Friday, 2 June 2017

An invitation to speak about
the Wyatt family of Weeford
in Lichfield next year

Saint Mary's Church in Weeford … generations of the Wyatt family were baptised, married and buried here (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

In recent days, I have been invited to be part of next year’s programme of the Lichfield Civic Society.

The Lichfield Civic Society was founded at a public meeting in the Guildhall in 1961, at a time when major developments were destroying the special character of many old towns and cities. There was no reason to believe that Lichfield would be immune from these threats – at the time there plans to drive a new road through The Windings and across the grounds of Lichfield Theological College.

Over half a century later, the society continues to keep a watching brief on local planning and environmental issues in Lichfield, including housing developments, new shopping facilities and street furniture.

Each year, the society awards a merit plaque for the best new architecture, conservation or landscape scheme in the city.

Lichfield Civic Society also organise a series of monthly meetings addressed by speakers on a wide variety of topics. The meetings take place in the Lichfield Room, Wade Street Church Community Hall, Frog Lane, with a short time afterwards for questions and discussion.

Last month’s lecture [25 May 2017] was by David Wood on ‘The Work of a Master Thatcher’; this month’s lecture [20 June 2017] is by Ned Williams on ‘Prefabs – the Palaces of the People.’ Later this year [21 November 2017], Ken Knowles is talking about his life and times as the Town Crier in Lichfield.

Last week, Mike Pearson, the programme secretary of Lichfield Civic Society, invited me to be part of next year’s programme and to give the monthly lecture on 24 April 2018 on the Wyatt family of Weeford.

The Wyatts are a unique architectural dynasty, and I visited Weeford, about 6 km south of Lichfield, a few weeks ago when I was back in Lichfield and researching a feature on the Wyatt family due to be published in two diocesan magazines next Sunday [4 June 2017].

A day after I had visited Weeford, I called in by chance to the Oxfam second-hand bookshop in Market Street, Lichfield, and came across a rare copy of the Weeford Parish Register, prepared for the Staffordshire Parish Register Society, edited by the society secretary, Norman W Tildesley of Somerford Place, Willenhall, and printed privately in Wednesbury around 1954-1956.

The Weeford parish registers of baptisms, marriages and burials date from 1562 and continue until 1812. They were transcribed by HR Thomas of Wolverhampton. On the back of the fly leaf of the first register are two interesting prayers written in an unformed hand:

By thy crucified body deliver me from the body of this death.

O let this blood of thine purge my conscience from vain works to serve the living God.

The Weeford Parish Registers are a valuable tool for genealogists and local historian (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

These registers show that the Wyatt family has been living in the parish since at least 1562, if not earlier. The baptism of Thomas Wyatt, son of Robert Wyatt, on 29 July 1562, is one of the fifth entry recorded in the registers, and is followed by daughters Margery in 1565 and Margaret in 1567.

Entries for members of the Wyatt family, including inter-marriages within the family, continue for generations and for centuries. There are Wyatt memorials in the parish church and Wyatt graves scattered throughout the churchyard.

The registers record not just baptisms, marriages and burials, but the events too that led to these rites of passage. An entry in 1614 records: ‘Buried: Roger Whately, a Carrier, that was murthered at Weeford Park on Sundaie the 27th November, buried the last of November.’

There is a moving entry from 13 February 1745: ‘Buried a woman that came to ask charity at Packington Hall and died in the fold there.’

On 13 March 1758, the registers record the death of ‘James Holmes who was kill’d by a waggon wheel at Mr Manley’s of Swinfen.’ An unnamed 'Travelling Irishman' was buried is recorded as being baptised on on 15 August 1759, although this must surely refer to a burial. On 24 February 1760, we read of the death of ‘Mr Joseph Grundy from Swinfen Hall, who was killed by being thrown off a load of Hay.’

Some the entries record family tragedies in very simple terms. Jone (Joan) Basford, the daughter of Raphe Basford, was baptised on 28 January 1571, ‘and was burried [sic] the morrow after.’ An unknown stranger is buried on 3 February 1578 without being named. Thomas Thickbrome’s two daughters, Margaret and Ellin, are buried within ten days of each other in October 1580. Robert and Constance Turner, brother and sister, were baptised on 7 March 1586 – they were both buried five days later. Charles, the son of Joseph and Mary Wyatt, was baptised on 27 November 1757, and buried the next day.

To read of the high rate of infant mortality, even centuries later, is heart-rending.

Thomas Tew and Ales Mustard were married on 2 December 1574, and their son William was baptised three weeks later, on Christmas Day 25 December 1574. The registers can be quite blunt, or even cruel, in commenting on domestic situations. A child baptised in 1576, and another in 1578, are each described as spurius, while a child baptised in 1584 is said to be ‘baseborne.’

There are three sad entries, one after another, on 2 August 1591, beginning with the burial of Elizabeth Maxfield, noting ‘The said Elizabeth Maxfield a little before her death of two sonnes, the name of the first is Edward, the other Thomas, the father of the said children is unknown.’ The writer then goes on to record the baptisms that day of each new-born child.

A child found in the church porch ‘was baptized by the name of Anne, according to the Cannon [sic]’ on 31 December 1637.

There are few entries for baptisms during the Cromwellian era (1649-1660) and the entries are poorly organised, indicating the strong Puritan streak among the ministers appointed to the parish, although this does not necessarily mean the parishioners agreed with the ministers imposed on them.

The four main families in the parish were Swinfen of Swinfen Hall, Levett of Packington Hall, Manley of Manley Hall and Lawley of Canwell Hall. Packington Hall had been built by James Wyatt for the Babington family, and later passed by marriage to the Levett family.

As an indication of the social prejudices of the day, families like these tend to receive more attentive entries in the register. John and Ann Swinfen were witnesses on 14 October 1790 at the marriage of ‘The Honourable John Colvill, eldest son and heir apparent of the Right Honourable John, Lord Colvill of Culrooss in Scotland and Elizabeth Ford of Swinfen.’ It is interesting to note that Elizabeth’s parentage is not referred to.

The register records the four children of James Wyatt (1717-1783) and his wife Elizabeth Somerford or Sommerford. This James Wyatt was a son of John Wyatt (1675-1742) and Jane Jackson (1677-1739). He was the youngest child in a family of eight sons and one daughter, and he was a younger brother of William Wyatt (1702-1772) and Benjamin Wyatt (1709-1772), the ancestors of the Wyatt architectural dynasty.

James Wyatt and John Wyatt, probably twins, the sons of James Wyatt and Elizabeth Somerford, were baptised on 22 January 1760. Infant mortality also struck this couple, and the two boys died later that year: John was buried on 23 September and James was buried on 20 December 1760. The baptism of a daughter Mary in 1762 is not noted, although the register records her burial in Weeford later that year on 22 October 1762, without naming her parents. A third son, also James Wyatt, son of James Wyatt and Elizabeth Somerford, was baptised on 24 May 1763. A fourth son, John Wyatt, son of James Wyatt and Elizabeth Sommerford, was baptised in Weeford on 27 December 1765. Despite the heartbreak of infant mortality, James and Elizabeth appear to have been determined to keep the names James and John in the family. The second John Wyatt died in 1791.

James Wyatt was buried in Weeford on 15 August 1783. An entry on 23 February 1804 records: ‘Elizabeth Somerford from Lichfield, bur[ied], Copied to here.’ This is probably his widow, although this is not clear from the burial register; if she is his widow, one wonders why her married name is not used.

Weeford is less than 10 miles south of Comberford, in the neighbouring parish of Wigginton, and there is at least one record showing how close the two villages are with the burial of ‘John, s[on] of Edw[ard] Lakin of Cumberford’ on 27 November 1726. As the register shows, the spelling of surnames did not become standardised until later in the 19th century, and I wondered whether some descendants of the Comberford family of Comberford that I had not known of may have continued to live in this part of Staffordshire for longer than my researches had shown. Indeed, it would have been interesting to come across a marriage between the Wyatt and Comerford families, just at a time when the Comerfords were introducing Wyatt-style windows to the domestic architecture of Newtownbarry (Bunclody).

But I was quickly dissuaded. Perhaps Sommerford and Somerford were not misspellinsg for Comberford or Comerford, but derived from Somerford, about 18 miles west of Weeford and a mile east of Brewood, the same Somerford that also gave its name to Somerford Place in Willenhall, where Norman W Tildesley, the editor of this volume, lived in the 1950s. Thomas Somerford of Somerford Hall, his wife, his mother and his children were Quakers by the 1680s. But the Somerford family had sold or lost Somerford Hall by 1705; if Elizabeth is descended from that family I have yet to discover how.

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