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Coventry Cross

Sadly, as of January 2019, this cross is no longer standing, and was removed in order to facilitate the expansion of a nearby restaurant. A proposal to relocate the monument has been made, however, so for now I will retain some optimism that it will be rebuilt in a suitable place - perhaps even near its original location, which in the modern Broadgate would be a few metres north-east of the north corner "turret" of the Cathedral Lanes shopping centre. In ancient times that was where Broadgate met Cross Cheaping, near Spicer Stoke, a very short row which led through from Broadgate to Butcher Row and Trinity church.

While it was an admirable copy, the modern version of the Coventry Cross that stood between Cuckoo Lane and Holy Trinity Church could not compete for splendour with the one for which Coventry was famed from Tudor through to Georgian times. It was first proposed to build a replica in 1930, however, with so many unforeseen circumstances, it was not until 1976 that the modern cross, sculpted by Coventry artist George Wagstaffe, was finally erected.

The modern replica of Coventry Cross, 2006 Ancient engraving of Coventry Cross

It's most probable that a cross stood in that place since the 13th century, a structure commonly used to denote a market-place in medieval times. The first actual record for the building of a new cross, however, was on 1st July 1423 when the Mayor, Henry Peyto, and his brethren ordained that a new cross should be built. Later that year £50 was sanctioned for its erection, plus a personal contribution from the Mayor himself.

It was quite a substantial structure standing on eight pillars, but this was not the cross about which so many superlatives were spoken. Within a century the 1423 cross was rather the worse for wear, and by 1506 discussions were beginning as to its replacement.

In 1541 former mayor of London, Sir William Hollis, left £200 in his will toward the building of a new cross, which was begun in that year - and by 1544 the 57 foot high cross was completed. The new Coventry Cross was decorated with many statues of kings and saints, and as well as being brightly painted, was also covered with much gold. It was said at the time that on a sunny day, people could not bear to look directly at it!

Visitors of note wrote enthusiastically about its fame and beauty, but all good things must come to an end and after two glorious centuries decay was once more setting in. In 1753 and 1755 the top two stages were removed to avoid danger of collapse. By 1771 it was declared to be in too ruinous a state to retain, and demolition was finally authorised. The remains stood for a short while longer - at least until after 1778 when a visitor to Coventry wrote sadly that the decayed cross "... has no longer anything to please", before being totally removed and its parts reused. Two of the surviving statues now reside at St. Mary's Guildhall.

Below is an 1851 map which shows the original site of the ancient Coventry Cross. Clicking or tapping the map will reveal the location on a modern aerial view of Broadgate (courtesy of Google Maps). Note how much wider High Street is at its Broadgate end since 1851 - this was widened around 1930 when the National Provincial (now Nat West) and Lloyds banks were built, set much farther back.

Historical facts about the ancient cross taken from David McGrory's 2003 book "A History of Coventry".


 
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