the raising of his standard at Nottingham Charles summoned the
city to admit him with three hundred cavaliers, and received for
answer that it was quite ready to receive his Majesty with no more
than two hundred. Whereupon he retired in displeasure, and reappeared
some days later with the threat to lay the city in ruins if it should
persist in its disloyalty. The townsfolk being in no mind to receive a
garrison, the King planted cannon against Newgate and broke down the
gates but was met with a fierce musquetry fire from the walls,
followed up by a vigorous sally, in which the citizens did much
execution and took two cannon.

To prevent the like happening again, the walls were in 1662 breached
in many places and made incapable of defence. Just one hundred years
later New-gate was taken down, and others followed from time to time,
until now there are left only the remains of two of the lesser
ones--Cook Street Gate, a crumbling shell, and the adjacent Swanswell
or Priory Gate, blocked up and used as a dwelling.

In 1771 was finally destroyed the famous Cross which had been built,
1541-3, by Sir William Hollis, once Lord Mayor of London, who came of
a Coventry family. It was described by Dugdale as "one of the chief
things wherein this City most glories, which for workmanship and
beauty is inferior to none in England." A few relics of it exist in
St. Mary Hall, a statue of Henry VI, and, in the oriel, two smaller
figures. So too does the very interesting contract for its building,
which shows how much was left to the craftsman's pride in his work and
how little he was trammelled by conditions, save that the work was to
be "finished in all points, as well in imagery work, pictures, and
finials, according to the due form and proportion of the Cross at

Another building, which was destroyed in 1820, was the Pilgrims' Rest,
a fine timbered house of three storeys, "supposed," as the inscription
upon it records, "to have been the hostel or inn for the maintenance
and entertainment of the palmers and other visitors to the Priory."
Some pieces of carved work were patched together in the windows of the
inn built on its site and there remain.

The modern history of Coventry, consisting of the ordinary events and
vicissitudes of civic life and the changes and fluctuations in its
trades, apart from that of its parish churches which is elsewhere
given, does not come within the scope of this handbook.

[Illustration: SEAL OF THE PRIORY.]



The Priory buildings and grounds covered a large area to the North of
the two parish churches on the gentle slope descending to the little
river Sherbourne, Priory Row forming its southern boundary.

The church occupied the South-West portion of this site, extending
about 400 feet from the excavated west end to a point a little beyond
the narrow lane called Hill Top. The excavation shows that the church
stood on a sloping site, the floor level being some ten feet lower
than that of Trinity Church. It was cruciform, with two western towers
and a central one, and is believed to have had three spires similar to
those of Lichfield but probably earlier in point of date. On the
substructure of the North-West Tower now stands the house of the
_mistress_ of the Girls' Blue Coat School. The interior of the West
end to a height of 5 to 8 feet, with the responds of the nave arcades
and of the tower arches, is visible and in good condition. The
beginning of the turret stair in the South-West tower is exposed, but
the basement of the house unfortunately occupies the lower part of the
northern one. The exterior of this is however easily accessible from
an enclosure known as the Wood Yard, the much decayed spreading plinth
and a few feet of walling above it not having been destroyed. Above
this, grievous damage has been perpetrated by the casing and complete
obliteration of the mouldings and arcading which remained. The towers
were placed outside the line of the aisles as at Wells, the total
width of the West front, 145 feet, being nearly the same in both
cases. There are still indications of the position of the great west
door, but the height of the inner plinth shows that there was always a
descent of several steps into the church. At the south transept where
was "the Minster durra that openeth to the Trinite Churchyarde," the
descent must have been considerable. The remains show that the nave
dated from the first half of the thirteenth century, while fragments
of wall near the site of the transept with indications of lancet
window openings are probably a little earlier than the west end.


Whether the church of Leofric and Godiva, dedicated in 1043, had
survived wholly or in part until this time cannot be known, but,
judging from the history of most other great monastic churches and
from the known wealth of the monastery, it may almost be taken for
granted that the Norman bishops and priors rebuilt much if not all.
Some relics of Norman work have been found but the covering of the
site with roads, graves and houses precludes the systematic
exploration and survey which alone could solve this question and make
clear the outlines of the plan of the whole establishment.

The entrance to some wine-cellars in Priory Row gives access to the
old pavement level of part of the choir and transept. From the fact
that a brick vault forms the roof the cellars have often been looked
upon as the crypt of the church but this is erroneous; the vault is a
later insertion and if any crypt exists it lies below this level. To
the east of the cathedral was the Bishop's Palace, the gardens of it
extending over the detached burial ground of St. Michael's to the east
of Priory Street. The grandeur of this assemblage of buildings
grouping, with the spires of the churches behind and rising so
magnificently above the houses of the city can best be realized by
going to the top of Bishop Street whence may be obtained the finest
view of the two spires that remain.






The early history of St. Michael's Church is very obscure. The fact
that Domesday mentions no parish churches proves nothing. There can be
little doubt that one at least existed. Though we have an earlier
record of St. Michael's it is commonly held that Trinity is the elder

Of St. Michael's the first notice we have is when Ranulph, Earl of
Chester, in the days of Stephen, about 1150, granted the "Chapel" of
St. Michael to Laurence, Prior, and the Convent of St. Mary, "being
satisfied by the testimony of divers persons, as well Clergy as Laity,
that it was their right." Fourteen dependent chapels in the
neighbourhood or within a few miles went with it and the number of
these dependencies is held to show that it was "a primitive Saxon
parish and of considerable importance." In 1192 Ranulph Blundeville,
grandson of the former Ranulph, gave tithe of his lands and rents in
Coventry and bound his officers under pain of a grievous curse to make
due payment.

In the early thirteenth century a dispute arose between Bishop
Geoffrey de Muschamp and the Priory as to the right of presentation,
the Bishop claiming on the ground of being Abbot as well as Bishop.
This was settled in 1241 by the Priory renouncing its claim in
consideration of receiving a share of the income but in 1248 an
exchange was effected, the Priory giving the advowsons of Ryton and
Bubbenhall[4] (not far from Coventry) for St. Michael and its chapels
and engaging to provide proper secular priests with competent support.
In 1260 the church was appropriated to the monastery together with
Holy Trinity and its chapels and although in the arrangement of 1248
twenty-four marks (_L_16) had been assigned to the vicarage, in 1291
we find the priory receiving fifty marks and paying the vicar eight
and a half.

Since 1537 the patronage has with that of Trinity, been exercised by
the Crown.

The internal evidence of the date of the building is given in the
description of the fabric. Of external evidence in the shape of
records or deeds we have very little. Tradition says that there was
once a brass tablet in the church bearing the following lines:

William and Adam built the Tower,
Ann and Mary built the Spire;
William and Adam built the Church,
Ann and Mary built the Choir.

Now we know that William and Adam Botoner, who were each Mayor thrice
between 1358 and 1385, built the tower, spending upon it _L_100 a year
for twenty-two years, but what foundation there is for the other
statements cannot now be determined. The tower was in building from
1373 to 1394, and the choir is contemporary with it, the nave was in
building from 1432 to 1450, and the spire was begun in 1430. As
William was Mayor in 1358 it can hardly have been less than one
hundred years after his birth that both nave and spire were begun. It
is however, likely that other members of the family (if not he, by
bequest) contributed largely to the general building fund.

Much of the history of a parish church is concerned with its internal
economy but even the records of this are not quite trivial for they
enlighten us on many points wherein we are rightly curious. We are,
for instance, constantly reminded, as Dr. Gasquet points out in
"Mediaeval Parish Life," that "religious life permeated society in the
Middle Ages, particularly in the fifteenth century, through the minor
confraternities" or gilds.

Thus the Drapers' Gild made itself responsible not only for the upkeep
of the Lady Chapel but also for the lights always burning on the
Rood-loft, every Master paying four pence for each "prentys" and every
"Jurneman" four pence. The cost of lights formed a serious item in
church expenditure, needing the rent of houses and lands for their
maintenance. Guy de Tyllbrooke, vicar in the late thirteenth century,
gave all his lands and buildings on the south side of the church to
maintain a light before the high altar, day and night, for ever, "and
all persons who shall convert this gift to any other use directly or
indirectly shall incur the malediction of Almighty God, the Blessed
Virgin, St. Michael and All Saints."

Royal visits to the church have been noticed in the history of the
priory and city, especially that in 1450 which was apparently intended
to mark the completion of the church. Reference has also been made to
the plays and pageants with which such visitors were entertained. The
site for the performance of the cycle of Corpus Christi plays was the
churchyard on the north of St. Michael's. Queen Margaret, whose visits
were so frequent that the city acquired the fanciful title of "the
Queen's Bower" came over from Kenilworth on the Eve of the Feast in
1456, "at which time she would not be met, but privily to see the play
there on the morrow and she saw then all the pageants played save
Doomsday, which might not be played for lack of day and she was lodged
at Richard Wood's the Grocer."

There is evident reference to the dedication of the church in the
pageant of the "Nine Orders of Angels" shown before Henry VIII and
Queen Catherine in 1510.

The history of the church since the Reformation has been not unlike
that of a vast number of others. Fanatic destruction, followed by
tasteless and incongruous innovations, and these again by
"restorations" sometimes as destructive, sometimes as tasteless, and
nearly always feeble; such is their common history. In 1569 even the
Register books were destroyed because they contained marks of popery,
while from 1576 onward a want of repair is plainly suggested by
frequent items of expenditure for catching the stares (starlings) in
the church, at one time for a net, at another for "a bowe and bolts
and lyme." In 1611 James I addressed a strongly worded letter to the
Mayor and Corporation and the Vicar requiring them to reform the
practice of receiving the Holy Sacrament standing or sitting instead
of kneeling, "As we our Self in our person do carefully perform it."
Whereupon the Bishop wrote that he "felt persuaded that there were not
above seven of any note who did not conform themselves" to the church
ordinances; while the Vicar said he "did not know of _half seven_ of
any note but do the like."

A Puritanical writer in 1635 thus mentions the changed position of the
Communion Table, which had formerly stood away from the east wall:
"The Communion Table was altered which cost a great deal of money; and
that which is worst of all, three stepps made to go to the Comm'n
Table altar fashion--God grant it continueth not long." Even the font,
given by John Cross, mayor, in 1394, had to give place in 1645 to
something less offensive to Puritan feeling, and in the same year the
brass eagle, given in 1359 by William Botoner, was "sold by order of
vestry for 5_d_. the lb., 8_l_. 13_s_. 4_d_." The rehanging of the
bells in 1674 led to the destruction of the beautiful groined vault
within the tower, and the year 1764 saw the completion of a series of
galleries all round the church. Throughout all this destruction and
desecration the citizens happily retained their pride in the great
steeple, and by constant attention and rebuildings contrived to
preserve it when negligence might have caused its ruin. The scrupulous
care given to such work is well shown by items in an account for
repairs, of date 1580:

Payed to George Aster for poyntynge ye steple _L_7 2 8
Payed for 3 quarter and a halfe of lyme 13 4
Payed for egges 8 4
Payed for glovers pecis, woode & tallowe, abowte
the lyme 5 6
Payed for a load sand 7-1/2
Payed for 4 stryke of mawlte and gryndyng 7 8-1/2
Payd for 6 gallons of worte more 2 0
Payd for gatherynge of slates & oyster shelles 3-1/4
Payd to Cookson for the cradle and 3 other pullesses 5 8

The glovers' snippings were for making size, which, with the eggs,
malt and wort were used in place of water for tempering the mortar.
Lightning seriously damaged the spire in 1655 and 1694, in the former
case causing much injury to the nave roof by falling stone. In 1793
Wyatt, the architect responsible for so much destruction of Mediaeval
work in various cathedrals, advised that a timber framework to carry
the bells should be built up within the tower from the ground and that
the tower arch should be bricked up. All this has been changed since
1885, the bells now hang (but are not pealed) in the octagon, the
chimes and clock are in the chamber below, the arch is opened and the
groining restored.

All galleries had been taken down in 1849 and the present seats,
giving room for near 2,500 persons, introduced, while the incongruous
wall-arcading in the apse was soon after added. At the same period
many important sepulchral monuments, probably stigmatized as
"excrescences," were taken down and removed to other parts of the

Five years after this the exterior of the aisle walls was recased with
the same friable sandstone. In 1860 the reredos was erected, the
subjects of the panels being the sacrifices of Abel, Noah,
Melchisedec, and Abraham, and the Last Supper. To the latest
restoration, which included entire recasing of tower and spire,
clearstories and chancel, the new sacristy at the south east, and
other work, Mr. George Woodcock, a Coventry citizen, gave _L_10,500,
and the sum of _L_39,500 was raised and expended, the re-opening
taking place on 22nd April, 1890.

In 1850 a dispute of considerable public interest with regard to the
levying of the church rate between the vicar and the wardens and
overseers was decided in the Court of Queen's Bench. An Act of
Parliament of 1780 had empowered the wardens to levy a rate in lieu of
tithe for the stipend of the vicar, to produce not less than _L_280
nor more than _L_300. The wardens having ever since allowed their
powers to remain in abeyance, the vicar claimed the right to make the
rate as his predecessors had done. Lord Campbell and three other
judges were however unanimous in giving judgement against him.

The latest event in the history of the church is probably the most
important. It has now been constituted a pro-cathedral for the
proposed Diocese of Warwickshire, and a Capitular body has been
formed. The statutes were promulgated by the Bishop of Worcester on
the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels, 1908. The Chapter now
consists of twenty-four members:--the Bishop, the Vicar of St.
Michael's (Rev. Prof. J.H.B. Masterman), the Archdeacon of Coventry,
the Chancellor of the Diocese, ten priest canons and ten lay canons,
with provision for the admission of a future second archdeacon. There
are resemblances here to the constitution of the Southwark Chapter,
consisting of four clerical and four lay canons, but at Coventry some
of the lay canons are elective and for fixed periods. Doubtless the
immense increase of population in the county, especially in this part
(Birmingham is already a separate diocese), demands further oversight
and much strenuous church work, and doubtless, too, the same religious
enthusiasm which brought into existence the beautiful structures of
Coventry's golden age will be able to meet the demand and cope with
the new problems and aspirations of the present day. But the
archaeologist trembles to think what may be done should the attempt be
made to transform a building planned on the simplest parish-church
lines into the semblance of a cathedral. It cannot be successful, and
the original character of the church is but too likely to be
sacrificed in the attempt.

[Illustration ST. MICHAEL'S CHURCH.]



The church is built on a site descending towards the east, so that the
chancel floor is more than twelve feet above the present street level.
The narrow street on the south, Bayley Lane, gives us a succession of
picturesque partial views but no general one, while on the north the
rather formal avenue dividing the churchyard obscures much of the
structure. On the whole, the most comprehensive prospect is to be had
from the north-east, at the lower end of Priory Row. But no general
point of view is needed, external or internal, to enable us to
understand the plan or arrangement, which is almost as simple in form
as a village church.

The typical English church plan consists of a nave with aisles, a long
unaisled chancel with square east end, porches or doors on north and
south, and a western tower, and this, save for its apsidal east end,
but amplified by accretions in the form of chapels belonging to the
many Gilds of the city, is the plan of St. Michael's.

In no part, however, do we find the chapels so set as to produce a
pseudo-cruciform plan.

Before the latest restoration the walls were entirely of the local red
sandstone, very similar in quality and appearance to that of which
Chester Cathedral was built, and the extent of its decay, especially
on the tower, was as grievous. Hardly a piece of external moulding or
carving preserved its original profile or form, and some of the tower
buttresses had lost so large a proportion of their substance not far
above ground that they appeared to hang to the walls rather than
support them. All save the aisles, which were refaced in the sixties,
have now been cased with Runcorn Stone nearly the same in colour and
much harder in texture.

The special glory of the church is its steeple. No doubt intentionally
its height of 300 feet is practically equal to the length of the
church. Only one other parish church, Louth in Lincolnshire, has a
steeple as high as this, and those of only two English cathedrals,
Salisbury and Norwich, exceed it.

There is, however, an essential difference to be noted in the position
of these spires, those of the cathedrals at the centre, the crowning
point in the composition, those of the parish churches at the west
end, springing sheer from the ground. While the former have a more
intimate relation to the building the latter have an almost
independent existence in keeping with the theory which regards them
more as symbols of municipal pride and power than as expressions of
spiritual aspiration.

But however mixed the motives for their erection, religious forms and
symbolism governed the design. Thus we have here three principal
divisions--tower, octagon, spire, and nine stories or stages in all,
six belonging to the tower and octagon, and three to the spire. Then
in its dimensions we find that the total height is 300 feet,[5] the
plan (exclusive of buttresses) is 30 feet square, while in its
proportions the number 30 is interwoven, so to speak, with a simple
arithmetical progression of heights in each story. Thus it is 30 feet
from the ground to the spring of the lowest five-light windows, 30
feet again to the spring of the single-light windows, 27 feet more to
the spring of the grouped windows above, and another 30 to the spring
of the belfry windows. Thence it is 15 feet to the cornice below the
battlements. The remainder is divided into a series of 20 feet
heights, two twenties from cornice to top of parapet of octagon, 20 in
each of the two decorated stages of the spire, 20 to centre of the
upper spire-lights, three twenties to the finial. If we look at the
stories as marked by the string-courses below the windows we find 50
feet given to the door and great window and then 20, 30, and 40 feet
stages, reaching to the top of the parapet. The reader will have
noticed the interposition of a 27 feet space among the thirties, and
the reason for this is worth explaining.

It is now known that the tower could not be built in line with the
centre of the proposed new nave because of the existence of a
filled-in pit or quarry at its north-west angle. But the builder was
rash enough to build the north-west buttresses beyond the edge of the
old excavation and resting on the looser material. The consequences
might have been foreseen. By the time the building had reached the
grouped windows the settlement or sinking was considerable and an
effort was made to remedy it, first by reducing the height of this
(the weakest story), by one yard and next by starting the courses
level once more. Five hundred years later and we find that whereas the
sinking is 7-1/2 inches near the ground level it is only 4 inches at
the windows, plainly showing that it had sunk 3-1/2 inches before the
remedy was applied and four inches since. The writer is informed by
the architect (Mr. J. Oldrid Scott) that all this angle was so full of
rents and cracks that (coupled with the decay of the stone, especially
in the buttresses) it was surprising that the whole had not fallen. A
curious disregard of what we look on as a natural sentiment is to be
noted in this connection, for the builders used a quantity of fine
sepulchral slabs from the churchyard as filling for the foundations.


In magnificence of design the tower exceeds that of any other parish
church in England, the uppermost story being the richest in detail.
The variety of treatment and gradual increase in elaboration of the
upper stories is admirable, the larger expanses of wall in the lower
giving the necessary effect of stability to the whole. The west door
is very insignificant, and might perhaps, with advantage to the
composition, have been left out. It has the only four-centred arch in
the whole. On each side of the great windows are niches with
(restored) figures of saints and benefactors, twelve in all, including
Earl Leofric and his famous wife, the Botoners and several kings.
Sculpture appears again on the belfry stage. On the west and north
sides the niches are in three tiers of three on either hand of the
tall louvred windows, but on the south and east sides one tier is
absorbed by the stair turret. All these have been renewed, but the
remains of some of those which were taken down can now be seen in the
crypt, and the one which is best preserved, by a happy coincidence the
patron saint, is now placed within the church.

The octagon, which connects so finely the tower and spire, has four
two-light windows on the cardinal sides, the other sides having blank
panelling of similar design. Its parapet has square pinnacles,
intended to carry seated figures. From each of the great tower
pinnacles two ogee-shaped flying buttresses spring to the near angles
of the octagon. A recent writer criticizes these as too flimsy in
effect, but the fact that they are in pairs obviates this defect from
most points of view. The walls of the octagon are 2-1/2 feet thick at
the base, but, as the inner slope of the spire begins at the level of
the window transoms, the thickness at its parapet is more than 3 feet.
The greater weight in this part corrects any tendency in the spire to
push outwards the upright walls of the octagon; so well has it done
this that no artificial helps, such as iron stays or bands, have been
found necessary to add to its stability. Though so slender in
appearance, its stonework is thicker than that of many later spires,
for whereas Kettering is 14 inches thick for the first 10 feet and
only 6 inches above, while Louth decreases from 10 to 5, St. Michael's
diminishes from 17 to 11. The inclination from the upright of its
sides is very slight, less than that of most others; Chichester having
an angle of 7-1/2 deg., Kettering 6 deg., Louth 5 deg., St. Michael's 4-1/2 deg..

[Illustration: THE WEST PORCH.]

The decoration of the spire is admirably designed in relation to the
slenderness of the tower, and its own height above the eye. The first
stage is panelled so as not to present too great a contrast to the
octagon, and the next is also panelled and has narrow canopied slits
on alternate sides, with four thin buttress-like projections on each
face. These provide the slight entasis to the outline which is found
in so many spires, as it is in classic columns, and is designed to
correct the appearance of hollowness which would occur in so long a
straight line. The upper two-thirds of the spire has triple angle
rolls, and, just halfway in the total height, are eight canopied
panels of which four are pierced. The beauty of the steeple and its
pre-eminence among those belonging to parish churches (even if such a
reservation be necessary) sufficiently justifies the length of this


The oldest existing part of the church is the large south porch,
almost facing the entrance to St. Mary Hall. The date of this is not
later than 1300. Each jamb of the outside arch has four external and
two internal attached shafts; the pointed arch is deeply moulded,
while the arch rising from the fourth shaft is of round-headed trefoil
form. The ceiling is vaulted with diagonal and intermediate ribs, and
has the appearance of having been added rather later.

A doorway on its east side led to the Cappers' Chapel and there is a
chamber over the porch for centuries appropriated to the meetings of
the Cappers' Company. The present chapel and chamber are contemporary
with the nave.

[Illustration: SOUTH-WEST DOORWAY.]

The external wall of the Dyers' Chapel (now the Baptistery) is canted
so as not to block the Lane, St. Mary Hall having been already built.
Passing east, the road dips gradually and gives this end of the church
a more imposing elevation. After the Cappers'Chapel, there is only a
single aisle forming the Mercers' Chapel and extending as far as the
Presbytery. A door here, made in 1750, is opposite to the Drapers'
Hall. The apse is now encircled with a series of sacristies divided
into five chambers and spanned by flying buttresses. The first two
bays on the south were built at the last restoration the vestry then
removed not being part of the original design. Beneath them on the
ground level is the engine-room pertaining to the organ. Though
sometimes spoken of as an Ambulatory its position on a lower level,
its original want of connection with the south side and above all the
need for sacristies in so large a church dispose of the idea.

Some have thought that the apsidal Lady Chapel of Lichfield Cathedral
built about fifty years earlier suggested an apsidal termination in
the design of Coventry, but a certain difficulty in the way of the
designer may have led him to adopt this solution. The normal
Perpendicular east end had one large window, but owing to the great
width of this chancel the proportions of such a one would have been
nearly square, and the spring of the arch have been very low. A few
years later and the depressed four-centred arch might have been
adopted but, fortunately, its time was not yet.

The plans of the apses of Lichfield and Coventry differ in the angle
at which the sides are inclined to the chord of the apse, the former
having the usual angle of 45 deg., the latter one of more than 60 deg..
Externally this is not so pleasant as the more "commonplace" form, the
great dissimilarity of the several angles being unsatisfactory and the
third side too quickly lost to view, but within the church these
points are not noticed.

So little time elapsed between the building of the choir and nave that
we find no marked difference of style as we proceed westward along
either flank of the church. The Lady Chapel, known as the Drapers'
Chapel, from its use and maintenance by that Gild, occupies the three
bays of the North chancel aisle. From its elevation above the ground
it was often spoken of as the "Chapel on the Mount," Capella Beatae
Mariae de Monte. All the four windows are of seven lights, the three
northern having a somewhat unusual transom band of fourteen
quatrefoils, at the spring of the arch. The two windows of St.
Lawrence's Chapel have a transom across the lights and a band of seven
quatrefoils at the spring.

The buttresses of the Lady Chapel are rather richer in design than
those of St. Lawrence's Chapel. The lower level of its parapet
indicates some difference of date. The plan of this part of the church
presents problems which bear on those connected with the rest of the
church. Beneath St. Lawrence's Chapel and extending under the north
aisle westward are two crypts, entrance to them being by two doors
from the churchyard, their position is shown on the general plan. It
will be seen that the western one is of two aisles, each of three
bays, while the eastern is only one bay in length. The entrance to the
western was at first in the middle bay but this was blocked when the
Girdlers' Chapel was built. That the eastern crypt was added later,
and the present Lady Chapel later still is shown by the presence of
windows in the east wall of both parts and other indications. But
while the history of the church shows that the original Lady Chapel
and crypt or charnel-house, were built soon after 1300, the present
superstructures belong to a time about one hundred years later. Now as
the western crypt may be safely assigned to the earlier date the Lady
Chapel doubtless stood over it and flanked the old chancel of the
church, in its normal position in fact as the existing one is now. But
a point which remains to be explained is that the walls of the crypt
are parallel to the line of the new chancel and not to the line of the
old or new naves. It seems certain therefore that the inclination of
the new chancel is a simple perpetuation of the old arrangement, and
if not, the position of the crypt is hard to account for.

It is generally supposed that these crypts were used as Mortuary
Chapels and the eastern one has in fact a piscina and aumbry, showing
that there was once an altar. But for some centuries they served as a
charnel-house, and are so called in a papal grant of Indulgences. In
1640 there is an entry in the church accounts of five shillings for
"cleansinge the charnel-house and laying the bones and sculles in

They now contain fragments that have been removed or discovered in the
course of various restorations. A small Norman scalloped capital,
another of Early English workmanship and a voussoir showing the Norman
zig-zag or chevron are interesting relics of structures earlier than
anything now existing, while a number of the decayed statues from the
tower find here a dark and damp repose very different from the airy
outlook enjoyed by them for five centuries. It will be seen that they
are near life size and are executed in a gray sandstone which has
stood the weather much better than the red. The outer north aisle
containing the Girdlers' Chapel on the east and the Smiths' or St.
Andrew's Chapel on the west of the porch, is plainly of later date.
The windows have depressed, distinctly four-centred arches, and in
1730 their five lights had simply cusped heads, the mullions running
up to the architrave.

The north porch has only a slight projection. Above the four-centred
arch are two two-light canopied windows opening into the church. The
soffit of the doorway is panelled. On the west side where is now a
canopied niche was formerly an external pulpit reached from within by
the staircase which leads to the roof. It is shown in the 1730 view.
On the east side are two odd little flying buttresses, intended
apparently to repeat the inclined surface of the other side. The two
north aisles are fortunately not carried westward so far as the nave,
which projects a half bay beyond them and so prevents the otherwise
unrelieved flatness of this part. The most effective of the porches is
that on the west front, just north of the tower. It appears to have
been built after the nave was finished, and may have been added
expressly to provide a more dignified entrance to the church when
Henry VI came in state in 1451, for it faces directly up the nave. The
groining with cusped panels and numerous bosses has escaped
restoration. The five niches above the porch are statueless, and so
are those on the porch front. May they long continue so! The doors are
largely original and are finely panelled and carved.




From within the door by which the church is usually entered, that near
the south-west angle, we obtain an overpowering impression of the
special characteristic of the interior, its spaciousness, for it is
here more than 100 feet wide and the east window is nearly 240 feet

The nave, which is 37 feet 6 inches wide in the clear, is wider than
that of many cathedrals, and much exceeds that of most parish
churches, the widest (Worstead) given in Brandon's "Parish Churches"
being 29 feet. Boston alone exceeds it by about 3 feet. While the
ordinary aisle width ranges from 10 to 14 feet, the north aisle here
is 23 feet, the outer north and the south being each 17 feet. The
total internal length is 265 feet, exclusive of the sacristy; Boston,
the only larger one, being 284 feet, while very few exceed 200 feet,
and most are far smaller. The greatest internal width is 120 feet;
Manchester, a double-aisled collegiate church, is about the same, and
York Minster is 106 feet. Finally, the area is about 22,800 square
feet, probably greater than that of any other English parish church,
indeed, St. Nicholas, Yarmouth, is the only one which pretends to
rivalry in this respect. Size is, of course, only one element in the
impressiveness of a building, and may even be neutralized by the
treatment (as, for instance, in the Duomo of Florence and St. Peter's,
Rome, by increasing the size of its parts rather than multiplying
them), but these few comparisons will help the visitor to judge how
far this element colours his appreciation of the whole. As an
illustration of mediaeval methods of church building, it is
interesting to trace the growth of the structure with the help of the
few historical notices already given and the evidence of the building
itself. The subject is full of difficulties, and the writer does not
hope to solve them conclusively, but to put before the reader the main
points which have to be considered before forming a judgement.

[Illustration: TOWER ARCH.]

Both historic and structural evidence agree that there was an existing
smaller church when the tower was built in the last quarter of the
fourteenth century, that the choir and apse were either contemporary,
or begun a few years earlier, and that the nave was built between 1434
and 1450. The south porch and the west crypt (beneath the original
Lady Chapel) are almost contemporary, belonging to the beginning of
the fourteenth century. Now the axis of the tower is parallel to the
axis and walls of the nave, while the centre line of the choir is
deflected towards the north about 7 deg.. Notwithstanding this, however,
owing to the tower not being central with the nave, the axis of the
choir, if prolonged, runs directly to the centre of the tower arch, as
may easily be seen by anyone who stands there and looks along the
ridge of the choir roof. (_See_ dotted line on Plan.) Next we see
above the tower arch the mark of the old nave roof and the old north
wall of the nave. These show that the south wall stood where the
present one does, and the low-pitched fourteenth century roof-line
suggests incidentally this alternative: _either_ a clearstory had been
added to the nave before the building of the new chancel or tower was
in contemplation, _or_, when the huge tower was built it was felt
necessary to raise the nave roof so as to lessen the disproportion.
But, if we adopt the latter alternative we must accept too the
improbability that this expense should have been incurred when the
inadequacy of the old narrow nave of 15-1/2 feet compared with a
chancel of 33 feet must have been so obvious. This is one of the
difficult questions.

[Illustration: BAY OF NAVE, NORTH SIDE.]

Then it is held by some that the axis of the old nave and chancel was
in line with that of the present choir; but the south porch, built
more than one hundred years before the new nave, is at right angles
with it which would hardly have been the case had the two naves not
been on the same lines.

Needless to say the old east end could scarcely have extended beyond
the present nave, so that the new chancel was probably built without
disturbing the old church. The position of the older Lady Chapel
supports this view, while its bearing towards the north, as already
pointed out, indicates that the deflection of the new chancel is
simply copied from the older one.

The position of the south porch proves also that the south aisle was
as wide as the present one, while the fact that it was wider than the
nave shows that it was almost certainly not designed at the same time.

The nave is of six bays and is 54 feet high at the centre, while each
arch is 20 feet wide in the clear. The piers are slender, but, owing
to the depth of the panelling above the arches and the large size of
the windows, the weight upon them is reduced to a minimum. Shafts
carried up from the ground support the roof brackets, and there are
intermediate ones over the centre of each arch. The clearstory windows
of four lights each are in pairs, and the mullions are carried down to
form panelling and finish on the backs of the arches, which recede in
two sloping faces and form a somewhat unusual feature in the treatment
of the wall surface. The detail of the piers and arches is rather
weak, even for Perpendicular work.


The chancel is about 93 feet long, and in height and width is 4 or 5
feet less than the corresponding nave measurements. Its width further
diminishes by about 3-1/2 feet in the length of the three bays. The
omission of a chancel arch is a step towards the ideal simplicity of
the late Perpendicular churches (_e.g._, St. Peter Mancroft, Norwich),
running from east to west without break, but the large rood piers and
reduced width and height of chancel make the pause demanded in so long
a church. The step at this point is of oak, and is probably the
original sill of the rood screen. The large figures of SS. Peter and
Paul were placed on the piers in 1861. Of the three arches which open
on either hand the centre one is widest, having four-light windows,
instead of three-light, over it. The panelling beneath the clearstory
is richer than that in the nave. The five four-light windows of the
apse are lofty and divided by two transoms, but the design is somewhat
commonplace. The glass of the middle three is a memorial to Queen
Adelaide, dated 1853. The other two are filled with fragments of the
ancient stained glass of the church.


The roof is very similar to that of the nave. Both are of very low
pitch, with tie-beams supported by curved brackets. There are two
longitudinal beams (purlins) on each side, and each division of the
roof made by these main timbers is sub-divided by mouldings into
panels, all the intersections and angles being decorated by carved
bosses or paterae, with angels upon the tie-beams. Where the roofs of
nave and chancel join there is a cove to connect the two levels; and
on the tie-beam above this was found a Latin inscription, giving the
attributes and powers of the nine choirs of angels forming the
hierarchy of Heaven. Translated it is as follows:

SERAPHIMS burn in love of God.
CHERUBIMS possess all knowledge.
THRONES, of them is judgement.
DOMINIONS preside over angelic spirits.
VIRTUES effect miracles.
POWERS have rule over demons.
PRINCIPALITIES protect good men.
ARCHANGELS are set over states.
ANGELS are the messengers of the Lord.

Bare and shorn as it is of its ancient magnificence, St. Michael's is
in its structure a monument of the importance and wealth of the Gilds.
Many of them built or maintained chapels and altars, adding largely to
the already spacious proportions given to the main structure by the
munificence of a few rich citizens. That in 1491 there were eleven
altars we know from the will of Thomas Bradmedow, directing that
eleven torches, price 2 _s_. 4 _d_., be given every Good Friday, one
to every altar. Besides the High Altar there were those of Our Lady,
Jesus, Holy Trinity, St. John, St. Anne, St. Katherine, St. Thomas,
St. Andrew, St. Lawrence, All Saints.

The application to the Lady Chapel of the present name, the "Drapers'
Chapel," is probably subsequent to 1518, when John Haddon, a draper,
provided by will for the support of a priest, "to singe in the Chapell
of our Ladye in the Church of Saint Mychell." But long ere this, by an
instrument dated from St. John Lateran, A.D. 1300, eighth year of Pope
Boniface, Indulgences for forty days were granted for all persons
coming to confess before her altar in St. Michael's Church on the
Nativity, Conception, Annunciation and Assumption of the glorious
Virgin Mary. Also 700 Indulgences for 720 days were granted for
building "the Chapple and Charnell house of St. Michaell, Coventry."
The Drapers' Company was responsible for other things than the
priest's stipend as this extract from their Rules shows: "1534. Ev'y
mastur shall pay toward ye makyng clene of oure Lady Chapell in saynt
Mychell's churche and strawyng ye setus [seats] wt rusches in somer
and pease strawe in wyntur, everyone yerely 2_d_."

[Illustration: POPPY HEAD, LADY CHAPEL.]

The piers at the chancel entrance contain the staircases leading to
the roofs and formerly to the rood loft. The screen on the west side
of the chapel was put together from fragments brought together from
various parts of the church. Against it, and on the south side, are
fifteen of the ancient stalls. Several admirable ends and elbows
remain, and some of the twelve ancient Misereres are of special
interest. Three represent scenes from the popular mediaeval allegory
of "the Dance of Death."

The centre groups are: (1) a death bed, (2) a kneeling man being
deprived of his shirt and a cripple waiting to receive it (?), and (3)
a very well-expressed burial scene. The side groups in each show Death
leading by the hand personages of various ranks, including a pope. Of
the others, Satan in chains, the General Resurrection, and a
delicately executed Tree of Jesse are the best.

[Illustration: A MISERERE, LADY CHAPEL.]

Several monuments formerly in this chapel are now elsewhere in the
church. A memorial to the Hon. F.W. Hood, killed in battle in 1814, is
by Chantrey. On the north wall is a brass plate bearing the following

Here lyeth M'r Thomas Bond, Draper, sometime Mayor of this Cittie
and founder of the Hospitall of Bablake, who gave divers lands and
tenements for the maintenance of ten poore men so long as the world
shall endure and a woman to looke to them with many other good
guifts; and died the XVIII day of March in the yeare of our Lord God

The Communion Table is a fine example of early seventeenth century
work, and outside the screen is a very beautiful oak chest, believed
to date from the time of Henry VII. From the Lady Chapel we pass into
that of St. Laurence. Its two windows are filled with glass to the
memory of past mayors. The dates, 1860 and 1862, sufficiently suggest
their artistic merit. Several old monuments are upon the north wall,
one of 1648 with an extravagant inscription to Thomas Purefoy, a boy
of nine; another to Mrs. Bathona Frodsham, a daughter of the John
Hales who bought so much monastic property, and founded the Grammar
School. The tomb of his first wife, Frideswede, near which he was
buried, may be seen in the Dugdale view near the north porch.

The outer north aisle contained the Girdlers' Chapel. The arcade which
divides the aisles shows the consummation of the process which
converted columns into piers by the omission of capitals and bases and
the continuation of the mouldings from pier into arch.

The altar was below the eastern window, the piscina (restored) stands
on the south side.

The Company has been long extinct and no documents exist. We know,
however, that Haye's Chantry was founded by a Girdler in 1390, for a
Mass to be sung daily at All Saints' altar, and may therefore conclude
that it was in this chapel.

In the two western bays of the same aisle was St. Andrew's Chapel,
supported and probably founded by the Smiths' Company. The first
notice of its existence occurs in 1449, but as this part was not built
until 1500 it was perhaps originally in the adjoining aisle. The
window tracery is modern. The panelling within the internal arches and
between the windows should be noted. The floor near the wall is partly
paved with much worn ancient tiles.

Several large monuments have been brought hither from the Drapers'
Chapel. An altar tomb of black marble is to the memory of Sir Thomas
Berkeley, only son of Henry, Lord Berkeley, who died in 1611; another
of 1640, to William Stanley, Master of the Merchant Taylors' Company
of London and a benefactor of St. Bartholomew's Hospital and of his
native city, Coventry. While these are ponderous and unlovely that of
Julian Nethermyl, at the west end of the principal north aisle, is a
work of interest and much beauty. It is an altar tomb with a
sculptured panel on one end and one side, the other end and side
having been next to walls. It is of interest as an early example of
the Italian style then finding its way into England, and an example so
free from Gothic influence that there can be little doubt that a
foreign craftsman was employed upon it. On the centre of the long
panel is a mutilated crucifix, and a brief inscription with a shield
of arms beneath. On either hand kneel Julian Nethermyl and his wife,
with five sons behind him and five daughters behind her. A cherub at
each end pushes aside a curtain. The group of sons is well treated,
the variations in pose and dress show the hand of one who was
accustomed to study composition, and the result is very different from
the formal repetition of equal or lessening figures usual on mediaeval
brasses and Elizabethan tombs. The Latin inscription is partly
illegible, translated it runs:

Here lies Julian Nethermyl, Draper, formerly Mayor of this City, who
died the 11th day of the month of April in the year of our Lord 1539
and also Joan his wife, to whose souls God be propitious. Amen.

[Illustration: CHEST IN NORTH AISLE.]

A small brass on the wall to the memory of Mary Hinton, wife of a
vicar, who died in 1594, represents her kneeling at a faldstool, and
facing a row of four swaddled infants laid upon the floor.

Near by is the old Purbeck marble font, said to have been given by
John Cross, Mayor, in 1394.

As, however, the form, material, and shallow decoration are all quite
consistent with a thirteenth-century date there can be little doubt
that this one is the predecessor of that given by John Cross, which
was condemned and removed by the Puritans as superstitious. A small
brass, bearing a shield with four crosses, the ancient merchant mark,
is fixed upon it.

[Illustration: THE NETHERMYL TOMB.]

Beyond the west door is the north-east buttress of the tower,
strengthened by a mass of masonry, part of which formed part of the
old nave wall. The tower arch is high and very narrow, owing to the
narrowness of the old nave. The interior of the tower is very
effective, both from the height, which is almost 100 feet to the crown
of the vault, and the beautiful lighting of the upper stages. Each of
the large windows of the ground story is set in a recessed arch, and
between the two lantern stages is a range of panelling. The vertical
lines of the various stages are not continuous, a want of regularity,
which would probably not have occurred had it been built a century
later. Upon the floor of the tower are two small brasses, which mark
respectively the centre of the tower and the point below the apex of
the spire, showing that the spire has an inclination of 3 feet 6
inches towards the north-west. On the walls of the tower two very
large brasses record the names of the Vicars of the church since 1242,
and of the Bishops in whose Dioceses Coventry has been included from
the earliest times. Of the latter, four were Bishops of Mercia,
twenty-seven of Lichfield, six of Coventry, thirty-three of Coventry
and Lichfield, thirteen of Lichfield and Coventry, four of Worcester,
and two Bishops-Suffragan of Coventry.

The south aisle is 6 feet narrower than the north at the west end, but
its want of parallelism adds 7 feet to its width at its far eastern

The south-west doorway has its original doors, though these have been
subjected to restoration. The first chapel on the south side belonged
to the Dyers' Company. When the principal trade of Coventry was the
manufacture of woollen and worsted stuffs and the production of a
special blue thread, so excellent that it gave rise to a proverbial
expression, "he is true Coventry Blue", the Dyers were an important
Company.[6] A chantry known as Tale's was probably attached to this
chapel, as the salary of the priest, _L_5 6 _s_. 8 _d_., was paid by
the Dyers' Company of London. An upper chamber for the priest existed
as late as 1607; the floor corbels still remain. A large marble
monument (removed hither from the chancel) has medallion portraits of
two ladies--Dame Mary Bridgeman and Mrs. Eliza Samwell. The former
with her husband, Sir Orlando (Lord Keeper of the Great Seal under
Charles II), both died in 1701. The latter, dying in 1724, "ordered
this monument to be erected as a remembrance of their great and loving

The Chapel is now the Baptistery. A large eighteenth-century marble
font was removed to the Lady Chapel and a new Gothic one put in its
place, so that there are now three in the church.

The south porch (1300) is the earliest part of the existing church.
The inner doors appear to be of the early sixteenth century, the
outer, though old, are of much later date and are not part of the
original scheme. On the wall on each side of the inner doors are
brasses of some interest. That on the right hand has a curious epitaph
which runs thus:

Here lies the body of Capt'n Gervase Scrope, of the family of
Scropes, of Bolton in the County of York, who departed this life the
26 of August, Anno Dni 1705, aged 66.

An Epitaph, written by himself, in the agony and dolorous paines of
the gout and dyed 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 tyred at last.
Four kings in camps he truly served.
And from his loyalty ne'er swerved,
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 paines oth' gout
He you'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.

The other brass, of 1609, has a portrait of Ann Sewell in Jacobean
costume, kneeling, with an epitaph in which she is described as "a
worthy stirrer up of others to all holy virtues."

A doorway leads to a priest's chamber over the porch, sometimes
incorrectly spoken of as the Cappers' Chapel. It is still used for the
annual meeting of the Company, but is inaccessible to the public.

The next chapel eastwards is St. Thomas', belonging until 1629 to the
Cappers' and Feltmakers' Company. In 1531 they were associated in its
maintenance with the Woollen Cardmakers who had founded it in 1467 and
had after declined in importance. Leland, as we have seen records also
the decay of the Cappers' industry. A large eighteenth-century
monument conceals the original doorway from the porch. The eastern
part of the south aisle as far as the screen formed another chapel as
the dilapidated piscina in the south wall shows. The organ is now
placed in the first bay of the chancel aisle, the whole aisle having
once formed the Mercers' Chapel.


Where the altar once stood are now steps descending to the sacristies.
On the right of the window is the statue of St. Michael brought hither
from the tower. The finely carved corbel on which it stands was
discovered among rubbish in the recess below. Three altar tombs now
stand against the south wall. The eastern has the recumbent effigies
of Elizabeth Swillington and her two husbands. The inscription
(translated) runs: "Pray for the soul of Elizabeth Swillington, widow,
late the wife of Ralph Swillington, Attorney General of our Lord King
Henry VIII, Recorder of the city of Coventry, formerly the wife of
Thomas Essex Esq: which said Elizabeth died A.D. 15..." She died after
1543. The side and ends have arcaded panelling containing shields of
arms. At the west end is a realistic representation of the Five
Wounds. The effigy of Thomas Essex is in armour, that of the Recorder
in official robe and chain. The head of each rests on a helmet, and
the lady wears the "pedimental" headdress of Tudor fashion. The
arcading is purely Renaissance in detail though the general treatment
is mediaeval. The figures are in dignified repose, wholly free from
the later affectations of the Elizabethan school yet evidently
individual portraits. The second tomb dates from 1640. The top is far
too heavy for the little Ionic pilasters below.

The third, traditionally called Wade's tomb, probably belongs to John
Wayd, a Mercer, who lived in Coventry in 1557, but no inscription

There are seven shields of arms on the side, nearly all defaced, a
motto "Ryen saunce travayle," and nine images in low relief which
present quaint studies of early sixteenth-century costume.

The matrices of brasses are still visible in several parts of the
church. Sir James Harrington, writing in the reign of James I, tells a
curious story of their loss:

The pavement of Coventry church is almost all tombstones, and some
very ancient, but there came in a zealous fellow with a counterfeit
commission, that for avoiding superstition, hath not left one
pennyworth nor penny breadth of brass upon all the tombs, of all the
inscriptions, which had been many and costly.

The last monument that need be mentioned is upon the wall over "Wade's
tomb." Twenty-six verses of eulogy follow these opening lines:

An Elegicall epitaph, made upon the death of that mirror of women
Ann Newdigate; Lady Skeffington, wife of that true moaneing turtle
Sir Richard Skeffington, Kt., and consecrated lo her eternal memorie
by the unfeigned lover of her vertues, Willm. Buistrode, Knight.
(She died in 1637, aged 29).

The present organ was built by Henry Willis and erected in 1887. It is
a four-manual and pedal instrument and has fifty-three stops.

The old organ on which Handel played more than once, stood on a raised
platform at the west end. It was the work of Thomas Swarbrick of
Warwick, a German by birth, in 1733. He also built those of Trinity
Church, St. Mary, Warwick, Lichfield, St. Saviour Southwark,
Stratford-on-Avon, and Amsterdam.

The best of the ancient glass now remaining has been collected into
two windows, one on either side of the apse. Much was brought from the
clearstory where six windows on the south and all save one on the
north side still have panels made up of a mosaic of fragments with
portions here and there of which the subject is intelligible. From
what remains in the tracery we may gather that there was a row of
eight angel figures filling the spaces immediately over the lights.
Some of these or similar ones, are now in the apse. They are
represented as covered with feathers and standing on wheels and each
holds a scroll over the head with inscriptions in very contracted
Latin. A few less fragmentary pieces may be found, _e.g._, in the
north window, Judas giving the traitor's kiss, in the north clearstory
the arms of Trenton and Stafford, mentioned and figured by Dugdale, in
the south, the figure of a man in a red gown kneeling with a scroll
inscribed "deo gracias" and over his head "groc(er) de
london"--doubtless a donor. Of modern glass there is a great amount
but little worth mentioning savs on account of the persons
commemorated. One window in the Lady Chapel is a memorial of the
Prince Consort and one in the Mercers' Chapel is of interest as a
deserved memorial to Thomas Sharp the Antiquary to whose labours all
later historians of the city are so deeply indebted. He died in 1841.

[Illustration: ALMS-BOX.]

The pulpit is of brass and wrought iron, the work of Frank Skidmore a
native of Coventry who made also the choir screen of Hereford
Cathedral and the metal work of the Albert Memorial at Kensington. It
was placed here in 1869. The bells, ten in number, now hang in the
octagon. They were cast in 1774 and weigh nearly seven tons. The first
peal was hung in 1429 and a clock existed in 1467. In 1496 an Order of
Leet ordained that "all manner of persons that will have the bells to
ring after the decease of any of their friends, shall pay for a peal
ringing with all the bells, 2_s_. and with four bells, 16_d_., and
three bells 4_d_."

The six bells were cast into eight in 1674 and the present tenth has
the same inscription as the heaviest of the old peal:

I am and have been call'd the common bell
To ring, when fire breaks out, to tell.

The chimes, which existed as early as 1465, were restored in 1895,
after a silence of ten years, in memory of Lieut.-Col. Francis William
Newdigate. Electric lighting has been introduced throughout the


_From a lithograph--about 1850_.]




Although the first mention of this church which the indefatigable
Dugdale could find was its appropriation to the priory in 1259-1260,
it is tolerably certain that its foundation was much earlier. As
before said, it is reputed to be older than St. Michael's and its
position close to the monastery suggests that it had been built, as
often happened, for the parishioners by the monks who disliked their
intrusion within the priory church. The appropriation at this time may
have been rather of the nature of a confirmation of the rights of the
priory than the institution of a new condition of things. As, in 1391,
the chancel had to be rebuilt being "ruinated and decayed" we may
conclude that it was probably older than the present north porch which
is certainly not later than 1259. It was at the same time lengthened
by twenty-four feet, the convent giving one hundred shillings per
annum for eight years and six trees, the parishioners finding all
other material and workmanship. The convent and parish also agreed to
support and keep it in repair at their joint charges.

From 1298, when Henry de Harenhale was appointed, the list of vicars
is complete, but in a cartulary of the priory mention is made of Ralph
de Sowe, vicar of Trinity, as giving a tenement in Well Street, for
the celebration of his anniversary.

There are but few landmarks in its history, and dates affecting the
structure can generally be assigned by internal evidence alone. The
nave arcades had already been rebuilt before the chancel was touched,
and a piece of work of the same period is to be seen in the five-light
Decorated window, in the Consistory Court which now opens into the
large chamber over the porch. We have no record of the building of the
clearstory and roof of the nave. The resemblances between this
clear-story, and that of St. John's chancel, raise the question of
priority. The fuller development at St. John's of the peculiar
treatment of the angles points to its being a little later but
probably both fall within the second and third quarters of the
fifteenth century.

For a church of this size the chapels, altars and chantries were very
numerous, there being probably fifteen altars in all. In 1522 the
establishment of clergy consisted of a vicar, eleven parochial priests
and two chantry priests. Dugdale enumerates six chantries so that it
is evident that here as often elsewhere some of the parochial priests
derived the whole or a part of their support from their performance of
the duties of chantry priests.

Many chantry priests on the other hand had other duties and took part
in other services than the daily mass for which the chantry was

So much that is of interest in the religious life of the period is
connected with the chantries that it is worth while recording some of
the scattered notices that have come down to us.

To begin with the Chapel of Our Lady, the earliest mention we have of
it is in 1364 while in 1392 the Corpus Christi Gild endowed a priest
there to sing mass for the good estate of Richard II, Anne his queen,
and the whole realm of England, to be called St. Mary's priest. The
indenture sets forth that "he is to be at Divine service on Sundays
and double Feasts in the chancel and at Matins, Hours, Masses,
Evensong, Compline and other offices used in the said church and also
daily at _Salve_ in our Lady's Chapel unless hindered by reasonable
cause." The records of the Dissolution of the Chantries show how much
town property must have been held by them, while from these and other
sources we learn the extent of their belongings in tenements,
messuages, rent charges and the like. Thus in 1454 Emot Dowte gave
several tenements to this altar and in 1492 Richard Clyff "late parson
of St. George in London," left a house in Well St. to the church "to
the intent that the mass of Our Lady may be observed the better." In
1558 (the year of Elizabeth's accession) William Hyndeman, alderman
and butcher, directs that his body be buried in the Lady Chapel "as
aldermen are wont to be buried, towards the charges whereof I give
twenty nobles to be levied of my quick cattle and if it be too little
then I will that Sybil my wife shall lay down 20_s_. more." He also
orders an obit to be kept after the death of his wife "yearly for
ever;" a form of words that must surely have sounded unreal after the
changes of the last two reigns.

Perceye's chantry again, which Dugdale considered the oldest (though
he does not give the date) was endowed in 1350 with six messuages, one
shop, six acres of land and 40s. rent, all lying in Coventry, to which
in 1407 William Botoner and others, added a messuage and twenty-four
acres of land in the city for another priest.

Then the chantry of the Holy Cross (1357) founded for two priests to
sing daily a mass for the good estate before death and for the souls
after of the royal family, and for the founders and the members of the
Fraternity of the Holy Cross, was endowed with seven messuages,
fourteen shops and sixteen acres of land in the city.

Dugdale enumerates also four others, Cellet's, Corpus Christi,
Lodynton's and Allesley's, to which should probably be added Marler's,
assigned by him to St. Michael's. The first two are doubtless the same
foundation, for in 1329 land and tenements were granted to the priest
of Corpus Christi Chapel for the health of the soul of William Celet
and others.

It was almost certainly situated in the south transept, on the upper
level over the vaulted passage. The position of Lodynton's chantry
(1393) is not known; Allesley's, founded in the reign of Edward I, was
sung at St. Thomas's altar.

Richard Marler stipulates in his will that his priest is to have the
"stypend or wagis of nyne marks by yere so long as he shall be of good
and prestly conversacyon and demeanor, wt' a p'vyso that yf the seyde
prest be ffounde otherwyse, after monyc'on and reasonable warnyng to
hym geven, he to be removed."

Much of the later history of the church relates to the destruction of
its fittings and furniture or to restorations almost as grievous. In
1560 2_s_. 6_d_. was paid for taking down the carving about the high
altar, while the Mayor bought the panelling of the altar for 33_s_.
4_d_., the vail for 5_s_., the "thing that the sacrament was in over
the altar 1_s_.," the "peyre [pair of candlesticks?] that was upon the
altar 5_d_." Perhaps he thought that all these things would be wanted
again ere long. In 1547 a quantity of costly vestments and banners had
been sold and we find in the accounts a number of such items as these:
"Sold the 6 day of Jennery 5 copps of red teyssew to Mr. Roghers, now
mayre (and 4 other persons) pryce of the sayd copps, 10_l_. To Bawden
Desseld one cope of red velvet, 5_l_. Mr. Schewyll a grene velvet
cope, 30_s_."

But before Mary's death we have a lengthy inventory of copes,
vestments, albs, banners and the like, some of which may have come
back to the church from the buyers at the sale eleven years before.

The church must have looked like a builder's yard in 1643 when the
Committee and Council of War pulled down divers houses outside
Bishop's and Spon Gates and stacked the materials here, while the
changes of government are indicated by the payment in 1647 of 3_s_. 6
_d_. "to Hopes for defacing the King's Arms" and in 1660 of 6_s_. to
"Hope for the King's Arms."

Five years after this the spire, which had caused much anxiety and
expense for many years, was blown down in a gale, falling across the
chancel and causing much destruction. All was restored and the spire
rebuilt in three years. Reference has been made to the existence of a
vaulted passage through the south transept. This was made necessary by
the position of an ancient building known as Jesus Hall which adjoined
the transept and thus blocked the way from "the Butchery" in this
direction. The Hall had probably been long used as the residence of
the priests attached to the church but nothing is known of its origin.
It was destroyed in 1742. Only in 1834, when the exterior of the
church was recased was the passage blocked and the floor of the upper
chapel removed.

The Register records the marriage of Sarah Kemble with William Siddons
on 25th November, 1773.



The church of Holy Trinity loses much, in popular estimation at least,
by its nearness to St. Michael's. It invites comparison of the most
obvious sort. It is not nearly so large and its spire is not so high,
these facts alone are sufficient to account for the popular view.
Fuller, in his "Worthies" says of the two churches, "How clearly would
they have shined if set at competent distance! Whereas now, such their
Vicinity, that the Archangel eclipseth the Trinity."

The plan is quite unlike that of its neighbour, being cruciform, with
a central tower, a short nave, and a chancel distinctly longer than
the nave. On the south both nave and chancel have a single aisle, the
transept projecting beyond it and there is a vestry at the east end.
On the north there is a similar aisle with a Lady Chapel at the east
corresponding to the Vestry, but a large porch and several chapels
fill up the spaces so that the transept does not in plan project.

Looking at the exterior as a whole it may be said that the more
moderate length (194 feet), the central spire, 230 feet high, and the
transepts unite in forming a more satisfactory composition than the
long body and immense western steeple of St. Michael's. There however,
the superiority ceases for the frequent "recasings" and restorations
have left hardly a stone of the exterior that has not been renewed
again and again, and the dates of these operations, 1786, 1826, 1843,
sufficiently suggest the degree of knowledge and feeling likely to be
manifested in the work.

Probably most of the structure was first built of the same friable red
sandstone as its greater neighbour. Much of the recasing has been
executed in a rather harder gray sandstone, but the tower and spire
are still red.

The tower above the roofs, is of two stages, the upper, or bell
chamber, and the lower or lantern opening into the church. Below this
are small windows with the lines of the old high-pitched roof visible
above the present transept roofs, but in the nave and chancel the
lines of the old roofs are now within the church, the clearstory
having since been added. Each face of the tower is divided, apart from
the narrow angle buttresses, into six vertical divisions separated by
thin projections of buttress form. On the south and west the stair
turret absorbs one of the outer divisions. Each division is curved in
plan in a curious way, which may be the perpetuation of a feature of
the original design, but was more probably introduced or modified by
the person who recased the tower in 1826. That there was sculpture we
know, for in 1709 ten shillings was paid for taking the images down
from the steeple. The smallness of the sum indicates that they were
few in number, and if they occupied similar positions to those on the
belfry stage of St. Michael's, and the structure was as decayed as was
the tower of that church it is probable that the cutting away of the
niches may have suggested the curving of the surfaces especially as
the tower would be thereby lightened. As it is we cannot be certain of
much else than that there were vertical divisions serving to emphasize
the impression of height and that the openings were in the same
positions as now.


The spire blown down in 1665 had been in the previous ninety years
five times repaired and repointed. We cannot now say whether the
original design was at all closely followed in the rebuilding, but its
present likeness to St. Michael's suggests doubts. The lowest stage
which takes the place of the octagon and may be an intentional
imitation of it, has almost upright sides with two-light windows on
the cardinal faces and panelled ones on the oblique sides, while the
remaining stages correspond in number and partly in design with those
of St. Michael's.

In 1855 it was considered that the bells endangered the safety of the
tower, and after recasting by Mears of London they were rehung in a
timber campanile in the north churchyard. Even now they cannot be

The deplorable refacings have left few features of interest on the
outside. Were Gothic architecture still a living and not merely
imitative and academic art, one would welcome a complete renewal of
all outside work--not an imagined harking back to the work of the
fifteenth century but showing the lapse of the centuries from the
fifteenth to the twentieth as clearly as does the north porch the
change from the thirteenth to the fifteenth.




It is with a feeling of expectation followed by one of relief that we
pass within the church, for restoration has there rarely the same
excuse for its devastations as the action of wind and weather on the
exterior too generously gives it, and this church is no exception to
the general rule.

The clearing away of galleries, the provision of new seating and the
renewal of much window tracery have been the principal changes, the
greatest loss being the destruction of the Corpus Christi Chapel. The
nave is of moderate width and consists of only four bays, the eastern
arches being narrower and made to abut against the tower after the
manner of flying buttresses. The columns are clusters of four large
filleted shafts separated by small ones while the bases are high and
evidently meant to be seen above the benches. The caps are shallow and
very simple, while the shafts of each pier reappear as part of the
arch moulding.

The arcade as a whole is remarkably strong and dignified, it would
perhaps have gained by the addition of a bay in length. In the absence
of precise records it may be assigned to the second quarter of the
fourteenth century or a little later. Above the tower arch can still
be seen, beneath the painting and plaster, the marks of the older
steep roof. The nave of Stratford-on-Avon Church has points of
resemblance to this. There too we have a fourteenth-century arcade
(but much simpler) with a fifteenth-century panelled wall and
clearstory above, and the panelling comes down on to the backs of the
arches in a similar though somewhat simpler manner.

Owing to the inequality of the eastern arches there is, in the
position of the windows and roof principals a curious disregard of the
lines of the piers and the centres of arches. There are eight equal
bays in the roof and each corresponds to two two-light windows. It is
interesting to compare the design of this clearstory with that of St.
Michael's. It has more solidity to accord with the more vigorous
arcade though the treatment of the panelling is similar. The height
from the arch to the roof is much less in proportion, but the sills of
the windows are kept lower and the heads are square. The form of the
windows is perhaps determined in part by the desire for more space for
stained glass, but it is also the logical outcome of the space
afforded by the level lines of a wooden roof just as the use of the
pointed window follows from the use of pointed vaulting. The treatment
of the angles after the manner of the thirteenth century "shouldered"
lintel in order to take off the harshness of the rectangular form and
to give a better bearing for the lintels is noteworthy and should be
compared with the more developed forms at St. John's Church.

Above the tower arch is a painting of the Last Judgement, discovered
in 1831. It is now so much darkened that very little can be made out.
The following is a description of its appearance before 1860: In the
centre is the Saviour clothed in crimson and seated on a rainbow.
Below are the Virgin Mary and St. John the Baptist with the twelve


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