10 July 2023

The Old Grammar School
in Coventry began life
as a chapel and hospital

The Old Grammar School in Coventry was once the Church and Hospital of Saint John the Baptist (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

The Collegiate and Parish Church of Saint John the Baptist in Spon Street, which I described in a posting yesterday, was one of the highlights of my most recent visit to Coventry. But there is another, older mediaeval foundation in the city centre that was also dedicated to Saint John the Baptist.

The old Grammar School in Coventry stands on the corner of Bishop Street and Hales Street in Coventry, diagonally opposite the pub that has been named the Philip Larkin after Coventry’s most famous poet and writer.

The Old Grammar School began almost 900 years ago as the Church and Hospital of Saint John the Baptist. Saint John’s was founded by Prior Lawrence of Saint Mary’s Benedictine Priory, then the main religious institution in Coventry, with the support of Edmund, Archdeacon of Coventry. It was built between 1154 and 1176 and had a warden and a number of secular brothers or sisters.

The charter of foundation was confirmed by the Archdeacon of Coventry and by Archbishop Richard of Canterbury (1174-1184). Like many similar hospitals, such as Saint John’s in Lichfield, it was dedicated to Saint John the Baptist. It was ‘to provide a small permanent staff to supervise the house and maintain the chapel services, to afford temporary relief and lodgement for poor wayfarers, and to give more permanent relief to certain of the local poor who were sick or aged.’

The warden was subject to the Prior of Saint Mary’s Priory, and the hospital was run by the warden and a college of priests, brothers and sisters. The surviving building dates from the 1340s, and was built using beautiful local sandstone. It had its own chapel and was maintained by gifts and endowments from local benefactors. It could be said the hospital provided care for the body, while the chapel provided care for the soul.

At the dissolution of the monastic houses during the Tudor Reformation, the hospital was surrendered to King Henry VIII on 4 March 1545. John Hales, a wealthy businessman who was also a clerk in the Court of the Chancery and one of the King’s Commissioners appointed to dissolve the Coventry monasteries, bought the building for £400, on condition that he would set up a free school bearing the king’s name.

King Henry VIII School was established in the nave of the former Whitefriars Church on 23 July, 1545. It remained there until 1558, when it moved to the site of Saint John’s Hospital. Freemen of the Coventry Guilds could send their sons to the school for the sum of 12 pence per year.

A year earlier, in 1557, Hales had 49 carved oak choir stalls moved from Whitefriars Monastery to the school, to be used as desks. The stalls, originally made in 1342, remain in the Old Grammar School to this day, bearing the names of generations of schoolboys, and the marble runs they carved into them.

During her one and only visit to Coventry on 17 August 1565, Queen Elizabeth I was shown the Grammar School which was ‘set up by her late father’ and she made a gift of money for its upkeep.

When he died, Hales left property and land to pay for ‘the maintenance of one perpetual free school within the City of Coventry’.

King Henry VIII Grammar School moved from the former hospital and chapel in 1885 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The Warwickshire historian and genealogist Sir William Dugdale was a pupil in the school in 1615-1620.

The Revd Thomas Sheepshanks (1796-1875), who was the rector of Saint John the Baptist for 50 years, was also the headmaster of the Grammar School. His son John Sheepshanks (1834-1912), who was one of his pupils, later became Bishop of Norwich (1893-1910).

Other former pupils included Richard Allestry who was Provost of Eton College for 15 years; Dean Ralph Bathurst, President of Trinity College Oxford, Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University, Chaplain to the King and Dean of Wells; Samuel Clark, one of the Commissioners at the Savoy Conference appointed to revise the Book of Common Prayer in 1661; Thomas Holyoake, author of a Latin and English dictionary in 1677; the Revd Charles Evans, headmaster of King Edward School, Birmingham; Thomas Sharp, author of The Antiquities of Coventry; Dr AS Peake, author of Peake’s Concordance; Richard Bailey who was President of Saint John’s College Oxford during the Civil War; and John Fisher who became Admiral of the Fleet.

When the Burges, the street outside of the Old Grammar School, was widened in 1794, the half-timbered part of the building used as the library wing was demolished. That same year, the west end of the church and the bell tower were also demolished. A new west front was built with an embattled gable flanked by turrets and pinnacles that met with much criticism.

When Hales Street was built in 1848, further changes were introduced to the Hospital buildings, including the demolition of the Ushers’ house and garden, and the south transept.

The west front was rebuilt in 1852 in a more orthodox Gothic style that remains today.

King Henry VIII Grammar School moved in 1885 to new, much larger premises on a 13-acre site on Warwick Road, leaving behind the beautiful mediaeval building. The City Fathers wanted to pull it down, while an American entrepreneur offered a four figure sum to take it apart block by block and transport it across the Atlantic. But a successful public appeal saved the building and it came to be vested in the trustees of the Church of Holy Trinity. The man behind the move was Canon Beaumont, who said at the time: ‘If it is worth that to the Americans it is worth more to the people of Coventry.’

The parish used the chancel as a Sunday School. But as church use diminished other organisations used the building, including Trinity Guild Football Club, the Church Lads’ Brigade and the Welsh Presbyterian Church when they had to leave Ford Street as their building was demolished when the Ring Road was being built.

The Old Grammar School was struck by a bomb during the Coventry Blitz in April 1941 in World War II.

Once again the building came under threat in 1952 when the council wanted to widen Bishop Street. Fortunately the Ministry of Works refused the request for demolition. Proper repairs were delayed until the 1960s.

The old school was neglected for some years, and gradually decayed until it was estimated that over £1 million would be needed to restore it and make the structure safe.

After standing empty for over 20 years, planning permission was granted in 2013 to restore the Old Grammar School for use as an exhibition, education and event space. The restoration was part of a £8.5 million redevelopment of the Coventry Transport Museum and the Old Grammar School reopened to the public on 4 July 2015.

In recent years, the building has been revitalised by Culture Coventry as a unique part of the city’s heritage. The Grade 1 listed building is now available to hire for conferences, dinners, weddings and networking events.

The building has been revitalised by Culture Coventry as a unique part of the city’s heritage (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Daily prayers in Ordinary Time
with USPG: (43) 10 July 2023

Holy Trinity Abbey Church, now the Roman Catholic parish church in Adare, Co Limerick … restored through the patronage of the Dunraven family in the 19th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

We are in Ordinary Time in the Church Calendar, and yesterday was the Fifth Sunday after Trinity (9 July 2023).

Before this day begins, I am taking some time this morning for prayer, reading and reflection.

Over these weeks after Trinity Sunday, I have been reflecting each morning in these ways:

1, Looking at relevant images or stained glass window in a church, chapel or cathedral I know;

2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Inside Holy Trinity Abbey Church in Adare, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Holy Trinity Abbey Church, Adare, Co Limerick:

Holy Trinity Abbey Church is the Roman Catholic parish church in the centre of the picturesque estate village of Adare, Co Limerick.

The Trinitarian order was founded in France in the early 12th century with the purpose of rescuing hostages taken from the Crusades in the Holy Land. A panel from the stained-glass window above the altar in Adare shows a monk about to redeem a hostage.

There were about 20 Trinitarian foundations in England and Scotland, but Holy Trinity Abbey in Adare is the only example of a church of the Trinitarian order in Ireland. The date of the arrival of the Trinitarian order in Adare unknown.

Saint James was the patron of the abbey in Adare, and it may well have been in existence long before 1226, when Geoffrey de Marisco, an Anglo-Norman feudal lord, obtained a grant to hold a fair at Adare during the eight days following the feast of Saint James.

But de Marisco fell out of favour with the king and his allies in Ireland and ended his days in exile in France.

John FitzThomas FitzGerald (ca 1265-1316), 1st Earl of Kildare, who held lands throughout Ireland, may have endowed the abbey in the late 13th century rebuilt it in 1272, when he was attempting to force his cousin’s widow, Agnes de Valence, to hand over her estates in Co Limerick.

The original monastery housed a range of monastic buildings, with an inner cloister, enclosed on four sides by a church, a dining area, dormitories and workshops.

Peter, the minister, and three other canons at Adare were accused of seizing goods from their neighbours, the Augustinian friars in Adare, in 1319. John Arbibard became minister of the ‘Hospital House of St James of Hathdar’ in 1497. Thomas de Geraldinis became minister at the abbey in 1506.

With the dissolution of the monastic houses at the Reformation, the abbey was dissolved in February 1539. Despite popular belief and local lore, the prior was not beheaded, having refused to take the Oath of Supremacy, nor were 42 monks from the abbey imprisoned.

The abbey was leased to James Gold in 1583, and it was granted to Sir Henry Wallop in 1595. But within a century, the abbey was the property of the Earl of Kildare. In 1683, he granted possession of the abbey to Thady Quin (1645-1725), a lawyer and a descendent of the O’Quin family of Inchiquin, Co Clare.

By the early 19th century, the abbey was in ruins, and the church was first restored in 1811, when Valentine Quin (1752-1824), 1st Earl of Dunraven, reroofed the church and added the north transept.

Wyndham Quin (1782-1850), 2nd Earl of Dunraven, made a gift of the ruined abbey to the Roman Catholic parishioners of Adare in 1824 and he initiated a programme of restoration that was continued by his successors.

In 1852, Edwin Wyndham-Quin (1812-1871), 3rd Earl of Dunraven, had the church repaired and expanded to fill the space that once contained the mediaeval cloister.

Dunraven employed the English architect Philip Charles Hardwick (1822-1892), who worked in the Gothic Revival tradition of AWN Pugin to restore and enlarge the church while taking care to maintain the fabric of the historic building. Most of Hardwick’s known Irish commissions appear to have resulted either directly or indirectly from the patronage of who employed him to complete Adare Manor and to carry out other work in the village of Adare.

Hardwick also built a church for Lord Dunraven at Sneem, Co Kerry. Dunraven was closely involved with Saint Columba’s College, Rathfarnham, for which Hardwick designed additions. Hardwick’s work at Adare probably resulted in the commissions he received to design Saint John’s Roman Catholic Cathedral and Mount Saint Alphonsus, the Redemptorist Church in Limerick city.

During Hardwick’s restoration of the church in Adare in the 19th century, the remains of the mediaeval church, including the nave, chancel and tower, were incorporated into a new parish church, and a triple lancet window was restored as the east window. During that time, the residential buildings on the site were also renovated and converted into a convent for the Sisters of Mercy and a school for girls.

The church as we see it today represents a fusion between the mediaeval remains and 19th-century Gothic Revival architecture in a radical building programme that lasted until 1884.

Much of the interior work and decoration was the work of George Goldie (1828-1887) of Goldie and Child. Goldie also designed a new chancel, high altar, reredos, tabernacle and east window in Saint Saviour’s Dominican Church in Limerick in 1863-1666, and remodelled the interior and exterior there in 1870. In Adare, Goldie replaced the north nave wall with circular columns, moved the nave into a new section, and rebuilt the east chapel as a Lady Chapel.

Goldie added a north aisle with decorative buttresses to the external wall, greatly increased the size and complexity of the interior, and made the mediaeval tower which, until then, had been central to the church, part of the south aisle.

In March 1884, the restored church was blessed as the Roman Catholic parish church of Adare by George Butler (1815-1886), Bishop of Limerick.

The multiple phase construction adds much of historical and architectural interest to the site. The ornamentation in the fa├žade is focussed mainly on the openings, where fine stone work and artistic interest are found in fine stone crafting such as the floral motif stops and the elaborate and varied window tracery.

Inside, the many interesting details include the altar screen, font and pulpit, as well as early stained-glass windows and the painted and timber ceilings. The mediaeval highlights include the tower, nave and part of the choir, and the timber roofs.

A 19th-century description of the Quin Chalice of 1726 recorded that the chalice was preserved in the Roman Catholic Church at Adare. The Quin chalice is still used by the church for special occasions concerning the Wyndam-Quin family.

A major programme of critical repairs and elective works began on the roof and external walls in 2010.

As it stands today, the church presents an imposing and prominent feature on the main route into Adare from the east, which is further outlined by the tall 19th-century nave and tower.

The east window in Holy Trinity Abbey Church, Adare, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 9: 18-26 (NRSVA):

18 While he was saying these things to them, suddenly a leader of the synagogue came in and knelt before him, saying, ‘My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.’ 19 And Jesus got up and followed him, with his disciples. 20 Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from haemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak, 21 for she said to herself, ‘If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well.’ 22 Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, ‘Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.’ And instantly the woman was made well. 23 When Jesus came to the leader’s house and saw the flute-players and the crowd making a commotion, 24 he said, ‘Go away; for the girl is not dead but sleeping.’ And they laughed at him. 25 But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl got up. 26 And the report of this spread throughout that district.’

The arms of the Earls of Dunraven in a panel in the east window in Holy Trinity Abbey Church, Adare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayer:

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is ‘Fighting Climate Change Appeal – Hermani’s story’. This theme was introduced yesterday.

Find out more HERE.

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (10 July 2023) invites us to pray:

We pray for South India, an area which continues to battle extreme weather and droughts leaving lasting impacts on their communities.


Almighty and everlasting God,
by whose Spirit the whole body of the Church
is governed and sanctified:
hear our prayer which we offer for all your faithful people,
that in their vocation and ministry
they may serve you in holiness and truth
to the glory of your name;
through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion:

Grant, O Lord, we beseech you,
that the course of this world may be so peaceably ordered
by your governance,
that your Church may joyfully serve you in all godly quietness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Inside Holy Trinity Abbey Church in Adare, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The interior decoration of Holy Trinity Abbey Church displays the strong influence of AWN Pugin’s principles (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The south porch of the church facing onto the Main Street of Adare, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)