The Coventry Cross (Reproduction)
[See Note at bottom of page. This important work of art is being rebuilt nearer to its original location]
Not far from the Lady Godiva statue in Broadgate was the original site of the City’s Market Cross, known as the Coventry Cross. The original Medieval cross stood at the south end of Cross Cheaping (meaning market) where it joined up with Broadgate (see the illustration below):
The Coventry Cross was an important landmark in this Cathedral city. Early records show that the cross was here in the 1300’s. It was probably a simple cross carved out of the local red sandstone. In 1423 the court-leet records show that there was a order for a new cross which lasted for a hundred years. Unfortunately part of the upper section had to be taken down for safety reasons. In 1441 work started on building a new cross from money left by Sir William Hollies in his will. Sir William had been born in the Stoke area of Coventry; he made his money in London and had been Mayor of London.
Here are two different illustrations of the Coventry Cross. Interestingly in the image above the people are slightly smaller, perhaps to make the cross look larger. The caption reads:
“Sir Willm. Hollies Kt. sometime Lord Mayor of London. In respect to this City & his Native Country (being son of Tho. Hollies of Stoke near Coventry) by his Will Gave two hundred Pounds for Building this Cross, (after it form of one at Abington) it was begun An. 1541.35 H.S. & finished An. 1544. This Gothic Pile is six square each side sit 7 at ye Base.finely Diminishing in 3 stories Pyramidically 57 feet high wth. 18 Niches whose Canopy are Curiously Embellished & Furnished wth. Statues some of them brought from ye white.Fryers, the Pillars Pinnacles & Arches Enrich’d wth. Statuary Carving, the Arms of England Founder…… And so on”
Hollies Road off Humber Road is named after William Hollies.
The new cross was brightly painted, and picked out with gilding. It stood for two hundred years but by 1771 it was taken down after part had been removed to avoid its collapse. Parts of the cross were saved and one sculpture of King Henry VI was put by the stairs to St. Mary’s Hall and is now on display in the Herbert Museum. There are said to be pieces of the original cross in a garden on Tamworth Road, Keresley.
The modern replica of the Coventry Cross was funded by ‘The Coventry Boy Foundation’. The idea of a replica had been suggested many years ago in the 1930’s, but it was not until 1971 that discussions and plans were shown to the Coventry Civic Amenities Society (now the Coventry Society) and the Church authorities. It stood next to Holy Trinity Church, 100 metres way from the original site of the old cross.
The replica Coventry Cross was designed by Rolf Hellberg; the individual sculptors were George Wagstaff, Philip Bentham, Wilfred Dudeney and George Ford. It was cast in concrete in Scotland and designed to resemble Coventry stone. The panels were bolted to a central structure and it was unveiled on St Georges Day 23rd April 1976 and was demolished in 2021 to create a more attractive entrance for one of the restaurants in Cathderal Lanes.
At 17.4 metres (57ft) high the replice Coventry Cross had 20 niches with many figures. The first row is of Kings – Henry VI, John, Edward I, Henry II, Richard I and Henry IV. On the second row St. George, Edward III, St. John, St. Michael, Christ and Henry III, with boys holding pennons. On the second, saints and monks – St. Peter, St. James the Less, 3 monks (a Benedictine, a Whitefriar and a Greyfriar) also there is a lion, bull, greyhound and dragon with pennons. The final lantern included 6 angels.
In 2007 it was suggested that replica cross should be moved to Cross Cheaping. But because of popular demand this was not implemented. The idea of relocating it arose again in 2015, but nothing happened because of the cost and difficulty of doing this.
[Since the Public Art Trail was held in June 2016, the Coventry Cross has been removed by the City Council as part of the enhancement of the Cathedral Lanes shopping centre. It is currently being rebuilt nearer to its original location.]