Find a Hotel

Coventry History!

Coventry began as a Saxon village. It was called Coffantree, which means the tree belonging to Coffa. Trees were often used as meeting places. In this case a settlement grew up around the tree. Then in 1043 Leofric, the local Earl and his wife Godiva founded a Benedictine monastery at Coventry. They granted the monks land on which to graze sheep. (In the Middle Ages Coventry became famous for its wool industry).

COVENTRY IN THE MIDDLE AGES
From the early 12th century Coventry was divided into 2 halves. The northern half was controlled by the Prior (the head of the priory or small monastery). The southern half was controlled by the Earl. However the Prior slowly lost his power. After 1265 he rented his half of the town to the Earl. Then in 1345 Coventry was given a charter (a document granting the townspeople certain rights). The merchants formed a town council and elected the mayor and magistrates. Ten years later, in 1355, the Prior gave up all his claims on the town. At the time of the Domesday Book in 1086 Coventry had a population of about 350. By the standards of the time it was a fair sized settlement. Coventry grew rapidly in the Middle Ages. By the late 14th century it had a population of 4,817. By the standards of the time it was a large and important town. By the end of the Middle Ages the population of Coventry reached 6,500. The main industry in Coventry was weaving and dyeing wool. In Coventry there were many workers in the cloth trade, drapers, tailors, dyers and weavers. There were also fullers. They cleaned and thickened cloth by pounding it in a mixture of clay and water. In Coventry there were also many leatherworkers like saddlers, shoemakers and glovers. There were many other craftsmen in Coventry such as millers, bakers, butchers and bakers, blacksmiths, carpenters, coopers, cutlers and goldsmiths. In 1340 the merchants of Coventry were formed into a guild, which looked after their interests. A meeting hall, St Mary's hall, was built for the guild in 1340. From the late 12th century Coventry was probably surrounded by a ditch and an earth rampart with a wooden palisade on top.

After 1335 a stone wall was built. The wall was built in stages. Most of it was finished by the early 15th century but it was not totally complete till 1538. In the Middle Ages Coventry had a castle. Broadgate is named after the gate at the entrance of the castle. By 1250 a manor house, Chelysemore Manor, was built South of the town. The grounds around it were called Chelysemore Park. Much Park Street and Little Park Street after both named after the park attached to the house. Burges is a corruption of 'between the bridges', as it stood between the bridges over the Sherbourne and Radford Brook. Spon End may be called that because it was the place where wooden roof tiles or 'spans' were made. The Butts was the place where men practiced archery. (By law they had to practice every Sunday afternoon). In the 13th century friars came to Coventry. The friars were like monks but instead of withdrawing from the world they went to preach. Franciscan friars arrived in Coventry about 1234. They were known as Grey friars because of their grey costumes. The Carmelites arrived in Coventry in 1342 They were called white friars and lived in the Southeast corner of Coventry. There were also 'hospitals' in Coventry run by the church. The Hospital of St John the Baptist stood at the junction of Hale Street and Bishop Street. In it monks cared for the sick and poor as best they could. There was also a hostel for lepers at the end of Spon Street.

COVENTRY IN THE 16th AND 17th CENTURIES
In 1520 Coventry had a population of 6,601 but it slowly declined and by 1587 it was only 6,502. In 1506 a merchant named Thomas Bond left money in his will to build a 'hospital' or almshouse for old men. In 1509 William Ford left money in his will for another 'hospital' or almshouse. In 1538 Henry VIII closed the friaries in Coventry. In 1539 the priory was closed. Coventry Grammar School opened in 1545. Bablake Free School was founded in 1567. Like all towns in those days Coventry suffered from outbreaks of plague. One severe outbreak was in 1603. In 1642 came civil war between king and parliament. Charles I attempted to enter Coventry with an army but he was refused entry and Coventry remained in parliament's hands for the whole of the war. During the civil war prisoners were held in the Church of St John. In 1647 a writer said that prisoners were 'sent to Coventry'. The phrase came to mean excluded from polite society.

In 1662 Charles II ordered the people of Coventry to destroy the walls around city (perhaps remembering how his father had been refused admission in 1642). Most of the walls were broken up and the stone was used for new buildings, but the gates remained. The traditional industry of Coventry, weaving and dyeing wool declined. On the other hand a new industry appeared. As early as 1627 silk was woven in Coventry. By the end of the 17th century silk weaving was an important industry. At the end of the 17th century the travel writer Celia Fiennes described Coventry: 'Coventry stands on the side of a pretty high hill. The spire and steeple of one of the churches is very high and is thought the third highest in England. In the same churchyard stands another large church, which is something unusual, two such great churches together. Their towers and the rest of the churches and high buildings make the town appear very fine. The streets are broad and well paved with small stones.'

COVENTRY IN THE 18th CENTURY
The traditional wool industry in Coventry continued to decline although silk ribbon weaving boomed. From the mid 18th century watch making also became an important industry in Coventry. In the later 18th century most of the town gates of Coventry were demolished as they impeded the flow of traffic. New Gate went in 1762. It was followed by Gosford Gate and Bishop Street Gate in 1765. Spon Gate went in 1771 and Greyfriars Gate was demolished in 1781. Bastille Gate survived until 1849 but today there are only 2 surviving gates, Swanswell and Cook Street.

The Market cross in Coventry was destroyed in 1771. It was rebuilt in 1976. In the 18th century industry in Coventry was dominated by silk ribbon weaving and watch making. In 1793 a dispensary was opened where poor people could obtain free medicines. Coventry gained its first newspaper in 1741. From 1790 night watchmen patrolled the streets fo Coventry. (It is doubtful if they were very effective!). The first stretch of Coventry canal was built in 1769. By 1790 it connected the town to the Trent and the Mersey.

COVENTRY IN THE 19th CENTURY
In 1801 the population of Coventry was 16,000. By the standards of the time it was quite a large town. By 1851 it had reached 37,000 and by 1900 about 62,000. There were many improvements in Coventry in the 19th century. A gasworks opened in Coventry in 1820 and the town soon had gas street lighting. In 1836 the first real police force was formed in Coventry. In 1847 a cemetery was opened. Since 1541 Coventry had been a county on its own. In 1842 it was made part of Warwickshire again. The railway reached Coventry in 1838. Also in 1838 the Coventry and Warwickshire Hospital was opened. Gulson Road Hospital was built in 1843. In a smallpox epidemic in 1871 166 people died. As a result a fever hospital was built in 1874. Late in the 19th century the council built sewers. A Technical Institute was founded in 1887 and in 1902 it became the Technical College. Coventry City Football Club was founded in 1889. The first telephone exchange in Coventry opened in 1889 and the first electricity generating station opened in 1895.

Steam driven trams began running in Coventry in 1884. After 1895 they were replaced by electric ones. As Coventry grew it spread outwards. Union Street and Whitefriars Street were built about 1820. In the mid-19th century houses were built around Swanswell. From the middle of the century Earlsdon and Chelysemore were built up. In 1890 the boundaries of Coventry were extended to include Radford. By 1900 growth had spread to Foleshill. Silk weaving was still booming in Coventry in the early 19th century but it declined rapidly after 1860. The Cobden Treaty was made with France in 1860. It allowed free trade. French silk ribbons flooded into England and the ribbon makers of Coventry were ruined. Many emigrated.

A man named Thomas Stevens 1828-1888, had another idea. He made silk pictures, which he called Stevengraphs and built up a successful business. New industries appeared in Coventry during the 19th century. The first bicycles were made in Coventry as early as the 1860s. In the late 19th century cycling became very popular and the bike making industry boomed. In 1897 the first cars were made in Coventry.

COVENTRY IN THE 20th CENTURY
An ambulance service began in Coventry in 1902. Coventry gained its first cinemas in 1910. The first motorbuses in Coventry ran in 1914. The first council houses were built in 1917. The parish church of St Michael was made a cathedral in 1919. War Memorial Park was opened in 1921. In the early 20th century watch making in Coventry declined. So did bicycle making. On the other hand car manufacture boomed in the early 20th century but it declined after the 1950s. In 1916 G.E.C. began making electrical goods in Coventry. At the end of the century the main industries in Coventry were engineering and making electronic equipment. In the 1920s council houses were built at Radford and Stoke Heath. In the 1930s council and private houses were built at Holbrooks and at Stivichall. Many private houses were built at Coundon and Keresley Heath. Other private houses were built around Tile Hill Lane. At the same time the council began slum clearance in the town centre and began building council houses to replace them.

The boundaries of Coventry were extended in 1928. Stoke was absorbed as well as Pinley, Whiteley and Stivichall. Part of Foleshill was also absorbed in 1928. The other part was absorbed in 1932 when the boundaries were extended again. At that time Coundon was also absorbed. So were Willenahall, Wyken and Walsgrave on Sowe. In 1937 Trinity Street was built. Corporation Street was built in 1939. A southern by-pass was built in 1940. Coventry suffered severely in the blitz of 1940-41. The two most severe bombing raids were on the night of 14-15 November 1940 and 8-9 April 1941. The city centre was devastated by the bombing. St. Michael's Cathedral was destroyed apart from its spire and outer walls. The huge task of rebuilding Coventry began in 1948 when Princess Elizabeth laid the foundation stone of the new city centre. A statue of Lady Godiva was unveiled in 1949. In the 1950s the town centre was rebuilt and in the late 1960s an inner ring road was built.

After World War II council houses were built at Tile Hill and Whitmore. In the early 1970s council flats were built at Hillfields. Private houses were built at Allesley, Walsgrave on Sowe, Binley and Stivichall. The first mosque in Coventry was built in Eagle street in 1960. The same year Lanchester College of Technology was built. Coventry's Belgrade Theatre opened in 1958. In 1960 the Herbert Art Gallery and museum was built. A School of Music was built in 1964. Also in 1964 the University of Warwick was founded. Coventry Polytechnic was founded in 1970. It was made a university in 1992. A Toy Museum opened in 1970. Midland Air Museum opened in 1975. Cathedral Lanes Shopping Centre opened in 1990. West Orchards Shopping Centre opened in 1991. Coventry University Technocentre opened in 1998.

COVENTRY IN THE 21st CENTURY
Skydome Leisure Centre opened in 2000. At the beginning of the 21st century a new project to refurbish the city centre called the Phoenix Initiative began. It included two new 'squares'. Priory Place with bars and restaurants and apartments and Millennium Place. The latter includes the Whittle Arch, which commemorates Sir Frank Whittle the inventor. It also includes the Peoples Bench and the Time Zone Clock. Millennium Place opened in 2003. The Phoenix Initiative also included three new gardens, Priory Garden, Priory Cloister Garden and the Garden of International Friendship. Lady Herberts Garden was refurbished.Today the population of Coventry is 300,000.