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)

No comments: