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Celebrations, Communities and Performances: festival occasions in Coventry and the surrounding region from the fifteenth to the seventeenth centuries and their legacy

'Celebrations, Communities and Performances: festival occasions in Coventry and the surrounding region
from the fifteenth to the seventeenth centuries and their legacy'
20 April to 22 April 2022 at the Drapers' Hall, Coventry

The Society for European Research, in collaboration with the Historic Coventry Trust and Medieval Coventry, is pleased to announce a conference to celebrate Coventry’s year as UK City of Culture May 2021-April 2022. This conference will see SEFR collaborate with academics, curators, independent researchers, industry professionals, students, and community groups.


Organizers and location

The conference is organized by Dr Margaret Shewring (co-founder of SEFR, Emeritus Reader, Theatre and Performance Studies, School of Creative Arts, Performance and Visual Cultures, and Honorary Research Fellow of the Centre for the Study of the Renaissance, University of Warwick), Dr Mark Webb (PhD, University of Leicester), an archaeologist who works for the Prince’s Foundation as a Development Director including responsibly for the restoration of Drapers’ Hall, Coventry, and a trustee of the Historic Coventry Trust, and Dr David Coates (Teaching Fellow, Theatre and Performance Studies, School of Creative Arts, Performance and Visual Cultures, University of Warwick). It will take place in the Drapers’ Hall, Coventry (days and evenings) and visits will be arranged to St Mary’s Guildhall (currently undergoing renovation and not open to the public) for groups of conference attendees.

The conference will take place in person, with social distancing as necessary, and with the inclusion of several pre-recorded contributions.


Civic and religious processions, royal entries and dynastic unions, as well as the journeys and entertainment of foreign visitors and ambassadors, were features of festivals at the heart of urban life, and the lives of surrounding regional communities, across Europe and beyond in the medieval, Renaissance and early modern periods. These activities in turn created a legacy of local, national and international heritage and cultural identities. Coventry has a rich heritage of large-scale civic and religious events from medieval mystery plays to royal and noble visits to the city and the surrounding area. Throughout the medieval, Renaissance and early modern periods it had a strong monastic heritage as well as royal and civic processions and pageants, tournaments and jousts, music and soundscapes, a rich tradition of trades guilds and interactions with Europe and more widely, through Coventry’s years as a royal city to those of rebellion and parliamentarian conflicts. The legacy of such public, performance-based occasions remains relevant in the multi-cultural, diverse community of Coventry today. Celebrating the heritage of the region can also offer a way to harness memories and sustain the socio-economic stability of the city’s community and its cultural heritage into the future.

Both the Drapers’ Hall and St Mary’s Hall have undergone significant restoration and renovation work that has extended well into the city’s year as UK City of Culture. The research presented at the conference and made available after the event will contribute to a greater understanding of the importance of these historic buildings. Coventry’s City Council are at the start of a three-year programme of events and activities to develop the Guildhall, with its historic tapestry, as a heritage destination – including a learning and engagement programme for schools, families and the wider community as well as to enhance the Guildhall’s offer and attract a more diverse and new audience base for the venue. Dr Mark Webb will have an on-going role in the interpretation and community engagement strategy of both Drapers’ Hall and St Mary’s Guildhall into the future.


Papers will include the following.

Ian Brown (Glasgow University), 'Performing Versions of clerks' play to foreshadow the Scottish Reformation'

Eleanor Chadwick (Resident Artist at Pervasive Media Studios and Senior Lecturer in Performing Arts, Plymouth Marjon University), 'Creating Humankind: exploring the value of interdisciplinary co-creation of historical narratives'

Alan Chalmers, Fae Parkins, Khairul Mohammad and Kurt Debattista (all WMG, University of Warwick) and Mark Webb (Medieval Coventry Charity), 'Reconstructing Coventry's Medieval Industrial Heritage'

Joe Chick (History, University of Warwick), 'Rowdy Godiva: Medieval Parish Festivities and the Impact of the Reformation'

George Demidowicz (former Conservation Officer for Coventry, now freelance), ‘The history of the Drapers’ Hall’

Miriam Gill (PhD, Courtauld Institute, FSA, FHEA, Leicester Vaughan College and Institute of Continuing Education, University of Cambridge), 'Documentary evidence for the Drapers' pageant including the Doom painting in Holy Trinity Church (Coventry) and the Devil's mouth'

Frederick Hepburn (historian and independent scholar), 'The St Mary's Hall tapestry: some further thoughts'

Andrew Kirkman (Professor of Music, University of Birmingham), 'Echoes of a Royal and Civic Soundscape: Henry VI and Music in Coventry'

Margaret M. McGowan (1937--2022: CBE, FBA, Research Professor, University of Sussex), 'Royal Entries into Coventry in the Fifteenth Century: a Comparative Approach'. This paper will be introduced and read by Richard Cooper, Emeritus Professor of French Studies, former Master of Brasenose College, Master of St Benet's Hall, University of Oxford.

Simon Pickard (University of Cambridge and University of Birmingham), ‘Angel Musicians in St Mary's Guildhall, Coventry’

Lynda Pidgeon (Research Officer, Richard III Society), ‘A Joyous Entry? Elizabeth Wydevile’s [Woodville’s] visit to Coventry’

Helen Roberts (Open University and professional cornetist) and Jamie Savan (Professor of Performance-led Research in Music at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire), 'Winds of change: the role of Coventry's waits from the fifteenth to the seventeenth century'

Margaret Shewring (Emeritus Reader in Theatre and Performance Studies, University of Warwick), ‘The place of Coventry in the wider context of European Festivals’

Margaret Shewring (University of Warwick), 'Travelling Players in Coventry in the Sixteenth Century'

Pete Walters (Tudor Group, Coventry), 'John Rastell (b. 1475 in Coventry), plays and royal ceremonies’

Mark Webb (Medieval Coventry Charity), ‘Coventry's years as a royal city, 1456-1460’


We will also have a 'Resources' session which is likely to involve the participation of people from the Herbert Gallery and Coventry Archive.

There will be some recorded interventions including a documentary-style interview with the Lord Mayor and Mark Webb about the earliest surviving Coventry ceremonial sword (filmed by Luke Robert Mason). The Lord Mayor will open the conference.

Mark Webb has been successful in a joint bid to Angel Early Music (AEM) with Professor Andrew Kirkman (University of Birmingham) to enable a professional performance, by the Binchois Consort, of early music which has close associations with the City of Coventry (evening of 20 April 2022, tickets via the Historic Coventry Trust website)

Eleanor Chadwick, with her company Sleight of Hand, has been awarded funding from Arts Council England to present a rehearsed reading of Humankind, an adaptation of the medieval morality play Mankind for life in Coventry today, in the Drapers' Hall (evening of 21 April 2022, tickets are free but must be booked via the Historic Coventry Trust website)


Full programme and registration details 

The conference will run from 1.30pm (arrival from 1.00pm) on Wednesday 20 April to 1.00pm on Friday 22 April, with performance events on the evenings of the 20th and 21st.

The conference programme and registration details will be available from Friday 8 April 2022. If you would like the details emailed to you when they are available, please send an email request to

Link to conference registration here