Friday, 17 June 2016
Comberford village is secluded and has
a story that pre-dates Anglo-Saxon times
I spent a sunny, summer afternoon last week walking around the small village of Comberford and through the green and golden fields and countryside of south-east Staffordshire, between the A513 and the banks of the River Tame. It is an area I have known since my late teens in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and it has long been associated with my family name and history.
Comberford is a small village in a pleasant rural area, about 8 km (five miles) east of Lichfield and about 4 km (2.5 miles) north of Tamworth, between the A513 road and the banks of the River Tame. Historically, Comberford is part of the parish of Wigginton, and it is now within the Wigginton and Hopwas civil parish in the district of Lichfield. The local authority is Lichfield District Council, with offices at District Council House, Frog Lane, Lichfield, Staffordshire, WS13 6AA.
Junction 10 of the M42 is about 9.5 km (six miles) south-east of Comberford, junction T4 of the M6 Toll is about 13.5 km (8.5 miles) west, and the A38 is 10.5 km (6.5 miles) to the north or 13 km (eight miles) to the south. Birmingham International Airport is about 33.5 km (21 miles) to the south and the nearest mainline railway stations are at Tamworth and Lichfield.
The surrounding area is dominated by farmland except for Hopwas Wood, an ancient woodland, and the area has a strong sense of identity. Comberford is a small community of 21 homes, isolated by its single access from the A513 with limited development opportunities and therefore not subjected to development pressures. However, local plans recognise that the setting and the open character of Comberford are important to preserve.
The name Comberford derives from the Anglo-Saxon and means ‘river crossing in the hollow’ or in ‘the valley.’ However, Bardsley says a “comb” was a cell or hollow in a hillside, where there was a sheltered habitation. The Celtic word cwm means a hollow, while the Anglo-Saxon camb means the crest of a hill.
There is archaeological evidence of settlement in the area that predates Anglo-Saxon times, going back to perhaps Roman times. The earthwork remains of ‘shifted villages’ around Comberford, particularly to the south, and to the north-east of Wigginton are among the archaeological sites recorded within the Staffordshire Historic Environment Record (HER).
These features suggest that both of the villages of Comberford and Wigginton were either once larger or have shifted away from an earlier focus, which then remains as earthworks in the fields. These remains form an important part of Comberford and retain a high potential for below-ground archaeological remains to survive.
The areas of ridge and furrow that survive are associated with mediaeval and later land management, and offer evidence of arable cultivation in which the plough was pulled by an eight-ox plough team – horses were not used until much later in history.
Other evidence, surviving as cropmarks visible on aerial photography in areas now being ploughed, includes possible prehistoric-Roman enclosures and settlement in the wider landscape around Comberford. Further undated enclosures and cropmark features, mostly to the south of Comberford and Hopwas, may also help to date them to these periods.
In all these cases, there is a high potential for below-ground archaeological remains to survive which could contribute to an understanding of how people interacted with and managed the landscape of this area. The presence of these features also raises the potential for further currently unidentified archaeological remains to survive within the parish.
The history of Comberford Hall is intimately entwined with the history of the Comberford family until the end of the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th century. Comberford Hall is a mile or two south of the village. The original Comberford Hall was a wattle and daub, half-timbered mansion, built in 1439 by William de Comberford. The house was surrounded by a moat and it was said until very recently that traces of the ditch could still be seen in the fields between Comberford Hall and Comberford village.
The 15th-century, half-timbered Comberford Hall, built in 1439 by William Comberford, MP, was still standing in the late 18th century, but Shaw noted in 1798 that it had been “entirely demolished” by then and that a new house had been built on the site by Lord Donegall. Shaw also noted that traces of a moated site occupied by an earlier Comberford Hall could be found in a garden to the east of Comberford Hall.
Some local historians say Comberford Hall was rebuilt in the 1790s. However, Mrs Valerie Coltman, whose family lived there until the late 1950s, believes Comberford Hall was rebuilt at a much earlier date in 1720. As evidence, she says she unearthed a plumb line dated 1720 in part of the walled garden when she was restoring it. In addition, she says the original staircase in the house, which was similar to the staircase in neighbouring Fisherwick Hall but was destroyed in a fire in the 1980s, dated from the early 18th century.
This dating, she says, is confirmed by the black Hamburg vine that once grew in the Georgian greenhouse, and the black mulberry tree, and the damson, nectarine and peach trees there, which she says dated back to that period. She recalls that local legend says the house was rebuilt after a fire in which eight children died.
Beside Comberford Hall is Comberford Hall Cottage, which is on the market [June 2016] through Northwood of Lichfield Street, Tamworth, with an asking price of £495,000.
This is a Grade II Listed house, with four bedrooms. This semi-detached cottage directly adjoins Comberford Hall. However, Comberford Hall Cottage has its own gardens and privacy, and is being sold freehold.
The Coach House, Comberford, is an impressive, five-bedroom residence beside Comberford Hall. It is in a secluded location, and was sold recently through the Tamworth estate agents, Taylor Cole, with an asking price of £650,000.
A report in the Tamworth Herald said the Coach House dates back 300 or 400 years, which means it was built while the Comberford family was still living at Comberford Hall.
If Shaw is correct in saying the original Comberford Hall stood east of the present Comberford Hall, then both Comberford Hall Cottage and the Coach House may stand on the original site or incorporate parts of the original house.
Comberford Hall, Comberford Hall Cottage and the Coach House are approached by a private drive from a junction on the A513, where Comberford Road, leading out of Tamworth, becomes Elford Road.
In the early 1970s, a ridged indentation in one of the fields to the north of the Comberford Hall close to the right of way that leads to Comberford village, was pointed out to me as the site of the original hall. However, this contradicts Shaw’s descriptions of an original house east of Comberford Hall, and Mrs Coltman’s insights. Instead, it probably matches the crater shape in the field to the left of the path from Comberford village to Comberford Hall which was known to the village children in the 1950s and 1960s as “the bomb field” and caused by a stray war-time bomb.
A third possible location for the original Comberford Hall may be Comberford Manor, at the north edge of Comberford Village.
The houses at No 1 and No 2 Hallfields Drive, Comberford, were built in the 1950s as Comberford Hall Farm Cottages by Geoff Hart of Comberford Lodge Farm for farm workers.
The two houses were bought at auction in 1986 by Bert and Popsy Rowan and Robert and Juliet Rowan and their daughter Louise. Bert and Popsy Rowan died some years ago. Robert and Julien Rowan later wrote about living in “a house in a field with a beautiful view from every window.” These views are out to “Hopwas Hayes Woods and towards Lichfield with Cannock Chase beyond, Tamworth, Hints and Weeford, and of course the masts at Sutton Coldfield and Hints. Far reaching views towards Burton-on-Trent are to be seen in the other direction.”
At the opposite end of Hallfields Drive and the drive leading up to Comberford Hall, Wigginton Lane leads into Comberford Lane and Wigginton Village.
Further north of the crossroads, Tollgate Lane leads into Manor Lane and into Comberford Village, where the house names include Comberford Lodge Farm, Manor Farm, Church Cottage, Lodge Cottage, Linden House (formerly Manor Farm Cottage) and Hagley House. Brookside Cottage was demolished some years ago.
The entrance to Comberford is defined by the junction of Tollgate Lane and Manor Lane which takes the form of a small grassed triangular island. This has become vulnerable to erosion and its loss would be a sad loss to the character of the village.
Saint Mary’s and Saint George’s Church, Comberford
In the heart of the village, Saint Mary’s and Saint George’s Church was built on a site donated in May 1914 by Howard Paget to the Lichfield Diocesan Trust for the erection of a mission church. The church’s architect was Andrew Capper. Capper worked closely with George Edmund Street and designed a number of Gothic revival churches in the Diocese of Lichfield, and his other works in Staffordshire include Saint Leonard’s Church, Dunston, a small neo-Gothic Victorian church built in 1876-1878, Saint James’ in Acton Trussell, All Saints’ Church, Ranton, Saint Mark’s, Great Wyrley, and Saint Mary’s Church, Ellenhall.
The church in Comberford was built just after the World War I, in 1919. By the 1950s, church services were held on the first and third Sundays of each month, and the church had a robed choir.
The mission room beside the church was used for church and village functions, but ceased to function in the 1970s. But the church continued to be the only public building in the village, and in recent years it was the venue for public and parish council meetings, and special events in the village. In 2006, the Right Revd Jonathan Gledhill, Bishop of Lichfield, preached in the church as part of a Mission Weekend.
In 2012, there were hopes that restoration work that year would “ensure its preservation and future for generations to some.” However, a year later, the church held its final service on Sunday 13 October 2013 before closing its doors for the last time after almost 100 years. This was a Harvest Festival Service led by the Bishop of Wolverhampton, the Right Revd Clive Gregory.
The church closed despite the fact that the villagers and parishioners in Comberford and Wigginton Parish had raised £6,000 to repair the roof and the bell fleche and spire after an unsuccessful National Lottery community grant application.
A hassock in Lichfield Cathedral with the name of Comberford bears a logo with a Red Cross for Saint George embossed with a White Rose for the Virgin Mary, the two patrons of Saint Mary’s and Saint George’s.
The church remains closed, right-of-way access has been closed off, and its future is uncertain.
The rectors, vicars and priests-in-charge in recent years have been:
1937-1961: Revd Arthur Charles Smith.
1961-1969: Revd Sidney Herbert Reader.
1969-1976: Revd Stuart Huyton (1937-2012).
1976-1993: Revd Michael George Charles Norton.
1994-2006: Revd Ian Ralph Cardinal.
2007-2011: Revd Mark Dundas Geldard.
2011-: Revd Debra Anne Dyson.
Manor Farm, Comberford
While Comberford Hall is set a good distance back from the banks of the River Tame, Comberford Manor at the north end of Manor Lane is close to the banks of the river and on the flood plane. I surmise that its location suggests that this may indeed be the site of the original Comberford Hall and the centre of the manor once owned by the Comberford family.
Manor Farm has been run as a mixed dairy and arable farm, and more recently it has been an arable enterprise with some grassland for heifer rearing. The farmland has good road access and river frontage to the River Tame.
Comberford Manor is a Grade II listed three-storey farmhouse, and was described recently by the Lichfield blogger Lichwheeld as “one of those ‘yes please’ houses.”
In a recent sale around 2010, the farm was offered by Bagshaws of Uttoxeter in six lots.
Lot 1 included the Manor Farmhouse and buildings, set in 6.93 Acres (2.806 Ha) (Edged green on the plan). This lot is accessed directly from Manor Lane, by following it through to the end of the village. The house at Comberford Manor is a well-proportioned Grade II Listed building, built in brick under tile as a three-storey farmhouse, and has views over open countryside and the River Tame.
There is a number of traditional brick under tile barns, including a standalone barn within the large farmhouse garden.
The farm buildings to the rear (east) of the house and the more immediate buildings are built of brick with tile roofing. A second access is available across the rear paddock to the rear farmyard.
Comberford Manor farmhouse was described at the time as having the following accommodation:
A rear entrance door leading into: a veranda, 2.61m (8’6’’) x 2.79m (9’2’’), with a door to the rear yard and a door to the kitchen, 4.56m (14’11’’) x 4.07m (13’4’’) max, having terrazzo floor, fitted wooden floor and wall units complete with built in fridge and dishwasher, single drainer sink unit, solid fuel Rayburn housed in inglenook and beamed ceiling.
An office, 4.33m (14’2’’) x 2.56m (8’4’’), having a storage heater and separate phone line with a shower room off. A shower room with a Mira ATL electric shower, WC and wash-hand basin. A pantry, 4.07m (13’10’’) x 4m (13’4’’), with a quarry tiled floor, brick thrawls, Belfast sink and plumbing for washing machine.
The inner hallway has stairs off to the first floor and a door to the cellar.
The living room, 4.82m (15’9’’) x 4.6m (15’1’’), has sash windows with secondary glazing, and a large fireplace recess with an open fire and storage heater.
The office/snug, 4.61m (15’1’’) x 3.06m (10’), has double aspect sash windows and a storage heater.
The sitting room, 4.55m (14’11’’) x 4.31m (14’1’’), has sash windows, open fireplace and a storage heater.
There are four bedrooms and a bathroom on the first floor.
Bedroom 1, 4.62m (15’1’’) x 4.34m (14’2’’), has sash windows, a fireplace, built-in wardrobes and drawers either side of the fireplace, and a storage heater.
Bedroom 2, 4.08m (13’4’’) x 3.37m (11’), has sash windows, a boarded fireplace, built-in wardrobes and drawers to either side of chimney breast.
Bedroom 3, 4.6m (15’1’’) x 3.08m (10’1’’), has sash windows, a boarded fireplace and built-in wardrobes.
Bedroom 4, described as a box room and measuring 3.41m (11’2’’) x 12.69m (8’9’’), has a boarded fireplace, a built-in cupboard and a storage heater.
The bathroom has a bath, WC, wash-hand basin and airing cupboard.
On the second floor, the house has four attic rooms. Attic Room 1, 4.62m (15’1’’) x 4.59m (15’) max, has an open fireplace and solid floor. Attic Room 2, 5.63m (18’6’’) x 4.65m (15’3’’), has a solid floor. Attic Room 3, 4.62m (15’1’’) x 3.08m (10’1’’), has a solid floor. Attic Room 4, 4.77m (15’7’’) x 4.41m (14’5’’) max, is about 1.96m (6’5’’) between the slopes of the roof.
A log store is attached to the main farmhouse, and there is a further store room, both with concrete floors.
The house has a good garden to the West and south that is laid mainly to lawn, with a number of rose bushes and shrubs, and with rural views.
Along with the main farmhouse, the following buildings were also included within Lot 1:
1, Field Barn, 38m x 5.3m, a two-storey brick under tile construction with a brick floor and full-height double opening, plus a further single-storey open shed to the side.
2, The Malt House Barns, which form a range of brick under tile buildings,. These are a mixture of single, double and three-storey buildings that were originally used as a malthouse, complete with a furnace room on the ground floor, a malting floor on the first floor and hopper room on the second floor. These buildings also provide three storerooms, a small workshop and further storage area with brick arches. This block includes a loose box and a chemical store.
3, A brick under tile single-storey ex-dairy and parlour building, complete with loft over and parlour pit.
4, A five-bay steel portal framed loose yard, with a corrugated asbestos roof, a part concrete floor and brick walling.
5, A four-bay Dutch barn, with a corrugated asbestos roof and hard core floor.
6, An eight-bay Dutch barn, with a corrugated asbestos roof, corrugated iron cladding and concrete floor used as a machinery and corn store.
7, A lean-two to the eight-bay barn, with a concrete floor, sleeper walling, corrugated iron cladding and a corrugated asbestos roof.
8, A six-bay steel portal framed loose yard, complete with feed passage, corrugated asbestos roof, block walling plus profile cladding above with a lean-to outside having an open-fronted feed face.
9, A brick-under-tile bull pen.
10, A permastore above-ground slurry store, complete with sump.
11, A concrete walled silage clamp, complete with safety rail.
12, A three-bay steel portal framed open-fronted shed, having corrugated iron cladding and a corrugated asbestos roof.
When Comberford Manor Farm was offered for sale, Lot 1 totalled 6.93 acres and is made up of the farmhouse, garden, yard and a paddock area that lies to the south. The village of Comberford immediately adjoins on the south-east boundary and there is a small area of trees lying to the east.
Lot 2: 102.50 Acres (41.480 Ha):
This land lies to the south of Lot 1 and is bounded on the western boundary by the River Tame and on the eastern boundary by the A513 road. Access to this lot is either directly from Manor Lane opposite the entrance to the farm yard, along a track leading from Manor Lane just before the houses, or from access directly onto the A513.
The land is level in nature with about 42 Acres (16.997 Ha) in grass production with the remaining area of land being in arable rotation. This block of land is classified as ranging from Grade 2 to Grade 4 under the Agricultural Land Classification Scheme and was also in the Entry Level Stewardship Scheme since 2005.
Lot 2 was crossed by an access road that was used when works were carried out to the West Coast Mainline.
Lot 3, 7.59 Acres (3.071 Ha):
This land lies on the north side of Tollgate Lane and is in arable rotation, with access gained directly from the corner of Tollgate Lane in the south-west corner of the land. This ground is very level and has the added interest of a pond in the north-west corner. This land is bounded by hedgerows on all sides and if grassed down, could offer pleasant paddock land in a rural location.
Lot 4, 110.89 Acres (44.875 Ha):
This land lies to the east of the A513 road and is bounded on its southern edge by Wigginton Lane. This block of ground is down to arable rotation with a good recessed access off the A513, a secondary access off the A513 and also an access directly from Wigginton Lane.
The land is level in nature and is a good-sized block of arable ground that is classified as Grade 2 and 3 under the Agricultural Land Classification Scheme. The whole of this land is registered for Single Farm Payment and was in the Entry Level Stewardship Scheme since 2005.
This lot is crossed by a high voltage overhead electricity transmission line with two pylons located within the land parcel.
Lot 5, 4.89 Acres (1.978 Ha):
This lot is located on the eastern side of the A513 with direct access leading from this road. This ground is in arable rotation but is well suited to be grassed down and used as paddock land having a good shape to the field.
The boundaries are mainly hedgerows, however, the boundary to the road is traditional metal railing.
All the lots were being sold freehold with vacant possession. The farm was being sold subject to, and with the benefit of, all rights of way, wayleaves and easements. For example, Lot 2 and Lot 4 are crossed by a public footpath, Lot 4 is crossed by a high voltage electricity transmission line, and Lot 1 and Lot 2 are crossed by a low voltage electricity transmission line. All mineral and sporting rights were included with the sale, including fishing rights along the single bank of the River Tame at Lot 2.
Comberford Lodge Farm in Comberford, is the base for FW Rowe and Sons, a family-run farming and contract farming business that specialises in combinable crop establishment through to harvesting. The company operates individual contract farm agreements ranging from full management to individual single contract operations on an area of 2000 ha (5000 acres).
Comberford Lodge is a Grade II listed early 18th century three-storey farmhouse with major additions dating from 1801.
It is built in red brick and partly rendered, with slate and plain tile roofs. There are four brick stacks. The east front is of three bays, with a shallow hipped slate roof and deeply overhanging eaves. It is rendered in imitation ashlar, the ground floor is rusticated, and the upper floors have flanking side pilasters.
The central doorway has a part-glazed four-panel door with a fanlight and porch with two fluted Ionic columns and two fluted Doric pilasters supporting a flat hood. On either side is a single two-light casement with narrow horizontal glazing bars, in moulded rendered surrounds. Above, there are three similar casements in moulded surrounds. Above again are three smaller similar casements, the central one in a moulded surround.
On either side of this east front there are single-storey round ended wings, each with a central two-light casement with narrow horizontal glazing bars. The lower, earlier two-storey brick wing to the rear has irregular fenestration.
The interior of the rear range has some chamfered spine beams and panelled doors. The newer front has shutters and doors plus a large fireplace alcove in the drawing-room. To the front there is a low brick wall with rendered coping and spearheaded railings, and they bound a small semi-circular garden.
Hagley House is six-bedroom freehold detached house on Manor Lane, and last sold in 1999.
Norman Jarrett Whitehead, a solicitor in Tamworth, his wife Dorothy and their three sons, Robert, David and Barry Whitehead, lived at Hagley House from about 1953 until 1964.
Barry Whitehead remembers the house being large, with two living rooms off a hallway, a good-sized kitchen, a cellar, and four bedrooms. There were three outbuildings, and the double garage was built in 1954. High walls surrounded the garden, and there was a fishpond.
Later, the Snell family lived at Hagley House for years and Mrs Snell taught at the Sunday school.
Comberford Millennium Green
Comberford Millennium Green is a small park and since April 2011 it has been managed on behalf of the residents of the village by Wigginton and Hopwas the parish council.
The land for the park was given to Comberford village by the last owner, and the remains of cottages are still under part of the park.
A small committee of residents worked hard to complete the park and the small park fits well into the size of Comberford. “Some of us see it as a jewel in our crown for all village children to come,” said a local resident, Keith Nightingale.
The park has a children’s play area and views of the fields and flood plain to Hopwas Woods.
Comberford village today:
In 1870-1872, John Marius Wilson’s Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales said Comberford had a population of 122. The outline map of the village has changed little over the last 150 years or more, or even earlier.
But, like many other villages in rural England, the life of Comberford has changed much over the last two generations. In the past, many of the residents lived in tied houses and had guaranteed work on the land and the surrounding farms, and they often moved in and out of Comberford.
In the 1950s, Comberford Hall Farm was farmed by Councillor Geoff Hart.
The Sherratt family moved from Cheshire to Manor Farm in the early 1900s. Manor Farm was farmed by Joe and Jean Sherratt, who were married in 1923, and they remained there until he retired in 1964. John Cliffe, his wife Pat and their family then farmed Manor Farm until August 2010. The Cliffe family kept between 80 and 100 prize-winning Friesians that were known as the Comberford Herd.
Windmill Farm was farmed by Frank and Kathleen Aucote, with their daughters Christine and Margaret, from 1944 to 1963, who were tenants of a Mr Heath who lived in New Zealand. They were market gardeners and also kept a herd of Friesian dairy cattle, and their land stretched from the Comberford Road towards Comberford and along Coton Lane to the railway. Windmill Farm was sold in 1963, and the Aucote family moved to Nottinghamshire.
In the 1960s, Comberford still consisted of three farmhouses, a small collection of very old cottages and four council houses.
The families who lived in the cottages and houses in Comberford included George Massey, who lived at Manor Farm Cottage (now Linden House), Ted and Helen Hall, the Neale family (No 1), who later emigrated to New Zealand, the Benson family (No 1), the Vaughan family (No 2), the Allen and Jacob family, the Birches and then the Vincent family (No 3), the Rowley family (No 4), the Belfield family (No 6), Cyril and Gertrude Hodgkinson and their son Thomas and daughter Carol (No 7), the Bates family who lived at No 9 Manor Lane, (known as Beau Cottage) until 1991, the Blood family, the Bryants, Tom Flanagan ‘the Irishman,’ and the Carvel family.
The Bowler family lived in Lodge Cottage, later the home of the Bury family. The Benson family lived next door. Tom Hunt, who married Frances Blood, lived at Church House. Mrs Stretton lived at Orchard Cottage on the main road.
Most of the houses were old-style farm workers’ cottages, and addresses were simple – No 8 Comberford or No 12 Comberford, and so on. A popular venue in the village was the Pig and Whistle, an off-licence run by George Bassford and his family until 1952. The Peace family lived at the off-licence from 1952 until about 1960. When they left, Ansell’s Brewery had the off-licence demolished and houses were built on the quarter-acre garden.
Two cottages at the back of the church, once occupied by Tom Flanagan and by the Bryant family, were demolished in the mid-1950s, and many of the other cottages in Comberford and the off-licence were demolished in the 1966-1967. In 1967, the council built four new bungalows opposite No 7. Houses change ownership infrequently and a number of cottages that dotted the fields have disappeared completely.
Major changes in farming and agriculture in recent decades have brought changes to Comberford too. Today, the farms employ few people, and generally these are family members or contractors brought in at key times in the year.
Some retired people and pensioners live in the village, but there are very few young people, and there are no children from Comberford in the local primary school nearby in Wigginton.
Today, only a handful of residents work in the village and its outlying areas in stables, riding schools or at home. Many of the houses in Comberford are privately owned, and the residents of working age commute and work in a variety of occupations and profession.
Although a bus passes by the entrance to Comberford at Toll Gate Lane, transport to and from the village is mostly by private car. As I was reminded again on my walk in Comberford last week, Comberford is seldom disturbed by visitors, and because the village is at the end of a country lane or cul-de-sac, there are few cyclists or walkers. I was alone on my walk, but my solitary pursuit allowed me to appreciate the beauty and tranquility of this little corner of Staffordshire.