12 July 2023

Cheylesmore Manor House,
a surviving mediaeval royal
manor in the heart of Coventry

Cheylesmore Manor House at the heart of Coventry city centre is the surviving remnants of a mediaeval royal palace (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

Cheylesmore Manor at the heart of Coventry city centre on New Union Street is the surviving remnants of a mediaeval royal palace, including the gatehouse of Cheylesmore Manor.

The magnificent timber building, dating from the 13th century, was much altered and rebuilt in the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries, and today is a key piece of Coventry’s rich heritage.

The manor was probably built for the Earl of Chester in 1237. The first record of the name Cheylesmore Manor House is ca 1275, but there may have been a building called Cheylesmore Park on the site as early as 1150.

The buildings that survive today are parts of two cross wings to the original manor house and the gatehouse.

The manor later passed to the crown, and when Edward III exiled his mother, Queen Isabella, widow of Edward II, from court in 1330, she retreated to Cheylesmore Manor. At the time, the manor house sat in a large park, surrounded by the lavish Cheylesmore Park, and the manor was the only unfortified royal residence outside London.

Edward III sent his son and heir, Edward, the ‘Black Prince’, to live at Cheylesmore with his grandmother Isabella in 1336. Both played instrumental roles in the early municipal history of Coventry, and Cheylesmore became a favourite residence for Prince Edward, who lived there for long periods.

When Queen Isabella died in 1385, Cheylesmore reverted to the crown, and it was enclosed within the city walls when they were being built.

Henry VI stayed at Cheylesmore on several occasions during the 1450s. His time there could have coincided with the first appearance of the mental illness or ‘madness’ that incapacitated him for long periods.

The manor was moated, but traces of the moat had disappeared by the 16th century and the estate was allowed to decay. Leland wrote in the 16th century that the king had a palace at Coventry, but it was ‘somewhat in ruin’ and the great hall had fallen down.

The estate suffered further during the Civil War, when the citizens of Coventry supported Parliament. After his restoration, Charles II gave the manor house to Sir Robert Townsend in 1661 to thank him for his support of the royalist cause. This did nothing to ease tensions amongst the vast majority of Coventry citizens who had supported Parliament.

A weaver asked permission to make a tenement of one of the buildings in 1738.

Prince George, later the Prince Regent, sold Cheylesmore in 1798 to the Marquis of Hertford. The Prince George lived a lavish and profligate lifestyle and it is said he had to sell the manor after he lost a caterpillar race to Lord Hertford.

The manor house had been subdivided into tenements by the mid-19th century, and was used as weavers’ workshops. It was bought in 1871 by WH Eaton, who later became a peer with the title of Lord Cheylesmore.

Most of the south wing had become a range of industrial top-shops by the mid-20th century. It was in such poor condition that ivy was growing through the bedrooms. Part of the building was pulled down and the rest was threatened with demolition. However, the city council stepped in to restore the building.

Coventry Corporation began restoring Cheylesmore Manor in 1965 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Coventry Corporation began restoring the gatehouse and the surviving bays of the north and south wings of the manor house in 1965. The work revealed important historical features. For example, the south wing probably belongs to the original 13th century manor house. The ogee-headed doorway is an original entrance into the manor grounds from the Grey Friars Monastery, of which only the church steeple still stands. The open timber roofs had scarcely been altered since they were built. Enough of the original framework had survived to assure authentic restoration.

A new wing was added to provide offices for the city registrar, and the work was completed in 1968. A part of the original mediaeval city wall can be seen in the flagstone courtyard. br />
Cheylesmore Manor appeared in Doctor Who in 2009 in an episode called ‘The Shakespeare Code.’

The manor now houses the Coventry register office, looking after births, marriages and deaths. It is the oldest registry office in Britain.

Cheylesmore Manor is also used as a ceremony venue, with three ceremony rooms: the Queen Isabella Room, the Black Prince Room and the Library Room. The largest chamber, the Black Prince Room, has a vaulted timber ceiling and large stone fireplace.

Cheylesmore Manor now houses the Coventry register office (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Daily prayers in Ordinary Time
with USPG: (45) 12 July 2023

Holy Trinity Church, Rathmines … with Semple’s distinctive pinnacles and deep-set windows and doors (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

We are in Ordinary Time in the Church Calendar, and this week began with 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.

Holy Trinity Church, Rathmines, was designed by John Semple, the ‘presiding genius of the Board of First Fruits’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Holy Trinity Church, Rathmines, Dublin:

Over the years, I have on occasions been invited to preside at the Eucharist, preach, and take part in many other services in Holy Trinity Church, Rathmines.

For four years, from 2002 to 2006, I worked in Belgrave Road, only a few footsteps away from this church. This is one of the three of four landmark buildings in Rathmines, the others being the Clock Tower on the old Town Hall, the Carnegie Library at the end of Leinster Road, and the green copper dome on the Roman Catholic parish church.

But Holy Trinity Church, Rathmines, is also an important church architecturally as one of the churches designed in the Gothic style by John Semple before Pugin’s arrival in Ireland. His other churches in Dublin include the Church of Ireland parish church in Kiltiernan (1826); Saint Mary’s Church, Donnybrook (1827); Saint Maelruain’s Church, Tallaght (1829); Saint Mary’s, otherwise known as the Black Church, in Saint Mary’s Place (1830); and the parish church in Monkstown (1833).

Maurice Craig has described Semple as the ‘presiding genius of the Board of First Fruits.’ He was the board’s architect for the Province of Dublin, and he invented his peculiar brand of Gothic, flinging to the winds every notion of scholarship and orthodoxy. This style is like his paintings: he reduced everything to the severest geometry, including buttresses, pinnacles and mouldings, so that everything is expressed as a contrast of planes.

It was said that in his final years Archbishop William Magee (1822-1831) would only consecrate churches that could be used as fortresses because he suffered from delusions, believing that the Protestant population was under siege and in danger of being massacred. Perhaps this fear explains why Urbs Fortitudinis is still a favourite canticle in the Church of Ireland. It may also explain why Semple built so many churches with such extraordinary solidity.

Semple’ss church in Monkstown is adorned with towers and turrets, ‘for all the world like chessmen,’ according to Craig. Inside, there is an elaborate internal plaster vault to simulate masonry, described by Semple’s contemporaries as ‘a mule between the Gothics and Saracens.’

Peter Costello even suggests that Semple’s Moorish elements may have been inspired by the Alhambra in Granada – Washington Irving’s Tales of the Alhambra had been published in 1832.

Semple’s church in Church Avenue, Rathmines, has his distinctive pinnacles and deep-set windows and doors. The three wide gables, the tall steeple, and the plain exterior are all typical of Semple’s interpretation of Gothic.

The church stands on an island in the middle of the road where Church Avenue and Belgrave Road meet. It was built 195 years ago in 1828 as a chapel-of-ease for Saint Peter’s Church in Aungier Street, now long demolished. Holy Trinity was consecrated on 1 June 1828 by Archbishop Magee, but Rathmines did not become a separate parish until 1883. Since then, the parish has only had seven rectors.

The vestry walls are lined with photographs of past rectors, including Canon Ernest Lewis-Crosby (1914-1924), who later became Dean of Christ Church Cathedral (1938-1961), and who was still dean when he died at the age of 97. His successor and biographer, Evelyn Charles Hodges (1924-1927), later became Bishop of Limerick (1943-1960).

The present rector of Rathmines is Revd Rob Jones, who was the curate to his predecessor, Canon Neill McEndoo.

The eagle lectern in Holy Trinity Church, Rathmines (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 10: 1-7 (NRSVA):

1 Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. 2 These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax-collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.

5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: ‘Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6 but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near”.’

‘Till He Come’ … Holy Trinity Church, Rathmines, was built in 1829 (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 on Sunday.

Find out more HERE.

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (12 July 2023) invites us to pray:

We pray for the Earth, for nature, for all that surrounds us. Help us care for it and protect it.


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.

The Williamson monument in Holy Trinity Church, Rathmines (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

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 offices of Holy Trinity Church on Lower Rathmines Road (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)