My neighbour has always been interested in the history of Coventry. We were chatting recently and he asked if I knew the story about a double booking of actresses for the 1870 Godiva Procession.
Reading about the procession in the Coventry Herald newspaper it appears that organisers feared the no-show of the actress Madame Stacey who had been hired to play Lady Godiva in the procession. Ladies playing Lady Godiva traditionally stayed in St. Mary’s Hall the night before the procession. When Madame Stacey failed to arrive on the last train from London the organisers rushed off to Birmingham to hire another actress, Rose Williams.
However on the morning of the procession Madam Stacey arrived and was not impressed to find another actress in her part. Heated discussions followed as to which lady would play the part as there could only be one Lady Godiva. Madame Stacey, much aggrieved, apparently flounced off and later successfully sued the organisers for breach of contract.
The Godiva Procession which has taken place in the city since 1677-78 always drew a huge crowd. Unfortunately on this occasion the crowd were eagerly expecting Madame Stacey and were disappointed by Rose Williams. Poor Rose was described in the Coventry Herald as ‘too girlish and lacking in dignity’. She does look very young in the photograph below but I think this is a little harsh!
However the rest of the procession was pronounced a great success. The route through the city centre took four hours. In addition to Lady Godiva the procession included followers dressed as significant characters from Coventry’s past such as the Black Prince and Mary Queen of Scots. There were also several bands, representatives from Coventry societies and companies, three elephants, two dromedaries and two camels from Mander’s Menagerie!
PA 2113/1/1-2 Godiva Pageant 1870
Coventry Herald and Free Press and Midland Express 24 June 1870
JN 398.2 Burbidge Old Coventry and Lady Godiva