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Departure from Quarndon ; Rugby station ; Ancient city of Coventry;
King's Head Hotel; St. Mary's Hall; Parliament of Henry the Sixth; His chair ; Paintings; Original Magna Charta ; King John's auto. graph; Ancient tapestry; Statue; Ancient armour; St. Michael's Church; Its tower; Architecture ; Roman saints; The monastery; Its cloisters; Gateway, &c.; Leofric, Earl of Mercia ; His tyranny; Lady Godiva ; The sacrifice; Triumph; Repeal of taxes; Peeping Tom; His curiosity; Tradition ; The procession; Public ceremony of robing Peeping Tom, &c.
On leaving Quarndon, I took the down train at Sileby station, a mile from Quarndon, for the Rugby station, distance thirty miles; fare, three shillings; time, one hour, passing and stopping at Syston, Leicester, and Wigston stations. At Rugby, all the trains from London, Birmingham, and Midland counties meet, and here, as well as at Derby, the tourist can, at his option, take a train for any part of England. Distance from London eighty miles, from Birmingham thirty miles. In three hours, I could have been in London, but having business in Warwickshire and Gloucestershire, I stepped into the down train from London, and in twenty minutes was in the ancient city of Coventry, distance from Rugby eleven miles: fare, one shilling. I stopped at Williamson's King's Head Hotel-he being the railway agent, and a gentleman of great information, which I took advantage of while in old Coventry and its environs, in visiting Kenilworth and Warwick Castles, Shakspeare's tomb, Grey's Cliff
, &c. The first place of attraction was St. Mary's Hall, near_St. Michael's Church, where Henry the Sixth assembled his first Parliament. The ancient oak chair, in which the King sat, still remains for the tourist to seat himself in while viewing the paintings and tapestry on the walls. The paintings are those of the Kings and Queens of England, in rich frames. The tapestry, in rich colours, was worked in the fourteenth century, showing Queen Margaret at her devotions. The original “Magna Charta,” signed by King John, at Runney Meade, June 19th, 1215, is in an ancient frame suspended near the entrance door at the right. A valuable relic. The equestrian statue of St. George and the Dragon stands near it. The Ancient Coventry Armour is arranged round the gallery in the Hall, and is only used in the annual procession to commemorate the great sacrifice of Lady Godiva for the city, in the tenth century. In the Council Chamber in the opposite court, are also many rare and valuable paintings and relics. St. Michael's Church, opposite, was founded in the reign of Henry the First, A. D. 1133, and was built for one penny a-day to each workman, according to Scripture, “and at night, each man received his penny," &c. The tower with its spire was twelve years in building, and is 440 feet high from the ground, the highest in England, except St. Paul's, London, which is 460 feet. This magnificent building is 300 by 130 feet in width, and will hold 8000 persons. All the pews remain as when built six hundred years ago, and the oak carving is exceedingly rich. The immense windows are ornamented with a variety of religious subjects, painted with rich colours on the glass. The walls are adorned with ancient armour, coats of arms, tablets, &c. The niches are light and graceful, and furnished with thirty figures of the Roman saints, of good statuary. The organ is very powerful, on which I was permitted by the Rev. Mr. Simpson, the pastor, to play several American hymns. He informed me he had officiated in this church for forty-one years. Sir Christopher Wren always considered this structure as a masterpiece of architecture.
The Monastery, or White Friars, belonging once to the Carmelites, is now called the “House of Industry.' It is on the east side of the city, and was built in 1342. The cloister now serves as an eating-room for the poor, and other portions of the ancient fabric are occupied by the present pauper tenants. The grand and imposing gateway, refectory, dormitory, and the rich panelled chambers, are indeed worth an hour's time to examine and admire. The building will hold or accommodate 600 persons. Cromwell, on taking the city, caused much damage to all the churches, more especially to the Church of St. Michael's, on which he spent his rage--it then being Catholic.
• Peeping Tom,” however, is the first object of attraction to a stranger in Coventry. This effigy may be seen dressed in full armour, with greaves on his legs, and sandals on his feet, leaning out of a large window, at the corner of Hertford and High Streets, in the third story, peeping up Hertford Street with a pleasing expression on his countenance. The history of "Peeping Tom," and why his effigy has been placed by authority in that conspicuous position, and kept there for centuries past, though perhaps familiar to some, I will explain for the benefit of the younger portion of my
readers as briefly as possible. The beautiful and accomplished Countess Godiva was the wife of Leofric, Earl of Mercia, who, soon after his marriage, early in the tenth century, made the city of Coventry his place of residence. The Earl was a man of great consequence, standing high in the estimation of successive monarchs, and was appointed by Canute, Captain General of all the Royal forces, and soon played the tyrant by laying heavy taxes on his subjects, and the more the people complained, increased and oppressed them. It was under these circumstances that the inhabi. tants of Coventry applied to Godiva, his truly amiable, and virtuous Countess, to intercede in their behalf. The humane Countess listened with tearful eye to their grievances, and willingly undertook to plead to the Earl, her husband, in their behalf; and, true to her promise, again and again urged her husband to listen to the complaints and murmurings of the people; but he turned a deaf ear to her entreaties, and repulsed the Countess in anger, for her persisting constantly in her request, and forbidding her, upon the pain of his displeasure, ever to mention the subject to him again. Nevertheless, Godiva did not despair of success, but considered it prudent to defer her suit until some more favourable opportunity. Months passed away, and the sufferings of the people were forgotten, at least by Leofric, whose official engagements kept him from the city, and out of hearing of the continued complaints of the people. Returning suddenly one evening to his peaceful and splendid palace, he was received by his beloved Countess with the most tender affection, and welcomed by the sweetest smiles of his darling boy, whose wonderful improvement during his father's absence excited the warmest admiration, and kindled in his breast a lively sense of the worth of her to whom he had intrusted his valuable little charge. In the transport of love he clasped her to his bosom, and anxiously inquired if there were any one thing wanting to complete her happiness, at the same time assuring her that any request she might prefer should be instantly complied with.
* There is one,” replied Godiva, with one of her sweet smiles, " which I should not have presumed to make again without the encouragement I have just received; it is, that you will at once relieve our distressed people from the load of taxes with which you have burthened them; for truly, while they are groaning under oppression, the most luxurious entertainments can afford me no enjoyment;" and placing her arm through his, she looked with a sweet smile into his face for a pleasing answer.
Leofric's surprise at this unexpected appeal, was followed by a violent fit of anger; but, for his word's sake, he would not, could not refuse, for Godiva, the angelic Godiva, was on bended knee; and with clasped hands, and tears streaming from her beautiful eyes, apparently asking from heaven assistance to move the heart
of her relentless husband. After a few moments' thought, and gazing with admiration on his still kneeling wife, he smiled, as if a thought had suddenly entered his heated brain, and cried :
“Godiva, my love, come, rise," at the same time clasping her fondly to his heart. “ Your boon shall be granted upon a certain condition."
“Name it, oh, my husband, name it, and I pledge my—". “ Stop, Godiva, for probably on hearing it you will pause."
“Not one moment. Anything for the relief of the suffering people, am I willing to promise, to perform."
"Well, then, Godiva, hear me the condition is, that you ride on my charger naked, from one end of the city to the other."
Godiva modestly observed :
“ However repugnant to my feelings, it shall be done, for the benefit of my suffering people.
This strange agreement being made, Leofric informed the inhabitants of the city of the sacrifice his lady was about to make for their comfort, and commanded them on the appointed day to darken the fronts of their houses, and retire to the back parts, prohibiting them, on pain of death, to appear at their windows. The grateful people, joyfully received the mandate, anxiously anticipating the day which was to restore them their liberty.
The important day at length arrived. The whole city was still as death, when the beautiful and accomplished Godiva modestly mounted her noble white charger, unbound her long tresses, which, gracefully falling, covered her delicate frame like a scarf, and attended by a favourite waiting maid, commenced her journey: Godiva, in solemn silence, proceeded through all the principal streets, until she had nearly completed her engagement, when, turning from High Street to go up Hertford Street, her spirited charger stood still, and neighed three tiines. Surprised at this occurrence, Godiva blushingly looked round in great consternation, and perceived a poor unfortunate tailor, whose curiosity exceeded his gratitude, peeping out of an upper window of his house, on the corner of Hertford Street, to see her as she passed along. Tradition says, for this, his eyes dropped out the moment the charger stopped. The remainder of her ride was uninterrupted, and Godiva returned in triumph to her husband, to claim the promised reward. A charter of freedom was at once granted to the inhabitants of Coventry, releasing them from the heavy load of taxes with which they were oppressed.
In memory of this circumstance, there was a picture placed in
the south window of Trinity Church, about the time of Richard the Second, representing the lovely Godiva and the Earl—the latter holding in his hand a charter, upon which was inscribed the following:
“1, Leofric, for the love of thee,
Doe make Coventre Tol-Free."
A sum perpetual was voted to the owner of the house for permission to let the figure remain unmolested; and also a certain sum to furnish the effigy every two years with a new suit, made in the fashion of the tenth century. In commemoration of the event, every two years, a procession is formed, headed by the mayor and corporation, and followed by all the citizens of Coventry, which passes through all the principal streets, the stores being closed as on Sundays. On arriving opposite the house of “Peeping Tom," the procession halts, until the high sheriff, with much ceremony, with his deputy, new robes the effigy, when it proceeds onwards. The late Countess Godiva is represented by a beautiful woman, clothed in a white linen dress, fitted close to her person, which is relieved by a variety of gay ornaments, and a splendid gauze scarf suspended from her hair; she is also furnished with beautiful long tresses, which flow in graceful luxuriance over her person.
She rides a white charger, accompanied on either side by the city crier and beadle, on horseback, wearing the hat and cap of maintenance; following, are twelve men as guard of honour, dressed in ancient armour, with helmets on their heads, spears in their hands, &c.