A speaker, an athlete, a novelist, a gardener
Updated: Dec 30, 2019
In the run up to the looming election I have been looking at MPs that have represented Coventry over the centuries. Between 1295 and 1945 Coventry was a single constituency – returning two MPs up until 1885 and one until the constituency was split into two in 1945.
Today I’ll be looking at some Members of Parliament who represented Coventry in those years between 1295 (when our first two MPs Anketil de Coleshull and Robert Weston were appointed) and 1945. As of today, many MPs were prominent lawyers, merchants and civil servants. Most had served in local government and Coventry MPs were generally elected by the freemen of the city prior to nineteenth century reforms Many played prominent parts in national history and collectively they would be worthy of a book. I have chosen a few who provide some interesting stories:
1485 -1491 Sir Robert Onley – hosted Henry VII’s “first Tudor feast” at the Bull Inn in Smithford Street following the new monarch’s victory at Bosworth. The Bull Yard takes its name from the building and gives an idea of its size (stretching from the upper precinct to the far end of Hertford St). Sir Robert was also mayor of Coventry as was one of his ancestors who also served as mayor of Calais.
1554 – 59 John Throckmorton – a lawyer who drew up Mary I’s will.
1604 -1614 Sir John Harrington – given charge of Princess Elizabeth (daughter of James I) at Coombe Abbey. During Princess Elizabeth’s spell at Coombe she was targeted during the gunpowder plot. The intention was to kidnap her from Coombe and place her on the throne and bring her up as catholic after blowing up her father and brother in parliament. The plot was foiled and Elizabeth went on to become the protestant “Winter Queen” of Bohemia.
1614 - 1621 Sir Robert Coke – resident of Caludon Castle having married into the Berkeley family (see previous posts). Sir Robert was a royalist and was detained at the Tower of London during the Civil War.
1624 - 1626 Sir Edward Coke – Speaker of House of Commons
1707 -1710 Sir Orlando Bridgeman (2nd Baronet of Ridley) – faked his own death to avoid his creditors but was imprisoned for life after being found in an inn.
1854 - 1859 Joseph Paxton – best known as a garden designer. He designed the gardens at Chatsworth, the Crystal Palace for the great exhibition in Hyde Park, and a Birkenhead park which was inspiration for New York’s Central Park. Before becoming MP for Coventry Paxton was commissioned to design Coventry’s London Road cemetery which also doubled up as a park. There is a memorial to Paxton in the cemetery.
1906 - 1910 Alfred Edward Woodley Mason – as well as being a Liberal politician Mason was a novelist. His most famous work “The Four Feathers” deals with themes of bravery and cowardice in colonial times.
1923 -1924 AA Purcell – first labour MP for Coventry
1929 -1931 Philip Noel Baker – Olympic medallist and disarmament campaigner. Despite his pacifist views he won the silver medal for military valour prior to winning the Nobel Prize for peace.
There are many more of our MPs with interesting stories which I’ll try to come back to. More to come on Coventry’s electoral history in the lead up to the general election........