08 July 2023
Ford’s Hospital, Coventry, is
a perfect example of
Ford’s Hospital, a 16th century half-timbered almshouse in Coventry, is one of the most perfect examples of timber-framed architecture and one of the finest examples of 16th-century domestic architecture in England. It is named after William Ford, a merchant who in his will in 1509 endowed the almshouses built around a narrow courtyard.
Although it was badly damaged in an air raid during the Coventry Blitz in World War II, it was rebuilt with the original timbers 1951-1953. Today, it is one of Coventry’s historic treasures and a Grade I listed building.
Ford’s Hospital in Greyfriars Lane, a quiet side street off New Union Street, is also known as Greyfriars Hospital. It was founded by William Ford to provide accommodation for six elderly people: five men and one woman.
Despite the earlier name of ‘Greyfriars’, and although the building is on the site of a chapel within Greyfriars Friary, it has no relationship with the Franciscans but was called Greyfriars Hospital because of its location on Greyfriars Lane. Over its long history, the Hospital has also been known as the Bede House and Pisford’s Hospital.
The building has a narrow courtyard measuring 11.9 metres by 3.7 metres and is seen by historians and writers as a particularly fine example of English domestic architecture of the period.
The almshouse, or hospital, was founded by William Ford, a wealthy wool merchant and former Mayor of Coventry. In addition, funds were provided for a priest who was to live in the hospital and use the adjoining chapel.
Another endowment by William Pisford in 1517 expanded the hospital to provide for six couples to live together. A third endowment by William Wigston in 1529 enabled the hospital to provide housing for five more elderly couples, and to give each a weekly allowance.
The date 1529 on the wall is not the date the almshouse was built but the date that feoffees were appointed to administer the hospital.
After 1800, Ford’s Hospital became a home for elderly women only. By 1846, it was housing 40 women, who each received an allowance of 3 shillings 6 pence per week.
The almshouse is built with a jettied frontage facing Greyfriars Lane. The first floor projects well out over the ground floor, and three timber-framed gables project even further.
In the centre of the ground floor, a doorway leads down a narrow passage to a gate that gives access to a picturesque courtyard.
The building was built with a considerable amount of teak. There is much carving on the timber framework, including miniature buttresses to the close studding with bases and pinnacles. There are four centred arched doorways with carved spandrels, and oak seats in the courtyard corners
During the Coventry Blitz, the building was hit by German bombing. A bomb dropped on 14 October 1940 killed the warden, a nurse and six residents, and the building was badly damage.
But it was not beyond repair. Ford’s Hospital was restored in 1951-1953, using the original timbers and brick salvaged from the bombed-out site. The Hospital was altered to create large, fully self-contained apartments.
Amidst the bombing rubble a section of 14th century tiled floor was unearthed. One floor tile showed a black eagle, a symbol of Earl Leofric of Mercia who did so much to make Coventry a major mercantile town in the 11th century.
The Coventry archaeologist John Bailey Shelton (1875-1958) suggested the tiles and the symbol indicated a chapel associated with Greyfriars Priory stood on the site before Ford’s Hospital was built.
When Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London was rebuilt in the late 20th century, historians studied the doorways of Ford’s Hospital to understand building techniques of the time.
The building was used as a location for an episode of Doctor Who, ‘The Shakespeare Code,’ in 2006.
Ford’s Hospital underwent a major renovation in 2014-2015 and now has five self-contained flats, a small lounge, a well-equipped laundry room and a delightful garden.
Ford’s Hospital is home to the residents, and the interior is open to the public only for the annual Heritage Open Days event in September. However, the exterior facing Greyfriars Street, with the beautifully carved 16th century timbers, can be viewed, and the barred gate provides a glimpse of the picturesque inner courtyard.