01 November 2014

‘The Archbishops of Dublin and the Deanery of Penkridge:
a mediaeval peculiar in the Diocese of Lichfield’

The Church of Saint Michael and All Angels in Penkridge, Staffordshire (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

‘The Archbishops of Dublin and the Deanery of Penkridge:
a mediaeval peculiar in the Diocese of Lichfield’

Patrick Comerford

The Church of Ireland Historical Society

Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin,

2 p.m., 1 November 2014


For family reasons that are best explained at another time [see Appendix 2], I was recently researching the work of the architect Andrew Capper, who designed a number of Gothic revival churches in the Diocese of Lichfield, and the history of Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth, which is one of the collegiate churches and former royal free churches peculiars in Staffordshire.

In a way that so often happens, my attention was drawn away to the Collegiate Church of Saint Michael and All Angels in Penkridge in Staffordshire and the Diocese of Lichfield.

Here I found a collegiate church where the Archbishops of Dublin were Deans from the early 13th century until at least the mid-16th century, and continued to claim an interest until the early 18th century, if not into the 1930s.

The framed list of incumbents of Penkridge ... with two dozen Archbishops of Dublin heading the list (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Like many English parish churches, the church in Penkridge displays a framed list of incumbents, but at least two dozen of these are Archbishops of Dublin.

Of course, Penkridge was outside the normal jurisdictions of the Diocese of Dublin, and is barely mentioned in Archbishop Allen’s Liber Niger. On the other hand, Penkridge was a Royal Free Chapel and remained outside the diocesan structures of the Church of England, one of the handful of royal free churches or peculiars that were self-contained ecclesiastical islands within – but paradoxically outside – the Diocese of Lichfield.

In addition, it was widely believed the Archbishops of Dublin held office as Deans of Penkridge on condition that they should never appoint an Irishman to one of the prebends or canonries in Penkridge Church.

It was such an anomaly – such a collection of quirk ecclesiastical anomalies – that I had to go and see the place for myself.

Penkridge on the landscape

Penkridge is on the main rail line between London and the North-West, between Stafford and Wolverhampton ... but most Irish people passing through probably know little about its links with the mediaeval Archbishops of Dublin

Penkridge is halfway between Stafford and Wolverhampton, and about 20 km (13 miles) west of Lichfield. The Stafford-Wolverhampton road runs from north to south across the parish, and Watling Street crosses the southern portion from east to west.

Penkridge is a pleasant, small market town in south Staffordshire (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Penkridge is a market town with a population of 7,836 (2001). For some people who pass through Penkridge, it may seem like a sleepy village, and its prosperity is due mainly to its location on regional transport links, first on the Roman Watling Street, then the Midlands canal system, and later the railway. Penkridge rail station is on the West Coast Main Line (WCML), Britain’s most important rail backbone in terms of population served. The route links Greater London, the West Midlands, the North West, North Wales and the Central Belt of Scotland. It is Britain’s most important intercity rail passenger route, linking London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow and Edinburgh, and also one of the busiest freight routes in Europe.

I imagine everyone in this room has been through Penkridge at one stage or another. But few have noticed it, and fewer still may know that from the Middle Ages Penkridge had been a royal peculiar and that from 1215 the Archbishop of Dublin was the Dean of Penkridge.

Today, the collegiate church still dominates the skyline of Penkridge, where the Deanery was once extremely wealthy, owning much land, and raising significant sums in tithes and fees for successive Archbishops of Dublin.

The Church of Saint Michael and All Angels once stood in the midst of a cluster of buildings, including the Infirmorium for the sick and elderly, a Guest House, the Collegium, which housed the priests, a Chapter House, and a Refectory. The Chapter House and the Refectory stood between the present church and the railway embankment.

Early History

Saint Mary’s, Stafford ... one of the seven royal free chapels within the Diocese of Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

The majority of royal free chapels in England were in the West Midlands, especially in Staffordshire and within the boundaries of the Diocese of Lichfield. Many may have had their origins in the churches of the ancient demesnes of the Saxon kings, but they are first mentioned in a bull of Pope Innocent III in 1214, in which the Pope promised the immunity of King John and his royal chapels from excommunication or interdict from the English bishops without the approval and consent of the papacy.

In 1281, Penkridge was one of the seven royal free chapels in the Diocese of Lichfield that the bishop recognised were exempt from all his ordinary jurisdiction and subject directly to the king. The others, identified by Anne Elizabeth Jenkins in her MPhil thesis for the University of Birmingham (1988), are: Saint Michael’s, Tettenhall, Saint Peter’s, Wolverhampton, Saint Mary’s, Stafford, Saint Laurence’s, Gnosall, and Saint Editha’s, Tamworth, all in Staffordshire, and Quatford in Shropshire. Others add the Royal Free Chapel of Saint Mary, Shrewsbury, and the Royal Free Chapel, Bridgnorth.

These free chapels were normally secular collegiate churches, each with a dean and a chapter of secular canons or prebendaries.

According to the Liber Niger, the register of Archbishop John Allen of Dublin, who was the Dean of Penkridge from 1528 to 1534, the Royal Free Chapel of Saint Michael and All Angels in Penkridge was founded by either King Eadred of Mercia (946-955), or a little later by his nephew, King Edgar of Mercia (957-975). A charter from King Edgar dated at Penkridge in 958 describes it as a famous place.

Penkridge, held before the Conquest by King Edward, was still a royal manor in 1086 when it was assessed at half a hide. The manor had six members, namely Wolgarston (‘Tuhgarestone’), Drayton, Congreve, and Dunston, and also Cowley and Beffcote (both in Gnosall), together assessed at 6½ hides. The Domesday Book provides evidence of a community at Penkridge in 1086, including nine clerks or priests who were supported by land owned by the Crown.

From ca 1156 to 1172, Walter Hose, or Hussey, held land in Penkridge of the king worth £8 a year. In 1173, Penkridge was apparently restored to the Crown. From 1173 to 1206, Penkridge was a royal demesne. However, in 1207 the Manor of Penkridge was restored to Hugh Hose, son of Walter Hose, to hold directly from the Crown.

Meanwhile, King Stephen (r. 1135-1154) was anxious to win the support of the bishops, and in 1136 he gave the churches of Penkridge and Stafford, with their lands, chapels, and tithes to the Bishop of Lichfield, Roger de Clinton (r. 1129-1148), in return for Masses being said for the soul of his uncle, King Henry I.

King Stephen’s gift was confirmed by Papal Bulls in 1139, 1144, and again in 1152. By the early 1180s, however, the Crown had recovered Penkridge from the Bishops of Lichfield, and once again it had the status of a Royal Free Chapel, with Robert of Coppenhall as Dean of Penkridge (1180-1188).

In 1189, Richard I (r. 1189-1199), who was anxious to raise funds for the Crusades, sold the vills and churches of Cannock and Rugeley to the Bishop of Lichfield, Hugh de Nonant (r. 1185-1198), despite the fact that the church in Cannock was attached to the Prebend of Cannock in Penkridge. Two years later, in 1191, the Pope confirmed Bishop Hugh’s rights to the churches in Cannock and Rugeley, and within 12 months the bishop had granted them to the common fund of the canons of Lichfield Cathedral.

In 1199, shortly after his accession, King John (r. 1199-1216) appointed Elias of Bristol, or Elias de Bristow, as Dean of Penkridge. But by then there was a protracted dispute between Penkridge and Lichfield over the church in Cannock.

The Dean of Penkridge took a case against the Dean and Chapter of Lichfield, and in 1207 the case was heard by three papal judges who decided in favour of Penkridge. As part of the settlement, it was agreed that whenever the Dean of Penkridge visited Lichfield Cathedral he was to be received as a brother of the church in choir and chapter, and that when he died and on his anniversary, he was to be remembered in Lichfield Cathedral with the office for a dead canon.

But the dean and chapter of Lichfield soon claimed that the dean and canons of Penkridge had broken the agreement, and the dispute would continue well until the 14th century.

Penkridge and the Archbishops of Dublin

In 1215, King John appointed Henry de Loundres (or Henry of London), Archbishop of Dublin, and his successors as Dean of Penkridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Meanwhile, on 13 September 1215, three months after Magna Carta was signed on 15 June 1215, King John appointed Henry de Loundres (or Henry of London), Archbishop of Dublin (r. 1212-1228), and his successors as Dean of Penkridge. Hugh Hose was then a ward of the king, and in 1215 the Manor of Penkridge and the dependent vills of Congreve, Wolgarston, Cowley, Beffcote and Little Onn (in Church Eaton) were also conveyed to the Archbishop of Dublin, along with the fair of Penkridge.

Henry de Loundres had been appointed Archbishop of Dublin in 1212, and in 1215 he served the crown well, attending the Fourth Lateran Council in Rome principally to look after the interests of the king. But what was his connection with the Diocese of Lichfield? Henry de Loundres had been on the staff of Hugh de Nonant, Bishop of Lichfield. From 1203 to 1226, he was Dean of Saint Mary’s Collegiate Church (the Collegiate Church and Royal Free Chapel of Saint Mary the Virgin), a royal peculiar in Shrewsbury, and until 1212 he was Archdeacon of Stafford. As Archbishop of Dublin (1212-1228), he also served the Crown as Justiciar of Ireland (Lord Chief Justice) twice (1213-1215, 1221-1224), and he was instrumental in building Saint Patrick’s Cathedral and Dublin Castle.

In asking whether Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, was ever known as a cathedral in the early 13th century, a former dean, Hugh Jackson Lawlor (1860-1938), notes that the word “cathedral” is not used in the charters of 1191, 1218 and 1220, and points out: “as a a cathedral need not have a Dean, so a collegiate church need not be a cathedral.” He then goes on to support this line of argument by pointing to the example of Penkridge from the time Henry de Loundres became Dean.

An interesting stipulation in the grant of the Deanery of Penkridge to the archbishop is often supposed to be the proviso that none of the deans or canons of Penkridge should be an Irishman.

With the gift of the Manor of Penkridge, the archbishop divided the manor, giving about two-thirds to his nephew, Andrew le Blund, and keeping the rest for the deanery. The Manor of Penkridge was passed on through the Blund (Blount) family and later to other families of lay landlords.

By 1225, the Archbishop of Dublin had granted two-thirds of the manor to his nephew Andrew le Blund. But he retained one-third part of the Manor of Penkridge, and this portion became known as the Deanery Manor.

When the deanery fell vacant in 1226, Henry de Loundres presumed as Archbishop of Dublin that he had the right to appoint under the grant of 1215, and named himself Dean of Penkridge. Henry III appointed Walter de Kirkeham as dean instead, but was forced to change his mind. The Archbishop of Dublin was confirmed as dean, and the canons of Penkridge were ordered to give him their obedience.

In 1225, Archbishop Henry de Loundres began building the Church of Saint Michael and All Angels in Penkridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

The archbishop left Dublin and moved to live in his Deanery of Penkridge, remaining there until 1228. During this time, he put in hand the demolition of the Old Saxon minster and began building one of the great collegiate churches within the Diocese of Lichfield, the Church of Saint Michael and All Angels. The stone for the new church came from the Horse-Fair Quarry and from Quarry Heath.

When Archbishop Henry died in November 1228, King Henry III (r. 1216-1272) appointed Richard of St John, chaplain of Hubert de Burgh, as Dean of Penkridge, claiming it was the king’s right because the Archbishopric of Dublin was vacant at the time.

Shortly afterwards, Luke, chaplain to the Bishop of Lichfield and Treasurer of the King’s Wardrobe, was elected Archbishop of Dublin. The Pope claimed the election was uncanonical, but when Archbishop Luke was re-elected he received papal approval in 1229. Henry III then set aside his alternative appointment and Archbishop Luke became Dean of Penkridge.

In 1236, Andrew le Blund, nephew of Archbishop Henry de Loundres, was holding his two-thirds of the Manor of Penkridge from the Crown by service of a knight’s fee.

William de Kilkenny was granted the right to appoint the Prebendaries of Penkridge in 1253 when he was Archdeacon of Coventry (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

However, the king continued to hold the right to appoint to the prebends of Penkridge whenever there was a vacancy in the See of Dublin. In 1253, Henry III granted this right to appoint the Prebendaries of Penkridge to William de Kilkenny, Archdeacon of Coventry, then in the Diocese of Lichfield. He had been Bishop of Ossory (1231-1232), and was later Bishop of Ely (1254-1256).

When Archbishop Luke died in 1255, the Pope appointed the Archdeacon of Middlesex, Fulk de Sanford, as Archbishop of Dublin (r. 1256-1271). In 1256, soon after his accession as Archbishop of Dublin and before his appointment as Dean of Penkridge, Archbishop Fulk mortgaged his lands in Penkridge.

In March 1257, the king surrendered the deanery to Archbishop Fulk to hold “as his predecessor Luke held it, saving to the king and his heirs his right when he wishes to assert it.” Two months later, in May 1257, Archbishop Fulk was in Lichfield Cathedral for the funeral of Bishop Roger Weseham. A few weeks later, in June 1257, Archbishop Fulk obtained a Papal Bull confirming his rights in Penkridge and petitioned the Pope to make the union of the deanery with the archbishopric complete and absolute. A Papal Bull in 1259 confirmed that in future no one should be instituted as dean except the Archbishop of Dublin and his successors.

The Old Deanery, Penkridge ... in 1259, the offices of Archbishop of Dublin and Dean of Penkridge were united in perpetuity (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

In this way, the offices of Archbishop of Dublin and Dean of Penkridge were united in perpetuity in 1259. The union remained undisturbed until the Reformation, although the Crown continued to collate to prebends during vacancies in the archbishopric.

In 1259, Archbishop Fulk sued Andrew le Blund for land in Penkridge as the right of the church of Dublin. Andrew le Blund died that year, apparently not of sound mind, leaving a widow Ellen who was given custody of his lands and heir. Their son Hugh had succeeded by 1271 and was said in 1285 to be holding two-thirds of the Manor of Penkridge from the Crown.

Nevertheless, the permanent union of the Deanery of Penkridge and the Archbishopric of Dublin had no effect on the status of the church as a Royal Free Chapel. The parishioners were warned not to allow the Bishop of Lichfield, his officials, or the Archdeacon of Stafford to enter Penkridge for the exercise of spiritual functions or to obey them in any spiritual matters.

In 1281, Penkridge was one of the seven royal free chapels in the Diocese of Lichfield that the bishop recognised were exempt from all his ordinary jurisdiction and subject directly to the Pope. The others, identified by Anne Elizabeth Jenkins in her MPhil thesis for the University of Birmingham (1988), are: Saint Michael’s, Tettenhall, Saint Peter’s, Wolverhampton, Saint Mary’s, Stafford, Saint Laurence’s, Gnosall, and Saint Editha’s, Tamworth, all in Staffordshire, and Quatford in Shropshire. Others add the Royal Free Chapel of Saint Mary, Shrewsbury, and the Royal Free Chapel, Bridgnorth.

There is a strategic importance that links these churches, for Tamworth, Lichfield and Penkridge stand on the Roman road, Watling Street, and Gnosall stands on a branch of this road.

In 1280, John Peckham, as Archbishop of Canterbury, visited the Diocese of Lichfield as metropolitan. In a letter to the Archbishop of Dublin, John de Drelington, or Darlington (r. 1279-1283), as Dean of Penkridge, Peckham agreed to defer his visit to Penkridge until the two archbishops had met to discuss the college’s claim of exemption as a royal chapel.

If John de Drelington ever visited Penkridge, he never visited Dublin. He was too busy with affairs of state, serving as the king’s ambassador to Pope Nicholas III, and he helped to raise funds from church coffers to finance Edward I. Feeling bruised and insulted after their initial encounter, the Archbishop of Canterbury warned the Archbishop of Dublin to think over matters, and implicitly threatened him with court action. Peckham complained to the king that the Archbishop of Dublin as dean and the canons of Penkridge had done great wrong to the church of Canterbury.

A petulant Peckham then excommunicated Penkridge and the other royal free chapels within the boundaries of the Diocese of Lichfield. He was careful to exclude the Archbishop of Dublin from his sentences against the canons of Penkridge, explaining that only those who actually resisted his jurisdiction were involved. However, Peckham seems to have dropped his claims that year after an agreement was reached in 1281 between the royal chapels and the Diocese of Lichfield.

In 1288, Stephen of Codnor, the ‘Vicegerent’ of Archbishop John de Sanford (r. 1284-1294), was at Penkridge dealing with the contumacy of Sir Richard de Loges, a parishioner of the dean.

In 1293, the archbishop’s one-third of the Manor of Penkridge, valued along with the advowson of the church at 70 marks a year, was held by the Archbishop of Dublin. At this time, the Dean and Chapter of the college were claiming view of frankpledge, fines for infraction of the assize of bread and beer, and infangthief within their manor of Penkridge.

Richard de Feringes, Archbishop of Dublin (r. 1299-1306), never visited his see. Although he negotiated a pact between Christ Church Cathedral and Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, he seems to have been more interested in his rights in Penkridge. He leased 90 acres of arable land, 17 acres of meadow and 53 acres of pasture and moorland in Penkridge to Robert de Shireburne, without royal licence, at an annual rent of 61s 4d.

The land was seized by Edward I, presumably on the archbishop’s death in 1306, and remained in the hands of the Crown until 1313. From this time until the dissolution of the college in 1547 the overlordship descended with the deanery.

In 1321, Richard Hillary, commissary of Archbishop Alexander de Bicknor (r. 1317-1349), held an inquisition at Penkridge into allegations of wastage of the college revenues. This inquiry found two resident priests, acting as commissaries of the deans, had wasted much of the college property. They were not canons but resided as chantry priests, celebrating Mass daily, one for the king and the other in the chapel of the Blessed Virgin.

The archbishop’s commissary then appointed one of the resident priests as the dean’s commissary to be responsible for all the revenues of the church and to account at least once a year to the canons or their proctors.

The dispute between the Archbishops of Dublin as Deans of Penkridge and the Bishop, Diocese and Cathedral of Lichfield continued until at least the 1330s.

In 1380, Robert de Wikeford, Archbishop of Dublin (r. 1376-1390), held a visitation of Penkridge. However, the lengthy non-residence of many archbishops as Deans of Penkridge made necessary the appointment of an official to exercise the dean’s peculiar jurisdiction. These officials were often known as the “vicegerent” or the commissary.

The dispute with Canterbury resurfaced in 1401, when Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury (r. 1396-1414), as metropolitan, appointed two commissaries to carry out a visitation of Penkridge and of the other royal free chapels in Staffordshire.

The prebends of Penkridge included Dunston. From at least the 15th century, the mediaeval church in Dunston was dedicated to Saint Leonard of Noblac, a saint associated with the liberation of prisoners. This dedication was confirmed in 1445 by Richard Talbot, Archbishop of Dublin (r. 1417-1449), a brother of John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury and one of the great magnates in Staffordshire and Shropshire. Archbishop Talbot was the founder of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral Choir School. As the Dean of Penkridge, he declared a 100-day indulgence for all who visited the church in Dunston and made a contribution to it.

It seems the Hussey family continued to hold some intermediate lordship, for it was claimed for John Hussey in 1300, Thomas Hussey in 1462, and John Hussey in 1503.

Between 1528 and 1534, the value of the dean’s prebend in the Church of Penkridge was given as 26s 8d, consisting in 1535 of 20s from land and 6s 8d from waif and stray.

A commission appointed in 1530 by Henry VIII, under Thomas Cromwell, found that the Dean of the Collegiate Church of Penkridge was the Archbishop of Dublin, John Allen (r. 1530-1534). Allen was Master of the Rolls and Chancellor of Ireland. His clerical staff at Penkridge included a sub-dean, seven prebendaries, two resident canons, six vicars, one high deacon, one sub-deacon and a sacrist. Three of the vicars were vicars choral with a yearly stipend of £5.

In addition, the people of Penkridge employed their own “Morrow Mass” priest who received an annual stipend of 3s 4d from land at Whiston as well as the offerings of the people for whom he said his daily Mass.

Allen took a particular interest in his rights as Dean of Penkridge, and claimed that the founder of the collegiate church of Saint Michael and All Angels was King Eadred of Mercia (946-955). Allen compiled the Liber Niger, which gives us some limited insights into how the Archbishops of Dublin regarded the Deanery of Penkridge. But the entries are limited in scope, and most of the sources for their links with Penkridge are English.

Penkridge at the Dissolution

The church in Penkridge lost its collegiate status under the Chantries Act of 1547, but the Archbishops of Dublin continued to assert their rights as Deans (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Allen was chaplain to Cardinal Wolsey and his agent in the 40 minor monasteries for the endowment of colleges in Oxford and Ipswich. Allen was murdered in 1534, and was succeeded by George Browne (r. 1536-1554). In 1543, as dean, Browne granted to Edward Littleton the farm of the site of the college with the house and a croft, of two fields or closes in Penkridge, of arable land, of a pasture there, of the perquisites of the view of frankpledge and the deanery court, and of all other lands and tenements belonging to the deanery in Penkridge, for 80 years.

But in 1547, while Browne was still Archbishop of Dublin and Dean of Penkridge, the church in Penkridge lost its collegiate status under the Chantries Act of 1547, a crucial part of the Reformation legislation in the reign of Edward VI (1547-1553).

At the Dissolution, the total yearly value of the college in Penkridge was £82 6s 8d. By then, much of its property was leased out, mainly to Edward Littleton of Pillaton, who was renting the college house and all the deanery possessions, the farm of the Prebend of Stretton, the farm of the Prebend of Shareshill, the Prebend of Coppenhall and the Prebend of Penkridge.

In July 1548, Thomas Bolte was appointed Vicar of Penkridge by the Chantry Commission and received £16 per annum; William Grainger served as assistant priest, with a stipend of £8 per annum.

In 1548, the deanery lands, along with the site of the dissolved college ‘or mansion house of the priests of that college,’ all still leased to Edward Littleton, were granted by the Crown with all other possessions of the deanery to John Dudley (1504-1553), Earl of Warwick (later Duke of Northumberland). Dudley’s lands were forfeited to the Crown in 1553, and in 1557 the house and the adjoining croft, now said to be of 1½ acre, were granted to William Rigges of Stragglethorpe, Lincolnshire, and William Buckberte.

The lease was then still held by Edward Littleton, and at his death in 1558 he held what was described as the reversion of the house and half the croft. When his son and heir, Sir Edward Littleton, died in 1574, this capital messuage was in his hands and known as College House. The White Hart was originally built in 1565 on the site of a manor house by the Dudleys, Earls of Warwick, and Elizabeth I stayed there when she passed through Penkridge in 1575.

The college with all its rights, members, lands, tithes, and appurtenances, was granted by the Crown in 1581 to Edmund Downynge and Peter Aysheton, who sold it in 1583 to John Morley and Thomas Crompton. They in turn sold them in 1585 for £604 to Sir Edward Littleton – and this is where the family connection comes in, for Edward Littleton’s brother, Walter Littleton, was married to Alice Comberford, daughter of John Comberford (d. 1559).

In 1585, the site of the college, with lands and tithes, was settled on Edward Littleton by John Morley, Elizabeth his wife, and Thomas Crompton. The college and its possessions remained in the hands of the Littleton family of Pillaton Hall for generations, and the clergy they appointed remained outside the jurisdiction of the Bishops of Lichfield for almost 300 years.

Lichfield Cathedral ... Penkridge remained outside the normal ecclesiastical structures of the Diocese of Lichfield after the Reformation (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

One oddity, however, was that the peculiar jurisdiction of the college of Penkridge was not abolished in the Reformation legislation. Although the church became the centre of a large parish, it was still not absorbed into the Diocese of Lichfield. The lord of the manor assumed the role of chief official of the peculiar jurisdiction. After 1585, this was the head of the Littleton family, while the Archbishops of Dublin claimed the right of canonical visitation – a contentious claim as their predecessors had been deans but not ordinaries of the church.

Soon after his consecration in 1661, James Margetson, Archbishop of Dublin (r. 1661-1663), carried out a visitation in Penkridge. Narcissus Marsh, Archbishop of Dublin (r. 1694-1702), founder of Marsh’s Library, Dublin, responded to a request from William Lloyd, Bishop of Lichfield (1692-1699), granting him a process to visit Penkridge – but only if he visited in the name of the Archbishop of Dublin.

The terms of Archbishop Marsh’s permission caused consternation among the churchwardens of Penkridge, and Edward Littleton protested to the Bishop of Lichfield. The Chancellor of Lichfield, William Walmesley, claimed Archbishop Marsh had no powers or rights to visit. Lloyd then came to Penkridge, dined with Littleton at Pillaton Hall, but returned to Lichfield “without any pretence of visiting.”

Ronnie Wallace says the Deanery of Penkridge (Pencrich) continued to be held by the Archbishops of Dublin “down to the 18th century.” By 1737, Sir Edward Littleton, as patron of Penkridge, was appointing the incumbent of Penkridge to the Royal Peculiar.

These arrangements only came to an end in 1858 when the peculiar was abolished and a separate parish was formed in Penkridge. However, the Lichfield Diocesan Registry shows that the last official of the Deanery, the Revd James Alexander Fell (1825-1897), Incumbent of Penkridge 1852-1873, continued to exercise the jurisdiction after 1858.

There were still claims in the early 20th century, that the Royal Free Chapels in Staffordshire had not been dissolved at the Reformation and that they remained outside the ecclesiastical jurisdictions of the Diocese of Lichfield. In Stafford in 1929, the Rector of Stafford, the Revd Lionel Lambert (1869-1948), challenged the authority of the Bishop of Lichfield, claiming Saint Mary’s Church was still the Royal Free Chapel of Saint Mary. The legal battle was not as bruising as a pitched battle fought in the church in 1254, but the Bishop of Lichfield was victorious this time, although Lambert remained Rector of Stafford until he retired in 1944.

The last time an Archbishop of Dublin visited Penkridge was in July 1934 – John Gregg (1873-1961) was Archbishop of Dublin from 1920 until he was transferred to Armagh in 1939. Unlike Lambert, though, he made no attempt to recover the ancient rights of the Archbishops of Dublin as Deans of Penkridge.

The great tithes in Penkridge remained in the Littleton family until at least 1862. The Revd the Hon Cecil James Littleton (1850-1912), who was the Vicar of Penkridge from 1880 to 1893 and is buried in the churchyard, was a younger brother of Edward Littleton (1842-1930), 3rd Lord Hatherton, who sold over 360 acres of the deanery estate in 1919.

Edward Charles Rowley Littleton (1868-1944), 4th Lord Hatherton, still held manorial rights in Penkridge in 1940, but his son, Edward Thomas Walhouse Littleton (1900-1969), 5th Baron Hatherton, sold over 1,520 acres there in 1953. The patronage of the living remained in the Littleton family until 1990, when it was transferred to the Lichfield Diocesan Board of Patronage.

The Penkridge Team Ministry was created that year, with a Team Rector. The team comprises three parishes: Acton Trussell and Bednall; Coppenhall and Dunston; and Penkridge – which, in addition to Saint Michael and All Angels, includes Saint John’s, Stretton, Saint Modwena’s, Pillaton, and Levedale Chapel.

The Church of Saint Michael and All Angels, Penkridge

The Church of Saint Michael and All Angels is early English perpendicular in style (Image: British History)

The Church of Saint Michael and All Angels is built of local sandstone. The church is 47 metres (154 ft) long. It has an aisled chancel, aisled nave, west tower, south porch and north-west vestry. The style of the building is early English perpendicular; all traces of earlier churches of Saxon or Norman origin have disappeared.

Work started in the early 13th century, probably in 1225, while Archbishop Henry de Loundres of Dublin was Dean of Penkridge. The original building was completed by the end of the 13th century. Additional modifications were completed in the 16th century, and structurally, the present building today is much as it was at that time.

A head stoop on arch in the chancel … said locally to be an image of Henry de Loundres, the first Archbishop of Dublin to become Dean of Penkridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

The Chancel is dated 1225 and pre-dates the Nave by possibly 25 years. The remains of a 13th century roof line can also be seen on the interior.

The west tower, clerestories and new windows were added in the 14th century. The tower is dominant with the lower section decorated and the upper section perpendicular gothic.

The building of the Nave began in 1250. The four bay arcades follow the same pattern as those in the Chancel, but the water holding base has been replaced by a double moulding. The nave aisles are wider than the chancel aisles to allow an altar to be placed by the arches connected to the Chancel. The 13th century roof line is clearly defined.

The Clerestory, consisting of a pair of square-headed windows in each bay, was added in the 16th century.

The early church had several altars, including one dedicated to Saint John the Baptist. A number of these were destroyed at the dissolution.

The nave roof is the most notable feature of the church, and is described as “the church’s pride and beauty” (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

In 1881, JA Chatwin of Birmingham carried out a major reordering of the church. The Nave was given an elaborate roof. In his History of Penkridge, JC Tildesley says the nave roof is the most notable feature of the church, and describes it as “The church’s pride and beauty.” The roof is carved from a soft wood, most likely pine, and may be one of the earliest machine-carved roofs in England.

The architect has used emblems that tell of the churches dedication and history. Six oak angels were part of the original roof and two machine-made angels were added. This explains why six are painted gold and two remain in their original wood stain. The new angels hold in their hands the symbols of Christ’s Passion.

Beginning on the north side, the first panel of the first bay shows the Tudor Rose with a dragon on each side; the second panel has the crown on a hawthorn bush with a greyhound on each side. This badge was adopted by Henry VII after the battle of Bosworth, symbolising the story that the crown of Richard III was found on a hawthorn bush.

The second bay depicts a stag’s head and a shell, both heraldic symbols of the Littleton family.

The third bay’s first panel consists of a portcullis with dragon supporters; the second panel a Tudor rose and greyhound supporters.

In the first panel of the fourth bay there are the Percy lion and cap of maintenance and elephants on each side. The second panel has a crescent belonging from the Percy arms.

On the south side, beginning at the east bay, are the four Archangels with their traditional symbols: Saint Uriel (a book), Saint Raphael (a staff), Saint Gabriel (a lily), and Saint Michael (a sword).

In the second bay, panel one shows Saint Michael in combat with the dragon, and the second panel shows him weighing souls.

In the third bay the panels contain emblems of the four evangelists with a shield in the centre having upon it a symbol of Christ’s Passion.

In the fourth bay, the panels are decorated with a combination of the Percy and Littleton heraldic arms.

The choir stalls date from late 15th century, with some original carving in front and in the screens behind them, and late 15th century misericords decorated with foliage.

The elaborate chancel screen is dated 1778, made of wrought iron with leaf and flower decoration, scrolled overthrow and finial. It is of Dutch make, and was brought to Penkridge from Cape Town.

There are so many monuments to the Littleton family inside the Church that it times it seems like a Littleton family mausoleum (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

There are so many monuments to the Littleton family inside the Church that it times it may seem like a Littleton family mausoleum. They include:

Nave (south aisle):

1, Sir Edward Littleton (d. 1812), an oval wall plaque.

2, Richard Littleton (d. 1518) and his wife Alice (Wynnesbury) (d. 1529), an incised alabaster slab within a cusped semi-circular recess in south wall.


The alabaster tomb of Sir Edward Littleton and his two wives, Helen and Isabel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

3, Sir Edward Littleton (d. 1558) and his two wives, Helen (Swynnerton) and Isabel (Wood), an alabaster chest tomb with three recumbent effigies, and standing figures on the sides of the chest.

4, Sir Edward Littleton (d. 1574) and his wife Alice (Cockayne), an alabaster chest tomb, with two recumbent effigies, and standing figures on sides of chest.

These two Littleton tombs are thought to be the work of the Royleys of Burton.

5, Sir Edward Littleton (d. 1610) and his wife Margaret (Devereux), and Sir Edward Littleton (d. 1629) and wife Mary (Fisher), a two-tier monument with recumbent effigies on both the upper and lower chest tomb, and below both their kneeling children, Corinthian columns below, obelisks above, inscribed: “Reader e twas thought enough upon y / tombe / of that great captaine th’enemy of Rome / to write no more but (here lyes Hannibal) / let this suffice e e thee then instead of all here lye two knights y father ane y sonne / Sir Edward and Sir Edward Littleton.”

North aisle wall:

6, An incised alabaster slab mounted on the north aisle wall is mid-17th century and shows kneeling figures of a Littleton family.

7, Sir Edward Littleton (d. 1742), a marble wall monument, bracketed aedicule with foliated pilasters capped by urns, surmounted by obelisk and sarcophagus, the former capped by an urn.

South Chancel aisle (Vicar’s Vestry):

8, A marble wall monument with a carved sarcophagus commemorating Sir Edward Littleton (d. 1772).

The porch has a 14th century stoup with ogee head in the east wall and a 16th century oak ceiling with roll-moulded ridge piece, and bracketed and panelled tie beams.

The archers of Penkridge sharpened their arrows on the stonework of the church and left their marks on the walls (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

A mediaeval law required able-bodied men over the age of 16 to practice archery in churchyards on Sundays, to provide sufficient skilled bowmen. Evidence of regular archery in Penkridge is seen in the grooves scratched into many of the stones around the building, especially on the south side of the church by the junction of the chancel and the south chapel, caused by the sharpening of arrowheads.

The graffiti on the sandstone includes the names of some of the local archers ... and perhaps even a mitre representing the Archbishops of Dublin (Photographs: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

The graffiti on the sandstone walls includes the names of some of these men, and in one place what I imagine may be mitre. If so, is this a reference to the Archbishops of Dublin as Deans of Penkridge?

The Deanery and other buildings in Penkridge today:

The Old Deanery ... the Penkridge residence of the Archbishops of Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Apart from the church, the oldest surviving buildings in Penkridge are Old Deanery and the Church Farm, both on Pinfold Lane, and the Church Cottages on Church Lane, and there are many timber-framed houses in Penkridge dating from the 16th and early 17th centuries. They give some idea of the extent and wealth of the church and church properties and lands in mediaeval Penkridge.

The central section of the Old Deanery is probably where the Deans resided, the present building being added to subsequently, after the Reformation. This house is partly of stone, possibly reused material from demolished buildings connected with the college. It consists of a stone central block of 16th or early 17th century date flanked by two timber cross-wings that are slightly earlier. The two-storey central block may have replaced an earlier timber-framed hall. It has a massive contemporary stone chimney with brick stacks above the roof line. An original stone doorway in the north wall has deeply splayed jambs.

The doorway on the south side has a four-centred head and the stone-mullioned windows are original. The loft space was designed for use as attics and has cambered collars to give headroom. The timber-framed east wing has a stone plinth and may be slightly later than the west wing, which is now enclosed by 18th-century brickwork.

The Deanery Farm was demolished in 1937, but, despite its name, it was not a building of great antiquity.

Church Farm and Church Cottages, between the Old Deanery and the church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

The Church Farm and Church Cottages were originally half-timbered, but the current brick facades date from the 18th century.

Church Farm is T-shaped in plan, having a long two-storey range parallel to the road and a tall brick wing at its east end. The former, which was faced with brickwork in the 18th century, contains in the centre a former single-storey hall enclosed at both ends by tall cruck trusses. Weathering on the outer face of the west truss and a mullioned window below the collar-beam indicate that this was formerly the west end of the building.

The brick outhouse with heavy roof timbers which now lies beyond it may represent a 17th-century malthouse. Inside, the hall roof has smoke-blackened purlins and curved wind-braces. A rough upper floor and a chimney are insertions, probably of the 17th century. The long bay lying east of the hall has a 16th-century stone fireplace and chamfered ceiling beams. It may represent a much-altered bay of the mediaeval house. The brick cross-wing dates from ca 1680 and has a contemporary staircase, possibly brought from elsewhere, in its south-west angle.

Church Cottages, north of the churchyard, formerly comprised a single timber-framed house of three or more bays, possibly dating from the early 16th century. An altered open truss near the north end indicates the position of the single-storey hall. A cross passage, blocked by a later chimney, is incorporated in the two-storey south bay.

A cottage in Bellbrook also has a certain mediaeval date. This house probably dates from the later 15th century and retains most of its original framing.

The White Hart Inn on High Street was built on the site of a manor house owned by Ambrose Dudley, Earl of Warwick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

The White Hart Inn on the east side of High Street is a three-storied timber-framed building. The White Hart was originally built in 1565 on the site of a manor house owned by the Dudleys, Earls of Warwick. Both Mary Queen of Scots and Queen Elizabeth I (in 1575) are known to have stayed at the inn. It was refaced in the 19th century.

The front, which has three small gables, shows a different decorative use of framing to each storey. The ground floor is close-studded, the first floor has a herringbone pattern and on the top floor the gables have small square panels with quarter-round fillings. At first-floor level is a slight projection supported on small shaped brackets.

The Manor House on Market Place, Penkridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

On three sides of Market Place there are timber-framed buildings, probably dating from before 1600. The houses on the north-east and south sides of the square have been brick-faced.

Corner Cottage, at the junction of the square with New Road, has a small two-storey wing that probably represents the solar wing adjoining an original hall, now rebuilt. A carved stone, perhaps a fireplace lintel, has been built into a chimney-piece and is now dated 1680.

The house recently named the Manor House has modern oriels with lead glazing. It has original timbers internally and a separate brick wing from the late 17th century.

The Littleton Arms ... local lore says tunnels underneath the old coaching inn linked the deans’ court with the church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

The Littleton Arms at the corner of Saint Michael’s Square and Church Lane, has been a coaching inn since the 17th century. It was rebuilt in the 19th century and is a tall early building of colour-washed brick. It has been refurbished recently and reopened in 2007, Local lore, recalled by a former landlord, says it was used as a court house by the Deans of Penkridge in the Middle Ages and that tunnels from the basement lead to the church.

The Irish question:

The late 15th century misericords in the former chapter stalls ... but were the Archbishops of Dublin precluded from appointing Irish priests as prebendaries or canons in Penkridge? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

I said earlier that an interesting stipulation in the grant of the Deanery of Penkridge to Henry de Loundres is often supposed to be the proviso that none of the deans or canons of Penkridge should be an Irishman. But it has to be asked whether this was ever a stipulation.

About a century ago, the legal historian, WC Bolland gave extensive commentary on a case in 1311-1312, when the principal defendant was John de Leche or John of Leek, Archbishop of Dublin (r. 1311-1313). The action was to recover the right to present a vicar to the chapel of Stretton in Penkridge. The archbishop’s defence was that the chapel of Stretton was annexed to the Deanery of Penkridge, and that the Deanery of Penkridge belonged to the Archbishop of Dublin if the archbishop for the time being were an Englishman speaking the English language. The archbishop added that the archbishops held the Deanery by the collation of the king, which collation, in the case of an English archbishop, could not be refused.

Bolland investigated this curious story and could not find any truth in it. King John’s charter, dated 13 September 1215 (17 John) gave the advowson of the church of Penkridge to the then Archbishop and his successors forever.

A transcript of the charter was copied from the Liber Niger and was printed in Dr Robert Plot’s Natural History of Staffordshire (1686) in reference to Penkridge, and in Dugdale’s Monasticon (vol. 6, p. 1466).

This transcript includes no condition that the Archbishops of Dublin must be Englishmen or should have collation from the king. In 1257, Pope Alexander IV confirmed the gift according to the tenor of King John’s charter. In 1312, John Leek was Dean of Penkridge in absolute right as Archbishop of Dublin. He needed no collation from the king nor proof that he was an Englishman.

However, Bolland later said that he had found a transcript of King John’s Charter granting the advowson for the deanery of Penkridge to the Archbishop of Dublin, on the contemporary charter roll preserved in the Public Record Office in London. This transcript provided a basis of fact for the Irish story. The charter transcript did not state that the Archbishop was to present only “Englishmen speaking English,” but it did state that the Archbishop was to present clerks to the deanery “if they be not Irishmen.”

Bolland next verified that the copy of the charter in the Liber Niger supplied to Dr Plot by the Chancellor of Saint Patrick’s had omitted in two passages the words “qui non fuerint Hibernienses,” evidently omitted not by Dr Plot but by the archbishop’s registrar in 1215.

Bolland noted also that the Archbishop of Dublin in 1259, Fulk Basset or Fulk of Sandford, was guilty of inaccuracy when he told Pope Alexander IV that through lack of endowment it had not been possible to provide Penkridge with a dean for 40 years, when Fulk was urging the Pope to annex the Deanery to the Archbishopric.

JG Wood of Lincoln’s Inn told Bolland that he had found two charters in Hereford Cathedral from one “Elyas de Bristoll, Canonicus Herefordensis,” one to the Hospital of Saint Ethelbert and the other to the Church of Saint Mary and Saint Ethelbert. These charters, later in the Chapter Library, bore a seal: “sigillum Helie Decani de Penkriz et de Tetenhal.”

Bolland said these charters must have been made between 1217 and 1228, for this Elias, Dean of Penkridge and of Tettenhall, who was also Canon of Hereford, died not earlier than 1224 and not later than 1228.

Another Irish link

When Sir Edward Littleton, the 4th baronet, died in in 1812, his Pillaton estates and his interests in Penkridge were inherited by his great-nephew, Edward Walhouse, who took the name Littleton and became MP for Staffordshire. He joined the liberal wing of the Tory Party, and campaigned prominently for Catholic Emancipation. When Canning died in 1827, Littleton went over to the Whigs and was appointed Chief Secretary for Ireland in 1833.

But Littleton refused to sacrifice his principles for political gain. When he found he could not keep promises he had made to Daniel O’Connell, he resigned. However, he was made a peer as the 1st Lord Hatherton. His wife, Hyacinthe Mary Wellesley, was an illegitimate daughter of Richard Wellesley, 1st Marquess Wellesley, and a niece of the Duke of Wellington.


Pet dogs feature on many of the Littleton monuments in Penkridge Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Wandering around Penkridge Church on a summer’s day earlier this year, as I gazed on the collection of Littleton family tombs, resplendent with squires, wives, children, heraldic arms and pet dogs, I was reminded of the opening lines of Philip Larkin’s poem, ‘An Arundel Tomb’:

Side by side, their faces blurred,
The earl and countess lie in stone,
Their proper habits vaguely shown
As jointed armour, stiffened pleat,
And that faint hint of the absurd–
The little dogs under their feet.

Such plainness of the pre-baroque
Hardly involves the eye, until
It meets his left hand gauntlet, still
Clasped empty in the other; and
One sees, with sharp tender shock,
His hand withdrawn, holding her hand.

They would not think to lie so long.
Such faithfulness in effigy
Was just a detail friends could see:
A sculptor’s sweet commissioned grace
Thrown off in helping to prolong
The Latin names around the base.

They would not guess how early in
Their supine stationary voyage
Their air would change to soundless damage,
Turn the old tenantry away;
How soon succeeding eyes begin
To look, not read. Rigidly they

Persisted, linked, through lengths and breadths
Of time. Snow fell, undated. Light
Each summer thronged the grass. A bright
Litter of birdcalls strewed the same
Bone-riddled ground. And up the paths
The endless altered people came,

Washing at their identity.
Now, helpless in the hollow of
An unarmorial age, a trough
Of smoke in slow suspended skeins
Above their scrap of history,
Only an attitude remains:

Time has transfigured them into
Untruth. The stone finality
They hardly meant has come to be
Their final blazon, and to prove
Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.

– Philip Larkin, ‘An Arundel Tomb,’ The Whitsun Weddings (1964)

But, while the Littletons have dominated the history of Penkridge Church for almost 500 years, local people are also keenly aware of the role of the Archbishops of Dublin as Deans of Penkridge.

Next year marks the 800th anniversary of the Archbishops of Dublin acquiring Penkridge [13 September 1215]. The offices of Archbishop of Dublin and Dean of Penkridge were united in perpetuity in 1259, and the union remained undisturbed until at least the Reformation.

Although the church in Penkridge lost its collegiate status under the Chantries Act of 1547, it remained a royal peculiar or royal free church, and it is not clear when this status was finally lost, if ever.

Certainly, the peculiar jurisdiction of the college of Penkridge was not abolished in the Reformation legislation, the Archbishops of Dublin continued to assert their rights as Deans of Penkridge, and Penkridge remained outside the ecclesial jurisdictions of the Diocese of Lichfield.

After 1585, the Archbishops continued to claim the right of canonical visitation. Soon after his consecration in 1661, Archbishop James Margetson carried out a visitation in Penkridge. Archbishop Narcissus Marsh (1694-1702) asserted those rights against Bishop William Lloyd of Lichfield and the Deanery of Penkridge continued to be held by the Archbishops of Dublin in the 18th century.

The “peculiar jurisdiction” came to an end in 1858 when the peculiar was abolished and a separate parish was formed in Penkridge. John Gregg was the last archbishop of Dublin to visit Penkridge, in 1934. But, even without jurisdiction, is the Archbishop of Dublin still the Dean of Penkridge? Is he disqualified because of the stipulation in that none of the deans or canons of Penkridge should be an Irishman? Or did this proviso ever exist?

Appendix 1:

The Deans of Penkridge:

Stepping back in time ... a well-worn step in Penkridge Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

The college seal in use about the mid-13th century depicted the winged figure of Saint Michael. The legend read: … SANCTI MI[CHAELIS] [D]E P…. This is now missing.

A brass matrix of the seal of the peculiar jurisdiction survives from the 17th century. It is oval, some 2 inches long, and depicts a dove on a branch holding another branch in its bill. The Latin legend read: SIGILLUM DAN' PIPER A.M. OFFICIALIS ET COMMISSARII PECULIARIS ET EXEMPTAE IURISDICTIONIS DE PENKRICH.

Robert of Coppenhall, 1180-1188
Elias of Bristol, or Elias de Bristow, 1199-1226
Walter de Kirkeham, appointed August 1226; appointment cancelled in view of the right of the Archbishop of Dublin; Walter had resigned by December.
Henry of London, or Henry de Loundres, Archbishop of Dublin, succeeded 1226, died 1228.
Richard of St John, appointed 1228-1230.
Luke, Archbishop of Dublin, 1230-1256.
Fulk de Sandford, 1256-1271.

From 1259 the deanery remained united with the archbishopric of Dublin until the Dissolution.

John de Derlington, 1279-1284
John de Sanford, 1286-1294
William de Hothum, 1296-1298
Richard de Feringes, 1299-1306
Richard de Havering, 1307-1310
John de Leche, or John of Leek, 1311-1313
Alexander de Bicknor, 1317-1349
John de St Paul, 1349-1362
Thomas Minot, 1363-1375
Robert de Wikeford, 1376-1390
Robert Waldby, 1391-1395
Richard Northalis, 1396-1397
Thomas Cranley, 1397-1417
Richard Talbot, 1417-1449
Michael Tregury, 1449-1471
John Walton, 1472-1484
Walter Fitzsimons, 1484-1511
William Rokeby, 1512-1521
Hugh Inge, 1521-1528
John Allen, 1529-1534
George Browne, 1535-1548

Vicars of Penkridge

The name of James Riddings, Vicar of Penkridge in 1578, inscribed on the church wall with other graffiti (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Thomas Bolte, July 1548
Thomas Sall, 1548-1549
Nicholas Chedulton
James Riddings, 1578
George Horderne, buried 1597
Rev – Johnson, ca 1604
Michael Parkes, 1605-1617
Thomas Leese, buried 1634
Nathaniel Hinde, 1636
John Creche, buried 1643
Anon, deprived ca 1646

Nathaniel Hinde September 1653: Nathaniel Hinde, minister of the Gospel at Penkridge was chosen register for the Parish of Penkridge to record the Baptisms, Marriages and Burials within the same parish by the free and full consent of the inhabitants. By Act of Parliament.

John Peploe, July 1673: Peploe who was admitted Minister of Penkridge in 1673 and being incapacitated by old age to officiate, resigned the cure to Sir Edward Littleton who nominated the Revd Thomas Perry on the same day, 20 March 1728.

Thomas Perry, 1728
James Stafford, ca 1793
Richard Slaney, ca 1808
James Charles Stafford, 1830
Joseph Salt, 1833
George Albert Rogers, 1845
Edward Hall, 1847
James Alexander Fell, 1852
Charles Philip Wilbraham, 1874
Hon Cecil James Littleton, 1880
William Ticehurst Corfield, 1893
James Henry Kempson, ca 1910-1937
CE Jarman, 1937
Henry John Carpenter, 1943
Theodore William Durant Wright, 1946
Robert Cheadle, 1972-1989

The grave of the Hon Cecil James Littleton, Vicar of Penkridge in 1880 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Team Rectors:

Canon Geoffrey Staton, 1990-2005
Revd Michael Williams, 2006-2009
Revd Gregory Yerbury, 2011-

Appendix 2: The Prebends of Penkridge:

The Dean’s Prebend

The Prebend of La More mentioned in 1261 is to be identified with the Prebend of Penkridge.

In addition, there were four chapels at Cannock, Coppenhall, Sharehill and Stretton.

Appendix 3: The family connections:

The Church of Saint Mary and Saint George in Comberford closed last year ... the story of the church and its architect, Andrew Capper, led me to the story of Penkridge and the Archbishops of Dublin (Photograph: Tamworth Herald)

I first came across the story of Penkridge while I was researching the work of the architect Andrew Capper, who designed a number of Gothic revival churches in the Diocese of Lichfield, including the tiny Church of Saint Mary and Saint George in the village of Comberford, north of Tamworth and east of Lichfield.

At the time, Capper’s church in Comberford was facing closure, and became involved in some correspondence and dialogue vwith residents of Comberford about the future of the village church. But this led me to look at Capper’s other works in Staffordshire, include Saint Leonard’s Church, Dunston, a small neo-Gothic Victorian church built in 1876-1878.

Today, Dunston is part of the Penkridge Team Ministry, and so this in turn brought me to stumble upon the story of Penkridge and its connections with the Archbishops of Dublin.

In the Middle Ages, Dunston was attached to the Collegiate Church of Saint Michael and All Angels in Penkridge and the Prebend of Dunston, with about 50 acres of land, supported one of the canons of Saint Michael’s.

A second impulse came when a vacancy occurred in the Parish of Saint Editha in Tamworth. I was already familiar with Saint Editha’s role as a royal free chapel and a collegiate church, and since 1970 I have regularly visited Saint Editha’s when the north chancel is known as the Comberford Chapel.

The Moat House, Lichfield Street, Tamworth ... passed from the Comberford family to the Littleton family (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, February 2011)

A third thread came through my awareness of the family connections between the Comberfords and the Littletons.

Edward Littleton, who acquired the Manor of Penkridge after the Reformation, was a brother of Walter Littleton, who married Alice Comberford, daughter of John Comberford (d. 1559).

In 1710, the Moat House in Lichfield Street, Tamworth, the townhouse of the Comberfords, was sold to Sir Edward Littleton of Pillaton Hall. The Littleton family moved into the house soon after.

The Moat House passed to his son, Devereux Littleton, who died in 1747, and then to his brother, Fisher Littleton, and his nephew, Edward Littleton. In 1751, the Moat House passed by marriage to Edward Littleton’s father-in-law, Samuel Wolfreston of Statfold Hall, who sold it to William Abney.

Sources and Reading:

William Craddock Bolland, Year Books of Edward II, vol 11: 5 Edward II (1311-1312), 31 Selden Society 27-33 (London: Bernard Quaritch 1915).
Robert Cheadle and John Rostance, St Michael and All Angels Penkridge – Royal Collegiate Parish Church.
JH Denton, English Royal Free Chapels: 1100-1300, a Constitutional Study (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1970).
MW Greenslade, RB Pugh (eds), et al, A History of the County of Stafford, vol 3 (1970), ‘Colleges: Penkridge, St Michael,’ pp 298-303.
Anne Elizabeth Jenkins, The early medieval context of the royal free chapels of South Staffordshire, M.Phil. thesis, University of Birmingham (1988).
WR Jones, ‘Patronage and Administration: The King’s Free Chapels in Medieval England,’ Journal of British Studies, vol 9, no 1 (November 1969), pp 1-23.
O Law, A Short History of the Parish Church, Penkridge (Penkridge Parochial Church Council, 1959).
Lionel Lambert, The Royal Free Chapel of Stafford (Lichfield: Lomax’s Successors, 1925).
Lionel Lambert, Izaak Walton and the Royal Deanery of Stafford (Stafford: J&C Mort, 1926).
HJ Lawlor, ‘Jottings on the History of St. Patrick’s Cathedral,’ The Irish Church Quarterly, vol 5, no 20 (October 1912), pp 328-345.
John Linney, A history of Penkridge Church (Penkridge: Penkridge Parish, 2006, revised 2013).
Robert Maddocks, The Good Old Grit, A History of the People of Penkridge 1270-1939 (Penkridge Parish Council, 1995).
L. Margaret Midgley (ed), A History of the County of Stafford, vol 5, East Cuttlestone hundred (1959), ‘Penkridge: Introduction and manors,’ pp 103-126.
Geoffrey Staton, The Collegiate Church of St. Michael and All Angels Penkridge – A Short History (nd, privately published).
GT Stokes, ‘Calendar of thee “Liber Niger Alani” (Continued),’ The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Fifth Series, vol 7, no 2 (30 June 1897), pp 164-176.
Dorothy Styles, ‘The Early History of the King’s Chapels in Staffordshire,’ Birmingham Archaeological Journal, Transactions and Proceedings, LX (1936).
Dorothy Styles, ‘The Early History of Penkridge Church,’ Collections for a History of Staffordshire, 1950-1951 (Stafford: Staffordshire Record Society), pp 1-52.
HR Thomas and GP Mander (eds), Reg. Penkridge Church (Stafford: Staffordshire Parish Register Society, 1946).
JC Tildesley, A History of Penkridge in the County of Stafford (London: British Library, 1886).
WJR Wallace (ed), Clergy of Dublin and Glendalough, Biographical Succession Lists (Dublin: Diocesan Councils, and Belfast: Ulster Historical Foundation, 2001).


I wish to thank: John Linney, who gave me a detailed and delightful guided tour of Penkridge Church and churchyard on 6 June 2014; the Revd Gregory Yerbury, who arranged my visit to Penkridge; Dr Raymond Refaussé, Librarian and Archivist, the Representative Church Body Library, and the Revd Canon Dr Adrian Empey, the Church of Ireland Historical Society, who encouraged me to continue with this research; Dr Stuart Kinsella, of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, for his personal help and assistance; Barbara Comerford, for her encouragement and advice; and Ron Brazier of Lichfield, for his hospitality.

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and an Adjunct Assistant Professor, Trinity College Dublin. This essay is an extended version of a lecture at the autumn conference of the Church of Ireland Historical Society in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, on 1 November 2014.

Updated with typographical corrections, 1 November 2014.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your paper to the COIHS today which was read back to back with Peregryne Compline Webcast from Christ Church Cathedral. Faith of our fathers indeed ...

Patrick Comerford said...

Thank you indeed, Patrick