Coventry, Warwickshire Family History Guide

Parishes in Coventry

  • Coventry Holy Trinity, Warwickshire
  • Coventry St John the Baptist, Warwickshire
  • Coventry St Michael, Warwickshire
  • Coventry St Peter, Warwickshire
  • Coventry St Thomas, Warwickshire


May 2, June 8, (lasts eight days) Nov. 1, — New Cattle Fairs, the third Tuesday in Jan. Feb. March, April, (cheese fair also) July, Aug. Sept.(cheese fair also), Oct. and Dec.

Historical Descriptions

The Imperial Gazetteer of England & Wales 1870

COVENTRY, a town, a district, and a quondam city-county, in Warwick. The town stands on the river Sherbourne, at the depôt of a ramified canal, and at a convergence of railways, nearly in the centre of England, 9 miles NNE of Warwick, 17 ESE of Birmingham, and 91 by road, but 94 by railway, NNW of London. The canal connects with the Oxford, the Ashby-de-la-Zouch, the Fazeley, and the Grand Trunk canals; and gives vast communication, both inland and to ports. The railways are connected with the North-western system; go northward, southward, eastward, and westward; and give communication with all parts of the kingdom.

History. Coventry claims a high but obscure antiquity. The original town is believed, from traces of extensive foundations, to have stood on the north of the present one; and it possibly was founded by the ancient Britons; but does not appear to have been occupied, at least in any military way, by the Romans. A nunnery existed here as early as the 9th century; and was destroyed, in 1016, by the Danes. A new nunnery of great wealth, was founded in 1043, by Leofric, fifth Earl of Mercia, and his Countess Godiva; and this is thought to have originated the name Convent-tre, signifying “convent-town,” and corrupted into Coventry. Godiva is traditionally said to have freed the town from some grievous imposts, and obtained for it many privileges, by acts of self-sacrifice; and she has been held in high esteem by all subsequent generations of the townsmen. The manor came, soon after the Conquest, to the Earls of Chester; passed to the Montalts, the Arundels, and the Crown; and was settled by Edward III., on the Black Prince, under the name of the manor of Cheylesmore, as a perpetual appanage of the dukedom of Cornwall. Cheylesmore, situated on the south side of the town, had been the seat of Leofric; and a castle, of great extent, was built there by the Earls of Chester. The town was walled and fortified, and acquired a prosperous cap and clothing trade, in the times of Edward III. and Richard II. The hostile meeting between Henry Bolingbroke, Duke of Hereford, and Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, immortalized in Shakspeare’s King Richard II., took place near it, at Gosford Green, in 1397. A parliament was held in the town, by Henry IV. in 1404: known as the “parliamentum indoctorum, ” from the circumstance that the writs forbade the return of lawyers. Henry VI. visited it in 1436, 1450, and 1456, to see religions plays, hocktide sports, and other pageants for which it had become noted. A parliament was held in it in 1459, passing many attainders against the Yorkists, and thence called by them parliamentum diabolicum. Edward IV. visited it in 1474 and 1477; Richard III., in 1483; Henry VII., in 1485, 1492, and 1495; Mary, in 1525; and Elizabeth, in 1565. Mary Queen of Scots was for some time a prisoner in it in 1566 and 1569. James I. visited it in 1616. It took part with the parliamentarians against Charles I.; and was dismantled at the Restoration. The phrase “to send to Coventry,” appears to have originated in the exclusion of military men, at some period, from the society of the respectable inhabitants. An obnoxious procession, of great splendonr, long took place annually; alleged to commemorate the services rendered to the town by the Countess Godiva, but known to have originated in the licentious times of Charles II. A romantic legend, to which the incidents of it allude, has been well rendered, in his own style, by Tennyson, in the lines ending, –

Even then she gained

Her bower; whence reissuing rob’d and crown’d,

To meet her lord, she took the tax away,

And built herself an everlasting name.

Streets and Public Buildings. The town stands partly on low ground, partly on a gentleascent. The old streets are generally narrow, and obscured by high, projecting, richly-ornamented gable ends and upper stories; while the modern ones are well-built and commodious. Many remains of the olden times appear in the edifices, both public and private; and are preserved with care. The town walls were 9 feet thick, and about 3 miles in circuit, and had 32 towers and 12 gates; and, though demolished at the dismantling in 1662, some interesting remnants of them, with 3 of the gates, still exist. A striking effect, in exterior views of the town, is produced by its beautiful tapering spires. A market-cross, erected in 1544, was hexagonal, three-storied, and 57 feet high, with pillars, arches, pinnacles, and numerous niches and statues; but was taken down in 1771. St. Mary’s Hall, or the Guildhall, was built, about the beginning of the 15th century, for an ancient guild, and passed to the borough corporation; shows a noble main window, of very fine masonry; includes a very spacious kitchen, with liberal arrangements for cooking, and a modernized parlour, used till 1864 as a police court; and contains a great hall, 63 feet long, 30 feet wide, and 34 feet high, with timbered roof and minstrels’ gallery. The county-hall was built in 1785; has Doric columns; and is commodious. A corn exchange was built in 1866; and a memorial cross of Sir Joseph Paxton erected in 1868. The Drapers’ hall was rebuilt in 1832; and is a neat Doric edifice. The borough jail, with house of correction, was rebuilt in 1730, at a cost of £16, 000; and has capacity for 90 male and 10 female prisoners. The barracks, in Smithford-street, occupy the site of an inn where Henry VII. was entertained, and Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned; and have accommodation for twc full troops of cavalry. Other public buildings will be noticed in subsequent paragraphs.

Ecclesiastical Affairs. A bishopric, first founded at Lichfield, was moved, in 1075, to Chester; and in 1102, to Coventry. The five bishops who followed were styled Bishops of Coventry; their successors, till the time of Charles II., were styled Bishops of Coventry and Lichfield; and the successors thence, till 1836, were styled Bishops of Lichfield and Coventry. The church of the priory, founded by Earl Leofric, was the cathedral; and, till the time of Henry VIII., had its own dean and chapter, distinct from Lichfield. The edifice resembled Lichfield cathedral, but was destroyed at the Reformation; and a portion of one of its western towers, and doorways to a crypt, are the chief fragments of it which remain. An archdeaconry of Coventry, comprising fourteen rural deaneries, represents the territory over which the cathedral ruled, but was transferred, in 1836, to the diocese of Worcester. A white friars’ monastery was founded in the town about 1342; a grey friars’ monastery, about 1358; and a Carthusian monastery, in 1381. The white friars’ monastery, greatly altered, but with many portions of the original edifice in good preservation, is now the workhouse; the grey friars’ church steeple, a structure in good early decorated English, stands now attached to Christ Church, built by Rickman in 1834; and the Carthusian monastery has disappeared.

The livings in the borough are St. Michael, Christ Church, St. John, St. Thomas, Holy Trinity, and St. Peter; and St. John is a rectory, Christchurch a p. curacy, the others vicarages, in the diocese of Worcester. Value of St. Michael, £300; of Christ Church, £175; of St. John, £180;* of St. Thomas, £160; of Holy Trinity, . £650;* of St. Peter, £170.* Patron of St. Michael, the Crown; of Christ Church, the Vicar of St. Michael; of St. John, the Mayor and Corporation; of St. Thomas, alternately the Crown and the Bishop; of Holy Trinity, the Lord Chancellor; of St. Peter, the Vicar of Holy Trinity. The vicarage of Keresley and Coundon also is a separate benefice. The places of worship within the borough in 1851, were 6 of the Church of England, with 7,981 sittings; 4 of Independents, with 2,548 s.; 3 of Baptists, with 1,160 s.; 1 of Quakers, with 300 s.; 1 of Unitarians, with 460 s.; 1 of Wesleyan Methodists, with 750 s.; 1 of Primitive Methodists, with 260 s.; 1 undefined, with 1,028 s.; 1 of Latter Day Saints, with 250 s.; and 1 of Roman Catholics, with 800 s. St. Michael’s church was pronounced by Sir Christopher Wren a master-piece of architecture; and is not unaptly called the boast of Coventry. It measures 293¾ feet, by 127; has a nave of seven bays and 50 feet high, built in 1434, a chancel of six bays, ending in an hexagonal apse, light pillars, very broad aisles, panelled clerestory, and windows so closely arranged as to give a blaze of illumination; and contains very fine stall-work seats, a perpendicular chest, and a cinque-cento monument to Wade, who died in 1556. The tower of it is a magnificent early perpendicular structure of four stories, niched and panelled, 136 feet high, built in 1373-95; surmounted by a two-banded spire, 130 feet high, springing from an embattled lantern 32 feet high within the parapet, and built in 1434. Christ Church is an edifice in the early decorated style, erected in 1834, at a cost of£9, 702; and, as already noticed, has incorporated with it the ancient steeple of the Grey-friars’ monastery. St. John’s church is a cruciform structure of the time of Edward III.; was erected by the members of St. John’s guild, stood some time in neglect after the suppression of the guilds, and was made a parish church in 1734; has a good panelled clerestory, a magnificent west window, and a handsome central square tower; and contains a font, copied from that of St. Edward’s church at Cambridge, and erected in 1843. Holy Trinity church is later English; was partly rebuilt, partly repaired in 1832; has a central steeple, 237 feet high; and contains a font of 1394, a panelled and battlemented stone pulpit of 1500, a good brass lectern, and a monument to Dr. Holland, the first translator of Camden’s “Britannia.” A curious fresco, representing the last judgment, was discovered under the white-wash of the tower in 1832. St. Peter’s church was erected in 1841; St. Thomas’ in 1849; St. Mark’s and All Saints’ in 1869. The Roman Catholic church was built in 1843; measures 115 feet by 50; and is in the decorated style. The new Coventry cemetery was laid out by Sir Joseph Paxton.

Schools and Charities. The schools within the borough in 1851 were 17 public day schools, with 1, 667 scholars. 41 private day schools, with 1,138 s.; and 21 Sunday schools, with 3, 913 s. The free grammar school is held in the chapel of St. John’s hospital, founded in the time of Henry II.; was converted into a school, by John Hales, in the time of Henry VIII.; has an endowed income of £1, 070, with five exhibitions, three fellowships, and one scholarship; and numbers among its pupils Dugdale the antiquary. Wheatly’s school has £887 from endowment; Baker’s Cow Lane school, £400; Bayley’s school, £154; Southern’s school, £89; Fairfax’s school, £72; and the girls’ blue coat school, £134. There is an important school of design; and a new building for it, in the Gothic style, estimated to cost £2, 130, was founded in 1862. Ford’s hospital was founded in 1529; is a well-preserved specimen of the half-timbered architecture of the 16th century; serves now as an alms-house for aged females; and has an endowed income of upwards of £500. Bond’s hospital was founded in 1506; was, a number of years ago, renovated and enlarged; stands compacted in a square with Wheatly’s school and St. John’s church; has a hall with good timber roof; serves as an alms-house for poor men; and has an endowed income of £1, 001. The Spon hospital, or St. Mary Magdalene’s hospital, for lepers, was founded by one of the Earls of Chester; and some portions of it, with rich wood-work, still remain. The total of endowed charities is £9,440.

Trade. Coventry has a head post office, a telegraph station, three banking offices, and four chief inns; is a polling-place and an excise collection; and publishes three weekly newspapers. Markets are held on Fridays; and fairs on the second Friday after Ash-Wednesday, 2 May, Trinity week, 26 and 27 Aug., and 1 Nov. A considerable transfer traffic exists, both by canal and by railway; and races are run in March. Manufactures are carried on in ribbons, gimp trimming, silk plush, elastics, broad-cloth, cotton, watches, brass, dyeing, and some other departments. The ribbon trade includes every style of plain and fancy weaving; employs about 8,000 hands; and gives support to many persons in the neighbouring town and villages. The watch trade also is very various and large; and has been at least doubled within the last twenty-five years.

The Borough. Coventry was first chartered by Edward III.; has sent two members to parliament since the time of Henry VI.; and is governed by a mayor, twelve aldermen, and thirty-six councillors. The parliamentary borough is conterminate with the registration district; and comprises 3, 665 acres of the parish of St. Michael-with-St. John, and 1,824 acres of the parish of Holy Trinity-with-St. Peter. St. Michael-with-St. John parish is sometimes described as St. John the Baptist-with-St. Michael; includes the manor of Whitley and Pinley within the borough; and lies, to the extent of 1, 058 acres, constituting the hamlet of Keresley, in the district of Foleshill. Holy Trinity-with-St. Peter parish includes Radford hamlet within Coventry district; and lies, to the extent of 1, 046 and 440 acres, constituting the hamlets of Coundon and Willenhall, in the districts of Meriden and Foleshill. The municipal borough is co-extensive with the parliamentary borough, exclusive of Radford hamlet. Real property of the p. borough in 1860, £142, 157; of which £6, 635 were in the canal, and £4, 000 in gas-works. Direct taxes in 1857, £22, 471. Electors in 1868, 4, 967. Pop. of the p. borough in 1841, 30, 743; in 1861, 41, 647. Houses, 9, 154. Pop. of the m. borough, 40, 936. Houses, 8, 991. The town gives the title of Earl to the Coventrys of Croome-Court. And it numbers among its natives Vincent, the eminent Franciscan of the 13th century; Maklesfield, the eminent Dominican; Bird, the last provincial of the Carmelites, afterwards bishop of Bangor and of Chester; wanley, the antiquary, and author of the ‘ ‘Wonders of the Little World;” Carte, the antiquary; and Tipper, the original publisher of the “Lady’s Diary.”

The District. The registration district, conterminate with the parliamentary borough, is divided into the sub-districts of St. John and Holy Trinity; the former comprising the borough portion of St. Michael-with-St. John parish, the latter the borough portion of Holy Trinity-with-St. Peter parish; and it is administered under a local act. Poor-rates in 1862, £19, 097. Marriages in 1860, 389; births, 1, 665, -of which 85 were illegitimate; deaths, 886, -of which 404 were at ages under 5 years, and 14 at ages above 85. Marriages in the ten years 1851-60, 4, 538; births, 15, 542; deaths, 9, 914. The workhouse, as already noticed, was originally the White friars’ monastery; and it has remains of a gate and early perpendicular cloisters, and of the refectory and dormitory.

The County of the City. A tract around the town, and including it, 7½ miles long, 20 miles in circuit, and including the parishes of Anstey, Exhall, Foleshill, Stoviehall, Stoke, Wyken, and parts of St. Michael, Holy Trinity, and Sowe, was constituted by Henry VI., a separate county, under the jurisdiction of the magistrates of Coventry; but this was abolished by the boundary act of 1842, and annexed to the Kirby division of Knightlow hundred.

Source: The Imperial Gazetteer of England & Wales [Wilson, John M]. A. Fullarton & Co. N. d. c. [1870-72].

Leonard’s Gazetteer of England and Wales 1850

Coventry, 10 m. N.N.E. Warwick, and 91 miles N.W. by N. London. Mrkt. Fri. P. 30,743

Source: Leonard’s Gazetteer of England and Wales; Second Edition; C. W. Leonard, London; 1850.


Below is a list of people that were declared bankrupt between 1820 and 1843 extracted from The Bankrupt Directory; George Elwick; London; Simpkin, Marshall and Co.; 1843.

Adkins William. Coventry, ribbon manufacturer, January 7, 1826.

Alcock Ralph Henry, Coventry, timber merchant, July 29, 1831.



Photographs of Coventry

Photographs of the Coventry Blitz

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