03 July 2023

The Old Windmill on Spon Street
is the oldest pub in Coventry

The Old Windmill at 22 Spon Street claims it is the oldest pub in Coventry (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

The Old Windmill at 22 Spon Street claims it is Coventry’s oldest and best-known pub. During my ‘field trip’ to Coventry last week, I dropped into the Old Windmill, which dates back to 1451 and is a Grade II Listed building.

Many people see Spon End as the heart of the city, with its diverse and vibrant community. The area has a mixture of old and new, from mediaeval ruins to modem high-rise buildings, and the range of community projects include the annual Spon End Wakes Week Festival in July.

Stepping though the doors of the Old Windmill on Spon Street, I could feel I had almost stepped back through time. This is the oldest surviving residential area in Coventry. The name Spon first appears in the late 12th century, but there is no agreement on what it means. Suggestions for the meaning include ‘span of hand,’ ‘Wood shaving or chip’ and a ‘place where shingles were made.’

There was a bridge over the Sherbourne by the late 13th century. Spon End is at the end of Spon Street around Spon Bridge, and includes Saint John’s Church. In the late mediaeval period, Spon Street lay outside the town walls when Spon (Bablake) Gate was built ca 1390 near Saint John the Baptist Church. Spon Gate stood for almost 400 years until its demolition in 1771.

Spon End, with its diverse and vibrant community, is the heart of Coventry (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The chapel of Saint James and Saint Christopher, now roofless, stands on the town side of the bridge. The chapel was first mentioned in the early 15th century the chapel was originally built by weavers for the their own use. In more recent times it was converted into a house and was eventually bought by the council in 1936. However, the restoration scheme was never realised, and the chapel was left in ruins after World War I.

The leper colony of Saint Leonard’s was founded in the late 12th century at a safe distance beyond Spon End. The colony with its chapel dedicated to Saint Mary Magdalen were at the junction of Allesley Old Road and Hearsal Lane. Later, the chapel was converted into a barn, but it was demolished in the early 19th century.

Spon Street was also an important trade route from London, through to Shrewsbury and Holyhead. Spon Street was one of six streets in Coventry that were turnpiked in 1812 or improved and converted to toll roads.

Stage coaches continued to rattle through the cobbled street until Thomas Telford opened his ‘new’ Holyhead Road in 1829, relieving pressure on Spon Street. The area was then dissected by Coventry-Nuneaton railway.

Dyers, tanners, carriers and similar trades were the mainstay of Spon End from the 14th and 15th centuries,. The area was later associated with weaving and a number of weavers topshops survive. Weavers, dyers and tanners worked next to the river, so that the Sherbourne ran blue from the dye, and the highly prized cloth gave rise to the expression ‘True as Coventry Blue.’

Another Spon Street expression, ‘Sent to Coventry,’ recalls the hostile reception given to Civil War prisoners who were confined in the 14th century in Saint John the Baptist Church.

Until the mid-19th century, the Old Windmill was split into two premises, with the partition being the passageway between the two (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Coventry’s link to watchmaking began in 1683, when the Coventry clockmaker Samuel Watson was commissioned by Charles II to create an astronomical clock. He also invented the first stopwatch and the five-minute repeater. Samuel Vale moved his watch company to Spon Street in 1776. Other watchmakers followed, and by the Georgian era Spon Street was a centre for watchmaking, competing with London and Liverpool.

Many former weavers took up watchmaking as the balance shifted from the cloth and leather trades, so that by the 1850s the area was the centre of the watchmaking industry that made Coventry famous around the world.

Samuel Yeomans of 49 Spon Street made watches that were so accurate he would send them to the Kew Observatory on tests lasting 45 days. Many of the watchmakers’ houses can still be seen in the Victorian watchmaking quarter, close to the surviving Victorian synagogue in Barras Lane. Bahne Bonniksen, inventor of the Karussl, lived for many years in Norfolk Street.

The area to the south of Spon Street became a slum of back to backs and courts. In the area north of Spon Street, the houses for the professional classes were built on the Lammas and Michaelmas lands enclosed in the 1880s.

The Spon Street chemist and druggist Frederick Bird provided cures for almost every complaint that children or adults could suffer from, with his teething powders, cough elixir, restorative pills and many remedies concocted by Bird himself.

Many famous industrial names are associated with Spon End. They included Renold Chain and Rotherhams, and JK Stanley, inventor of the modern safety cycle and founder of Rover, who lived in Gloucester Street.

The hearth of the fireplace in the Old Windmill once concealed a priest’s hole (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The Old Windmill on Spon Street was built in 1451. An original feature is the hearth of the fireplace that conceals a priest’s hole. The inn was called the Windmill after a windmill on Spon Causeway by the River Sherbourne. Another inn with the same name was at No 105-106 Spon Street and so, in 1836, this inn was renamed The Old Windmill to distinguish it. The other inn closed in 1970.

Until the mid-19th century, the Old Windmill was split into two premises, with the partition being the passageway from the front door that ran between the two. To the left of the passageway a shop sold an assortment of goods, including toys; to the right was the pub.

When the property was converted into one, the left hand side formed part of the domestic quarters until the pub was extended across the entire ground floor in the early 1980s.

The pub had its own brewery until 1930 and the brewhouse still survives to the rear of the pub. The pub was run by members of the Brown family from 1931 to 1975. When Ann Brown was the licensee from 1940 to 1967, the place became known as Ma Brown’s.

The building has been Grade II listed since June 1974.

The Old Windmill was renovated in 1985, when the bar area was expanded to incorporate an open courtyard and a room that had once been a toyshop. During those renovations, a Victorian fireplace was removed to expose an open stone hearth in the lounge, dating back to the 15th century, complete with a ‘priest’s hole’.

The Old Windmill has remained virtually unchanged since 15th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The Old Windmill has remained virtually unchanged since the 15th century. Today, it is well known for its real ale and friendly atmosphere. It retains many original features, including inglenook fireplaces and quirky rooms, such as the Black Room and the Brewhouse.

This award-winning pub was a winner at the Great British pub awards in 2022, and it has been a winner of best divisional pub for Stonegate, and a finalist in the Best Pub for Ale, and a past winner of Camra’s Pub of the Year.

Beer festivals are held in spring, summer and winter, there is live music on Friday evenings, and a Sunday folk group. Displays from the local Morris men and Coventry Mummers involve members of the local playing music, acting, singing and dancing.

The Old Windmill in Coventry has remained virtually unchanged since the 15th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Daily prayers in Ordinary Time
with USPG: (36) 3 July 2023

The Chapel Royal in Dublin Castle was renamed as the Church of the Most Holy Trinity in the 1940s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

We are in Ordinary Time in the Church Calendar, and yesterday was the Fourth Sunday after Trinity (3 July 2023). Today, the Church Calendar celebrates Saint Thomas the Apostle.

Before this becomes a busy day, I am taking some time 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.

The Chapel Royal in Dublin Castle was designed by the architect Francis Johnston (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Chapel Royal (Church of the Most Holy Trinity), Dublin Castle:

The Chapel Royal in Dublin Castle is a 19th-century Gothic revival chapel and has one of the finest Gothic revival interiors in Ireland. It was the official Church of Ireland chapel of the Household of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland from 1814 until the creation of the Irish Free State in December 1922, when the office of Lord Lieutenant came to an end.

The chapel was reconsecrated 80 years ago as a Roman Catholic place of worship in 1943 and was rededicated as the Church of the Most Holy Trinity. But it has not been used for worship for 40 years, since 1983.

The Chapel Royal was designed by Francis Johnston (1760-1829), the foremost architect in Ireland in the early 19th century, and architect to the Board of Works. It replaced an earlier 18th-century church that suffered structural problems because it was built on soft ground close to the site of the original castle moat.

The new Chapel Royal was built using a timber frame to make it as light as possible. Because the site was so difficult to work on, it took seven years to build the chapel. The foundation stone was laid by the Lord Lieutenant, the 6th Duke of Bedford, on 15 February 1807, and it opened on Christmas Day, 1814, when Lord Whitworth was Lord Lieutenant.

Lord Whitworth donated the centre portion of the large stained-glass window above the altar. He bought it in Paris, and it reputedly came from Russia, where he had been a diplomat in St Petersburg in the 1790s. The surroundings are painted glass by Joshua Bradley of Dublin. At the apex of the window are the arms of Lord Whitworth.

The decoration of the ceiling was by George Stapleton, a leading stuccodore of the time. The sculptor Edward Smyth and his son John Smyth carved the larger figures. Three life-size figures over the chancel window represent Faith, Hope and Charity. Over the galleries are heads representing Piety and Devotion.

The interior vaulting and columns are cast in timber and feature a paint wash (faux pierre) to give the effect of stone. It was described as ‘the most flamboyant and luxurious Dublin interior of its era.’

The exterior was clad in a thin layer of ‘fine limestone from Tullamore quarry,’ and features 103 carved heads by Edward and John Smyth. Notable are the heads of Brian Boru and Saint Patrick on either side of the entrance to the crypt; Queen Elizabeth I on the north fa├žade; and Saint Peter and Jonathan Swift above the main entrance. Sitting prominently on the east gable is a relatively early example of a carved ringed, or Celtic, cross.

This was the third chapel in the castle, and the second on the site, since mediaeval times. Before the completion of the Chapel Royal, the Lords Lieutenant their entourage sometimes attended Saint Werburgh’s Church at the rear of the Castle to the west. The enormous pulpit that once to dominated the Chapel Royal was moved to Saint Werburgh’s.

A passage behind one of the galleries leads to the bedrooms in the State Apartments in Dublin Castle, and was used by the Lord Lieutenant and his entourage. His pew was in the centre of the right-hand gallery. Directly facing him was the archbishop’s pew. Lord Whitworth’s arms appear directly at the Lord Lieutenant’s position.

The organ case was built in 1857 for a new organ by William Telford of Dublin. It replaced an earlier organ by William Gray of London installed in 1815. A new organ was built by Gray and Davison in 1900 in the same case. The case was restored in 2008, but the organ pipework and mechanisms have been removed.

As each Lord Lieutenant left office, their coat of arms was carved on the gallery, and then, when space ran out, placed in a window of the chapel. The last window available was taken up by the last Lord Lieutenant, Lord FitzAlan, a Roman Catholic.

The last service in the Chapel Royal was held on Christmas Day following the dissolution of the viceregal court. The chapel then became dormant and was even used for a time for storage.

The Chapel was consecrated by Archbishop of Dublin John Charles McQuaid of Dublin as a Roman Catholic military church in 1943, and was renamed the Church of the Most Holy Trinity in 1944. The Stations of the Cross were carved by the monks in Glenstal Abbey and presented to the church in 1946.

Due to structural problems, the chapel was closed in the early 1980s. It was restored and reopened in the early 1990s. It has not since been used for worship since then, but it is occasionally used for concerts and other events. Despite being renamed the Church of the Most Holy Trinity 80 years ago, it continues to be known officially and popularly as the Chapel Royal.

The interior of the Chapel Royak was described as ‘the most flamboyant and luxurious Dublin interior of its era’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 20: 24-29 (NRSVA):

24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’

26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ 27 Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ 28 Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ 29 Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’

The carved head of Jonathan Swift above the main entrance to the crypt of the Chapel Royal (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 ‘FeAST – Fellowship of Anglican Scholars of Theology.’ This theme was introduced yesterday by the Revd Canon Dr Peniel Rajkumar of USPG.

Find out more HERE.

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (3 July 2023, Saint Thomas the Apostle) invites us to pray:

Let us remember the life and works of Saint Thomas the Apostle. May we cast aside our scepticism and choose the way that Jesus taught us.


Almighty and eternal God,
who, for the firmer foundation of our faith,
allowed your holy apostle Thomas
to doubt the resurrection of your Son
till word and sight convinced him:
grant to us, who have not seen, that we also may believe
and so confess Christ as our Lord and our God;
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion:

Almighty God,
who on the day of Pentecost
sent your Holy Spirit to the apostles
with the wind from heaven and in tongues of flame,
filling them with joy and boldness to preach the gospel:
by the power of the same Spirit
strengthen us to witness to your truth
and to draw everyone to the fire of your love;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The carved head of Brian Boru above the main entrance to the Chapel Royal (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 viceregal court at Dublin Castle was dissolved in 1922 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)