Secular Coventry

Up to now, we have only looked at sacred buildings, meaning buildings that have to do with the church, but this time we looked at secular buildings, meaning buildings that don’t have to do with the church. We started at Fords hospital. Only it is not a hospital, but a retirement home, and has been since its construction in the 16th C. This building is unique in that fact that it is still used for its original function 500 years later. Fords Hospital is also a prime example of Half Timer construction. It is the classic method used and the one clearly associated with the medieval ages. This particular building is built using the close form technique because the upright timbers are as far apart from each other as they are wide. It is built using all English oak and because of the way oak matures to become rock hard, the building is almost indestructible apart from fire. To which the Germans tested in 1940 by dropping a bomb on it and only one room having its wall knocked out. The wall was later repaired after the war using salvageable timbers from the Cathedral, which is just down the road. We had a guided tour by one couple that resided there, and they even gave us a quick tour of their flat to see what the rooms were like. You might think that the inside could be quite cramped and dark, but it was the opposite. And coincidentally the wall that was taken down by the Germans was their living room wall, and you couldn’t tell that anything has happened.

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In the center of the house is a small courtyard that has all the charm you could expect. And through the courtyard is the garden.

Out next stop was to St. Mary’s Guildhall. In Medieval times the guilds became a powerful entity and were essentially the trade unions of the day. Their Guildhalls were their meeting and entertaining space and used to showcase the power and wealth of the guild. Here is the grand hall where great feasts would be held and kings entertained.

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In most buildings of this age, the stained glass does not survive, but here the stained glass window at the front , at the very least, is the original glass. DSC02172

This tapestry is also original of the Guildhall. Back in the days of grand stone buildings tapestries served many purposes. One was obvious, it was to tell a story and depict special events. Another was to showcase your wealth and affluence by how extravagant the tapestry was and how much you can afford. Sumptuary laws weren’t something practiced in those times. The other reason for tapestries were purely practical. As mentioned, they hung in stone buildings and the tapestries kept the rooms warm and the drafts down.

After the Guildhall we stepped down a few pegs on the social ladder and went to the Weavers House. The weavers house can be best bluntly described as the slums of Coventry. Today the rich houses are located on the outskirts of the cities, but in the 16th C. the rich houses were within the city walls and the poor workers houses were outside the walls.

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This is the backside of the house, and the true restored 16th C. house is the one on the left, and the front looks exactly the same. This row housing was built for workers that didn’t live out further in the county tending farms. In this house, as the name implies, a weaver and his family lived here.

Those five pictures show the full extend of the house and all of the rooms where an 8-12 person family would live. You have the main room with a table, stools, fireplace, and pantry. A bedroom for the parents, and an upstairs work room that is taken up by one loom. And living there can be just like you imagine it. The soot from the fireplace everywhere, and rats you see often enough to give them names and back stories.

Going into the world of secular architecture gives you a much wider view of life. In sacred architecture you get variations from Southwell to Brixworth, but certain things are expected and has rules to follow (more or less). But in secular, the architecture all depended on your wealth and social status. If you had money, you lived with all the modern day comforts, if you didn’t, you lived with the modern day rodents. It was great to see this because it is not often taught widely and you can find plenty of kids books on castles and great cathedrals, but to my knowledge, not too many about living in the poorest conditions with your floormate Rodney the Rat.

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