14 Things you never knew about St Mary’s Guildhall

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1)   Built for the merchant guild of St Mary in 1342, three years before Coventry received its Royal Charter of Incorporation as a town.


2)   Part of the building adjoins the bake house of an earlier Coventry Castle, built for the Earls of Chester in 1139.


3)   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.

4)   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.


5)   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 hangs on the wall for which it was designed.


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

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


8)   Tradition has it that a table in the hall’s Old Council Chamber was that on which Sir Thomas Lucy of Charlecote signed the arrest warrant for young William Shakespeare on deer poaching charges.

9)   Shakespeare himself is believed to have performed in the hall as a young actor, while on tour with one of the London theatre companies.

10)   Mary Queen of Scots was brought to Coventry and imprisoned in St Mary’s Hall for three months in 1569, after rumblings of a Catholic rising against Elizabeth I in the north. Elizabeth’s letter, instructing the Mayor and people of Coventry to take good care of her, survives.


11)   Another surviving document from the period records in detail the arms being kept in the hall in 1589. The list had been compiled due to fears about the Spanish Armada.


12)   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.

13)   Thirteen years later, during a visit by her father, one Nicholas Barton and his son were paid 8d for watching all night in the crypt to keep the cats from spoiling cold meats laid out for the official banquet.


14)   Two years later a civic lottery was held at St Mary’s Hall. When the winner was announced, an official accompanied by a trumpeter and two drummers carried the money to his house. Sadly, his identity has been lost.


14)   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.




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