15 July 2023
The former Bablake school
and Bond’s Hospital share
a common site in Coventry
At the beginning of the 16th century, Coventry was the fourth largest city in England after London, Bristol and York, and a significant religious centre with four monastic houses within the city wall: the Benedictines, Franciscans, Carmelites and Carthusians.
Two prosperous city merchants, who had been mayors of Coventry in successive years and whose families were linked by marriage, each in their wills left estates to found almshouses for the benefit of members of the Trinity Guild who had fallen on hard times.
One of the finest half-timbered Tudor buildings that survives in Coventry is the old Bablake boys school and Bond’s Hospital or Bablake Hospital, founded by Thomas Bond, a wealthy draper and former Mayor of Coventry, in 1506. The two foundations shared an arched gateway and courtyard or quadrangle that have stood on Hill Street without significant change for the best part of five centuries.
The Bablake School was founded in 1560, but the educational institution possibly dates from 1344, when the Bablake lands were granted by Queen Isabella, widow of Edward II. In 1344, she gave land at ‘Babbelak’ to build Saint John’s (or Bablake) Church.
Bablake School was in existence in 1364, and may have been established on additional land granted by Queen Isabella’s grandson, Edward, the ‘Black Prince’. It was first built to house the priests of the Collegiate Church of Saint John, who lived in a college immediately behind the church.
Bablake School was suppressed under the Chantries Act in 1548, at the time of the dissolution of the monastic houses. But the buildings survived, and it was remodelled in 1560 as a boys’ hospital and later became a school, with 41 boys attending.
The school provided free board, clothing and education for poor boys who were to become apprentices, and depended on charitable gifts until 1563, when Thomas Wheatley, a former Mayor of Coventry (1556), endowed it with much of his estate.
The reason for Wheatley’s generosity is extraordinary. He had ordered steel wedges from Spain, but by mistake received a chest of silver ingots. He decided not to profit from the mistake but to give to charity.
Little is known of the progress of Bablake in the 17th and 18th centuries, a period when the boys wore the traditional ‘Blue Coat’ uniform. By the early 19th century, it is said, the school had declined to just one boy. But under Henry Mander, who was Master from 1824 to 1870, the school began to flourish, and Mander took additional private pupils.
A new schoolroom and a house for the master were added in 1833. Two years later, after mismanagement and extravagant spending, the administration of the charities was removed from the corporation, and Bablake came under the control of the General Charity Trustees. By then, there were 20 boys in the school, and this had increased to 70 in 1855.
A new governing scheme was drawn up in 1886, and the school moved to Coundon Road in 1890.
After World War II, the school returned to Coventry, opted to go independent, and became a member of the Headmasters’ Conference. In the 1970s, it amalgamated with King Henry VIII School to form Coventry School.
After the school moved to Coundon Road in 1890, the Hill Street building was used as offices for General Municipal Charities and governors of Bablake School. The cloistered passage that was once part of Bablake School has been transformed into modern-day offices, but the buildings retain their mediaeval character.
Old Bablake School and Bond’s Hospital formed a complex of buildings on the one site. Bond’s bedehouse was founded in Hill Street in for ten poor men and a woman to ‘dress their meat’. Three years later, William Ford’s Hospital and Chantry was built in Greyfriars’ Lane in 1509, and accommodated six poor men and their wives. Over the years Bond’s came to house only men and Ford’s only women. Both now have a mixture of both.
Thomas Bond was a wealthy draper and former Mayor of Coventry (1497). Together, the hospital and school form a beautiful courtyard of historic buildings reached through an arched entrance on Hill Street.
The hospital was intended to provide accommodation for elderly ‘bedesmen’ or pensioners who said prayers for the benefactor in exchange for their accommodation. In his will, Bond directed that the residents should year a black gown with a hood, wearing a sign of the Trinity before and behind them. They were to attend Mattins, Mass and Evensong daily, and to pray for the souls of the founder and his ancestors, and the brothers and sisters of the Trinity Guild.
There were strong links between the school and hospital, and the same people often served as feoffees or governors, of both institutions.
Most of the street frontage of Bond’s Hospital was rebuilt in 1832, the west end bay was rebuilt in 1832, and the back wing was extended in 1847. But the core of the building is late mediaeval and retains its original features, and a section of the mediaeval city wall runs through the read garden. Bond’s Hospital still offers accommodation for the elderly and is a Grade II* listed building.
The small cells in Bond’s Hospital were converted into bed-sits in the early 1970s and 10 new flats were added in 1985. Bond’s Court was built in Hill Street with 27 self-contained apartments, and was opened by Princess Diana in 1985; 31 two-bedroom flats were added in 2004.
Bond’s Hospital is now vested in the Bond’s and Ford’s Hospital Charit, part of the Coventry Church (Municipal) Charities, which consists of three charities. The trustees are in the process of transferring the almshouse charity within CC(M)C to the Bond’s and Ford’s Almshouse Charity.