The City of Coventry: Local government and public services, Local government from 1451

Pages 263-275

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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After the creation of the county of the city the power of the leet gradually declined while government by mayor, aldermen, and council developed. There remained for long, however, several administrative and judicial bodies in Coventry. Government by the leet and by the mayor and council continued as city government, while the prior's leet, or Bishop Street leet, served the Prior's Half, (fn. 2) though his tenants were eligible for office in the city. The parishes and hamlets within the liberties and now within the county of the city continued to be served by the Wolepitelideyate leet and local manorial courts. (fn. 3) Nevertheless the link between the government of the city and of the county of the city was strong, and as the powers of the city council outstripped those of the leet the distinction between city and county government became more difficult to draw. The bailiffs of the city, now also sheriffs of the county of the city, held their monthly courts for the county, and these were attended by the coroner of the county and city. (fn. 4) The justices of the peace, first commissioned for the city in 1377, appear also to have exercised their office from 1399 in the hamlets brought within the city's jurisdiction in the mid 14th century and within the county of the city in 1451. They normally consisted of the mayor, the recorder, and four other important local men and they were protected from the interference of the Warwickshire justices. (fn. 5)

The mayor's council was at first still in a fluid state, called for special purposes yet not constant in number and co-existent with other bodies. The council of forty-eight was also called for special purposes, as was the mayor's secret council, which consisted of the justices of the peace (fn. 6) and has left no records.

The composition of the mayor's council appears to have remained indefinite for some time. In 1451 the leet was petitioned for an alderman to be appointed for each ward as in other cities, (fn. 7) and in 1481 'aldermen of every ward' find mention. (fn. 8) In 1506 (fn. 9) and at other times (fn. 10) the aldermen are spoken of as synonymous with the mayor's 'brethren' who formed the council. In 1508, however, eighteen members attended the council, although there were only ten wards, (fn. 11) and from 1576 it is clear that besides those termed aldermen others attended meetings. In 1580 the mayor himself was not listed as an alderman. (fn. 12) In 1581, however, each of ten aldermen was given a deputy (fn. 13) and the names of these twenty occur as those attending meetings. (fn. 14)

In 1483 the leet laid down that the council should meet weekly, that proceedings should be kept secret, and that a quorum should consist of the mayor and six of his 'brethren'. (fn. 15) In 1496 weekly meetings were confirmed though the quorum seems to have become eight. (fn. 16) By 1565, however, meetings were being held at seemingly irregular intervals. The number attending also varied from six to eighteen. (fn. 17)

New aldermen were chosen by the council, (fn. 18) and aldermen formed the nucleus of the electors or jury who, with the officers, were the legislative body of the leet. (fn. 19) It appears that the aldermen, who carried out orders of council and of leet in their wards and who were the link between governors and governed, (fn. 20) were steadily becoming, with the mayor, the supreme rulers of the city.

Meanwhile a second council, the common council, emerged. In 1477 this body was identified with the forty-eight. (fn. 21) The forty-eight were called from time to time to deal with questions relating to the commons (fn. 22) and had been called together for special purposes during at least a century, but there was no clear distinction between their functions and those of a hall or of the mayor's council. In 1522 the common council was making orders normally made by the leet, (fn. 23) and in 1534 it appears distinctly from the mayor's council being responsible with that body for the granting of licences for ploughing the commons. (fn. 24) As the council and the common council became established the terms 'forty-eight' and 'hall' disappear from the records, and in 1605 the powers of the common council were defined by the leet. It had consisted of 25 men elected by the mayor, his 'brethren', the bailiffs, and some of the commonalty and was thenceforth to consist of 25 or more members chosen at the Great Leet. It was to discuss and advise on matters relating to the good of the city, informing the mayor and his brethren of its deliberations. Its consent was needed for the letting of corporation properties and it was to assist in the election of the mayor and other officers. Any of its members found unfit for service were to be removed by the mayor and his brethren, but with the consent of the common council itself. (fn. 25)

In 1574 the mayor's council was strengthened by the purchase from Bridget Hales and Charles Hales of the Bishop Street leet, thus bringing within the city's competence the remnants of the Prior's Half, (fn. 26) and by the city's acquisition of much of the property of the dissolved religious houses and all the property of the dissolved guilds and chantries. The later development of local government in Coventry was largely determined by these events which brought wider powers and greater revenue. The council had to handle many more lands, tenements, and rents than before, and had to administer the rectories of St. Michael and Holy Trinity together with a number of charities. The activities of the mayor and his council thus became numerous. At meetings bailiffs and overseers were appointed for the various lands held, including Cheylesmore Park, (fn. 27) payments were made from charities, (fn. 28) tithes were farmed, (fn. 29) lands and tenements leased, (fn. 30) general oversight was given to the city's properties, (fn. 31) freemen were admitted, (fn. 32) and accounts of receipts and expenditure began to be entered in the council minutes. (fn. 33) From time to time new council members were sworn and admitted. (fn. 34) On several occasions a new councillor was the next mayor to be elected or rose to office within a year or two. (fn. 35)

The satisfaction of civic duty was not the only attraction of office. Council members were often contractors for carrying out work for the corporation. (fn. 36) They were also lessees of corporation property, (fn. 37) and there was rivalry among members for possession of leases. (fn. 38) Towards the end of the 16th century there are hints of criticism of the corporation's administration of charity funds. (fn. 39) Nor was the council always united. There are instances of differences of opinion when some members suffered suspension for as many as eight years. (fn. 40) At the turn of the century there was some dissension over the election of the mayor and officers which appeared to have been getting out of hand. In 1600 the leet therefore made a new directive for the return of 35 electors from among former mayors, sheriffs, chamberlains, and wardens, and forbade the mayor from dismissing or accepting councillors without the consent of the council house. (fn. 41)

In 1517 by order of the leet the council became responsible for seeing that all the orders of the leet were carried out. (fn. 42) With the rise of the council, however, the leet met less frequently and during the later 16th century only the Great Leets at Easter and Michaelmas were held, (fn. 43) the mayor and other officials being elected at Michaelmas instead of in January. (fn. 44) Less business was conducted by the leet although it continued to make by-laws, to regulate the crafts, and to deal with matters relating to the cleaning and watching of the streets. In theory it made orders for the council and required the aldermen to perform certain offices, but when it came to such matters as the leasing of corporation property it is quite clear that the council would not brook any interference by the leet. (fn. 45) During the early years of the 17th century the council anyway assumed greater control over the leet. In 1615 the names of the jury and the electors, who were the backbone of the leet, were to number 25. They were to be returned by the mayor and to consist in the first place of the members of his council. (fn. 46) In 1617 the jury and electors were to number 31, again including first the 'brethren of the council'. (fn. 47) Already in 1609 the members of the council had decided to agree among themselves each August upon the next mayor, (fn. 48) and he subsequently appeared as mayor elect in the council minutes until his formal election. (fn. 49)

Although the common council was elected by the Great Leet, which was in the pocket of the council house, there appears to have been rivalry between the two councils in this period. Each sought to control the leasing of corporation property; but in 1617 it was agreed that the bailiffs and six members of the common council were to assist the mayor and aldermen in this matter. (fn. 50) In 1620 the two councils agreed to seek a new charter for the city (fn. 51) and this was granted in 1621. (fn. 52)

The 1621 charter was largely a ratification of the existing state of affairs and a confirmation of previous liberties which, apart from a brief period in 1471-2 when Edward IV confiscated them, (fn. 53) Coventry had for so long held. The new charter made amply clear the closed nature of the council. Under it the mayor and council elected new council members; the electors at the Great Leet consisted of the council and former officials and these elected the new officials each year, the mayor being chosen from the ranks of those who had already held office as bailiffs and sheriffs. The ten wards were confirmed and ten aldermen assigned to them. Most of these were already council members in 1620, but all had to be freemen and to have held office as mayor or bailiff. Their membership was for life unless they were removed for reasonable cause by the mayor and the rest of the council. (fn. 54)

In addition certain new powers, particularly judicial powers, designed to strengthen the hands of the mayor and council and to cement the union of city and council, were introduced. (fn. 55) As well as the mayor and recorder, ten aldermen were to be justices of the peace performing their duties in the city and in the county of the city to the exclusion of all other justices of the peace, and having the same powers as the Warwickshire justices. The profits of justice both in city and county of the city were to belong to the corporation. The mayor and council were to hold an orphans' court and were also granted the right to hold manors, messuages, tenements, rectories, tithes, revenues, and other hereditaments up to the annual value of £300.

The position of the second or common council was confirmed, being clearly subordinate to the mayor's council. Its 25 members, citizens or freemen who had held the office of sheriff, chamberlain, or warden, were elected by the mayor and his council. They were to meet as thought fit by the mayor to consider business assigned to them and to report back.

Meanwhile the aldermen, the real power in the counsels of the city, had been accumulating duties which kept them in close contact with the citizens. They dealt with matters relating to the poor and vagabonds, (fn. 56) enforced the collection of levies from their wards, (fn. 57) appointed constables and were responsible for the watch, (fn. 58) which was supervised at first by the common council, (fn. 59) and in 1636 by the aldermen themselves. (fn. 60) While surveyors of the highways were appointed by the council (fn. 61) the aldermen were responsible for highways leading out of their wards, and also looked after the cleaning of the streets and the repair of wells and conduits. (fn. 62) In all these matters they were assisted by the constables.


National politics impinged on local administration during the 17th century in Coventry as elsewhere. A number of unexplained suspensions from the council house in James I's reign may have resulted from political differences within the council, (fn. 63) and certainly the troubles of the following reign were divisive. Some aldermen were active royalists during the Civil War, (fn. 64) but on the whole the townsfolk and the council house staunchly supported Parliament, and Coventry became a refuge for parliamentarians and separatists from the surrounding countryside. (fn. 65) George Monck, a royalist who had hesitated to take his place as a council member when elected in 1640, was not permitted to enjoy the mayoralty during the war though duly elected as next mayor in 1642 and again in 1644. (fn. 66) After the war and during the Interregnum there were strong links between the city government and the ruling group. In 1645, despite a decision that those holding civil or military office for Parliament should not remain also members of the council house, a special plea was made to Parliament that John (later Colonel John) Barker, (fn. 67) who was at once mayor and governor, should be allowed to retain both offices. (fn. 68) Similarly Colonel William Purefoy was made recorder in 1652 and Major Robert Beake became mayor in 1655. (fn. 69) Meanwhile some aldermen were appointed on orders of Parliament to take the place of delinquents. (fn. 70)

After the Restoration political opinions in Coventry underwent no real change (fn. 71) and from time to time the Crown directly interfered with the composition of the corporation. The councillors elected as mayor in 1662 Thomas Hobson, an Anabaptist and Fifth Monarchy man who was still antagonistic to the royal government. (fn. 72) He refused to take the oaths under the Corporation Act of that year and was unable to fill the post. By virtue of the Act the government also forced the removal of Robert Bedford, an alderman and J.P., Leonard Piddock, the town clerk's assistant, and Thomas Geary, a bailiff and sheriff, though Geary was permitted to become mayor in 1666 in place of Hobson, who was originally chosen, but presumably was again unwilling to take the oaths. (fn. 73)

In 1663 Coventry petitioned for and was granted a confirmation of its charter. (fn. 74) The new charter laid down a minimum of 21 for mayor and council, and the council was to consist of those who had been sheriffs or were worthy to hold the office of mayor or sheriff, as elected by the council. The mayor and ten councillors were to form a quorum; six of the second council were to be brought in to deal with the lease, sale, or purchase of city lands. (fn. 75) More important from a political point of view the charter required all office holders to take the sacrament according to the rites of the Established Church. This remained the chief obstacle to office in Coventry in Charles II's reign. Thomas Jesson, for example, was willing to take the oaths of allegiance and supremacy, but not to obey the Corporation Act, (fn. 76) and some of the many who refused office in predominantly dissenting Coventry were doubtless guided by the same principles. (fn. 77) Others were perhaps deterred by the cost of holding office, for Coventry's prosperity had been further affected by the war. Despite the introduction of an allowance to each new mayor of 100 marks (fn. 78) it was difficult to find men of substance to fill the post and there were occasions when aldermen were asked to hold office again. (fn. 79) When a renewal of the charter was sought in 1676 heavy fines for refusal of office were suggested. (fn. 80)

In 1682 Charles II unsuccessfully attempted to reverse the election of Thomas Burghe as steward of Coventry, (fn. 81) a post carrying responsibility for the recording of apprentices' names, renewal of feoffments, and care of records. (fn. 82) Though five of Burghe's voters were disqualified by the Corporation Act the council again elected him in preference to his opponent, Basil Feilding, who had the king's backing. (fn. 83) In June 1683 it was reported to the government that 'three parts of this city are inhabited by persons as disaffected as any in the nation and more dangerous by reason of a disaffected mayor now and a pre-engagement for a worse for the ensuing year', (fn. 84) and it is not surprising that Charles II's policy of gaining control of municipal corporations embraced Coventry. (fn. 85) The charter was surrendered and a new charter was granted in October 1683 containing, like most of the charters granted at this time, a clause empowering the Crown to remove officials by Order in Council. (fn. 86) Basil Feilding, the king's nominee, became steward, (fn. 87) and within the year the king made use of his power of removal to get rid of the town serjeant, three aldermen, and a council-house member who had acted 'in opposition to his majesty's interest'. (fn. 88) In 1685 James II removed three aldermen. (fn. 89) Early in 1688 there was a wholesale clearance of those responsible for local government in Coventry when the king ordered the dismissal of five aldermen, a council member, the steward, the clerk to the council and coroner, both the sheriffs, and two bailiffs and collectors of city rents, and the replacement of most of them by his nominees. (fn. 90) In October 1688, however, James II issued his proclamation restoring to corporations their ancient charters and in the same month the members and officers of the corporation at the date of the surrender in 1683 were declared re-elected. (fn. 91)

The chief development in the 17th century lay in the administration of the city's finances which were in a nebulous state in the early part of the century. Responsibility was shared by various officials. The mayor had his account, although in 1624 it was decided that he should not be allowed to disburse money without the consent of six council members. (fn. 92) The bailiffs received the rents from corporation property for the maintenance of which they were responsible. The chamberlains and the wardens paid out money in connexion with their duties which were chiefly to do with the commons and pasturage. (fn. 93) Separate accounts were kept by the steward and by bailiffs for Cheylesmore, the guilds and chantries, charities, and tithes, (fn. 94) and a general account of payments in and out of the city treasury was also kept. (fn. 95) Coventry was far from prosperous during the first half of the 17th century. The commissioners for aid could collect only £42 from the 'poor decayed city' in 1609. (fn. 96) In 1613 the mayor's allowance was stopped, (fn. 97) and between 1624 and 1635 there were several attempts to economize on entertainments. (fn. 98) Care was clearly needed and during the period some administrative reform was undertaken. In 1606 four auditors were appointed to collect debts, (fn. 99) and in 1608 two council members were appointed treasurers with the same task. (fn. 100) In 1641 the house agreed to make good lost sums of money belonging to White's Charity. (fn. 101) The treasurers began to keep their own account book in 1641, (fn. 102) and in 1646 accounts were ordered to be kept in more detail. (fn. 103)

In 1650 the corporation bought the fee farm rents which had belonged to the Crown and in order to raise the £1,444 required for this was forced to sell much property. (fn. 104) The Interregnum was anyway a lean period, for the losses of the Civil War had to be made up, (fn. 105) and there was great difficulty in recovering loans. (fn. 106) Economies, such as dispensing with the city solicitor, (fn. 107) were consequently introduced. At the Restoration the fee farm rents were lost (fn. 108) and further economies were attempted. Various lands, including Sir Thomas White's, the guilds' and chantries', and the wardens', as well as tithes were leased to feoffees, who were also members of the council, on trust to discharge the city's debts. (fn. 109) A feoffment of further lands was made in 1676. (fn. 110) Besides the sale of property and repeated attempts to collect arrears of rent and loans, the corporation initiated the practice of raising loans. (fn. 111) It also strengthened its system of auditing. All the auditors were aldermen (fn. 112) although as yet no paid official was appointed as treasurer, the position being filled by one or two councillors. (fn. 113) The first committee which had any continuity was appointed in 1691 with the duty of considering the council's affairs and making periodic reports. (fn. 114) In addition many ad hoc committees were appointed to visit and inspect lands, hospitals, and schools, to make other enquiries, and to examine charity and corporation accounts. (fn. 115) In 1697, however, the two clerks were dismissed for corrupt practices relating to the charities administered by the corporation. (fn. 116)

The 17th century also saw the disappearance of the second council. In 1676 its duties were defined as being still mainly concerned with city lands, but its presence could be dispensed with if it neglected any business. After 1680 (fn. 117) there is no further record of the second council's existence.

Some continuity in administration may have resulted during this period from the tenure of the office of town clerk by the Burton family for many years. Richard Randle, the clerk since 1614, (fn. 118) was succeeded by his assistant Humphrey Burton in 1636, (fn. 119) who held the post until his death at the age of 91 in 1685. (fn. 120) He was succeeded by his son, Simon, (fn. 121) who held office, apart from a removal of some ten months in James II's reign, (fn. 122) until followed by his son, Humphrey, in 1693. (fn. 123) Randle, Humphrey the elder, and Simon were coroners as well as town clerks. (fn. 124)


In the 18th century Coventry's local administration was carried on in an atmosphere of considerable corruption, and although there was a continuous struggle for solvency there were few attempts at reform. The century was one of ceaseless litigation, particularly over the charities controlled by the city. Especially significant was the action in Chancery brought in 1695 against the corporation over its administration of Sir Thomas White's Charity. This resulted in the revelation that not only had the corporation been retaining surplus rents above the sums specified in the trust deed but it had been leasing the lands to its own members for long terms for large fines but at low rents. As a consequence the corporation's estates were sequestered between 1712 and 1719, and it was not until 1723 that the charity was restored to the corporation on the grounds that most of those responsible for mismanagement were then dead. (fn. 125)

Meanwhile the council's financial affairs did not run smoothly. From 1704 every possible method was devised to cut expenses and gather in revenue. A 'committee of superfluous payments' was established (fn. 126) and as a result payment from certain charity funds was pared down, wages and salaries were revised, and it was resolved to spend less on entertainments. (fn. 127) At the same time a number of loans were raised. (fn. 128) These measures, however, proved totally inadequate and in 1709 the corporation began selling its lands and properties and mortgaging land as security for loans. In 1711 it was ordered that the city plate and the waits' insignia should be sold. (fn. 129) No doubt these efforts were necessary but the real attitude of council members was reflected in the way they feathered their own nests. In 1701 it had been resolved that corporation property should be inspected and a fair price fixed before it was sold or let to any member of the house, (fn. 130) but in fact councillors continued taking out leases at low rents, accepting exhibitions and other charity payments for near relations, and selling commodities and contracting for large undertakings at the corporation's expense. (fn. 131) Despite ten resignations from the council in under twelve months (fn. 132) following the Chancery decree of 1711, and despite the revelations of the misapplication of charity funds, there was little real attempt at reform. The only constructive result was the continued development of the committee system, already in use in the second half of the 17th century. (fn. 133) The word 'committee' was used for the first time in the council minutes in 1747 when one was appointed to supervise the Bablake School. (fn. 134) The rather superficial efforts to make ends meet before and during the period of the sequestration of the corporation's goods resulted in a multiplication of committees. Some were appointed ad hoc to carry out enquiries and report to the council, (fn. 135) some were given full powers to act for the council, (fn. 136) and some were appointed to meet weekly. (fn. 137) The bodies of auditors appointed from time to time were to all intents and purposes committees of the council. (fn. 138)

It might be assumed that by the end of the sequestration the council would have learned some lessons, but, in spite of the appointment of auditors and of numerous orders for officials to bring in their accounts, the state of the city's finances became more and more confused. The Charity Commissioners of 1834 reported that the accounts seemed not to have been kept regularly and had not been reduced to order, and that many documents had been lost. (fn. 139) In 1724 White's moneys were distributed for the previous three years according to the Chancery decree, (fn. 140) but during the 1740s excuses were found for failures in getting in the rents and for the lateness of the distribution. (fn. 141) Moreover the corporation was involved in further suits over charity payments - in 1712 and indirectly in 1754 over Bond's Hospital, (fn. 142) in 1742 over Swillington's Charity, (fn. 143) in 1779 over White's Charity again, (fn. 144) in 1784 over Wheate's Charity, (fn. 145) and in 1750 over Bird's Charity. (fn. 146) During the century the funds of 37 charities disappeared and became merged in the corporation's own account. (fn. 147) The inevitable conclusions produced by a reading of the council minutes beside the reports of the Commissioners on Charities and the Commissioners for Municipal Corporations, even assuming the latter to be biased, (fn. 148) are that a facade of efficient administration was built up, but that there was no really effective supervision of officials and indeed no genuine desire to make bad local government good. The business of the council house, according to its minutes, consisted of the routines of distributing charity moneys, granting leases, dealing with securities and mortgages, swearing in and enrolling freemen, and electing officers, and re-electing them when they produced a sacrament certificate. In Coventry, as elsewhere, Presbyterian and Unitarian officials were prepared to submit to occasional conformity to hold office.

Throughout the century the council held the reins of government and the leet did less and less business, its functions being confined to the making of by-laws and the sometimes purely formal election of officials. In 1778 the council by an oversight almost usurped the leet's function of appointing the high constable. (fn. 149) At the end of the century the council tightened its regulations for the election of councillors. The practice of previous nomination had grown up so that a man could qualify himself by receiving the sacrament before he was elected and in 1795 it was agreed that nominations should be made fourteen days before the election, (fn. 150) to dispose of the farce of election, invalidation of those not qualified, followed by re-election after receiving the sacrament.

At the same time power was in the hands of progressively fewer people, and there were periods throughout the century when both aldermen and councillors were ejected for opposing the party in power. In 1726, for example, there was an attempt by the mayor, three aldermen and a councillor to bring seven new members into the council. The ruse failed and charges of bribery and sedition were brought against the mayor and two of the others, resulting in their dismissal. (fn. 151) At least one of these men is known to have belonged to the opposition party. (fn. 152) Two other aldermen and three councillors who had been involved were dismissed in 1728 and they and 52 freemen were disfranchised. (fn. 153) There were further accusations of bribery and corruption at the 1737 elections (fn. 154) and in 1741 there was another crop of dismissals and cases of disfranchisement. (fn. 155) Two aldermen were dismissed three times and restored shortly afterwards, while all those who were disfranchised were also restored. (fn. 156) The use of the franchise as a weapon by the corporation at parliamentary elections by disfranchising freemen and at times enrolling unqualified persons has been touched on elsewhere. (fn. 157) It seems, however, that there were other times, too, when it was advantageous for the party in power in the corporation temporarily to disqualify certain people. (fn. 158) In 1743, 1754, and 1769 there were mass disfranchisements followed soon after by re-enfranchisement, (fn. 159) and in 1777 the committee which had been appointed to define suits brought against the corporation found it necessary to take action over the 'scandalous and inflammatory' publications issued against the corrupt practices at the election of the charter officers at the leet. (fn. 160) Consequently this close corporation, perpetuating itself at its own desire and brooking no opposition, became poverty-stricken in its personnel and found it necessary at times towards the end of the century to choose the same mayor for two and even for three years running. (fn. 161) During the last twenty years of the century there seems to have been some attempt at financial reform. A committee was appointed in 1780 to reform expenditure and another in 1783 to examine the finances, and at last, in 1792, a special committee of accounts was required to meet each week until the corporation's accounts were 'adjusted and settled'. (fn. 162) Even so in 1835 the Commissioners for Municipal Corporations reported a sorry state of affairs. They showed how the corruption described above centred upon the corporation's control of parliamentary elections but also vitiated all aspects of local government, there being no aspect which was not controlled by the corporation. Since the mayor and aldermen were the magistrates and justices of the peace there was no judicial redress locally. (fn. 163) The commissioners showed too that, although the county of the city was rated far more heavily than it would have been as part of Warwickshire, (fn. 164) the franchise lay entirely with the city and suburbs (fn. 165) and the rates were expended for the benefit of the city and an undue preponderance for the benefit of the corporation. (fn. 166)

The commissioners' evidence on the manoeuvres of the mayor and council to procure the election of their own parliamentary candidates is discussed elsewhere, (fn. 167) and has also been touched on above, but it is relevant here to emphasize that admissions, both by apprenticeship and purchase, to the freedom of the city which carried with it the franchise, were regulated by the mayor and council. Until 1781 their deliberations were secret and very few men known to be in opposition to the corporation were able to obtain their freedom. (fn. 168) Those known to be corporation men could expect to receive charity moneys in the council's gift, (fn. 169) and such favours were not to be lightly thrown away. It was a close corporation perpetuating itself, and all officers except the town clerk were chosen by the 31 who were in the pocket of the council. All local courts were presided over by the mayor and aldermen, the mayor and bailiffs, the sheriffs, the recorder or the steward, all chosen by the 31. All juries consisted of former officials or were appointed by existing officials. (fn. 170) There was thus no way of removing the incubus short of an Act of Parliament.

Even though the directors of the poor were independent and administered their affairs honestly, their work was bedevilled by the corporation's constables who charged the directors heavy fees for serving summonses on those who failed to pay the poor rates. A salaried official of the directors of the poor was appointed a constable and allowed in 1832-3 to collect unpaid rates, charging no fees. In 1833, however, this highly satisfactory arrangement was brought to an end when the corporation insisted on employing their own new chief constable for the task. (fn. 171)

The Commissioners for Municipal Corporations investigated in some detail the expenditure of corporate funds. Ordinary recurring charges, including items such as salaries and wages, light and heat, rates, rent charges, and charities, (fn. 172) amounted to less than £2,000 in a year; but over the previous three years well over £2,000 had been spent on corporation entertainments, while nearly £4,000 had been taken out of public funds to defray the corporation's expenses in its defence before Parliament of its actions at the 1826 election. Meanwhile the debt had reached £11,767. In spite of the apparent financial reforms already noticed, the commissioners found it impossible to examine the corporation's records of expenditure properly, for up to 1831 no record of individual payments was kept except on the stubs of cheque books and these had been lost. The finance and audit committees were appointed annually and up to 1822 both treasurer and receivers were also appointed yearly, while the treasurer and the auditors were almost invariably members of the council. The mismanagement of the charity funds has already been dealt with above.

The commissioners also noted the extremely powerful and lucrative position of the town clerk, who was appointed for life. He was not only the corporation's solicitor, but he, his partner, and his clerk held all the offices of profit, for which a solicitor was required, in the gift of the corporation. As clerk of the peace for both city and county of the city, as registrar of admissions of freemen, as clerk to the street commissioners and to the collector of assessed taxes, and as legal adviser and solicitor to the corporation, he had his finger in every pie. John Carter, town clerk from 1812 to 1836, was all these and also solicitor to various associations in the town. He was under sheriff for 25 years, his partner was coroner, and his clerk was clerk to the magistrates, while his firm was called in by the constables when they instigated prosecutions at the sessions. (fn. 173) It is not easy to assess how fair the commissioners were since their report is the main source of information for Coventry's local government during the first two or three decades of the 19th century. Account books do not exist for the period 1733 to 1837, and council minutes are highly uninformative for the first twenty years of the 19th century. Little more can be gathered from them than that there was an unsuccessful attempt to see that the minutes were entered correctly (fn. 174) and that it had become the practice for the mayor to nominate new councillors for election by the council. (fn. 175) Otherwise only such collections as that on the Coventry election of 1818 exist. (fn. 176) This negative evidence, however, together with the positive evidence about the way that things were going during the 18th century, suggests that despite serious local protests (fn. 177) the commissioners were not far wrong in their estimate of conditions in Coventry. (fn. 178) When supporting evidence becomes more substantial it bears out the commissioners in suggesting that there was a movement for reform during the 1820s and early 1830s. (fn. 179) During these years much more business was reported in the minutes and the resolutions were more constructive, aiming at greater efficiency and above all putting the corporation's finances on a regular footing. In 1821, instead of new councillors being nominated by the mayor, each proposal had to have two seconders. (fn. 180) From 1822 Messrs. James Beck and William Prime, bankers, became treasurers and bankers to the corporation. All moneys received were to be paid into the bank and all payments out were to be made by cheque on the bank signed by the mayor and two members of a reconstituted finance committee. Annual accounts were to be kept of all receipts and payments for charities. (fn. 181) From 1831 ledgers for payments out were kept. (fn. 182) The protest of a committee of ratepayers in 1824 served to produce some reform in the matter of expenditure (fn. 183) and in 1828 the advent of several new councillors of a different outlook augured a measure of improvement. (fn. 184) In that year detailed regulations were drawn up for receipts and payments on the corporation's account. (fn. 185) Already in 1823 it had been resolved that lists of committees were to be kept, committees were to report to the council, (fn. 186) and the mayor was not to hold office for more than a year. In 1829, for the first time for many years, the results of the elections of officers were recorded in the council minutes. (fn. 187) Further reforms were effected during the 1830s. The organization of committees became more regular and committee reports were entered in council minutes according to common form. (fn. 188) It was ordered that charity payments were not to be made to corporation servants during their term of office and the salaries of some of the lesser officials were raised and the taking of fees or perquisites prohibited. (fn. 189) The council even criticized the running of affairs. A previous town clerk's accounts, for example, were found to be inaccurate (fn. 190) and the abuse of power by corporation servants over the organization of fairs and collection of dues was investigated and new regulations drawn up. (fn. 191)

These actions derived partly from a genuine spirit of reform and from an undoubted improvement in the calibre of members of the council, but clearly also from an attempt to present the corporation in the best light to the commissioners and to resist interference from without. The council's attitude is summed up in the tribute to Richard Kevitt Rotherham at the end of his mayoralty in 1833 for 'the conspicuous ability, unwearied zeal, strict integrity and perfect disinterestedness with which he discharged the duties of the mayoralty during the past year under circumstances of unprecedented difficulty and in a crisis deeply affecting the honour and character of the corporation'. (fn. 192) The report of the commissioners was, however, unmistakably condemnatory, and as far as Coventry was concerned paved the way not only for the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835 but also for the dissolution of the county of the city in 1842. After an abortive appeal against the Bill the old corporation met for the last time on 24 December 1835. (fn. 193)


So far only the main stream of the development of local government in Coventry, during the 150 years preceding the Municipal Corporations Act, has been considered. There are, however, many aspects relating to both the city and the county of the city and to the activities of council members outside the corporation which must be described to make the picture complete. It is difficult in Coventry to disentangle the work of the council from the other activities of its members, for the aldermen were concerned in everything. They were justices of the peace and certain to be appointed members of any commission. Indeed it has been said that in the later 17th and during the 18th centuries the justices ruled Coventry, and that they rather than the council took over many duties which earlier would have been performed by the leet. (fn. 194) The leet was issuing by-laws at least up to 1754, after which no acts are recorded. These affected licensing of brewers and sellers of ale, (fn. 195) the various city trades, (fn. 196) apprenticeship, (fn. 197) the repair, sweeping, lighting and watching (fn. 198) of the streets, fire precautions, water supply, (fn. 199) and strangers. (fn. 200) In 1725, 1753, and 1754 old by-laws were ordered to be revived. (fn. 201) In the Middle Ages the leet had a judicial function, (fn. 202) and the justices, not the council, took over this function. Presentments by the grand jury or by the constables of offences against by-laws of the leet were made before the justices and not before the leet or the council during the 17th and 18th centuries, but the justices did not themselves make by-laws. (fn. 203) The constables presented offences committed in their own wards. Victuallers, for example, were presented for not being licensed, tradesmen for selling contrary to statute, householders for not repairing the streets, for refusing to pay the watch, and for not obeying by-laws for protection against fire. (fn. 204) Constables also presented the mayor, bailiffs, and commonalty for not repairing public roads and bridges. (fn. 205) The grand jury at quarter sessions presented for similar offences, such as overseers of the highways for not repairing highways, tradesmen for following their trade without having served apprenticeships, property holders for not scouring ditches and water courses, and for keeping middens in the street. (fn. 206) The grand jury also presented constables for not doing their duty. (fn. 207) Between 1756 and 1764 very little business was done at quarter sessions. Meetings were adjourned from week to week, often without any action having been taken, except perhaps to receive the sacrament certificates of newly-elected officials. (fn. 208) It is true, however, that the justices held the power of the purse and twice a year the county rate for each parish was fixed at quarter sessions, (fn. 209) and appeals against parish rates were heard. (fn. 210) In addition surveyors of the highways for the various parishes were appointed, (fn. 211) disputes over apprentices heard, places of worship registered, and deputations of gamekeepers dealt with. (fn. 212) Individual cases mostly concerned assaults or removals from the parish. (fn. 213) In 1763 a new master of the house of correction was appointed at quarter sessions (fn. 214) and in the same year nearly two hundred appeals against the new Street Act were heard. (fn. 215) In fact as justices the aldermen of Coventry performed similar duties to those of justices at quarter sessions in a normal county. It was, however, as aldermen rather than as justices that they chose the constables in their wards (subject to formal appointment by the leet) and directed them in their duties. Originally the aldermen themselves searched for vagabonds, visited alehouses, collected levies, and checked the weight of goods offered for sale, but it was a natural development that their constables should first take over these jobs and then report offences to their masters, first as aldermen, then as justices.

Lighting, paving, watching, and cleaning the streets were subjects upon which the leet and to a certain extent the council legislated. It was the responsibility of the governing body to see that conditions were reasonable and this was done by means of by-laws which handed on the responsibility in practice to the householder, who was to pave the street outside his door, hang a lantern outside his property during the evening, take his turn in the watch, and see that middens did not accumulate. Gradually, however, these services by the householder were commuted for money payments or rates and levies, which were collected first by the aldermen and then by the constables. By 1678 householders were paying the watch (fn. 216) and by 1725 the constables were purchasing and setting up lamps out of moneys levied for that purpose, (fn. 217) and the council was considering undertaking major improvements in the streets. (fn. 218)

Householders had paid levies since at least 1448 for cleaning the streets. (fn. 219) The aldermen were enforcing payment in 1493, while the constables were overseeing the carters who cleared the streets once a week, (fn. 220) and in 1609 the aldermen were ordered to appoint scavengers in each ward to sweep the streets. (fn. 221) The care of streets and highways involved a complicated organization in the city and county. The leet, the council, the parishes, and quarter sessions were all concerned. Parishes and townships became responsible for the upkeep of highways in 1555 and from 1589 the aldermen were made directly responsible for the highways leading out of their wards. (fn. 222) In fact they and their deputies were already the surveyors for Radford Way, Warwick Way, Spon Causeway and Guphill Ford, and Stoke Way. (fn. 223) By 1608 there were at least twenty surveyors of the highways, appointed by the council, four from Much Park Street and Earl Street wards for Willenhall Lane, four from Spon Street and Smithford Street wards for Guphill Ford, four from Broadgate and Little Park Street wards for Warwick Way, four from Cross Cheaping, Bishop Street, and Bayley Lane wards for Radford Way, and four from Gosford Street and Jordan Well wards for Gosford Green and Swan Lane. (fn. 224) In St. Michael and Holy Trinity parishes surveyors of the highways were elected regularly during the later 17th century, (fn. 225) and by 1758 they and surveyors for the county parishes were being appointed at quarter sessions. (fn. 226) In addition various charities existed for the upkeep of certain sections of the highways. These included Swillington's Charity, (fn. 227) and John Mathews' Gift of 20s. in 1502 (fn. 228) which seems to have disappeared. Proceeds from Mrs. Olyffe's Gift of £40 were used in 1579 to reimburse overseers for their expenditure on certain highways. (fn. 229) During the 18th century various turnpike trusts were set up, (fn. 230) but little enthusiasm was shown locally for the new methods, for, being a county in itself, Coventry did not relish co-operation with Warwickshire or bordering counties. Its outlook was insular and was manifest, not in support of turnpike trusts, but in the early provision of street commissioners.

Following the example of Nottingham, the corporation in 1762 presented its first locally promoted Bill to Parliament for the better paving, lighting, and cleansing the streets, and for the appointment of commissioners. It was passed in 1763 (fn. 231) and a second amending Act followed in 1790. (fn. 232) The Act of 1790 resulted in the appointment of ten street commissioners, including the mayor and alderman James Soden, who appointed a treasurer, a clerk, an overseer and surveyor, scavangers, and ten assessors who were to collect a rate of 1s. 6d. in the pound. (fn. 233) This organization was independent of the corporation and took over all the duties which had been fitfully performed by the leet and the council. The street commissioners now directed the watch, (fn. 234) and arranged the sale of dunghills, a highly profitable and, in the absence of more sanitary methods, necessary operation. (fn. 235) Obstructions were dealt with and contracts were made for sweeping and cleansing the streets. (fn. 236) Plans were discussed for widening streets and various improvements were made, either by local action or through a local Act of Parliament. (fn. 237) Other duties laid upon the commissioners and carried out by them included responsibility for improving traffic facilities, the safety of pedestrians, the lighting of streets, and the water supply. Their efforts to carry out these obligations are recorded in their orders and proceedings. (fn. 238) These show that there was some attempt at establishing a sound administration. Vacancies and contracts were advertised, (fn. 239) the corporation collectors who lived on fees and fines were replaced by salaried officials who paid all that they collected to the commissioners' treasurer weekly, (fn. 240) and dead wood among the commissioners was cut out according to the provisions of the Street Act. (fn. 241) Careful accounts were kept and deposited annually with the clerk of the peace (fn. 242) and loans were raised to carry out street improvements. (fn. 243) In 1797 it was resolved that commissioners could not be contractors for the commission's works and that every contract should be drawn up in writing with full details of specifications and prices. (fn. 244) A close watch was kept on officials and any found to be incompetent was dismissed. (fn. 245) In 1806 the bankers, Messrs. Little and Woodcock, were appointed treasurers. (fn. 246)

Despite this activity, however, it must be admitted that as far as public health was concerned the street commissioners did not achieve any radical improvement in the state of Coventry. In some years they conducted very little business apart from the sale of dunghills, and other routine matters, and attendance at meetings was at times so poor as to suggest that the commission was not very vigorous. Sometimes even the quorum of five could not be found.

Subsequent to the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835 the street commissioners in 1836 handed over their powers under the 1790 Act to the reformed council (see below) which administered them until a local board of health was set up in 1849. (fn. 247) The findings of the Commissioners on the State of Large Towns in 1843 revealed that the council, too, achieved little in providing Coventry with the public health facilities it required. The details of the report and the subsequent history of public health in the city are to be found in the section below on public services. (fn. 248)


The Municipal Corporations Act of 1835 (fn. 249) brought the leet to an end and replaced the close corporation by an elective city council consisting of twelve aldermen and 36 councillors. Coventry was divided into six wards all of which were represented on the council - the area of the county of the city for the first time. The wards were Spon Street, Earl Street (including Stivichall), Gosford Street (including Stoke), Cross Cheaping, Bishop Street, and 'the North', which was made up of the parishes of Ansty, Exhall, Foleshill, and Wyken, the hamlet of Keresley, and part of Sowe. (fn. 250) The councillors were to be elected by the burgesses who consisted of ratepayers of three years' standing. The aldermen were to be elected by the councillors. (fn. 251) The freemen, or those residing within a certain distance of the city, retained their parliamentary vote after 1832 as freemen, until this was ended by the Representation of the People Act of 1918. The Municipal Corporations Act of 1835, however, instituted several changes with regard to the administrative duties connected with the admission of freemen nearly all of which became the responsibility of the mayor as an individual rather than the corporation as a whole. (fn. 252)

In December 1835 the first municipal election in Coventry was held and the new council met in January 1836. (fn. 253) New officers were appointed, John Carter being quickly replaced as town clerk, and a number of committees were constituted. These were the corporate offices committee, the county rate committee, the watch committee, the estates committee, the household committee, the finance committee, and later the by-laws committee and the quarter sessions committee. (fn. 254) After the Act of 1835 the corporation ceased to administer the vast charity funds of which its predecessors had been custodians, but remained concerned with the appointment of fit trustees, requiring that none of the old trustees should be included in those proposed as trustees of White's Charity, the church charities, or the general charities. (fn. 255) Under the Act Coventry had a separate commission of the peace, and in 1836 it obtained separate quarter sessions for the city and the county of the city. (fn. 256)

During the first three years of its existence the new council busied itself with reform. The less important corporation offices were abolished or amalgamated, fees for corporation servants were done away with, (fn. 257) and more detailed accounts were ordered to be kept. (fn. 258) Corporation servants were forbidden to have contracts for the supply of any articles paid for by the public, (fn. 259) and in 1837 the first budget of the county of the city was approved. (fn. 260)

These attempts at reform were, however, hindered by a serious boundary suit. The county of the city seemed to have been given reasonable representation on the new council but the 1835 commissioners had made it difficult for promises or actions on the part of the new governing body to wipe out the memory of previous misrule in the county area. They had particularly stressed how high Coventry's county rate was in comparison to rates in other counties, (fn. 261) and the county rate remained a bone of contention. In 1836 the wording of an amending Act (fn. 262) gave an opportunity for Coventry's control over the county of the city to be questioned, for it was capable of being interpreted as severing the county area from Coventry and attaching it to Warwickshire. As a result a number of ratepayers in the county area disputed the jurisdiction of the council by refusing to pay the county rate. Six years of expensive litigation in the Exchequer began, (fn. 263) and the consequent uncertainty of the boundaries placed the council in a difficult position. (fn. 264) Divisions of opinion were reflected in petitions by interested parties in Coventry itself. The council petitioned the Lords for the retention of the ancient boundary on the grounds that the gaol had been built for the county at a considerable cost and that there were nearly 2,000 families in the county who depended for their trade on manufacturers in the city. (fn. 265) Certain inhabitants of Coventry petitioned the Lords for alteration of the boundary on the grounds that the financial burden was too heavy and that the city was oppressed by poor rates and other local burdens. (fn. 266) The churchwardens and overseers of the poor of St. Michael's petitioned on the same lines as the council, adding that, if the parliamentary boundary were used, the parish would be split between Coventry and Warwickshire. (fn. 267) Finally the mayor and corporation appealed to the Home Secretary, pointing out the problems of administration and jurisdiction which had arisen, the need for close local government control over the predominantly poor areas of 'the North' and the state of the corporation's finances which legal expenses had brought to a low ebb. (fn. 268)

The council based its claim to jurisdiction in the county of the city on the tripartite indenture of 1355 (fn. 269) and Henry VI's charter creating the county of the city. When the evidence of the tripartite indenture was required, however, the document could not be produced. John Carter, who had been removed from the town clerkship after the reform of the corporation, was solicitor for the defendants and, since it was known that he had in his possession a number of corporation records, there was a strong presumption that he held the crucial document of the plaintiffs' claim. (fn. 270) The defendants would accept no copy or précis as evidence and the city lost its case. The charter of Henry VI was annulled and from November 1842 the city and the county of the city became part of Warwickshire. A separate commission of the peace was ordered for the city, but the Warwickshire justices were to deal with payment of the county rate in Coventry, the committal, trial, and judgment of prisoners, and other matters at quarter sessions, and the management of the gaol. The county of Warwick was to buy the gaol, house of correction, and County Hall, but the city was to pay for the completion of the gaol, the rate for which was still to be a charge on the parishes and hamlets formerly of the county of the city. The adjourned Warwickshire quarter sessions were to be held at Coventry after business at Warwick had been concluded, Coventry people not being liable for inquest or jury service outside the town. Judges of assize and nisi prius and commissioners of oyer and terminer and gaol delivery were to sit in Coventry, but the city was to have no separate assizes, sheriff, or recorder of its own. (fn. 271) The mayor was to be the returning officer for parliamentary elections. There were to be ten instead of twelve aldermen, and the number of councillors was reduced to 30, six for each of the five new wards: Spon Street, Bishop Street, Gosford Street, Earl Street, and White Friars. (fn. 272)

From the mid 19th century local government at Coventry, as elsewhere, became increasingly complex and much of the corporation's activity is described in detail below in the sections dealing with public services. (fn. 273) Certain general aspects of administration may, however, be conveniently reviewed here. The council's accounting system, for example, was further overhauled following the increase in its financial responsibilities when it took over the waterworks in 1847. (fn. 274) Thus the following year saw the appointment of a bailiff and a bookkeeper to keep all the corporation accounts. (fn. 275) In 1850 began the practice of committees submitting, at the time of their return of the previous year's accounts, estimates of probable expenditure for the ensuing year, so that they could make recommendations on the borough rate. (fn. 276) The next year the finance committee made its first comprehensive report on the income and expenses of the corporation estates and of the waterworks and the cemetery. (fn. 277) As a result of this report accounting methods were tightened up still further, and five years later the annual publication in the local press of abstracts of corporation accounts was initiated. (fn. 278)

Changes occurred, too, in the number of council officers and the nature of their posts. From 1857, for example, the town clerk's position was made more satisfactory as a result of the replacement of emoluments based largely on fees by an annual salary of £500. (fn. 279) At the same time the extension of council activity increased the number of permanent officials. The public health Acts, for example, led to the appointment of inspectors and of a medical officer of health. By the end of the century the pre-1835 system of a few part-time servants depending largely on fees had been replaced by one where there was a considerable body of salaried officials with their staffs. This development continued in the 20th century, so that by 1964 the number of corporation departments and undertakings had increased to about thirty. (fn. 280) As a result of a Treasury survey in 1952 and 1953 of the city's administration the town clerk became also Coventry's chief administrative officer with responsibility, among other matters, for securing inter-departmental co-ordination. (fn. 281)

The loss of judicial rights and ancient boundaries at the dissolution of the county of the city was resented in Coventry, but their restoration was not quickly achieved. The gradual extension of the city boundaries was a long drawn-out process, dealt with elsewhere, (fn. 282) and the council's attempts to regain judicial rights for the city had no immediate success. Indeed, although by the Boundary Act of 1842 the assizes for the Coventry division of Warwickshire were to be held at Coventry, the corporation being required to make St. Mary's Hall available for the purpose, this privilege was withdrawn in 1854. (fn. 283) The city retained a separate commission of the peace, but separate quarter sessions were denied under the 1842 Act. (fn. 284) By the 1880s the Warwickshire justices were complaining at the necessity of holding adjourned sessions at Coventry. (fn. 285) The remand of Coventry prisoners to Warwick gaol (for the gaol in Coventry had been given up) (fn. 286) was inconvenient and alterations had to be made at the County Hall in Coventry for their custody. (fn. 287) Despite the fact that the adjourned Coventry sessions were unpractical in many ways, and that the city became a county borough in 1888, it was not, however, until 1928 that separate quarter sessions and a recorder were restored to Coventry. (fn. 288)

In the section on public services below it will be seen that the numerous reforms begun after the Municipal Corporations Act came slowly and hesitantly. Matters of public health proved to be a long-persisting problem. Municipal undertakings, such as water, gas, electricity, and the cemetery, were, however, entered upon early with efficiency, foresight, and energy. They provided a nucleus of experience which served the council well when it came to tackle the problems of a vastly enlarged city in the years succeeding the First World War. In this period the expansion of the motor and allied industries brought in a new population which intensified the necessity for municipal action in social and other matters, especially as these industries were particularly prone to recessions. From 1900 a series of local Acts, promoted by the corporation, were mainly concerned with the extension of the corporation's powers, the development of its undertakings, the improvement of streets and housing, and public health. (fn. 289) Continuity with the reforms begun in the 19th century is clear, but the widening of the corporation's interests is also evident and the extension of the machinery of local government was considerable. The civic aerodrome at Baginton, for example, was begun in 1935, although it was requisitioned by the Air Ministry between 1939 and 1945. (fn. 290) In 1958 the municipally sponsored Belgrade Theatre was opened.

Despite the public interest which parliamentary elections continued to excite during the 19th century in Coventry, political complexions appear to have been unimportant in local government. The 1835 commissioners found that the council was composed fairly equally of Whigs and Tories and that, as a body, it had supported candidates of both parties. (fn. 291) Certainly the 19th-century council minutes fail to reveal any marked political allegiance by individual councillors. (fn. 292) A representative of labour interests was, it is true, elected in 1890 but the support he received from local trade unionists was halfhearted. (fn. 293) In 1902, however, a Labour Representation Committee was established in Coventry. Two years later two Labour candidates were elected to the board of guardians of the poor, and in 1905 another, S. G. Poole, was elected to the council. (fn. 294) In 1913 Labour representation on the council rose to four. In 1918 there was a widespread strike of munition workers and after the municipal elections in the following year one-third of the council represented Labour. (fn. 295) Labour representation fell to three in 1926, but after that it increased until Labour secured in 1937 a majority (fn. 296) which it retained until 1967. (fn. 297)

In 1920 the qualifying period of apprenticeship necessary for admission to freedom of the city was reduced from seven to five years. As a result of ensuing anomalies further legislation in 1927 repealed the legislation of 1781 and 1920 and made it quite clear that the requirements for freedom were attainment of the age of 21 years and five years service, within the municipal area of the city, under a duly enrolled deed of apprenticeship to a trade or profession. (fn. 298) In 1932 a woman was admitted to the freedom of the city by the mayor. This action was contested in the High Court but the case was dropped in 1944. (fn. 299) Freemen continue to enjoy benefits from freemen's funds and White's Charity. (fn. 300)

The damage suffered by Coventry in air raids, particularly those of November 1940 and April 1941, placed a great burden on local government. Apart from loss of life and property, gas, electricity, water, and other services were damaged and arrangements had to be made for communal feeding and for the shelter of the homeless. A redevelopment committee was appointed after the raid of November 1940 to prepare a plan for the reconstruction of the city. (fn. 301) The consequent rebuilding of the city centre which was begun after the war is dealt with above. (fn. 302)


  • 1. This section was completed in 1961 with some later additions.
  • 2. The Bishop Street leet fell into the hands of John Hales after the Dissolution: W. G. Fretton, 'Benedictine Mon. and Cath. of Cov.' T.B.A.S. (1876), 32n; Dugdale, Warws. 150.
  • 3. See pp. 68, 83, 96, 103, 114, 124, 259.
  • 4. Leet Bk. 274-5.
  • 5. Cal. Close, 1377-81, 88; Cal. Chart. R. 1341-1417, 380; Cal. Pat. 1461-7, 168.
  • 6. Leet Bk. 284.
  • 7. Ibid. 258.
  • 8. Ibid. 486.
  • 9. Ibid. 604-5.
  • 10. e.g. ibid. 708.
  • 11. Ibid. 621.
  • 12. A. 14(a), 134, 136.
  • 13. Ibid. 153-4.
  • 14. cf. ibid. 153-4 and 140, 141, 161.
  • 15. Leet Bk. 516-17.
  • 16. Ibid. 571.
  • 17. A. 14(a), 30, 141.
  • 18. L. and P. Hen. VIII, iv (3), pp. 3079-80.
  • 19. Leet Bk. 604-5.
  • 20. Ibid. 607; L. and P. Hen. VIII, iv (3), pp. 3079-80.
  • 21. Leet Bk. 421.
  • 22. Ibid. 626, 633, 692.
  • 23. Ibid. 681.
  • 24. Ibid. 720.
  • 25. A. 3(b), 37-38.
  • 26. Dugdale, Warws. 150; W. G. Fretton, 'Benedictine Mon. and Cath. of Cov.' T.B.A.S. (1876), 32n. An agreement in 1581 between the corporation and Ric. Rogers may perhaps be interpreted as a quitclaim of any interest he might have had in the leet: A. 14(a), 157.
  • 27. e.g. A. 14(a), 3, 4, 20.
  • 28. e.g. ibid. 6, 16.
  • 29. e.g. ibid. 35, 38.
  • 30. e.g. ibid. 91, 127, 128.
  • 31. e.g. ibid. 60, 94, 121.
  • 32. e.g. ibid. 114, 120, 134.
  • 33. e.g. ibid. 17, 25, 28, 31. Other financial records pertaining to the city's revenues are to be found in A. 7, 9, 12, 16, 17, 22, and 23.
  • 34. A. 14(a), 123.
  • 35. e.g. ibid. 19, 20, 37, 123, 125.
  • 36. Ibid. passim.
  • 37. e.g. ibid. 143.
  • 38. Ibid. 136, 146.
  • 39. Ibid. 221, 222.
  • 40. Ibid. 241, 242, 244.
  • 41. A. 3(b), 23, 24.
  • 42. Leet Bk. 653.
  • 43. See end of Leet Bk. and beginning of A. 3(b).
  • 44. A. 14(a), first entries.
  • 45. Ibid. 600.
  • 46. A. 3(b), 76.
  • 47. Ibid. 87-88.
  • 48. A. 14(a), 321.
  • 49. e.g. ibid. 324, 334.
  • 50. Leet Bk. 836; A. 14(a), 418.
  • 51. A. 14(a), 448.
  • 52. A. 156.
  • 53. See V.C.H. Warws. ii. 440; Poole, Cov. 70; B.M. Harl. MS. 6388, p. 22; Leet Bk. 369, 370-1, 381; Hist. MSS. Com. 15th Rep. App. X, 120.
  • 54. See p. 165.
  • 55. For details of the judicial powers of the unreformed corporation, see S. E. Kerrison, 'Cov. and the Municipal Corps. Act, 1835' (Birm. Univ. M.A. thesis, 1939), 74 sqq.; First Rep. Com. Municipal Corps. Eng. and Wales, App. III, H.C. 116, p. 1801 sqq. (1835), xxv.
  • 56. A. 14(a), 685; Leet Bk. 539.
  • 57. Leet Bk. 552-3, 607; A. 14(a), 274.
  • 58. Leet Bk. 539, 783-4.
  • 59. Ibid. 649, 692, 782.
  • 60. A. 14(a), 659.
  • 61. Ibid. 206.
  • 62. Leet Bk. 552; A. 3(b), 50, 63.
  • 63. A. 14(a), 382, 419, 420, 421, 423, 428, 432, 460, 461, 488.
  • 64. V.C.H. Warws. ii. 449; Cal. Cttee. for Compounding, 881; Cal. Cttee. for Advance of Money, iii. 1408; A. 14(b), 99, 100.
  • 65. A. 14(b), 40; and see pp. 373-4.
  • 66. A. 14(a), 719; A. 14(b), 29, 32, 40, 41.
  • 67. A. 14(b), 118.
  • 68. Ibid. 44.
  • 69. Ibid. 103, 121.
  • 70. A. 14(b), 99.
  • 71. V.C.H. Warws. ii. 457.
  • 72. A. 14(b), 142; V.C.H. Warws. ii. 457; Cal. S.P. Dom. 1661-2, 81, 90, 91; T. W. Whitley, Parl. Reptn. of Cov. 104.
  • 73. A. 14(b), 142, 172. See p. 250.
  • 74. Cal. S.P. Dom. 1663-4, 154, 171, 185.
  • 75. B. 87; A. 14(b), 151-2.
  • 76. A. 14(b), 153.
  • 77. e.g. ibid. 227, 232.
  • 78. Ibid. 152.
  • 79. Ibid. 231, 232, 238, 239-40.
  • 80. Ibid. 245.
  • 81. Ibid. 283.
  • 82. Leet Bk. 666-7; A. 14(a), 294, 302.
  • 83. Cal. S.P. Dom. 1682, 478.
  • 84. Ibid. 1683, 362.
  • 85. Ibid. July-Sept. 1683, 413.
  • 86. Ibid. 432; 1683-4, 5, 12, 16, 17; B. 88; A. 14(b), 294-5.
  • 87. A. 3(b), 300; Cal. S.P. Dom. 1683-4, 5, 55.
  • 88. Cal. S.P. Dom. 1683-4, 158; 1684-5, 48; A. 14(b), 302, 303, 304.
  • 89. A. 14(b), 317; see p. 251.
  • 90. Ibid. 362, 363-4.
  • 91. Ibid. 377-9.
  • 92. A. 14(a), 513.
  • 93. A. 7; Leet Bk. 790.
  • 94. A. 14(a), 175; A. 9, 12, 21, 23.
  • 95. A. 16, 17, 36.
  • 96. Cal. S.P. Dom. 1603-10, 548.
  • 97. A. 14(a), 371.
  • 98. Ibid. 509, 513, 639.
  • 99. Ibid. 292.
  • 100. Ibid. 310.
  • 101. A. 14(b), 21; see p. 408.
  • 102. A. 36.
  • 103. A. 14(b), 596.
  • 104. Ibid. 92, 94, 134-7.
  • 105. Cal. S.P. Dom. 1654, 79.
  • 106. A. 14(b), 99.
  • 107. Ibid. 132.
  • 108. Ibid. 139; Cal. S.P. Dom. 1660-1, 4.
  • 109. A. 14(b), 148.
  • 110. Ibid. 248.
  • 111. e.g. ibid. 150, 238, 253, 254.
  • 112. Ibid. 236, 318, 413.
  • 113. Ibid. 129, 168, 183, 216, 217, 318.
  • 114. Ibid. 403.
  • 115. Ibid. 167, 169, 172, 281, 285, 302.
  • 116. A. 14(c), 1, 4.
  • 117. A. 14(b), 246, 262.
  • 118. A. 14(a), 380.
  • 119. Ibid. 661.
  • 120. A. 14(b), 245, 316; Visitation of Warws. 1682-3 (Harl. Soc. lxii), 50.
  • 121. A. 14(b), 316.
  • 122. Ibid. 362, 363, 377.
  • 123. Ibid. 431.
  • 124. Ibid. 274.
  • 125. 28th Rep. Com. Char. 172-8; see also p. 404.
  • 126. A. 14(c), 118.
  • 127. Ibid. 153-4.
  • 128. Ibid. 128, 158, and passim.
  • 129. Ibid. 192, 196, 204-5, 209; A. 14(e), 163-4.
  • 130. A. 14(c), 89.
  • 131. A. 14(c-k), passim.
  • 132. A. 14(c), 214-26. It has not been possible to determine the reasons for these resignations.
  • 133. See p. 267.
  • 134. A. 14(g), 133.
  • 135. e.g. A. 14(c), 118.
  • 136. e.g. ibid. 147.
  • 137. e.g. ibid. 292.
  • 138. A. 14(f), 280, 286, and passim.
  • 139. 28th Rep. Com. Char. 115. But see also below, n. 11.
  • 140. A. 14(c), 304-5.
  • 141. A. 14(g), 46, 75, 92, 109, 119, 144, 148.
  • 142. 28th Rep. Com. Char. 136.
  • 143. A. 14(k), 218.
  • 144. A. 14(j), 478.
  • 145. 28th Rep. Com. Char. 200. See also p. 401 n. 12.
  • 146. 28th Rep. Com. Char. 227. See also p. 399.
  • 147. 28th Rep. Com. Char. passim.
  • 148. The Charity Commrs. were, however, much less condemnatory than the Municipal Commrs., particularly over administration in the 1820s: see p. 399.
  • 149. A. 14(j), 417.
  • 150. A. 14(l), 5 May 1795.
  • 151. A. 14(f), 75, 76, 80, 81.
  • 152. Ibid. 137-9.
  • 153. Ibid. 75, 117.
  • 154. Ibid. 336.
  • 155. A. 14(g), 39-40, 48-49, 54.
  • 156. Ibid. 40, 50, 55.
  • 157. See pp. 251-3.
  • 158. Another explanation is that those who had not behaved favourably at elections were subsequently struck off- but at times resisted and forced their own reinstatement. For details, see S. E. Kerrison, 'Cov. and the Municipal Corps. Act, 1835' (Birm. Univ. M.A. thesis, 1939), 53 sqq.
  • 159. A. 14(g), 71, 72, 254, 257; A. 14(h), 349-51, 352-3.
  • 160. A. 14(j), 409.
  • 161. Ibid. 101, 297; A. 14(l), p. 199 and 6 Oct. 1795, 2 Oct. 1798.
  • 162. A. 14(j), 545; A. 14(k), 157; A. 14(l), 96.
  • 163. First Rep. Com. Municipal Corps. Eng. and Wales, App. III, H.C. 116, pp. 1832-4 (1835), xxv.
  • 164. Ibid. 1837.
  • 165. Ibid. 1839.
  • 166. Ibid. 1808-9.
  • 167. See p. 253.
  • 168. First Rep. Com. Municipal Corps., App. III, 1801, 1833.
  • 169. Ibid. 1835.
  • 170. Ibid. 1799-1800, 1801-3, 1832.
  • 171. Ibid. 1836.
  • 172. For the commrs.' distortion of the true picture of charity administration, however, see p. 399.
  • 173. First Rep. Com. Municipal Corps., App. III, 1800; A. 14(n), 25 Aug. 1812; A. 14(s), 7 Jan. 1836.
  • 174. A. 14(m), 7 July 1807.
  • 175. Ibid. 31 July, 3 and 24 Sept. 1811.
  • 176. A. 158.
  • 177. G.B.A.M. Finlayson, 'Municipal Corp. Com. and Rep., 1833-5', Bull. Inst. Hist. Res. xxxvi. 47; L.J. lxvii. 348-68.
  • 178. cf. E. L. Woodward, Age of Reform, 442; B. Keith-Lucas, Eng. Local Government Franchise, 50-51.
  • 179. This was evident also in charity administration: see pp. 398-9.
  • 180. A. 14(o), 31 July 1821.
  • 181. A. 14(oo), 20 and 26 Feb. 1822.
  • 182. First Rep. Com. Municipal Corps., App. III, 1810.
  • 183. Ibid. 1805.
  • 184. Ibid. 1812; cf. P. Searby, Cov. Politics in Age of Chartists (Cov. and N. Warws. Hist. Pamphlets, no. 1), 29-30.
  • 185. A. 14(p), 5 Feb. 1828.
  • 186. A. 14(oo), 29 Apr. 1823.
  • 187. A. 14(p), 20 Oct. 1829. The resolution about the mayor was broken in 1829 in special circumstances.
  • 188. A. 14(q), 9 Apr. 1831 sqq.
  • 189. Ibid. 30 Oct. 1832, 29 Jan. 1833.
  • 190. Ibid. 19 Apr. 1831.
  • 191. Ibid. 5 June 1832.
  • 192. A. 14(r), 5 Nov. 1833.
  • 193. Ibid. p. 263 and 24 Dec. 1835. For a detailed account of the local opposition to the Bill, see S. E. Kerrison, 'Cov. and the Municipal Corps. Act, 1835' (Birm. Univ. M.A. thesis, 1939).
  • 194. Smith, Cov. 99-100.
  • 195. Leet Bk. 801.
  • 196. e.g. A. 3(b), 48.
  • 197. Ibid. 49.
  • 198. Ibid. 50, 149-50, 191, 406.
  • 199. Ibid. 385, 407-8.
  • 200. Ibid. 117.
  • 201. Ibid. 396, 428, 429.
  • 202. See pp. 259-60.
  • 203. A. 33; A. 133, passim.
  • 204. A. 33, ff. 1, 5, 19, 25, 28.
  • 205. Ibid. ff. 25, 47.
  • 206. Ibid. ff. 26, 37, and passim.
  • 207. Ibid. ff. 37, 94.
  • 208. A. 133, pp. 1-13, and passim.
  • 209. Ibid. pp. 18-19, 34, 56, 93, and passim.
  • 210. Ibid. p. 7.
  • 211. Ibid. pp. 39, 56, and passim.
  • 212. Ibid. pp. 4, 21, 25, 38, 53-54, 55, 107, 126.
  • 213. Ibid. pp. 14, 56, and passim.
  • 214. Ibid. p. 190.
  • 215. Ibid. pp. 197-205.
  • 216. A. 33, f. 48.
  • 217. A. 3(b), 396.
  • 218. A. 14(c), 314.
  • 219. Leet Bk. 234.
  • 220. Ibid. 552-3.
  • 221. A. 3(b), 50.
  • 222. A. 14(a), 206.
  • 223. Ibid. 94.
  • 224. Ibid. 304.
  • 225. St. Michael's Vestry Minute Bk., f. 3v, and passim; Holy Trinity Vestry Minute Bk., ff. 113-39, 195-7, and passim.
  • 226. A. 133, p. 39.
  • 227. See pp. 409-10.
  • 228. Cal. Inq. p.m. Hen. VII, ii, pp. 392-3.
  • 229. A. 14(a), 148.
  • 230. See pp. 35-36.
  • 231. Smith, Cov. 107-8; A. 14(h), 121.
  • 232. 30 Geo. III, c. 77.
  • 233. A. 70, 15 July 1790.
  • 234. Ibid. 8 Sept. 1790 to 6 Jan. 1791; see p. 295.
  • 235. A. 70, passim.
  • 236. Ibid. 23 Sept. 1790, and passim.
  • 237. Ibid. 10 Feb., 2 June, and 29 Sept. 1791, and passim. The Act of 53 Geo. III, c. 6 (1812-13), which included the cutting of Hertford St., was in fact part of the Act for making a turnpike through Cov. from Far Gosford St. to Wolvey.
  • 238. A. 70; A. 78.
  • 239. A. 70, 8 and 23 Sept. 1790, and passim.
  • 240. Ibid. 8 Sept. 1803. They seem to have reverted to the earlier system, however, by 1806.
  • 241. Ibid. 7 July 1791.
  • 242. Ibid. 2 Feb. 1792.
  • 243. Ibid. 7 Mar. 1793.
  • 244. Ibid. 10 Sept. 1797.
  • 245. e.g. ibid. 21 Jan. 1802.
  • 246. Ibid. 1 Sept. 1806.
  • 247. A. 78, 4 Feb. 1836.
  • 248. P. 278 sqq.
  • 249. 5 & 6 Wm. IV, c. 76.
  • 250. A. 217, Acts Local, 3.
  • 251. Poole, Cov. 97.
  • 252. Admission to the Freedom of the City: Memo. of Town Clerk (1926), prefatory note.
  • 253. Smith, Cov. 121; A. 14(s), 29 Dec. 1835, and pp. 1-2.
  • 254. A. 14(s), 5-8, 11-13, 19.
  • 255. Ibid. 90, 92-93, 98-99. See p. 399.
  • 256. 5 & 6 Wm. IV, c. 76; A. 14(s), 24-25, 70.
  • 257. A. 14(s), 84-88.
  • 258. Ibid. 103.
  • 259. Ibid. 192.
  • 260. Ibid. 187.
  • 261. First Rep. Com. Municipal Corps. Eng. and Wales, App. III, H.C. 116, p. 1837 (1835), xxv; see p. 297.
  • 262. Boundaries Act Amendment Act, 6 & 7 Wm. IV, c. 103; cf. Poole, Cov. 98-99.
  • 263. A. 217, Acts Local, 4d (petition of mayor, etc.); A. 14(s), 144.
  • 264. A. 14(t), 89.
  • 265. A. 14(s), 78.
  • 266. A. 217, Acts Local, 4b.
  • 267. A. 217, Acts Local, 4e.
  • 268. A. 217, Acts Local, 4d (petition of mayor, etc.).
  • 269. See p. 259.
  • 270. A. 217, Acts Local, 4d (case in Exchequer of Pleas), pp. 78-79, 143-4. The document is still missing.
  • 271. Coventry appears to be the only place ever to have lost its sheriff.
  • 272. A. 14(t), 105-15; see pp. 4, 297. The number of wards increased as the city boundaries were extended. By the turn of the cent. there were 6; in 1904 they were increased to 12, and by the 1930s there were 16 with 48 councillors.
  • 273. See pp. 275-98.
  • 274. See p. 294.
  • 275. A. 14(u), 55, 62.
  • 276. Ibid. 98, 144.
  • 277. Ibid. 195-6.
  • 278. A. 14(u), 197; A. 14(v), 192.
  • 279. A. 14(v), 245, 324.
  • 280. Mun. Handbk. (1964-5).
  • 281. Ibid. 154-5; T. E. Headrich, Town Clerk, 27, 30, 70, 142, 167-8, 179-82.
  • 282. See p. 4.
  • 283. Poole, Cov. 103, 107-8; Warwick Assizes Act, 17 & 18 Vic., c. 35. The Cov. division comprised the Atherstone and Coleshill divisions of Hemlingford hundred, and the Kirby and Rugby divisions of Knightlow hundred.
  • 284. Poole, Cov. 101; Smith, Cov. 126.
  • 285. A. 14(bb), 338.
  • 286. See p. 297.
  • 287. A. 14(dd), 346; A. 14(ee), 305.
  • 288. Smith, Cov. 170-5.
  • 289. Mun. Handbk. (1964-5), 7.
  • 290. Ibid. 70.
  • 291. First Rep. Com. Municipal Corps. Eng. and Wales, App. III, H.C. 116, p. 1833 (1835), xxv.
  • 292. P. Searby, Cov. Politics in Age of Chartists (Cov. and N. Warws. Hist. Pamphlets, no. 1), 26, 30.
  • 293. Cov. Trades Council, Annual Rep. (1890), 6.
  • 294. J. A. Yates, Pioneers to Power, 25-28, 35, q.v. for details of activities of these persons.
  • 295. Ibid. 62-67.
  • 296. Ibid. 83, 88.
  • 297. The Times, 12 May 1967.
  • 298. 17 & 18 Geo. V, c. 90 (local act).
  • 299. Smith, Cov. 180-6.
  • 300. See pp. 207, 405.
  • 301. Smith, Cov. 184-5.
  • 302. See pp. 15-18.