Old Bablake School and Bond's Hospital courtyard
Old Bablake School and Bond's Hospital courtyard

On Hill Street, directly behind the imposing bulk of St John the Baptist Church and almost dwarfed by its neighbour, stands one of Coventry's most intriguing historic buildings, Old Bablake School & Bond's Hospital. Perhaps 'complex of buildings' would be closer to the mark, for the school and hospital are not one building but several buildings with a history going back to at least the 14th century.

In 1344 Queen Isabella gave lands called 'Babbelak' to the Guild of St John to build a church, or chapel. This was the original St John the Baptist church, one of the most important historic buildings in Coventry. Some historians have suggested that giving land for the church was an act of atonement for her role in the death of her husband, Edward II. If so, she waited 17 years to atone, so it seems rather unlikely.

The guild church was supported by a college of priests, living in quarters immediately behind the church. The term college in this sense does not suggest a place of education, but a form of monastic institution, with residences for priests whose job was to say Mass in the church for the souls of the college patrons. It seems that the ecclesiastical college must have taken on an educational aspect quite quickly, for in 1364 a 'Bablake school' is recorded, possibly established on land given by Isabella's grandson, Edward, the Black Prince.

The timber framed facade of the Old School
The timber-framed facade of the Old School

In 1507 Thomas Bond, a wealthy draper and another former mayor of Coventry founded an almshouse, or 'hospital', attached to the existing school. Together, the Hospital and school form a beautiful courtyard of historic buildings reached through an arched entrance on Hill Street.

The Hospital was intended to provide accommodation for elderly bedesmen, pensioners who agreed to say prayers for the benefactor in exchange for a place to stay. So the role of the bedesmen was very much the same as the original college of priests established by the Guild of St John several centuries earlier.

There were strong links between the school and Hospital, and the same people often served as feoffees, or governors, of both institutions at once.

The school buildings we see today were built around 1560, surrounding a pleasant, treed courtyard.

The Hill Street entrance
The Hill Street entrance

The future of the school was assured in 1563 when Thomas Wheatley, former mayor of Coventry, gave the school a chest of silver ingots. The origin of the ingots makes a fascinating tale. It seems that Wheatley ordered a shipment of steel wedges from Spain. Instead of steel wedges, he received a chest full of silver ingots. He tried to discover the rightful owner of the ingots but failing in his quest he gave the entire chest to the school.

The connection to St John's church still exists today in the form of an annual Blablake Carol service at Christmas. During the medieval period school students also served as church choristers, and in 1734 the vicar of St Johns also served as the school's headmaster.

The school expanded during the 19th century after several sizeable bequests, and in the 1890s began to move to a new complex of buildings on Coundon Road, leaving their former quarters to become offices.

Looking into the courtyard from Hill Street
Looking into the courtyard from Hill Street

The exterior facade of Bond's Hospital was rebuilt in 1832, but the core of the building is late medieval. There are a dozen bed-sit apartments, a common room, and a rear garden in which a section of the medieval city wall of Coventry runs. Bond's Hospital is very much a male equivalent of Ford's Hospital on Greyfriars Lane, established slightly later for elderly women.

The Hospital still offers accommodation for the elderly. Unfortunately, because the Hospital is a private dwelling place, there is no public access, though you can get very good views through the Hill Street entrance, and even better views from the churchyard of St John the Baptist, accessed off Spon Street.

About Old Bablake School & Bond's Hospital
Address: Hill Street, Coventry, West Midlands, England, CV1 4AN
Attraction Type: Historic Building - Almshouses
Location: Immediately behind St John the Baptist Church, with the main entrance on Hill Street. External viewing only.
Location map
OS: SP330791
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express


Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low to exceptional) on historic interest

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