A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 8, the City of Coventry and Borough of Warwick. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1969.
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ST. MARY'S HALL.
St. Mary's Hall in Bayley Lane stands on the same site as the first hall built for the Guild of St. Mary soon after its foundation in 1340. (fn. 1) The present complex of buildings, mostly of late-14th and 15th-century date, extends southwards towards Earl Street, enclosing a small rectangular courtyard. The hall and its undercroft occupy the west side of the courtyard, the north gable-end of the hall facing Bayley Lane. The rest of the street frontage consists of a two-storied stone gatehouse, while the east and south sides of the courtyard are bounded by timber-framed buildings. Further south stands the stone-built kitchen, originally rising through three stories to an open roof. To the west of the kitchen and partly incorporated in it is a largely timber-framed structure adjoining the south end of the hall. At the extreme south-west corner of the site, communicating with this building, is the three-storied stone tower known as Caesar's Tower.
It is thought that stones from the ruins of the 12th-century castle of the earls of Chester may have been used for the building of the south wall of the kitchen and of Caesar's Tower in the middle of the 14th century. It is even possible that the tower's foundations were those of a structure belonging to the castle itself. Caesar's Tower, which appears at one time to have been embattled and perhaps contained an additional story, was destroyed by bombing during the Second World War but has since been rebuilt. The vaulted chamber on the first floor was known as the Treasury in 1441 when it housed, among other valuables, an iron-bound chest for the city muniments.
It has been suggested that the kitchen may represent the remains of the first St. Mary's Hall, in existence by 1342. Some of its features, however, are more likely to have belonged to an original kitchen, perhaps serving an earlier hall on the site of the present one. There are four hearths in arched recesses incorporated in the south and east walls, the flues being carried up between the windows. The remaining pointed windows in the same walls are of one and two lights, the latter having cusped heads. The east end of the north wall consists of an arcade of two bays with a central octagonal pier; the respond of the eastern arch is formed by a heavy stone corbel, carved with an angel holding a shield. The kitchen roof, which once had a central louvre, retains tiebeams with small curved braces resting on carved head-stops; it is apparently of later date than the main structure. The roof and other ancient features have recently been concealed by the insertion of a new ceiling and modern fittings. The timber-framed structure at the south end of the hall occupies the upper part of the west end of the kitchen. The kitchen, however, extends beneath it on the ground floor and from here a staircase leads upwards to a central doorway in the south wall of the hall while two openings lead downwards to the undercroft. Further west is a much smaller ground floor kitchen, perhaps the room called the 'jelly-house' in 1581; in its south wall a doorway communicates with Caesar's Tower.
The hall itself is known to have been rebuilt after the Guild of St. Mary was absorbed by the more powerful Trinity Guild. One version of the city annals records that it was erected in 1394 and finished in 1414. (fn. 2) Dugdale considered, from the evidence of window glass which has now disappeared, that the date of completion was slightly later. (fn. 3) The style of the present building, with its low-pitched roof and Perpendicular windows, is certainly well advanced for the early years of the 15th century. The sophisticated character of the work, however, may be partly explained by the suggestion that masons and carpenters employed on the rebuilding of St. Michael's Church (fn. 4) were transferred to St. Mary's Hall at this period. The hall is about 76 ft. long by 30 ft. wide. It consists of five bays and has three large traceried windows in each side wall. The most southerly bay has an entrance doorway at its east end and presumably contained the medieval screens passage with a gallery, perhaps wider than the present one, above it. A stone screen was introduced here in 1571 but later removed. (fn. 5) Below the gallery are three pointed doorways while above it the wall is timber-framed and contains a modern copy of a late medieval wooden window. The bay at the north or upper end of the hall was occupied by a raised dais, obliterated when the whole floor was boarded over in 1755. On the west side of the bay is a rebuilt oriel window with a blocked window to the north of it. A passage in the thickness of the wall leads northwards from the oriel to a blocked external doorway; a now demolished timber-framed structure beyond the passage was once known as the 'warden's buttery' or pantry. (fn. 6) The floor of the oriel is set with medieval tiles, survivors of those which originally paved the hall itself, and the window retains some ancient glass. On the opposite side of the former dais is an archway, enlarged in 1825, (fn. 7) leading to the Mayoress's Parlour. The upper part of the north wall of the hall is occupied by a nine-light Perpendicular window of later character than the side windows; it still contains much of its original late-15th-century glass. (fn. 8) Below the window, and evidently designed for this position, is the notable tapestry which is one of Coventry's chief treasures. The inclusion among its figures of a king and queen in the costume of c. 1500 suggests that the tapestry may have been woven to commemorate the admission of Henry VII and his wife to the Trinity Guild in that year. (fn. 9) The figure of Justice in the central upper panel is thought to have been inserted in the 17th century, perhaps replacing a representation of the Deity which was then unacceptable. The elaborate roof of the hall is divided into panels by moulded ribs with carved heraldic bosses at their intersections. The tie-beam trusses, each with a carved angel at its apex, have cusped panel infilling. The small curved braces below the tie-beams rest on stone shafts which are carried down between the windows to end in carved headstops on a moulded string-course at sill level.
The timber-framed building to the south of the hall probably formed part of the reconstruction scheme carried out in the late 14th and early 15th centuries. It is roofed at right angles to the hall and shares a common wall with it. On both floors doorways communicate with the upper rooms of Caesar's Tower. It may have been this whole structure which was called the Council House in 1441 and which, after a fire in 1614, needed new roof tiles. There are two rooms at hall level, the staircase from the kitchen rising between them. Rooms in this position at the lower end of the hall were most probably built as a pantry and buttery, but from an early date the more easterly was used for council meetings and it is now known as the Old Council Chamber; its decorations and fittings were renewed in 1930, mostly as copies of earlier ones. (fn. 10) The room contains an elaborately carved guild chair, thought to date from c. 1450 and originally to have been a double chair on which the mayor and the master of the Trinity Guild could sit side by side. To the west of the staircase is the so-called Prince's Chamber, formerly the Small Council Chamber, which has Jacobean fittings brought from elsewhere late in the 19th century. The top floor of the building is occupied by the Armoury, approached by a stone newel stair said to have been newly built in 1639. The open roof has moulded timbers and two tie-beam trusses with small curved braces and carved corbel heads. There is evidence that the most westerly of the three bays was once a separate room with an early fireplace at its south end. The Armoury has two doorways leading to the hall gallery in its north wall; in the opposite or south wall are the remains of two long mullioned windows, one inside the other, enclosing a narrow passage.
Externally the side walls of the hall have projecting buttresses between the windows and there are diagonal buttresses at the two southern angles. The vaulted undercroft is five bays long, divided in the centre by octagonal piers. The chamfered vaultingribs spring from the piers and wall-shafts without intervening capitals. The walls contain rectangular recesses probably for use as cupboards. The most northerly bay is divided from the others by a stone wall and this smaller crypt has a doorway and a range of five windows facing Bayley Lane. Above these the street frontage, of which the masonry is much weathered except where re-facing has taken place, is dominated by the great nine-light window of the hall. Its jambs and mullions are carried down to frame a row of nine canopied niches corresponding to the area occupied internally by the tapestry. It has been suggested that this window was an insertion of the late 15th century, but there is considerable structural evidence that the whole north wall of the hall was rebuilt at this period.
It is not clear how many of the ancillary buildings were included in the reconstruction of c. 1400 but it is probable that alterations and additions were being made to them throughout the 15th century. The gatehouse range, which appears to be roughly contemporary with the hall itself, contains on the ground floor a stone-vaulted passage leading from Bayley Lane to the courtyard. The elaborate vault springs from moulded angle shafts and has a central carved boss representing the Coronation of the Virgin. The outer arch preserves its ancient doors and the inner arch rests on carved stone corbels, much weathered. The ground-floor room to the east of the passage was leased to the mercers' company in 1590 for use as a hall and in the late 17th century it became their chapel. The arms of the company were painted on the east wall in 1590 and the small doorway from the street was blocked soon afterwards. The upper floor of the gatehouse consists of a single room, the Mayoress's Parlour, which is entered by a 19th-century archway in the east wall of the hall. The room was thoroughly restored in 1834-5 when the Gothic fireplace was introduced, the ceiling was embellished, and a large traceried window was inserted facing the courtyard; this window replaced a Venetian one dating from 1785. In 1854 two medieval windows in the north wall were opened up. (fn. 11)
The timber-framed range on the east side of the courtyard is of two stories and probably dates from the later 15th century. The ground floor was originally an open cloister but the whole building was much altered when the extensions to St. Mary's Hall were erected to the east of it in 1863. (fn. 12) The former cloister contains a medieval oak stair which, by way of a first-floor gallery on the south side of the courtyard, provides the principal access to the great hall. The room above the cloister, also much altered, was leased to the drapers' company in 1558. Its windows, a long row of lights divided by mullions, were said in 1719 to contain fine 15th-century glass. The range to the south, although of the same height as the east range, has three stories, the uppermost being jettied towards the courtyard. The stone-built ground floor contains a passage leading to the kitchen with a small room beside it. The timber gallery on the first floor has a doorway at its west end giving access to the former screens passage of the hall. The framing of the wall towards the courtyard consists of a continuous row of square-headed lights, originally unglazed, and these are continued for a short distance along the east range above the stair. The room above, known as the 'Ante-room', has the additional width provided by its jettied floor and a partly open roof of arch-braced collar-beam construction. A window with cusped heads to its pointed lights extends the whole width of the courtyard wall, the mullions being carried down externally to form panels with similar heads between the sill and the coved jetty.
Restoration and refitting of St. Mary's Hall has taken place at several periods. A particularly drastic renovation was put in hand in 1824 when great pains were taken to restore the medieval character of the building and to 'remove some incongruities . . . introduced at various times in violation of good taste and propriety'; (fn. 13) the architect was Stedman Whitwell. At this period the ancient glass in the east windows was taken out and replaced by so-called copies; that in the west windows had been removed c. 1780. (fn. 14) Decayed panelling, dating from 1580, which had borne inscriptions in Latin and English composed by Philemon Holland (fn. 15) was also removed. In 1863 a large extension, containing a new police court, ancillary rooms, and public offices, was erected immediately east of the medieval buildings. The designer was James Murray and the style of the exterior, which was faced with red sandstone, was said to be 'similar to that of the ancient structure' and to have 'great diversity of outline'. (fn. 16) The Muniment Room, a single-storied building with stone Gothic vaulting, was added to the east of the medieval kitchen in 1894. Between the two world wars a considerable amount of re-glazing, refitting, and restoration took place. After the Second World War Caesar's Tower which had been largely destroyed was rebuilt. The hall roof was completely reconstructed in 1953, much of the original timber being re-used. The carved ornaments from the roof, together with the tapestry and the surviving medieval glass, had been stored for safety during hostilities and these were replaced in position. The most important structural work was the insertion of a floor in the upper part of the kitchen and a new bridge to form a connecting link between St. Mary's Hall and the Council House in Earl Street.
A cross was set up at the south end of Cross Cheaping about 1422, (fn. 17) but this is unlikely to have been the first one on the site. It stood on pillars, the number of which is variously given as four and eight. (fn. 18) This cross was replaced after 1541 by the magnificent structure for which Sir William Holles left £200 in that year, (fn. 19) and which survived until 1771. A contract for its erection was drawn up between representatives of the city on the one hand and Thomas Phillips, freemason, and John Pettit of Wellingborough (Northants.) on the other. (fn. 20) This specified that the stone for the cross itself was to come from quarries at Attleborough or Rowington in Warwickshire, and for the steps from the 'late priory' in the city. 'Six or eight old images', if suitable, were to be repaired and incorporated. The cross was to be a copy of that at Abingdon (Berks.) except that the base, as well as the superstructure, was to be hexagonal and that there were to be four steps instead of eight. The work was to be completed by Michaelmas 1543. An engraving of 1721 shows the cross as it existed at that time. (fn. 21) It was 57 ft. high, each of the sides at the base being 7 ft. in width. Above the steps the hexagonal base was carved with traceried panels having crocketted ogee heads. The second, third, and fourth stages, of diminishing size, had canopied niches containing figures of kings and saints. At the angles of each stage were flying buttresses, their pinnacles supporting heraldic beasts and naked boys, all holding up painted metal flags. The finial above the fourth stage had more figures, a tier of niches, and finally a metal shaft surmounted by a flag and a crown. Many of these features had been specified in the original contract, the corporation having undertaken to supply the metal flags. According to the city annals the cross was repaired in 1608-9 (when a figure of Christ was replaced by one of Lady Godiva) and again in 1629-30. (fn. 22) A major refurbishing took place in 1668-9 when large sums were spent not only on masons' work, but also on paint and gold-leaf. (fn. 23) The appearance of the cross was afterwards said to be so splendid that it was almost impossible to look at it when the sun shone. (fn. 24) The structure had fallen into decay by 1753 when the upper part was taken down. (fn. 25) It was finally demolished in 1771, (fn. 26) a date at which attempts were being made to clear obstructions from the city streets. Three carved figures from the cross, including one of Henry VI, are preserved at St. Mary's Hall; they are thought to have come originally from the Whitefriars.
A smaller cross, known as Swine Cross, stood at the junction of Bishop Street and Silver Street; (fn. 27) it was taken down about 1763. (fn. 28) Another 'Swine Cross' near the east end of Gosford Street was still in existence in 1749. (fn. 29)
PUBLIC BUILDINGS AFTER 1550.
The former Mayor's Parlour stood on the west side of Cross Cheaping near its south end. (fn. 30) The corporation acquired a house there in 1574 and adapted it soon afterwards. (fn. 31) Probably because St. Mary's Hall was used for all important civic functions, no effort seems to have been made at any period to convert the Mayor's Parlour into an impressive building. Views of the front suggest that it was originally two medieval timber-framed tenements, each of three stories with a jetty at second-floor level. (fn. 32) Below its south end ran a narrow alley which, in the 18th century, led to the Women's Market. A covered walk was made in front of the Mayor's Parlour in 1583, and in 1684 it was set on stone columns; (fn. 33) these supported a balcony with an iron balustrade. The back part of the building was reconstructed in 1775-6 (fn. 34) and it was probably at this time that sash windows were inserted at the front. A gabled dormer in the roof housed a clock, dating from 1657; (fn. 35) the clock face was flanked by niches containing figures of the city crier and the beadle who struck the hours and quarters with hammers. (fn. 36) The Mayor's Parlour ceased to be used by the corporation after 1835 when the police court which had been held there was moved to St. Mary's Hall. (fn. 37) By 1860 the front had been completely altered for use as a shop and the building was demolished in 1878. (fn. 38)
No new public buildings appear to have been erected in the 17th century, nor, with the exception of the Market House, in the early 18th century. This reflects the comparative stagnation of the city at that period. The former Market House was an open rectangular structure, five bays long by two bays wide, consisting of a hipped roof supported on brick piers. (fn. 39) It stood in a small market place in the angle between West Orchard and Cross Cheaping, formerly part of the Peacock Inn yard, and was probably built soon after the Women's Market was moved there in 1719; it was pulled down in 1865. (fn. 40) Near its north-west corner was a brick watch house or lockup, probably also of 18th-century date, which was demolished at about the same time. The stocks stood nearby (fn. 41) and a revolving iron cage for confining 'drunken refractory persons' was still in existence there in the later 18th century. (fn. 42)
In 1783-4 the County Hall was built next to the gaol on the west side of Trinity Lane. The site had previously been occupied by an 'old guildhall of the city', which had contained a courtroom. This was probably a timber-framed structure and was remodelled in 1696. (fn. 43) The County Hall, designed by Samuel Eglinton, (fn. 44) was one of the few 18th-century public buildings in Coventry of any architectural distinction, and is the only one to survive. The principal front, facing east towards Trinity Lane, is of grey stone, the ground floor being rusticated and having a round-headed doorway and four blind round-headed openings. Above are five sash windows and an applied Roman Doric order with a central pediment. (fn. 45) Internally the courtroom behind this facade rises through both stories, the windows being at clerestory level. The fittings, including a gallery with a cast-iron front, date mostly from the 1840s when the room was improved for use as an assize court - a function which it ceased to fulfil soon afterwards. (fn. 46) To the south of the court-room block is a brick wing with stone dressings which formerly contained the house of the prison governor. (fn. 47) Facing Pepper (formerly Gaol) Lane this has a symmetrical three-storied front of seven bays with a central pediment pierced by a quatrefoil window. After 1831 a new gaol, designed by Stedman Whitwell, was built immediately north of the County Hall, extending as far as Trinity Churchyard. Holy Trinity Vicarage and several houses in Trinity Lane were demolished to make way for it. (fn. 48)
The Cavalry Barracks were constructed in 1793 on the site of the former Black Bull Inn. The 'Bull', which had been in existence since at least the 15th century, (fn. 49) stood on the south side of Smithford Street, the property extending nearly as far back as Warwick Lane. (fn. 50) At the time of its demolition the front range was a three-storied timber-framed structure of eight bays, having three gables with carved barge-boards. (fn. 51) The Barracks frontage which replaced it was built of stone and was of five bays; the rusticated ground floor was pierced by a carriageway and there was a central Venetian window to the first floor with the Royal Arms above. (fn. 52) The barrack square covered an area which may have been a late18th-century bowling green belonging to the 'Bull'. (fn. 53) This was used as a market site after 1922 (fn. 54) and is now (1965) occupied by a multi-story car park. Another late-18th-century building was the Canal or Navigation Office which stood at the north end of Bishop Street near the terminal wharf of the Coventry Canal. The first office was built in 1788, but this was later remodelled and a row of warehouses, which still survives, was built beside the wharf. (fn. 55) Before its demolition about 1956 the Canal Office was a two-storied stucco building in the Regency style having a recessed Classical porch in the centre with a three-light window and a stepped parapet above. (fn. 56)
The Drapers' Hall, opened in 1832, represents at least the third hall in Bayley Lane belonging to the drapers' company. This area seems to have been the centre of the drapers' activities since the later 14th century when a building called the Drapery stood in what is now St. Mary's Street. (fn. 57) In 1727 this was pulled down and the Half Moon Inn was built on the site; at the same time the linen, flannel, and cloth fairs were removed to St. Mary's Hall. (fn. 58) The Drapers' Hall, 'a dark gloomy edifice', appears to have been an adjacent but independent structure, completed c. 1637, (fn. 59) facing Bayley Lane. This survived until 1775 when it was replaced by a stone building designed by Henry Couchman. (fn. 60) The frontage was of three bays, the upper story of the central bay having applied Tuscan pilasters surmounted by an entablature and a pediment. The ground floor was of rusticated masonry and contained three roundheaded openings with swags and medallions in their spandrels. (fn. 61) Dry rot in this building led to its demolition less than sixty years later and in 1831-2 the present Drapers' Hall, designed by T. Rickman and H. W. Hutchinson in the Greek Revival style, was erected. (fn. 62) The single-storied front is faced with stone, having on one side a three-light window and on the other a recessed porch with two unfluted Ionic columns in antis. The main parapet carries honeysuckle acroteria, while behind it a blind attic story has a row of ornamental wreaths and, in the centre, the arms of the drapers' company. Internally the principal rooms are all lit from above and there is much fine Grecian ornament to the roof lights, doorcases, and fireplaces, as well as to a musicians' gallery in the hall. (fn. 63) A wing was added on the east side of the building in 1864. (fn. 64)
The cemetery in London Road, opened in 1847, was laid out by Joseph (later Sir Joseph) Paxton who successfully exploited the uneven contours of the site which had formerly been a stone quarry. There are two cemetery chapels, one for use by the Church of England and one by other denominations. (fn. 65) The former is in the Norman style and consists of a nave, a chancel, and a north tower with a pyramidal roof. The other chapel is of Grecian design, having a pedimented Ionic portico flanked by colonnades. Beside the main gate at the north end of the site is an Italianate lodge with a square tower and, next the road, a small octagonal turret. These buildings were erected under Paxton's direction and presumably to his designs. (fn. 66) Paxton (d. 1865) is commemorated in the cemetery by a tall Gothic monument by Joseph Goddard (fn. 67) which has attached angle shafts of polished granite surmounted by two tiers of crocketted niches.
Later 19th-century public buildings included the Corn Exchange in Hertford Street (1857), designed in an elaborate Italianate style by James Murray, (fn. 68) and the Coventry and Warwickshire Hospital (1864-5). (fn. 69) The large retail market, opened in 1867, was of red, blue, and white brick with stone dressings, the two market halls having partly glazed roofs with ornamental cast-iron trusses; the architect was Frederick Peck of London. (fn. 70) The buildings were destroyed by bombing during the Second World War but for a time the clock tower, a structure 135 ft. high resembling an Italian campanile, was left standing. The most architecturally striking building of this period was the School of Art in Ford Street, an ornate example of Ruskinian Gothic. It was erected in 1863 to plans by James Murray with sculpture by 'Mr. Boulton of Worcester'. (fn. 71) The Gulson Library (1873) by Edward Burgess (fn. 72) was a gabled brick building with stone dressings in a somewhat similar but plainer style; it occupied the site of the former gaol in Trinity Lane and was largely destroyed in 1940.
The Council House in Earl Street was begun in 1913 but was not ready for use until 1917. The architects, Edward Garret and H. W. Simister of Birmingham, were chosen as the result of a competition, one of the conditions being that the design should be in keeping with the adjacent St. Mary's Hall. (fn. 73) The building is faced with red sandstone in an early Tudor style, enriched with sculpture and incorporating many oriel windows and small gables. It survived the bombing of 1940 and 1941 and has since acquired added status by the reconstruction of much of the surrounding area. In particular the clearance in Little Park Street opposite has opened up for the first time a comprehensive view of its principal facade. This is a symmetrical composition of three stories and sixteen bays, the three central bays and alternate bays in the side ranges being accented by gables and first-floor oriels. The central arched entrance and the window above it are flanked by heraldic sculpture and surmounted by statues of Leofric, Godiva, and a figure of Justice. At the east end of the front is an angle tower supporting a clock. Internally the first floor council chamber is approached by a grand staircase and has fittings of Warwickshire oak, a coved ceiling, and windows containing Perpendicular tracery.
Most of the larger buildings erected in Coventry between the two world wars were of an industrial or commercial kind; they included two impressive neo-Classical banks which are still standing in High Street. The tower-like war memorial in the Memorial Park (1927) was the work of the Coventry architect, T. F. Tickner. (fn. 74) The Technical College in the Butts (1933-5), designed by A. W. Hoare, (fn. 75) has a pedimented Roman Doric portico above a rusticated podium as the central feature of its long symmetrical front.
The inadequacy of Coventry's existing public buildings in a rapidly expanding city was already obvious before the bomb damage of 1940 and 1941. When the reconstruction of the central area was put in hand after the war priority was given to the provision of retail shops. By the late 1950s, however, work had begun on new public buildings, many of them on a very large scale. (fn. 76) These are mostly sited to the south, east, and north-east of the existing Council House. On the south side of Earl Street a block of council offices was completed by 1960 and in what was formerly Little Park Street are new police headquarters and a main telephone exchange; a civic hall and law courts are also planned for this site. Buildings to the east of Priory Street include the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum and the Central Swimming Baths. The Lanchester College of Technology in the same area is a complex of buildings which include the College of Art and a hall of residence in the form of a 20-storied tower. A new central library is to be built between the Council House and the Art Gallery. The Belgrade Theatre, so-called because of a gift of timber to the city from Yugoslavia, was completed in 1958; it stands to the north-west of Corporation Street where it forms one side of a small square containing a pool and a fountain. The design of nearly all these new buildings was the work of the city architect's department under the successive direction of Donald Gibson (1938-55), Arthur Ling (1955-64), and Terence Gregory. Two exceptions are the telephone exchange for which the Ministry of Public Building and Works was responsible, and the Herbert Art Gallery which was designed by Herbert, Son, and Sawday. The architects for the new Leofric Hotel in Broadgate were W. S. Hattrell and Partners and for Owen Owen's department store beside it, R. Hellberg and M. H. Harris. Several other commercial buildings in the Precinct, Corporation Street, and elsewhere were erected by individual firms using private architects, but the city council, as both ground landlord and planning authority, exercised control over their design. In this way it has been possible to achieve a measure of architectural unity in the rebuilt areas of the city.