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George Eliot

St. Mary's Guildhall

The Great Hall, St. Mary's Guildhall

"The place fitted up that day as a court of justice was a grand old hall......The midday light that fell on the close pavement of human heads was shed through a line of high pointed windows, variegated with the mellow tints of old painted glass. Grim dusty armour hung in high relief in front of the dark oaken gallery at the farther end, and under the broad arch of the great mullioned window opposite was spread a curtain of old tapestry, covered with dim melancholy figures, like a dozing indistinct dream of the past. It was a place that through the rest of the year was haunted with the shadowy memories of old kings and queens, unhappy, discrowned, imprisoned; but to-day all those shadows had fled, and not a soul in the vast hall felt the presence of any but a living sorrow, which was quivering in warm hearts."

George Eliot

It is widely accepted that the Great Hall at St. Mary's Guildhall provided the inspiration for the "grand old hall", the scene of the trial court in George Eliot's first novel, Adam Bede. Even in the mid 19th century, before the Blitz of 1940 and post-war redevelopment removed much of Coventry's historic core, St. Mary's Guildhall stood out as one of the city's finest and most prestigious buildings, and would have been well known to George Eliot.

Although born and raised on the Arbury Hall estate near Nuneaton, where her father was employed as land agent, George Eliot (or Mary Ann Evans as she was properly known) would have known Coventry intimately, having resided at various schools in the city from the age of 13. In 1841, at the age of 22, she moved permanently to Coventry with her by now retired and widowed father, living in Foleshill at the edge of the city until her father's death, in 1849, prompted a move to London.