Coventry: smelly?

Coventry: smelly?

In 1845, Judge Maule was sent to Coventry – twice.

Sir William Henry Maule (1788-1858) was a Cambridge-educated lawyer from Middlesex, who was known for his ‘fine judicial sense of humour‘. However, his sense of humour appears to have failed him when he was told to go to Coventry to preside over the Assizes.

He and his fellow learned gentlemen were provided with lodgings in the town, where they would stay for the duration of the Assizes, but Maule was not impressed.

On entering the house, he was ‘struck with the intolerable stench which met him’.  The whole house smelled bad, he said; both upstairs and downstairs were so smelly that it was ‘impossible to remain’.

Someone, possibly the landlord or lady, tried to explain the smell by saying it could be a mouldy carpet; but Maule was not having it. He removed himself to the more pleasant environs of Warwick, where he promptly complained to anyone who would listen that it was both inconvenient and expensive to hold an Assize at Coventry, and that it was therefore pointless to do so.

Having been sent to Coventry once, he was now sent again – by the townspeople. Offended by his attitude, they regarded him as having insulted both them and their home.

They held protests, slandering the judge by making their opinions on his own personal character known; and then gathered together some statistics relating to local mortality, publicising them to show that ‘Coventry is in fact a delightfully salubrious region’.

In an era where cholera regularly struck urban communities, and was believed to be the result of miasma, or ‘bad air’, Maule’s comments about the ‘stench’ of Coventry had an extra significance. The protesting inhabitants argued that

“Judge Maule’s airs were not attributable to the air of Coventry, but to some other cause”

In addition, they argued that Assizes had been held at Coventry for at least 500 years; but the press noted that it was likely, due to Maule’s complaints, that ‘it is not unlikely the result will be to remove altogether the Assizes to Warwick.’

Source: Berrow’s Worcester Journal, 10 April 1845