The Quakers in Coventry

 

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George Fox – founder of the Quaker Movement

Quakers (The Religious Society of Friends) began with a Leicestershire weaver’s son, George Fox, who was born in Fenny Drayton in 1624. Fox’s Journal mentions his five visits to Coventry, four of them during the years of the English Civil War. In the mid-1640s he ‘took a chamber for a while at a professor’s house’ in Coventry (a ‘professor’ being someone who publicly professed Christianity). In 1645 he came again, to visit a Dr Cradock, so as to have a serious conversation. This was disastrously unsuccessful as Fox accidentally trod on a flower bed and Dr Cradock flew into ‘a rage, as if his house had been on fire’.

Fox also recorded an important insight that he had ‘about the beginning of the year 1646’ as he was nearing the city gate (presumably the Cook Street Gate). In 1649 he visited prisoners in Coventry gaol, ‘Ranters’ who had been imprisoned because of their religion. Then, when he visited Coventry in 1655, he ‘found the people closed up with darkness’ and, worst of all, his former host ‘was drunk, which grieved me so that I did not go into any house in the town, but rode into some of the streets and into the market-place’.

By 1668, however, many Coventrians had become Quakers and they purchased a burial ground just outside the Hill Street gate. As Charles II had ordered the walls to be breached in 1662, there was probably plenty of good stone waiting to be repurposed. To my inexpert eye it looks as if some of this was incorporated in the front wall of what is the present Quaker Meeting House garden.

Near the back wall (which divides the site from the former Meeting House on Lower Holyhead Road) are four stone slabs. One of these re-positioned gravestones is Joseph Cash’s. Together with his brother John, he founded Cash’s, the company that survived the 1860 crash in the silk ribbon market to produce woven silk pictures and millions of name tapes.

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Cash’s Topshops

Like George Cadbury in Birmingham, the Cash brothers were Quaker philanthropists. In 1843, along with Charles Bray, Joseph Cash co-founded the Coventry Labourers’ and Artisans’ Friendly Society to provide allotments for working people and he also set up a small school. Cash’s three-storey weavers’ houses on Kingfield Road still survive – as does the Cash’s brand, thanks to the Hong Kong-based global Jointak Group Limited.

Professor Eleanor Nesbitt, CovSoc member

Broad Street Meeting Hall – All ready to open!

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If it hadn’t been for the Coronavirus epidemic and the lock-down, the Coventry Society would have been visiting the new Broad Street Hall this evening (11th May 2020). In the absence of a visit we thought that you might like a virtual visit.

The project is the dream and brainchild of CovSoc member Alan Griffiths, BEM, who would have been our guide on the visit. The building replaces an old tin hut that was built by the Salvation Army.

The first thing to note about the new building is the stunning colour scheme. The building is predominantly orange and dark grey but with a colourful frontage to Broad Street. This has been created to represent the Foleshill neighbourhood with all its different local nationalities. The rails are powder coated aluminium. At an early stage of the design of the building they were dismissed due to the high cost then someone came up with the idea of using drain pipes! The drain pipes are off the shelf standard material of the same quality but with a big cost saving. They certainly bring colour to the area and create a very noticeable building.

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The building comprises two halls, a larger main hall on the ground floor with storage rooms also a Children’s Play / Store room. The first floor hall room has a stunning open feeling with an apex roof with skylights. It also has, for increased space, an outbreak room that can be used when needed.

There are two kitchens and two coffee kitchen areas so a cuppa will always be available on arrival. There are three office rooms, a study room and a dining room / meeting room area. There is car parking for seven cars and ten push bikes.

SAM_7354The building has been designed with limited windows openings. This is because it was necessary to design a building that would not transmit noise outside the structure. As a result the building is air controlled and it has been possible to achieve a very high thermal efficiency. The thermal properties of the building are stunning with thick walls internal insulation, then externally insulated and finished off with a dark grey powder coated metal cladding.

The building is said to have the poshest toilets in Foleshill. Alan Griffiths says, “We thought it important that we had nice easy clean WC areas which was quite a lot extra. Also we thought it important for our users that we had separate WC’s and not Uni-sex ones.”

The inside finish of the building has been built to a quality hotel standard. Internally in the main halls this is all beech wood cladding again adding to the insulation along with a stunning quality look. Doors and windows are all strong commercial aluminium range, doubled glazed with safety glass and tinted to match the cladding.

 

As the building is on two levels it was necessary to include a lift. This has also been an expensive item but the law requires it. Alan added “I would have been happy with a fireman’s pole” but that was voted down!

The building was designed by a Dutch Architect named Joelle Bolt of BPN Architects. Fundraising, design and construction has taken over five years. Funding has come from many different sources, but the largest element was provided by the Big Lottery. The building was constructed by local company, Harrabin Construction.

Our overall impression is that the new building will be an amazing addition to the Foleshill neighbourhood and we can’t wait for an actual visit! Well done Alan!

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The Centenary of a Planning Controversy

Canley Gardens Centenary: Echoes of today’s controversial planning compromises

Innis Road, Bates Road, Nightingale Lane, The Riddings

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Plan of Canley Gardens

A hundred years ago this month the controversy surrounding the development of Canley Gardens in Earlsdon was resolved. The city council planning committee had been forced to give permission to the development despite it falling far short of their planning rules. It is echoed in the recent relaxation of local authority planning rules by national government, allowing poorer standards in matters such as the conversion of office blocks into pod-like accommodation. The following account of the Canley Garden’s episode is taken from The Coventry We Have Lost: Earlsdon and Chapelfields Explored that I co-wrote in 2011 (now out of print).

It must have stuck in the throats of the city councillors on the General Works Committee to have to impotently watch as the Canley Gardens Society ran a coach and horses through their long established planning by-laws.

But the Society had the government on their side. Immediately after the First World War there was such a desperate housing shortage that hard won by-laws were ignored by government decree. The 1919 Addison Acts, as well as encouraging the construction of local authority housing via grants and subsidies, also eased some of the rules for private housing developments.

It also encouraged the formation of Public Utility Societies that allowed groups of individuals to finance relatively inexpensive housing developments. The Canley (Coventry) Garden Society Ltd was such an organisation.

It was run as a form of cooperative by a committee led by Chairman Thomas Trotter, an engine fitter and Secretary Edgar Morrell , a local teacher. During the War most of the members, like Trotter, were involved in working at the Ordnance factory, off Stoney Stanton Road, and were committed socialists. The land was owned collectively rather than as individuals.

They submitted their plans for the estate of five roads late in 1919. The land was bought from Browetts, a firm of Coventry solicitors in December 1918. The land had been considered fit for development for some while after being originally sold at auction in 1894 and being described as ‘accommodation land’ – but only for just one ‘dwelling house’!

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Canley Gardens Society Development Plan showing layout of roads and plots 1920. Note that north is in the direction of the bottom of the map.

The first the City Engineer and Surveyor knew about the scheme was when the society’s architects made contact to ensure that a water supply would be laid on as they had started laying out the roads.

This was like a red rag to a bull as the official wanted to know ‘under what authority you are preparing to lay out the land’, further pointing out out that as the land was within the city boundary then their plans should have been submitted for approval before any work was done.

In reply the architect played his trump card by stating that this step was not necessary as he had the permission of the Birmingham based Housing Commissioner. Such a position was another new feature of the 1919 Housing Act. Various District Housing Commissioners were given the authority to speed the construction of housing throughout the country. The Canley Gardens scheme appears to be one of the first cases that the city council had come across. Various letters of complaint were sent by the Corporation to the District Commissioner and the Canley Garden Society with mixed results.

Although the Society provided plans, their roads were only 25 feet wide unlike the 40 foot minimum that was insisted upon elsewhere in Coventry. But far more alarming was the reliance on sewage disposal via individual cess pools rather than being connected to the mains sewer. The Corporation stressed that this was in an area prone to water-logging during wet weather with consequent serious health risks due to contamination from sewage.

The Society were prepared to compromise on road widths but were not prepared to give up land for the associated drainage ditches, nor to give up their idea of cess pools to deal with sewage. The Housing Commissioner sympathised with the Corporation’s concerns but repeated the fact that this was an approved scheme under the 1919 Act, however, he was prepared to visit Coventry and try and broker a settlement between the Corporation and the Society.

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Bates Road being laid out but not to be properly surfaced for another 48 years c1919 (Anon)

In May 1920 the meeting took place and it concluded with the Corporation accepting that the development would go ahead, but they would not adopt the sub-standard roads and would expect plans for any dwellings to be submitted. Nevertheless, as with the layout of the development, they would not be prepared to give formal approval to any subsequent building plans but neither would they object.

Sniping between the City Engineer and the Canley Gardens Society continued for another couple of years until the Society went into voluntary bankruptcy in December 1921. The original forty plots making 30.5 acres had been bought in 1919 with government loans for almost £29,000. Individuals had contributed 40% of the original price and loans accounted for the remaining 60%.

When the society was formally liquidated in 1922 £8000 was still outstanding. This was paid off over the next six years. Individuals now took on full ownership of their plots and were free to subdivide the plots, but no more than three per acre. At the time plans for only 16 houses within the development had been submitted of which 12 were occupied. The roads were not named until the 1930s using their plot number (from 1 to 72) appended to the name Canley Gardens as their address.

Many of the dwellings were typical of the ‘shack and track’ developments that followed the Canley Gardens pattern in other parts of the country. This especially applied to those in the less favourable sections of the estate that were more susceptible to flooding. ‘Shack and track’ developments tended to be found in the south of England but there were other examples locally such as Binley Woods.

Buildings were often of low cost construction because of the extremely high cost of ordinary building materials in this immediate post war period. This meant using simple concrete stud walls with asbestos tiling or just wooden walls and corrugated iron roofing. Also typical was the use of converted army huts from the war, found in at least three of the dwellings here (see example below).

It would not be surprising to find that even old railway carriages or tram cars also being used. A few more affluent plot owners could afford to build in materials that would not have been out of place in conventional suburban estates. This applied to the Chairman, Edgar Morrell whose house was the first to be built on the estate (Now 2 Innes Road) for £800.

The Corporation began to assert control over some of these projects as was the case for a Mr Wetherley (another prominent member of the Society) who was looking to move from Stanley Road in Earlsdon to plot 48 (later known as 6, The Riddings). He wanted to use an ex-army hut that would be converted into a three room dwelling. The Corporation gave him permission, but only on the basis that he enter into a £200 bond with them to guarantee its removal at any time in the future when they requested it. However, the hut was still there after the Second World War.

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Plans for bungalow based on an old army hut, 6 The Riddings 1921

The 1950s saw the start of great changes in the area. Like other ‘shack and track’ sites around the country its character gradually changed into a conventionally desirable residential area. The plots were large and grander bungalows and houses were substituted for the temporary or poorly built originals.

Developers continued to sub divide plots to fit on more dwellings, especially as in this instance, where the plots backed onto the attractive greens of the golf course. Such intensive development would have been impossible without the Corporation arranging the installation of main sewerage in the 1950s, making the cess pool system redundant.

Even at this time the state of the roads in the area was still more rural track than suburban street. It was not until 1957 that the Corporation tarmacked the roads. Today the roads remain narrow and the refusal of the Society all those years ago to meet the Corporation demands for setting back the fence-line of the plots to allow footpaths and ditches, adds to the enclosed feeling for anyone driving in the area. This is despite the additional Corporation led improvements to the Riddings in 1970 through compulsory purchase of frontages. Later the road was closed to through traffic and passing bays installed.

David Fry, Historian and CovSoc Member

Progress Despite the Lock-down!

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Where in Coventry is this?

No this is not another lock-down quiz! This is an actual picture of progress with the regeneration scheme for Burges and Hales Street.

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Despite the Coronavirus lock-down, some good progress has been made with the project to transform the Burges and Hales Street. Historic Coventry Trust’s Executive Director Carol Pyrah said:

“Before lock-down we managed to get a really good start to the construction works on Hales Street, and both contractors are still progressing with those works that can be done within appropriate social distancing rules and where supply chains allow – so elements like paint removal from the walls, roofing, and manufacture of new shopfronts in the workshop is happening now.

“Attached are some pictures of the new roofs on 3-9 Hales Street, samples of paint removal on 24 Burges, and the smart new shopfront for 24/25 Burges under construction. If you haven’t been down there recently the full site is scaffolded (alarmed and monitored by CCTV). We’re keen to keep going as much as we can so that there is something really good to ‘unveil’ once everyone goes back to town.”

 

Coventry’s Secret Printing Press

Old Printing Press

Although the days of Good Queen Bess are portrayed as a golden age, particularly for the arts, exploration and commerce, it was not an age of free speech. It was an age of plots, fears of invasion and, with the queen at its head, a newly-formed church struggling to hold the middle way between recusants and radical reformers. The government was very aware that Luther’s reforms had unleashed The Wars of Religion in continental Europe and interreligious civil disorder, such as that of St Bartholomew’s Day, when the protestant Huguenots in Paris and elsewhere in France were massacred. Criticising the Church of England equated with criticising the queen and that was treason.

The ruling class, both secular and ecclesiastical, employed informers, spies, and pursuivants, who could enter and search property. The Reformation had been spread by the new invention of printing and the state felt it needed to control the press: printing of any sort outside London or the old universities was prohibited; printing dissenting opinions was banned; paper imports (there were no paper mills in England) were tightly controlled. Enforcing these laws was the Stationers’ Company in London, which had the power to search property, destroy anything illegal and imprison law breaking printers.

We can therefore understand the reluctance shown by John Hales of Keresley, the nephew of Hales of Hales Street, when in late 1588 in a church in Coventry he was approached by a man called Stephen Gifford, a servant of an uncle of his by marriage, Sir Richard Knightley MP of Fawsley in Northamptonshire. Sir Richard had sent Hales a letter, the burden of which was: As you are not using Hales Place, the house your father built at Whitefriars, could I borrow a room there? No-one need know.

The further explanation was that Sir Richard had been housing an illegal printing press at Fawsley, where Robert Waldegrave had been printing illegal tracts but now the pursuivants were onto them. The author of some of the tracts, a Welshman called John Penry, had had his house nearby raided, so the press had been taken apart and hidden in Sir Richard’s farm at Norton-by-Daventry. Penry and Waldegrave were keen to continue printing the so-called Marprelate anti-clerical tracts. These were notorious, so much so that the queen had issued A Proclamation against certain Schismatical Books and Libels to make it quite clear that writing, printing and distributing these tracts was treasonous. Informers, however, would be pardoned.

Hales’s allegiance to his family overcame, at least temporarily, his fear of the law and so Gifford brought the press in a cart from Norton to Coventry across Dunsmore Heath. The cart was weighed down not only by the heavy timbers of the press but also by the type, which was mostly made of lead. He realised as they crossed the heath that if the cart got stuck he could not count on nearby villagers to help. They would certainly suspect that something illegal was going on. Luckily all went well and the press arrived in Coventry towards the end of January 1589.

Maintaining secrecy while producing and disseminating dissident literature was a major problem because so many people were involved: apart from the author and the owner of the premises, where the press was housed, the printer needed two assistants, and supplies of paper and ink; once printed, the sheets needed to be stitched together by a bookbinder; and the pamphlets had to be distributed secretly to a willing bookseller in London. The opportunities for being discovered or betrayed were many.

Through the winter Waldegrave worked on. He was a dedicated puritan, who used false names and cover stories and who had already been imprisoned and had his press and types destroyed by the Stationers’ Company. By February he had produced the first batch of pamphlets and two new ones in March. Since the house was supposed to be empty, despite the cold he was not allowed a fire and the lack of warm food became a cause for complaint. However, a Master Pigot of Coventry hosted some dinners for the conspirators and Hales would not have seen him starve. Yet security was still a worry. He may have been aware that Stephen Gifford, when taking pamphlets from Fawsley to London, had got drunk and boasted of what his master was up to. That had led to searches and the press being moved to Coventry. The bookbinder, Henry Sharpe, tended to follow Hales and Penry round Coventry to discover where the press was hidden and repeatedly questioned Waldegrave about what he was going to do next. No doubt fed up and frightened, he told Sharpe he would go to Devon. In fact, he went to La Rochelle, the French protestant harbour city.

Increasingly nervous about the continued appearance of the critical pamphlets, Lord Burghley wrote to Archbishop Whitgift demanding the speedy apprehension of the conspirators. Whitgift authorised his main puritan hunter, Richard Bancroft, to search anywhere, anyone and question them, as well as demanding the cooperation of all in authority or else . . . It was known that many middle grade officials were sympathetic to the puritans.

Without Waldegrave the press could no longer operate in Coventry and it was moved to nearby Wolston Hall, where its owners the Wigstons, and Mrs Wigston in particular, were prepared to house the press. A room was provided and the servants forbidden to enter. The bookseller Humfrey Newman hired a new printer, Hodgkins, and two assistants disguised as embroiderers. Two more pamphlets were produced, whose manuscripts were provided in sections by a classic ‘dead letter drop’ method, which implicated Job Throckmorton of Haseley as one of the authors in addition to Penry. Whichever one it was, enjoyed taunting the pursuivants and wrote in one pamphlet that he was ‘in Northamptonshire and Warwickshire.’ Hodgkins decided it was all getting too risky and in August headed back home to Lancashire, taking his assistants and the type with him.

On the way back home, Hodgkins was unlucky in having some type fall off the cart. He claimed that it was lead shot and, as he had been involved in shot production in the past, this had some credibility. The team were allowed on their way but suspicion followed and they were tracked down, arrested and taken to London for questioning by the Privy Council, who handed them over ‘to put them all to the torture.’

Unaware of the events in the North, printing continued in Wolston Hall, although badly and with difficulty until Waldegrave returned on his way to sanctuary in Scotland, where he became printer to James VI, later James I of England. As a result of the information provided by Hodgkins and his assistants, raids began in and around Coventry that brought the conspiracy to an end.

Job Throkmorton was indicted but released for lack of evidence and, probably because he was an important figure locally.

John Hales was fined £1500, of which he paid £500 and eventually his grandson paid the rest. However, in a story that will resonate with some, when the grandson was questioned about it, he couldn’t find the receipt. After what I imagine must have been frantic searching, he found it in papers put for burning. The Hales family lived in Whitefriars for many years thereafter.

Henry Sharpe, the bookbinder, was arrested in September and confessed everything. No more was heard of him and he was probably released. Humfrey Newman hid in a pub and, like Waldegrave, escaped to Scotland.

Mrs Wigston of Wolston admitted to forcing her spouse to harbour the press and was fined £1000. Her husband was fined a much lesser sum of 500 marks for obeying her, an excuse the judge thought barely credible.

Hodgkins, the printer, and his assistants were imprisoned but released in due course. Much detail about the activities of the conspirators comes from the written records of their trial.

John Penry, the probable author of some of the tracts, escaped to Scotland and continued writing and publishing. In 1593 he returned to England but again fell foul of Archbishop Whitgift, who on the flimsiest of evidence had him indicted, tried and convicted for sedition all on the same day and hanged four days later without being able to say goodbye to his family. He is considered a puritan martyr.

For a few months in 1589, Coventry was the centre of a free press and the focus of the state’s attempt to suppress free speech. The puritan movement eventually led to civil war and Coventry’s successful support for Parliament was the reason for Charles II’s vengeful destruction of the city’s walls in 1662. The Press Licencing Act that allowed the state to interfere in what was printed came to an end in 1695.

James Rose, CovSoc member

Radford Under Park

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We are very excited that the plans for the proposed innovative Radford Under Park, which will be a new pedestrian and cycle route passes under the raised section of the ring road, which has never been used before. It will bring to life a new urban space with a new climbing wall, performance amphitheatre, feature lighting, brick pedestrian / cycle path, street lighting, trees, shrubs, grass landscaping and timber benches.

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The aim of the proposal is to break down the barriers created by the ring road to re-connect communities with the city centre. The Coventry Society sub committee were shown around the old Gas works site and shown the proposed route of the new pathway.

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We first reported about the ambitious plans on 2nd April to create this continuous long green cycle and pedestrian link from Naul’s Mill Park, under the ring road then carrying on through to Belgrade Plaza and the city centre. The route follows the line of the Radford Brook which will be recreated as a natural habitat through the former Gas Works site in Abbotts Lane, which the developers are proposing to create a new residential community of more than 700 apartments by Complex Development Projects (CDP).

Naul’s Mill Pool has been empty for many years due to a leak that lets the water drain away. The local residents and friends of Naul’s Mill have been campaigning for a while to get it made in to a wild life pool. But when asking for grant money they found they could not because it had no wild life at this moment so they were caught in a difficult situation and could not move on with their plans.

Now the pool, which was originally made as a children’s boating lake, could have a layer of compacted sand which will be coved with Bentotex® geosynthetic clay liner. This has a unique ‘self-healing’ property. Once the product is hydrated and under a cover of soil material; if it is punctured by an object or root penetration it heals itself. It’s ideal for reed beds and wet systems and the creation of aquatic habitat for amphibious creatures such as frogs, toads, newts, dragonflies, damselflies and water beetles etc.

radford under park

With the creation of the new park there will be a continuous long green walkway all the way from Bridgeman Road through to Belgrade Square, a distance of nearly a mile.

You can see more detail by looking on the Coventry City Council Planning website ref: OUT/2019/24, new pedestrian route from Abbotts Lane to Middleborough Road.

John Rastell 1475-1536

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John Rastell’s Printer’s Mark

From his prison cell, John Rastell reflected bitterly on the crushing nature of his downfall after a life of startling achievement.

He was, he wrote, ‘now by long imprisonment brought to extreme misery, forsaken by his kinsmen, destitute of his friends, comfortless and succourless.’

There was to be no escape. Rastell died in prison in London on 25 June 1536, a casualty of the struggle over religious reform, for which he had become a zealous advocate.
It was a humiliating end for one of Coventry’s most extraordinary sons, a man now largely forgotten in his native city.

Printer, mathematician, lawyer, writer, designer, dramatist and cosmographer, John Rastell was perhaps the closest a native Coventrian has ever come to being a truly Renaissance Man, possessed of an astonishing range of talents and interests. And while his career flowered in London, its roots very much lay in the city of his birth.

Born in Coventry around 1475, he came from a family which had long been active in civic affairs. His father Thomas was a Justice of the Peace and Coroner for the city. His grandfather, a dyer by trade and also called Thomas, was Warden of Coventry in the 1440s.

Made a member of the influential Corpus Christi Guild in his mid-teens, young John trained as a lawyer and in 1507 succeeded his father as Coroner of Coventry.

His horizons had already broadened beyond the city, with his marriage, probably in 1500, to Elizabeth More, sister of Sir Thomas More and from a wealthy London family which almost certainly had ancestral connections to Coventry.

There’s evidence that he retained close connections with his birthplace as late as 1510, acting as a paid adviser to the Corpus Christi Guild and possibly helping it to stage pageants. But from 1508, Rastell appears as a book printer in London. He may well have been the first in Europe to print a musical score.

When war broke out with France in 1512, he was working for Sir Edward Bellknap, brother of Henry VIII’s Clerk of Works, and played a minor role in the conflict, overseeing the transport of guns to the Continent.

Although a man of independent and forceful opinions, Rastell was profoundly influenced by the visionary utopian ideas of his brilliant brother-in-law, Sir Thomas More, and in 1517 he joined an expedition to the New World, in search of a living embodiment of More’s Utopia.

The aim was probably to found a colony, but the ship’s captain declared that he preferred to ‘go robbing on the seas’ and put his hapless passengers, including Rastell, ashore in Ireland.

The outraged Rastell not only later used his legal connections to have the man arrested and tried, but promptly dashed off a morality play titled The Nature Of The Four Elements, a work that exhibited a great gift for scenery and decoration.

Those gifts came to the fore three years later when Rastell was given the daunting task of decorating the roofs of temporary buildings erected for Henry VIII’s celebrated meeting with the king of France at the ‘Field of the Cloth of Gold’. He followed that up by writing a lavish pageant for the visit to London of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V.

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The Field of the Cloth of Gold, oil painting of circa 1545 in the Royal Collection at Hampton Court. Henry VIII on horseback approaches at bottom left.

In 1524, by now a minor, but successful, player in the legal and cultural landscape of Tudor London, he acquired land in Old Street in Finsbury Fields, where he built himself a house and a theatre for his own private use. Thought to be the earliest Tudor stage in London, fifty years later it became the capital’s first public theatre when it was re-built by the actor manager James Burbage.

While Rastell wrote pageants and plays to be performed there, his wife Elizabeth made theatrical costumes for hiring out to other enthusiasts.

By then, Rastell was working as a Chancery lawyer for Henry VIII’s formidable Chancellor Thomas Wolsey, and in the mid-1520s he emerged as a prolific writer on law. Some of his works are still in use by students of English law.

In 1529, Rastell became MP for Dunvehed (Launceston) in Cornwall, a seat probably lined up for him by his brother-in law, who in that year became the king’s all-powerful Lord Chancellor.

In that year too Rastell published (and probably wrote) The Pastyme Of People, the first English printed portrait book, which recounted a history of England up to the end of the Plantagenet dynasty and included a series of full-page woodcuts of English monarchs, from William the Conqueror to Richard III.

A staunch Catholics until his fifties, in the early 1530s Rastell was converted to Protestantism and severed his connections to the doomed Sir Thomas More, later working with his successor, Thomas Cromwell.

He became an enthusiastic exponent of religious reform, arguing in print that priests should be able to marry and earn a living outside the church. It could be a dangerous field and Rastell, opinionated as ever, picked a fight with the Church over tithes to the clergy.

It was Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, who had him thrown into that London jail, from which he wrote his final, despairing message to the world.

Peter Walters, Coventry Society Committee Member

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Image from “The Pastyme of people”: the first English printed portrait book by John Rastell