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20 Things You Should Know About...
St Mary's Guildhall
  • Built for the merchant guild of St Mary in 1342, three years before Coventry received its royal Charter of Incorporation as a town.

  • Part of the building adjoins the bakehouse of an earlier Coventry Castle, built for the Earls of Chester in 1139.

  • In 1388 an angry mob burst in and threw loaves of bread at the Mayor because he had not enforced laws governing the quality of bread.

  • The handle of Coventry's ceremonial sword, stolen from St Mary's Hall in 1481, turned up on a rubbish heap in London 400 years later and is now in the Burrell Collection in Glasgow.

  • The Coventry Tapestry on the hall's north wall depicts Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou and was in place for the visit of Henry VII in 1499. Almost uniquely, it still hangs in the place for which it was designed.

  • The gallery of kings in the 15th century window above the tapestry includes a rare representation of King Arthur.

  • After rioting in the hall in 1525, five ringleaders had their ears nailed to the pillory.

  • Tradition has it that a table in the hall's Old Council Chamber was the table on which Lord Lucy of Charlecote signed the arrest warrant for William Shakespeare on deer poaching charges.

  • In 1603, the young Princess Elizabeth, eldest daughter of James I, was dined in the hall and given a silver cup which was 27 inches high and too heavy for her to lift.

  • During a banquet for James II in 1687, a hapless guest leaned on an over-loaded table, causing it to collapse and showering the royal party with food, including Coventry Custard.

  • The biggest banquet ever held in the hall took place in 1755 for the inauguration of John Hewitt as mayor. Nearly 800 people attended and put away a menu that included 18 fat roasted pigs, 30 turkeys and 20 dozen bottles of port. And that was just the first course.

  • In the 1750s soldiers were billeted in St Mary's Hall to guard the city's jail, believed to be under threat from the 200-strong Coventry Gang, determined to free members incarcerated inside.

  • For much of the 18th century St Mary's Hall was used extensively as a theatre. The great actress Sarah Siddons, married in nearby Holy Trinity Church in 1773, performed there several times.

  • Heavy rain forced the preacher John Wesley to request the use of the hall during a visit to Coventry in 1779. The mayor turned him down in favour of a dancing master.

  • The following year, pitched battles during a violent election campaign cost St Mary's Hall most of its medieval stained glass, when a mob stoned the windows, trying to attack opponents inside.

  • Famous writers and poets who have visited the hall include Dickens, Austen, Eliot, Hawthorne and Tennyson.

  • George Eliot, in her 1859 novel Adam Bede, set a trial scene in St Mary's Hall. Nearly 150 years later the scene is still instantly recognisable.

  • The following year the hall was used a soup kitchen for starving ribbon weavers and their families, following a collapse in their trade.

  • During Victorian restorations a layer of highly explosive saltpetre was found beneath the floor, dating from the hall's use as an armoury during the Civil War. One spark could have blown the building apart.

  • At a civic banquet in 1989 it was claimed that photographs showed a ghostly figure among the guests. The hall has two other ghosts, a grey lady and a man in a black skull cap.

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CWN / Heritage / Heritage Open Days / 13 Sep 00

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This page modified on 10 November 2008 09:49:15AM