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Coventry

COVENTRY, a municipal, county and parliamentary borough of Warwickshire, England; 94 m. N.W. from London by the London & North Western railway. Pop. (1901) 69,978. The Coventry canal communicates with the Trent and Mersey and Birmingham canals, and the midland system generally. Coventry stands on a gentle eminence, with higher ground lying to the west, and is watered by the Sherbourne and the Radford Brook, feeders of the Avon, which unite within the town. Of its ancient fortifications two gates and some portions of the wall are still extant, and several of the older streets are picturesque from the number of half-timbered houses projecting over the footways.

The most remarkable buildings are the churches; of these the oldest are St Michael's, one of the finest specimens of Perpendicular architecture in England, with a beautiful steeple rising to a height of 303 ft.; Holy Trinity church, a cruciform structure with a lofty steeple at the intersection; and St John's, or Bablake church, which is nearly a parallelogram on the ground plan, but cruciform in the clerestory with a central tower. Christ church dates only from 1832, but it is attached to the ancient spire of the Grey Friars' church. Of secular buildings the most interesting is St Mary's hall, erected by the united gilds in the early part of the 15th century. The principal chamber, situated above a fine crypt, is 76 ft. long, 30 ft. wide and 34 ft. high; its roof is of carved oak, and in the north end there is a large window of old stained glass, with a curious piece of tapestry beneath nearly as old as the building. In the treasury is preserved a valuable collection of ancient muniments. A statue of Sir Thomas White, lord mayor of London (1532-1533), founder of St John's College, Oxford, was erected in 1883. The cemetery, laid out by Sir Joseph Paxton, the architect and landscape gardener, and enlarged in 1887, is particularly beautiful. The educational institutions include a well-endowed free grammar school, founded in the reign of Elizabeth, in modern buildings (1885), a technical school, school of art, endowed charity schools, and a county reformatory for girls; and among the charitable foundations, which are numerous and valuable, Bond's hospital for old men and Ford's hospital for old women are remarkable as fine specimens of ancient timber work. Swanswell and Spenser Parks were opened in 1883, and a recreation ground in 1880.

Coventry was formerly noted for its woollens, and subsequently acquired such a reputation for its dyeing that the expression "as true as Coventry blue" became proverbial. Existing industries are the making of motor cars, cycles and their accessories, for which Coventry is one of the chief centres in Great Britain; sewing machines are also produced; and carpet-weaving and dyeing, art metal working and watch making are carried on. An ancient fair is held in Whit-week. A county of itself till 1843, the town became a county borough in 1888. The corporation consists of a mayor, 10 aldermen and 30 councillors. The parliamentary borough returns one member. In 1894 a suffragan bishopric of Coventry was established under the see of Worcester, but no longer exists. Area, 4149 acres.

The village which afterwards became important as Coventry (Coventreu, Coventre) owed its existence to the foundation of a Benedictine monastery by Earl Leofric and his wife Godgyfu, the famous Lady Godiva (q.v.), in 1043. The manor, which in 1066 belonged to the latter, descended to the earls of Chester and to Robert de Montalt, and from him passed to Isabella queen of Edward II. and the crown. Ranulf, earl of Chester, granted the earliest extant charter to the town in 1153, by which his burgesses were to hold of him in free burgage as they held of his father, and to have their portmote. This, with further privileges, was confirmed by Henry II. in 1177, and by nearly every succeeding sovereign until the 17th century. In 1345 Edward III. gave Coventry a corporation, mayor and bailiffs empowered to hold pleas and keep the town prison. Edward the Black Prince granted the mayor and bailiffs the right to hold the town in fee farm of £50 and to build a wall. In 1452 Henry VI. formed the city and surrounding hamlets into a county, and James I. incorporated Coventry in 1622. It first sent two representatives to parliament in 1295, but the returns were irregular. The prior's market on Fridays was probably of Saxon origin; a second market was granted in 1348, while fairs, still held, were obtained in 1217 for the octave of Holy Trinity, and in 1348 and in 1442 for eight days from the Friday after Corpus Christi. As early as 1216 Coventry was important for its trade in wool, cloth and caps, its gilds later being particularly numerous and wealthy. In 1568 Flemish weavers introduced new methods, but the trade was destroyed in the wars of the 17th century. During the middle of the 16th century there was a flourishing manufacture of blue thread, but this decayed before 1581; in the 18th century the manufacture of ribbon was introduced.

The popular phrase "to send to Coventry" (i.e. to refuse to associate with a person) is of uncertain derivation. The New English Dictionary selects the period of the Civil War of the 17th century as that in which the origin of the phrase is probably to be found. Clarendon (History of the Great Rebellion, 1647) states that the citizens of Birmingham rose against certain small parties of the king's supporters, and sent the prisoners they captured to Coventry, which was then strongly parliamentarian.

See Victoria County History, Warwick; William Dugdale, The Antiquities of Coventre, illustrated from records (Coventry, 1765).

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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