Skip to main content


Uncovering Hidden Gems From the Collection...

The Herbert is uncovering hidden gems of history from its collections in a series of new newspaper columns in the Coventry Evening Telegraph and Coventry Observer. Using items from it's collections, hidden stories from it's archives or unusual links to the city the columns run fortnightly in both papers…

As a sample of some of the articles already submitted why not explore the story of Robert Beake…


Beake Avenue runs from Radford to Holbrooks, but who was Beake? (25)

Robert Beake came to prominence in Coventry in about 1650, the year after Charles I was executed. A draper by trade, he was made a freeman of the city in 1650 and became a member of the council through the choice of an electorate of thirty three men in 1652 (no democracy then) and mayor in 1655. During part of his year as mayor, Beake kept a little notebook in which he recorded the sort of things that people get up to that Puritans like him didn't like. As the Puritans were especially keen on observing Sunday as a day of rest, woe betide anyone found travelling on that day – you might be put in the stocks like the man who came over from Allesley on 18th. November. Even carrying out a religious duty on a Sunday was not exempt, witness the man who was travelling from Ryton-on-Dunsmore to Exhall on that same day to be a godfather – he was fined. Sunday trading was outlawed; that included visiting the pub, hence three carriers' men were put in the stocks for loitering at their inn during the time of public worship. An army captain had to obtain a licence from Beake to travel to Meriden on "the Lord's day". Not that Beake got his way on every occasion – two men who were "eating pie" at Stoke during sermon-time ran away from the constable. Beake was lenient towards a footman who was travelling by night on Sunday, January 6th. 1656, reducing the fine because the man was poor. (251)

Beake was "acting under orders", but orders had to be carried out, as in the case of three Quakers whom he placed in a cage because they had travelled on a Sunday – "It grieved me that this poor deluded people should undergo punishment of such a nature," but such was the law. Away from Sunday, Beake did release a woman after seven days in the House of Correction because her legs swelled so that she could not do the work required as a punishment. He did go to the pub himself, not to drink but to impose taxes. Citizens were frequently fined for drunkenness, for uttering prophanities and for general cursing, like the young woman from Greyfriars' Lane who had to pawn some clothes because she had sworn an oath. (365)

What a different world it was then. Yet you might agree with Beake when he punished people who sold beer without a licence, never mind committing a man to gaol who admitted that he had two wives. Mayor Beale was exhibiting "soft power" in such cases as when "Goody Naylor complained against Goody Wilding for calling her a witch; upon hearing both sides I advised them to be friends or to bring better proof of the words" (they left it at that). (444)

After he was mayor, Beake stayed on the council until 1662 when the royalists brought in laws that made it impossible for men like him to stay in office. He was a city M.P. between 1654 and 1660, and again in 1679, and died aged 85 in 1708. (488)

by Michael Hinman, Archivist.

Look out for further Hidden Histories coming soon in the Coventry Telegraph and Coventry Observer. If you would like to explore Coventry's history further, why not visit the History Centre.