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The original ‘Peeping Tom’ figure is moving to the Herbert

The original ‘Peeping Tom’ figure is moving to Herbert Art Gallery & Museum ready for UK City of Culture 

The original, life-sized wooden Peeping Tom Figure will go on permanent display at the Herbert when we reopen to the public on Monday, 17 May 2021, subject to government guidance. 

Legend has it that when Lady Godiva rode naked through Coventry in protest at her husband's taxes, everyone was ordered to avert their eyes. Only one person dared to look at Godiva – Peeping Tom. He was immediately struck blind as a punishment.  

Adam Van Noort, 'Goodiva (Lady Godiva)', 1586, oil on canvas. 

The museum holds a large collection of paintings, prints, drawings, and sculptures featuring Lady Godiva’s story, and will display the infamous figure of Peeping Tom on the ground floor beside the entrance to the Discover Godiva gallery. 

First mentioned by Joseph Jeyeson in 1659, the wooden effigy is thought to have originally been a statue of St George, which was adapted for use as Peeping Tom. The figure probably dates from around 1500 based on the style of armour, although it has been painted many times, and often dressed in a costume while observing Godiva processions from various buildings.  

Its previous locations included Alderman Owen’s house in Greyfriars Lane, Thomas Sharp’s house in Smithford Street and the Kings’s Head Hotel on the corner of Hertford Street and Smithford Street, until it was moved to a safe location during WW2. Most recently, the figure was displayed in the Cathedral Lanes shopping centre until the recent redevelopments when it was placed in storage. It has new been offered to the Museum by Shearer Property Developments Ltd, the owners of Cathedral Lanes, so it can be back on public display in the city in time for the start of the City of Culture celebrations. 

Francis Nielsen, Culture and Creative Director of Culture Coventry Trust said “We are delighted to be able to add an item of such historical importance to Coventry, ready for UK City of Culture. 

And what better place for the original Peeping Tom Figure, than alongside some of our most popular paintings of Lady Godiva, including works by John Collier, Edwin Landseer and Alfred Woolmer.” 

Cllr David Welsh, Cabinet Member for Housing and Communities, added: “I’m really pleased that we’ve found a place for Peeping Tom at the Herbert. He is a really important part of the Godiva Legend and represents one of the many aspects of Coventry’s history and heritage.

“I know that the Herbert has recently been refurbished with even more display spaces and it’s excellent timing as we enter our year as UK City of Culture.”

Find out more about the legend of Lady Godiva on Google Arts & Culture.

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