For over 500 years this timbered alms house has provided a home for elderly residents of Coventry.
Ford’s Hospital in Coventry is not a hospital in the modern sense, but was named as such for one of the word’s earlier meanings: a building providing subsidized housing for elderly or infirm people, otherwise known as an alms house.
Tucked away on a quiet side street, it is one of the city’s less obvious historic treasures, a fantastically restored half-timbered building from the early 16th century.
As with many English buildings of the period, the first floor projects well out over the ground floor, and the three timber-framed gables extend even further. In the center of the ground floor a doorway leads down a narrow passage to a gate that gives access to a wonderfully picturesque courtyard.
It was founded in 1509 by William Ford, a wealthy wool merchant and former Coventry mayor. The space was initially intended to provide housing for six aging residents, five men and one woman. It was later extended to allow 11 places for couples to live together. By 1846 the function had changed again and expanded to house 40 women. Each of the women received an allowance of three shillings and six pence per week from the endowment left by Ford.
During World War II, the building was hit by German bombing, like many other historic parts of the city. A bomb dropped on October 14, 1940, killed the warden, a nurse, and six residents, and did significant damage to the structure. Unlike several bomb-damaged timbered buildings in Coventry, which were relocated to Spon Street, the hospital was restored on its original site, with original timbers and bricks.
The hospital is still in use as a residence for the elderly, now as seven self-contained apartments. It also made an appearance on the small screen. In 2006, the building was used as a location for the episode of the BBC TV series Doctor Who called “The Shakespeare Code.”
Know Before You Go
As a private residence, the interior is only open to the public for an annual Heritage Open Day event, held in September. But you can easily get a look at the exterior of the building from Greyfriars Street and take in the beautifully carved 16th-century timbers. It is also possible to peer through the iron gate into the lovely inner courtyard. Unfortunately, the stone wall that surrounds the property blocks good views of both the gardens and the rear of the building.
Heritage Open Days in Coventry in 2018 will take place across two sets of dates, September 6-9 and September 13-16. Check the website for details.
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