The Churches of Coventry
Frederick W. Woodhouse
Part 2 out of 2
Apostles arranged on each hand. Two angels sound the summons to
Judgement, and on the right of our Saviour, steps lead to a portico
over which three angels look down on the scene and others welcome a
pope who has just passed St. Peter. On the Saviour's left are doomed
spirits being conveyed by devils in various ways and in ludicrous
attitudes to the place of torment, represented in the usual manner by
the gaping mouth of a monster, vomiting flames of fire. A large
painting of a crucifix, with a priest kneeling beside it and angels
flying above, was discovered at the same time on the north side of the
Chancel but was too much mutilated to be thought worthy of
The roofs throughout are of low pitch, and almost all resemble one
another in design. Those of the nave, chancel, archdeacon's chapel (on
the west of the north porch) and transepts are divided by their
principal timbers into large panels, which are again subdivided by
mouldings upon the boarded ceiling. At all angles and intersections
there are carved leaves, and stars in relief adorn each panel. All
these roofs are painted in accordance, it is said, with existing
indications of the original colouring. The ground is blue, the
mouldings red and white, the stars and carving are gilt. The nave roof
spandrels, above the tie-beams, have large painted figures of angels,
supporting between them shields emblazoned with the instruments of the
Passion. These are also said to be reproductions, but it appears
likely that time had left much to the imagination of their restorer.
[Illustration: NORTH SIDE OF NAVE, EASTERN BAYS.]
Nevertheless, the whole effect of the roofs is harmonious, a result
apparently obtained by the use of a blue far removed from the
ultramarine tint too often employed.
Since the removal of the ringing floor, in 1855, the lantern stage of
the tower has been once more visible from the church. A wooden vaulted
ceiling was at the same time inserted where a stone one had originally
been built or intended.
The chancel is dark owing to the small clearstory windows, the low
outer north aisle, and the concealment of a south window by the organ.
At the first pier east of the tower came the rood-screen, and on the
south side (in the aisle) the door to it may be seen at a height above
the floor. Access must have been by steep steps against the wall, or
from the top of another screen across the aisle. The church accounts
of the year 1560 tell us what it cost to remove:
Payd for taking down ye rode and Marie and John . . 4_s_. 4_d_.
Payd to ye carpenter for pullyng down ye rode lofft . . 4_s_. 8_d_.
On the east side of the tower wall can be seen the line of the
original roof, showing the height before the rebuilding in 1391.
Although there is space for larger windows the aisle roof prevented
their sills being brought lower. The west arch of the south arcade has
been forced out of shape by the pressure of the tower piers and
arches; certainly the piers, which are little more than 4 feet square,
seem slender enough for the support of so lofty a steeple.
Attached to this south-east tower pier is the stone pulpit, one of the
two special glories of the church, the other being the brass eagle.
The pulpit is either contemporary with the pier or nearly so. There is
apparently some difference in the texture and colour of the stone, but
as it is probable that a finer-grained stone would be chosen for work
of this character, this need not imply a difference of date. It was,
however, probably added at the same time as the nave clearstory. The
authors of "English Church Furniture" assign it to 1470. Before
1833 (when restored by Rickman) it had been hidden from sight by
wood-work and a clerk's desk at a lower level. The lower part is
boldly corbelled out and the junction of the octagon with the pier
shafts is well managed, but the upper open-panelled part is rather too
definitely cut off from the lower by the battlemented cornice. Very
few examples of this class of pulpit exist in England, and none equal
The eagle lectern is a magnificent example of brass casting. It is
generally attributed to the late fifteenth century. This eagle
narrowly escaped being sold by the Puritans for old brass, as happened
to that of St. Michael's. It closely resembles one belonging to St.
Nicholas' Chapel, Lynn, save that the latter is not equal in
refinement of detail and proportion, and the bird is less vigorous in
pose and modelling. In 1560 there was "paid for skowring ye Egle and
candell styckes, 10_d_.," and "for mending of ye Egle's tayle, 16_d_."
At least nine chapels and fifteen altars are known to have existed in
the church. The present choir vestry on the north side was the Lady
Chapel. A simple piscina on the south side, about a foot above the
present floor, shows that the old floor level was much lower.
The north aisle is lofty and has a clearstory of three windows over
the arcade. In the outer aisle was located Marler's, or the Mercers',
Chapel, founded in 1537, and beneath it is a crypt or charnel house,
now closed save for small ventilating openings.
[Illustration: ARCHWAY BETWEEN THE NORTH PORCH AND ST. THOMAS'S
The black oak roof of low pitch has the panels of the western bay only
richly carved with vine leaves and grapes. Its date is, perhaps, as
late as the foundation of the chantry. The piscina is in the north
West of the north transept is St. Thomas's Chapel. Dugdale says that
Allesley's chantry was founded in the time of Edward I, at the altar
of St. Thomas the Martyr, "in a chapel near adjoining to the church
porch." The chapel is certainly older, for the beautiful double
doorway from the porch is not later than mid-thirteenth century. The
outer doorway of the porch was rebuilt in the fifteenth century. The
inner one, with a finely moulded arch with angle shafts and the vault
with simple diagonal ribs carried on shafts, is of the early
thirteenth century. It is to be regretted that this fine porch is not
better seen. Signs of the puzzling reconstructions that have occurred
in this part are visible in the aisle wall. Two lancet windows high up
are of the same date as the porch, and are blocked by the chamber
since constructed above St. Thomas's Chapel, and parts of other window
jambs are seen at different levels.
The Archdeacon's Chapel or consistory court, to the west of the porch,
is now one of the most interesting parts of the church.
It is divided from the north aisle by two lofty arches with an
octagonal column. The original dedication is not known, but in 1588 it
was already used as an Ecclesiastical Court, and the next year a
bishop's seat was made for use in it. In the south-west angle is a
tall, narrow recess, once closed by a door. Lockers of this
description were constructed for the safe keeping of the shaft of the
processional cross, and for the staves of banners. On the east side
the roof now cuts across the head of a window of reticulated tracery
of the early fourteenth century. Most of the monuments have been
brought hither from various parts of the church; only two or three are
of general interest. A late Perpendicular canopied tomb, rudely carved
and badly fitted together, stands against the north wall, but there is
nothing to show whom it commemorates. On the east wall is the monument
of Dr. Philemon Holland, with a long Latin epitaph. Fuller says of
him: "he was the translator general in his age, so that those books
alone of his turning into English will make a country gentleman a
competent library for historians." Born at Chelmsford in 1551 he
settled at Coventry in 1595, was usher and then master of St. John's
Free School for twenty-eight years, and died in 1636 in his
eighty-fifth year. During his usher-ship Dugdale was a pupil of the
An engraved brass to John Whithead, who died in 1597, is interesting
for the sake of the costumes of himself and his two wives. Three stone
coffins have also been deposited here, and two sheets of lead from the
roof recording, in fine bold lettering, the repairs executed in 1660
and 1728. In the middle window on the north side are the only
remaining fragments of ancient glass. As late as 1779 there were
"portraits" of Earl Leofric and the Countess, and also, it is said, a
smaller figure of the lady in a yellow dress on a white horse. Part of
a small figure holding a spray of leaves and part of a galloping horse
are pointed out as the remains of this. To the writer the figure
appears to be clearly that of a man, and the horse and rider's leg not
to have belonged to it.
The modern stained glass is very unequal in character, and some is
very poor indeed. The windows at the west, especially one in memory of
Mr. Wm. Chater, a late organist, may be regarded as exceptions. There
are still, fortunately, many which are not filled with pious
The font is the original pre-Reformation one of the fifteenth century,
which was removed by the Puritans in 1645 (though devoid of sculpture)
and brought back after the Restoration. It stands on three steps, is
panelled on bowl and stem, and rather brilliantly adorned with gold
The south aisle was no doubt divided into two chapels, that on the
west belonging to the Barkers' or Tanners' Gild. A small piscina
against the south wall indicates the position of its altar. The wall
below the windows is recessed so as to form a seat the whole length of
The south transept, containing the Corpus Christi and Cellet's
chantries, has lost its original character completely. The piscina,
high up on the south wall, shows that the floor level was some 9 feet
above that of the church. The reason for this has been already
explained. The organ chamber is quite modern. The best authorities
place the chapel of the Butchers' Gild in the south aisle of the
chancel, but do not say to whom the eastern chapel in the nave aisle
belonged. It is known that there was a Jesus Chapel, and, in view of
the proximity of Jesus Hall, it is believed by some that this was its
The present clergy vestry is a fine room, having an excellent dark oak
roof with heavy beams and well carved bosses at the intersections of
the timbers. The Royal Arms over the fireplace were painted there in
1632. Although usual, the placing of the king's arms in churches was
not compulsory until the Restoration; few earlier now remain, and this
placing of them in the vestry rather than the body of the church is
suggestive of a compromise between opposing factions. A portrait of
Walter Farquhar Hook, Vicar from 1828-37 and afterwards Dean of
Chichester is hung here.
It seems probable that this was a chapel, perhaps that of the Holy
Trinity, to whom an altar was dedicated.
The history, as traced in the church accounts, of the various organs
used in the church gives some idea of the fluctuations of opinion as
to the propriety of their use. In 1526 John Howe and John Climmowe,
citizens and organ makers of London, contracted to provide, for _L_30,
"a peir of Organs wt vij stopps, ov'r and besides the two Towers of
cases, of the pitche of doble Eff, and wt xxvij pleyn keyes, xix
musiks, xlvj cases of Tynn and xiiij cases of wood, wt two Starrs and
the image of the Trinite on the topp of the sayed orgayns." In
1570-the "payer of balowes" were sold, and in 1583 the pipes, "wayeng
eleven score and thirteen pounds, went for fourpence half-farthing the
pound." In 1632 a new one was obtained but its life was short, for in
1641 the Puritan party caused it to be sold "for the best advantage."
Once more, in 1684, another was purchased from Mr. Robert Hay wood of
the City of Bath for _L_100; then, in 1732, Thomas Swarbrick of
Warwick built one for _L_600, for which a gallery was erected across
In 1855 this gave place to a new one by Foster and Andrews of Hull,
costing _L_800; and this was rebuilt by Messrs. Hill and Son in 1900.
ST. JOHN BAPTIST'S CHURCH
[Illustration: CHURCH OF ST. JOHN BAPTIST, FROM BOND'S HOSPITAL.]
ST. JOHN BAPTIST'S CHURCH
The church of St. John Baptist has a history quite different from that
of the other parish churches and is specially interesting as a
building belonging to a very limited class, namely, Collegiate
Churches owned by a Gild. Though Dugdale says that the "first and most
antient of the Gilds here was founded in the 14th Ed. III (1340)" it
is probable that, as in other places, religious gilds had for long
existed here and that the royal license or Charter of this date was
like that of Stratford-on-Avon in 1332, really a reconstitution or
confirmation of the Gild's rights, privileges and possessions.
This earliest one was known as the Merchant or St. Mary's Gild and its
first ordinances provided that "the brethren and sisteren of the gild
shall find as many chaplains as the means of the gild can well
afford." Then in 1342 that of St. John Baptist and in 1343 that of St.
Katharine was founded. The former at once founded a chantry of six
priests to sing mass daily in the churches of St. Michael and the
Trinity for "the souls of the King's progenitors and for the good
estate of the King, Queen Isabella his mother, Queen Philippa his
Consort and their children" and others, besides the members of the
Gild. In 1344 this Gild, desiring to have a building for its exclusive
use, received from Queen Isabella a small piece of land called
Babbelak on which to build a chapel in honour of God and St. John, two
priests being required to sing masses daily for the souls "of her dear
lord Edward," John, Earl of Cornwall and others. Did she seek to
satisfy her conscience thus for the woes she had brought upon her
_dear lord?_ The site thus given measured 117 feet from north to south
and about 40 feet from east to west giving room for the chancel only
of the present church, this being dedicated in 1350. But in 1357
William Walsheman, valet to the Queen and now her sub-bailiff in
Coventry gave further land, added a new aisle and increased the number
of priests while the Black Prince in 1359 gave a small plot on which,
perhaps, the tower and transept now stand. Within the next ten years
Walsheman and Christiana his wife gave to the Gild certain tenements,
called the "Drapery," in the city to build a chapel in honour of the
Holy Trinity, St. Mary, St. John, and St. Katharine "within the Chapel
of Bablake." William Wolfe, mayor in 1375, is mentioned as a "great
helper" in the work at the church, the original nave and aisles being
probably built at this time, and some reconstruction of the choir.
Records are wanting of the subsequent alterations which gave it its
present form. The north clearstory of the nave shows the original
design while that of the choir and the south side of the nave belong
to the fifteenth century as do the tower and the cruciform arrangement
of the building. Leland's "Itinerary" gives the following
description: "There is also a Collegiate Church at Bablake, hard
within the West Gate (Spon Gate) alias Bablake Gate, dedicated to St.
John.... It is of the foundation of the Burgesses and there is a great
Privilege, Gild or Fraternity. In this College is now a Master and
eight ministers and lately twelve ministers." Stowe adds that there
were twelve singing men and extant deeds mention "Babbelake Hall" in
which the warden and priests lived.
Many interesting entries of expenditure are to be found in the gild
accounts showing how the Eve of St. John (Midsummer Eve) and other
festivals were celebrated before the suppression of the gilds by
Edward VI. In 1541 we have the following (the spelling is somewhat
Expenses on Midsummer Even and on the day,--Item, 2 doz. & a half
cakes, 2_s_. 6_d_.; spice cakes, 12_d_.; a cest' ale and 4 gals.
4_s_.; 2 gals, claret wine 16_d_.; 2 gals, malmsey, 2_s_. 8_d_.; 2
gals, muskedell 2_s_. 8_d_.; to Mr. Mayor 3_s_. 4_d_.; the Mayor to
offer, 8_d_.; to priests, clerks and children, 2_s_. 4_d_.; the
waits, 6_s_. 8_d_.; to poor people 6_s_. 8_d_.; to the cross-bearers
and torch-bearers, 8_d_.; the bellman, 4_d_.; the hire of pots,
4_d_.; boughs, rushes and sweeping, 8_d_.; a woman 2 days to cleanse
the house, 4_d_.; half a hundred 3_d_, nails, 1-1/2_d_.; half a
pound of sugar, 4-1/2_d_.; to the crossbearer and torchbearer for
St. George Day, Holy Rood Day, Shire Thursday and Whit Sunday,
12_d_.; to 2 children for the same days, 6_d_. Summa (total) 38_s_.
That these anniversaries and wakes led to much unseemly revelling we
have evidence that cannot be gainsaid. The Trinity Gild decided in
1542 "that no obite, drynkyng or com'en assemblie, from henceforth
shall be had or used at Babalake, except onelie on Trinitie even and
on the day, which shall be used as it hath been in tymes past. And
that also the P'sts of Babelack shall say _dirige_ on midsum' even and
likewise masse of _requiem_ on the morrowe, as they have used to doo.
And that the Meire shall not come down thether to _dirige_ ov(er)
night for dyv's considerac'ons and other great busynes they used. And
on the morowe thei to go thether to masse and brekefast, as thei have
used to doo."
Dugdale quotes from an old MS. an interesting passage bearing on this
"And ye shall understond and know how the Evyns were furst found in
old tyme. In the beginning of holi Chirche, it was so that the
pepull cam to the Chirche with candellys brennyng and wold _Wake_
and come with light toward nyght to the Chirch to their devocions;
and afterwards they fell to lecherie and songs, daunces, harping,
piping and also to glotony and sinne and so turned the holinesse to
cursaydnesse; wherefore holi faders ordeined the pepull to leve that
_waking_ and to fast the Evyn. But it is called _Vigilia_, that is
_Waking_ in English and it is called the Evyn, for at Evyn they were
wont to come to Chirche."
In 1362 Queen Isabella helped to procure from the bishop a licence for
one Robert de Worthin, priest, to become an anchorite and to inhabit a
hermitage attached to the north aisle of the chancel. Traces of the
foundations of this have been found on the site of the modern vestry.
When the college was suppressed in 1548 the King granted to the mayor,
bailiffs and corporation, on their petition, the church and its
appurtenances in Free Burgage for ever on payment of 1_d_., per annum
and gave them "all the rents, revenues and profits of the said
But these gifts were not sufficient to support the church and its
services, so that the latter were irregular and repairs were
neglected. In 1608 Mayor Hancox procured the delivery of a Saturday
lecture "for the better fitting of the people for the Sabbath." In
1641 Simon Norton, alderman, left property to his son Thomas, on
trust, the condition being that if at any time St. John's should
become a parish church, he or his heirs should pay _L_13 6_s_. 8_d_.
to the minister out of rents of lands in Coundon, and also the tithes
of lands in Clifton.
Prisoners from the Scottish army being quartered on the city in 1647,
many were confined in this church and wrought much damage and
desecration. From this time services were only occasionally held,
until 1734, when an Act of Parliament was obtained making it a Parish
Church, appointing a district to it and enabling the Master and Usher
of the Free Grammar School to be Rector and Lecturer of the church.
The mayor, bailiffs, and commonalty were made patrons, but in 1835,
these arrangements having failed to work satisfactorily, the patronage
was transferred to trustees who acted as managers of the school and in
1864 the lectureship was abolished, the rectory was severed from the
office of Head Master and the Trustees of the school were charged with
a payment of _L_200 per annum towards the stipend of the Rector. In
1874 the advowson was sold to a private person. A great deal of
restoration, justifiable and otherwise, has taken place, the decay of
the local sandstone having made large repairs necessary. In 1861 much
renewal of the external stone work was carried out. Unfortunately
shortsighted ideas of economy led to the use of the same poor stone
and much has recently had to be done over again, this time with the
harder Runcorn stone used also at St. Michael's. The interior was
restored in 1875, galleries erected in 1735 and 1838, and high pews
were removed, the floor, which had been raised three feet, lowered,
the lantern stage of the tower opened up by removing a ringing floor
and a light iron gallery above the tower arches provided for the
ringers. The original groined ceiling has thus been made visible from
Although small in area compared with the other churches, both exterior
and interior give an impression of size and dignity which does not
belong to many much larger buildings. In the exterior this is no doubt
due to the pseudo-cruciform arrangement, the bold central tower and
the height of the main roof, which would have appeared even greater
had the roadways not been so much raised.
The tower is in two stages, a lofty lantern story having two transomed
two-light windows on each face and a shorter upper one having smaller
windows without transoms and a battlemented parapet. Large skeleton
clock-dials disfigure the windows of this story. Narrow buttress
strips on either side and between the windows run through and serve to
connect the stories. The north-east angle has an octagonal stair
turret carried up above the parapet. The other angles have narrow
buttresses running up to circular bartizans boldly corbelled out from
the battlements. This is an extremely unusual feature in
ecclesiastical architecture but is common on fortified structures. Of
the City gates, Gosford Gate had machicolated ones but not Spon Gate
adjacent to the church.
[Illustration: ST. JOHN BAPTIST.]
The spacing of the windows and buttresses of the south aisle and the
position of the large transept window show how the later changes were
effected. The three windows and the buttresses with niches and
canopies almost certainly belong to the part built by Walsheman after
1357. The two in the chancel aisle are recent insertions. The doorway
at the south-west corner occupies the position where indications
showed that an original door had existed. There is also a small
priest's doorway of which the jambs are ancient. The clearstory was
restored in 1861 "from sufficiently clear indications" in the remains
of the original windows. The whole of this part is worthy of careful
study and should be compared with the corresponding parts of Trinity
Church. Everywhere we see signs of individual thought and design
mainly directed to softening the rigidity of the horizontal lines of
the square-headed and transomed "Perpendicular" windows. The method of
cusping the drop-arch and the varied treatment of these in nave, choir
and transepts are noteworthy while the little quatrefoil at the
intersection of mullion and transom is a really happy innovation. The
flying buttress over the south aisle restores a feature of the old
building which had disappeared. Of the variously panelled and
battle-raented parapets, of nave, chancel and aisles a view of 1864
gives no visible hint. As the report of Sir (then Mr.) G.G. Scott in
1856 specifies as desirable the "renewing all the parapets according
to the portions of the original which remain," we can only hope (but
with no sense of certainty) that these parts are faithfully
The limited site on which the chancel was built (only 40 feet deep)
caused the builders to omit any buttresses or other projections at the
east end. The east window was renewed in 1861 but the proportions are
not good and it is said that one light was suppressed although the old
sill remained intact.
The west end has a large six-light window with two transoms. It was
restored in 1841 and is said to be a precise reproduction of the
original design. On the gable above it is a large niched pinnacle
which appears to be an "unauthorized" addition.
While the north aisle is later than the south, the clearstory, as has
been said is earlier, being of late Decorated date with large
three-light windows of reticulated tracery. The north transept is more
consistent in style than the south. The large four-light window is
peculiar in design. It has one transom and the tracery is brought down
much below the spring of the arch. The centre mullion is very solid,
coming forward almost to the wall face both inside and out and running
up to the apex of the arch. The clearstory windows in both transepts
are similar in general design to those of the south clearstory of the
nave but with variations suggesting a rather later date. A very
effective view of the north side can be had from the quadrangle of
Bond's Hospital, though here too it loses on account of the depressed
site in which it lies.
The interior is not less impressive for its size than the exterior,
Sir G.G. Scott even saying that he knew of no interior more beautiful
than St. John's.
[Illustration: INTERIOR, ST. JOHN BAPTIST.]
[Illustration: CLEARSTORY WINDOWS.]
All at least will agree that there is something about it striking and
dignified which is obviously not concerned with mere size, is largely
independent of elaboration of detail and may therefore be safely
attributed to its satisfactory proportions and broad effects of light
and shade. Its plan is quite simple consisting of a nave and choir
with north and south aisles, a transept not projecting beyond the
aisles at either end and a central tower. Yet, although it is more or
less oblong as a whole, there is hardly a right angle or two parallel
walls throughout the church. In most cases these discrepancies are not
apparent, nor do they appear likely to have been intended to produce a
studied effect. Thus a diminution in width towards the east (as at
Manchester) may be expected to add to the apparent length, but here
the south aisles of both nave and chancel expand instead of
contracting. By standing within either transept and looking up at the
roof the want of parallelism of the walls and other irregularities are
plainly seen. The nave has only three bays, the arches being rather
lofty and the arch mouldings of the characteristic shallowness of the
period. The south-west pier had to be rebuilt on account of settlement
and there are signs of it in the south-east arch next the tower. The
name Bablake is said to have been derived from a pond or conduit near
by and the site may have been swampy, thus affecting the foundations.
The district is even now liable to flooding from the Sherborne (or
Shireburn) stream and as late as January 1900 the waters rose over
five feet within the church as a brass plate at the west end
The graceful treatment of the windows of the nave and choir
clearstories is shown in the illustration. Comparing these with the
clearstory of Trinity nave questions of priority arise. If not
designed by the same mind the influence of one on the other is easily
seen. On the whole the greater rigidity of treatment and the anxiety
to increase the area of glass in the Trinity windows suggest that the
date is rather later and that the designs did not spring from the same
brain. The roof is very simple, the curved brackets springing from the
shafts which run down to the arches below. The wall is deeply recessed
beneath the windows. The north windows, however, are continued down in
plain panels, but this only makes more apparent the fact that they are
not placed centrally over the arches.
The north aisle has a doorway and two north windows. The windows are
of good Perpendicular design, and the mullions are continued down the
wall below, forming panels. The lowered sill and recess probably
formed a convenient retable to an altar against the wall. The west
window preserves some fragments of glass dated 1532. There is an
obliterated inscription and small etched figures--among them an
acolyte carrying a cross, one of those whose services are mentioned in
the accounts after this wise: "to the crosebeirer and torchebeirer,
for Seynt George day, hollieroode day, shire thuresday and Whit
Sunday, 12_d_.; to 2 childern for the same dayes 6_d_."
The south aisle of the nave, including the lower part of the transept,
is doubtless the aisle erected for the Gild by William Walsheman in
1357. The two windows are not central with the nave arches, and the
third is not in the centre of the transept. Their tracery is somewhat
peculiar in design and refined in detail, and has the transitional
character one would expect from its date. There are signs on the face
of each western tower pier of the altars which once stood there,
probably those of the Trinity and St. Katharine, which are known to
The eastern piers of the tower are later than the western, and very
unlike them in plan. A bold and ingenious treatment of the vaulting
shaft of the tower groining is used on these piers; on the western
ones the shafts stop upon the ends of the hood moulding.
The choir is now closed by a screen carrying a large rood carved in
oak. Like St. Michael's, but to a smaller extent, the axis of the
choir inclines to the north. Whether symbolic, or only a part of what
may be described as the studied irregularity of the whole building it
is hard to say. The column on each side of the choir is later than the
east respond and also later than the west tower pier, but corresponds
with the east tower pier. The deep panelling beneath the windows must
have been carried out when the clearstories were constructed in the
The south aisle of the choir, the original chapel of the patron saint,
is now fitted up and used as a morning chapel. The piscina still
remains in the south wall, and there is a trace of the old altar
visible on the wall.
The east end of the north aisle is now the organ chamber, and was
originally the Lady Chapel. The base of the altar still exists, and so
does the piscina in the south wall.
In connection with these or other altars we hear of a payment of
22_d_., in 1474, for painting a cloth for the image of St. John
Baptist, and in 1462 sums of 40_s_. and 7_s_. were paid to a sculptor
of Burton-on-Trent for an alabaster statue of the Virgin and a base
At the foot of the south-west tower-pier are some decayed but
interesting ancient tiles. The new ones have been copied from them.
The vicissitudes in the church's fortunes have left little for us to
see that is not part and parcel of the structure.
That there were "orgaynes" as early as 1461 we know from entries in
the city records giving the cost at different times of wire, glue,
nails, thread, etc., for the reparation of them, while a payment of
2_d_. for "a string" suggests that they were a combination of wind and
string stops, similar to the 1733 organ of St. Michael's as built by
Thomas Swarbrick. In 1519 the Prior bought the "metell of ye old
orgayns in bablake" for 9_s_. 10_d_., but doubtless the new one
disappeared in the troublous times that followed. A new one has
recently been set up.
The pulpit is of stone and quite new, and the font, erected in 1843,
is a copy of that of St. Edward's, Cambridge.
There are five bells, the inscriptions on them being as follows:
1st. Henrycus Bagley. M.C. Fecit 1676.
2nd. Pack & Chapman. London 1778. Richard Eaton, Church-warden.
3rd. Henric Dodenhale, Fecit. M.C.E.I.C.R.I.
4th. (Illegible.) Probably of the end of fifteenth century.
5th. I ring at six to let men know
When to and from their work to go.
Neglect and decay it has been seen had provided only too plausible
excuses for restoration. In 1858 the church had a narrow escape from a
worse fate, for it was proposed to extend it in some direction, and
the architect suggested the lengthening of the north transept and the
addition of a new north aisle. Probably lack of funds alone prevented
the carrying out of a proposal which would have completely spoilt the
proportions of this beautiful interior.
THE GREY FRIARS' CONVENT
The third of the "three tall spires," albeit nothing else remains of
the church to which it belonged, deserves that some notice should be
given of it and of the men who reared it.
In 1234, eleven years after their first coming into England, the
Franciscan Friars are heard of at Coventry, Ranulph, Earl of Chester,
having granted them land for their oratory, and the Sheriff of
Warwickshire, on behalf of the King, giving them shingles from the
woods of Kenilworth wherewith to cover it. In 1359 the Black Prince,
then owner of the Manor and Park of Cheylesmore, just outside the
walls of the city and adjacent to their convent, granted them so much
stone from his quarry there, "as they should have occasion to use
about their buildings and walls," and probably at this time the
church, of which Christ Church spire is a remnant, was built.
At the same time he gave them "liberty to have a postern into the Park
to carry out any of their convent that should be diseased."
The house was surrendered to the King in 1539, the warden and ten
brethren being compelled to sign a humiliating document, in which they
professed to "profoundly consider that the perfection of Christian
living doth not consist in dumb ceremonies, wearing of a grey coat,
disguising ourself after strange fashions, ducking, nodding and
becking, in girding our selves with a girdle full of knots and other
like Papisticall ceremonies."
[Illustration: THE SPIRE OF CHRIST CHURCH.]
It is certain at least that they had no accumulated wealth. Whatever
they had received had been distributed for the advantage of the Church
or the poor. At their suppression they had neither lands, tenements,
nor other possessions, save their church and house and the land these
stood on. The site was granted to the city and the buildings thrown
down, only the spire with its supporting walls and arches being
allowed to stand until 1829, when it was incorporated with the new
nave of Christ Church from the designs of Rickman, to whom we are
indebted for the first comprehensive and systematic account of English
Mediaeval architecture. The work shows how imperfectly in those days
even a genuine admirer of Mediaeval Art understood its spirit.
Unfortunately the tower and spire were recased with new stone, and the
original character of the work largely disappeared. The total height
is 204 feet, exclusive of the vane. The plan of the old church was
interesting, especially in the arrangement of the crossing. The short
transepts had little real relation to choir or nave, which were almost
completely separated from one another, the nave being intended for the
use of the public.
The narrowing of the tower from east to west, and the insertion of
secondary north and south arches to carry the slender octagonal tower
is unusual and ingenious. The whole length was 250 feet, and the
transepts were 96 feet from north to south. The nave and choir
differed little in length.
[Illustration: GREY FRIARS' CHURCH (CROSSING).]
The connection of the Franciscans with the production of the
Mysteries, or sacred plays, should not pass unnoticed. Dugdale, who
had spoken with eye witnesses, thus alludes to the subject:
Before the suppression of the Monasteries this City was very famous
for the Pageants that were played therein upon Corpus Christi-day;
which occasioning very great confluence of people thither from far
and near, was of no small benefit thereto; which Pageants being
acted with mighty State and Reverence by the Friars of this House,
had Theatres for the several scenes, very large and high, placed
upon wheels and drawn to all the eminent parts of the City for the
better advantage of spectators; and contained the story of the Old
and New Testament, composed in the old English Rithme, as appeareth
by an ancient MS. intituled, _Ludus Corporis Christi_, or _Ludus
Along with a number that were performed by the city companies they are
still to be seen in the British Museum. We know that the Friars
presented them as late as 1492, when Henry VII was present with his
Queen to see the plays "acted by the Grey Friars."
No remains exist of the domestic buildings of the Friary.
The well-known Ford's Hospital hard by is often called Grey Friars'
Hospital, but this arises merely from the situation. It was founded in
1529 by Mr. William Ford of Coventry, Merchant of the Staple, for five
men and one woman, but is now inhabited by women only. It is an
exceptionally beautiful example of Tudor timber construction in
THE WHITE FRIARS
The Carmelite or White Friars were, says Dugdale, fixed in Coventry in
1343 by Sir John Poultney who had been four times Lord Mayor of
London. Although their buildings were ornate and extensive, their
revenue apart from oblations amounted to only _L_3 6_s_. 8_d_. per
annum and the whole came to less than _L_8. At the Dissolution the
house and its revenues came eventually to John Hales, Clerk of the
Hanaper to Henry VIII. Having amassed a great estate in monastery and
chantry lands, Hales founded the Free School in Coventry, the Church
of the White Friars being at first used for the purpose. Later, he
made of the Friary a dwelling and removed the school to St. John's
Hospital, granted to him by the king in 1545. Part of the church of
the Hospital still exists at the foot of Bishop Street, but the school
has been removed to new buildings in the Warwick Road.
Of the buildings of the White Friars there are considerable remains
incorporated with the Union Workhouse at the top of Much Park Street.
The east walk of the cloister, 150 feet in length, has a fine groined
roof of the fifteenth century. A range of vaulted apartments runs
alongside the cloister on the east side, divided midway by the
vestibule to the Chapter House now destroyed. The upper story above
the cloister and the range of rooms was, we may assume, the friars'
Dormitory. A huge fireplace and a bay window are part of John Hales'
reconstruction. The gateway to the south-west corner of the cloister
remains, and the outer gate of the precincts may still be seen in Much
[Illustration: ST. MARY HALL.]
ST. MARY HALL
The Gilds were so important a part of the religious and social life of
the city that it is imperative that some notice of their hall, which
stands in suggestive proximity to the churches, should be given. St.
Mary Hall, opposite the south side of St. Michael's is one of the most
complete and beautiful examples of a fifteenth-century town dwelling
now remaining in England. It originally belonged to the Gilds of Holy
Trinity and Our Lady to which were united at a later time those of St.
Katharine and St. John Baptist, the oldest to be founded. By the fine
groined gateway we enter the courtyard, on the south side of which is
the kitchen, probably the hall of an older structure of the first half
of the fourteenth century, the present hall and its undercroft on the
west side having been built between 1394 and 1414. On the east side is
the entrance to the staircase leading to a gallery from which the hall
is entered. At this end is the Minstrels' Gallery and beneath it are
three doorways, the centre one leading to the kitchens below, that on
the right to the old Council Chamber, that on the left to a smaller
room known as the Princes' Chamber. From the Council Chamber is
reached the stone-groined Treasury, now used for the safe keeping of
muniments and records. It forms the first floor of a low tower.
The hall, 70 feet by 30 feet, is of five bays, with the usual dais and
oriel window at the far end from the entrance.
[Illustration: ST. MARY HALL.]
The nine-light window over the dais has its original glass, made, it
is believed, by the John Thornton of Coventry who is known as the
maker of the east window of York Minster. The upper part has numerous
coats of arms of kings, cities, and princes, while the nine lights are
filled with "portraitures of several kings in their surcotes," William
I, Richard I, Henry III, IV, V, VI, King Arthur, the Emperor
Constantine, and another unnamed. The windows on either side of the
hall have suffered grievously. Those on the west (left) were deprived
of their heraldry and portraits in 1785. In those on the east new
glass with poor imitations of the ancient series of figures and
coats-of-arms was placed in 1824. At the same time the wainscotting
painted in 1580 with inscriptions and heraldry was cleared away and
replaced with cement. The inscriptions were copied with care, but "the
ornamentation was followed without any very fastidious copying of the
uncouth ancient style"! The timber roof is of low pitch, with
traceried spandrels above the tie-beams. Angels playing on a variety
of instruments are placed at the centre of each tie-beam and there is
much good carving of foliage and animals at the intersections of the
timbers. The most famous adornment of the hall is the tapestry behind
the dais. The following views as to its origin and subject are those
of George Scharf the antiquary. It is of Flemish design but probably
of English manufacture, is woven, not embroidered, and was made in the
early sixteenth century for the place it occupies, its compartments
corresponding with those of the window. It is in six compartments in
two rows. The upper central has a figure of Justice, an insertion
probably in the place of Christ, angels with the instruments of the
Passion being on either side. The lower central represents the
Assumption of the Virgin in presence of the apostles. The upper left
in order from the centre has eleven saints, SS. John Baptist, Matthias
(?), Paul, Adrian, Peter, George, Andrew, No. 8(?), Bartholomew,
Simon, Thaddeus. The corresponding female saints on the right are SS.
Katherine, Barbara, Dorothy, Mary Magdalen, No. 5 (?), Margaret,
Agnes, Gertrude of Nivelle, Anne, Apollonia.
The lower left has a king kneeling at a prie-dieu on which is his
crown and an open book. A cardinal kneels behind him but there is no
other ecclesiastic among the seventeen courtiers standing behind. In
the opposite compartment is a queen kneeling with a number of ladies,
among whom are two in monastic dress. Although the work belongs to the
reign of Henry VII, the king and queen are almost certainly Henry VI
and Margaret of Anjou.
On the walls are portraits of later sovereigns from William III to
George IV, that of George III being by Lawrence. The Mayoress' Parlour
opening from the dais has been drastically restored. It contains
portraits of Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth, James I, and Charles I, and
four benefactors to the city, John Hales, founder of the Free School,
Sir Thomas White, Thomas Jesson and Christopher Davenport.
THE CARTHUSIAN MONASTERY
Little remains of this monastery which stood on the south side and not
far from the city. The Order settled in Coventry in 1381 only ten
years after the foundation of the London Charter-house. At the
Dissolution the Prior and brethren, ten in all, did not emulate the
heroism of the London monks and were fortunate enough to obtain
pensions instead of martyrdom. Some trifling remains exist
incorporated in a modern mansion, and a wall of the garden shows the
position of doors which led to the isolated cells of the monks. The
Botoners had given freely to the building of the church and cloisters
of which Richard II laid the first stone in 1385 and afterwards
largely endowed "on condition that they should find and maintain
within the precinct of their house, twelve poor scholars from seven
years old till they accomplished the age of seventeen years, there to
pray for the good estate of him the said King and of his Consort,
during this life, and for the health of their souls after death."
[Footnote 1: St. Osburg's name is not found in the Calendar. As at the
Dissolution the Cathedral possessed relics of St. Osborne, including
his head in copper and gilt, these saints may be identical.]
[Footnote 2: Earl Street and Bishop Street are still principal streets
in either half of the town.]
[Footnote 3: The walls of London were about three and a quarter miles
long (including the river front), with ten or eleven gates; those of
York three miles, of Chester hardly two.]
[Footnote 4: These have ever since remained prebends of Lichfield.]
[Footnote 5: At the last restoration the height was reduced to 298
[Footnote 6: _See_ Fuller's "Worthies of England." In 1428 an Act of
Leet ordered that no person should dye any wool or cloth with "a
deceitful colour called Masters or Medleys brought into Coventry by a
[Footnote 7: "English Church Furniture." (Antiquary series.) J.C. Cox
and A. Harvey.]
[Footnote 8: "Coventry: its History and Antiquities," B. Poole, 1870.]
Abbots of Coventry.
Benefactors of Coventry.
Botoner, William and Adam.
Chantries, Foundation of.
City, History of.
Dissolution of Monasteries.
Duel, Hereford and Norfolk.
Evens or Wakes.
Friars, Coming of.
Grey Friars Convent (Christ Church):
Plan of Crossing.
Godiva and Leofric.
Hospital, St. John's.
Orders of Angels.
Pageants and Plays.
Pilgrims' Rest or Guest House.
Mary Queen of Scots.
St. John Baptist Church:
St. Mary Hall:
St. Michael's Church:
St. Michael's Church:
Drapers' or Lady.
Chapter, Constitution of.
Old church, position of.
Proportions of Steeple.
White Friars' Convent.
[Illustration: ST. MICHAEL'S CHURCH]
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TOOKS COURT, CHANCERY LANE, LONDON.]
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