An edition of the Illustrated London News of 1861 made use of this fine engraving of St. Michael's tower and spire to illustrate its article, principally about the church, but also taking advantage to add a little background on other highlights of Coventry's history. Rather than simply publish under "articles", I decided to use the opportunity to compare the 1861 and 2010 views of the country's finest and highest medieval spire.
FEW persons, we should think, who have passed Coventry by rail have failed to remark how imposing is the effect of the lofty spires of that ancient city. The most famous and beautiful among them is that of St. Michael's Church, which has been lately undergoing repair. St. Michael's is one of the three most ancient churches of Coventry : it is very remarkable for its beauty and richness of ornament. It was originally founded in 1133, in the reign of Henry I., and was given to the Benedictine monks of Coventry by Ranulph, Earl of Chester, in the reign of Stephen. It was commenced in its present style (the Perpendicular) in 1373, and finished in 1395. The length of the church is about 300ft.; the breadth, 104ft. The interior is lofty, and finely ornamented with rows of clustered pillars and arches, with a roof of oak, curiously carved, and the numerous windows are fitted with old stained glass. The organ is said to be one of the best in the kingdom. But the glory of the church is, as we have said, the magnificent steeple, the first among its class. It rises to an elevation of 303ft. from the ground, and its grandeur and beauty can hardly be surpassed. The spire rises from an octagonal base upon a square tower - perhaps the arrangement of flying buttresses between the square and the octagon is more singular than pleasing. As will be seen, the spire is not crocketed, but partly panelled. The tower itself displays a great variety of sculptured decoration-niches, canopies, and statues being placed in spaces left on each side of the windows, both in each stage being combined in a single design. In the tower is a fine peal of bells.
Trinity Church is the second of the ancient churches of the city ; it is less elegant than St. Michael's. Its spire is 237ft. high. St. John's, the third, was founded by the Merchants' Guild, in the reign of Edward III. On the right in the Engraving appears a part of that most interesting building, St. Mary's Hall, erected in the reign of Henry VI. Its principal chamber, 63ft. by 30ft., and 34ft. high, with carved oak roof, quaintly-worked tapestry, chair of state, portraits, coats of arms, and gallery of minstrels, is a most valuable relic of past ages. It is now used as a council chamber and civic festal hall.
Coventry, as early as 1416, was renowned for its exhibitions of pageants and processions chiefly connected with its ecclesiastical institutions, and also for the religious dramas called mysteries. The love of processions, &c., descended to the modern dwellers in Coventry, finding vent in the great show at the fair on the Friday in Trinity week - a principal feature being a brazen-faced modern Lady Godiva riding, in a flesh-coloured dress, with flowing hair, on a grey horse, among men in armour and others well-bedizend with gay ribbons. Coventry was the favourite residence of Edward the Black Prince, while Queen Elizabeth delighted to see the game of Hock Tuesday, which represented the destruction of the Danes by the English in 1002.