Page last updated at 10:11 GMT, Monday, 19 October 2009 11:11 UK
Step inside Coventry's Guildhall
St. Mary's Guildhall
The Minstrels' Gallery in the Great Hall where musicians would have played to important parties gathered below

Across the lane from the ruins of the old cathedral is, arguably, one of Coventry's finest historic buildings.

St Mary's Guildhall has stood for over 650 years and is in what can be described as the old part of town.

The building served as the centre of King Henry VI's court during the War of the Roses and has seen many important figures pass through its doors.

In recent years - as well as being open to the general public - it is still used for council meetings and offices.

Mary, Queen of Scots was held prisoner here (for her own protection), it is thought that Shakespeare staged plays at the Guildhall and George Eliot also featured the building in her writing.

The Great Hall

As you walk into the courtyard, you are immediately taken back in time and the sounds of modern-day city life are practically non-existent. When looking around this building, at every turn, it is important to look up as there are so many pieces of medieval architecture and stonework - such as the Greenman and the Trinity - which could easily be missed.

The Minstrels' Gallery

The door to the left of the courtyard is the main entrance, which takes you inside the Guildhall. Some of the rooms are used as offices or are not open to the public, but there is still lots to see. The individual rooms would have originally been used by the different guilds - such as the Mercers and the Merchants.

After ascending a staircase, which has wooden handrails that date back to the 15th century, you eventually arrive at the Great Hall. A truly breathtaking room with the Coventry Tapestry below the north window, the Minstrel's Gallery above as you enter the hall and beautiful stained glass windows letting the light in from the east and west walls.

The Great Hall would have seen many civic receptions throughout its history and kings and queens, such as Henry V and James II, were entertained here.

The Council Chamber

Just off from the hall is the Council Chamber, which has been in existence since the 14th century - but the current style of the room dates from 1935-36 when it was restored. This would have been the meeting room for the leaders of the Guild and other important figures, such as the mayor.

In the centre of the room is a table that dates back to the 16th century and immediately captures the imagination when you think of all the people who would have held meetings around it. This piece of furniture alone has an interesting history that takes it back to its original home at Charlecote Park.

The Council Chamber also leads to the Treasury, which is part of the restored Caesar's Tower.

The Council Chamber
Council Chamber off the Great Hall

Next door to the Council Chamber is the Prince's Chamber - another room that is full of intricate wooden carvings and furniture. This would have been used as an additional meeting room and office.

As you would expect in a building of this age, it has several narrow, winding staircases. One, which leads off the Great Hall, takes you up to rooms including the Armoury, the Mary Queen of Scots' Room and the Minstrels' Gallery.

After taking the large step onto the wooden floor of the gallery, you get another chance to enjoy the Great Hall in all its splendour and stand where musicians would have entertained those in days gone by.

Ghostly goings on

Walking around the different rooms, you really get a feel for the importance and value of the place and cannot help but think about whose footsteps you are walking in.

St. Mary's Guildhall - The Great Hall
An orb or just a piece of dust?

And sometimes you can be forgiven for thinking you can still hear those footsteps - even if you are alone.

St Mary's Guildhall has seen its fair share of ghostly goings on and is popular with ghost hunters and those interested in the paranormal.

Many of the guides at the Guildhall have seen doors opening on their own, characters have passed by them on the stairs and conversations have been heard in the rooms when they have been empty.

Coventry Castle

A lot of the building is made up of parts of Coventry Castle - including the stone work and actual structures. The three-storey Caesar's Tower is thought to have been part of the castle.

So, next time you are in Coventry and are walking down Bayley Lane, why not enter the small courtyard of the Guildhall and take a look around one of the city's historical treasures.

Admission is free - For the latest opening times, please visit their website:




SEE ALSO
Ghost hunting at the Guildhall
19 Oct 09 |  History

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