17 April 2017

Missing coffin of former Bishop of
Lichfield found in Lambeth crypt

Archbishop Frederick Cornwallis … the missing coffin of the former Bishop of Lichfield has been unearthed near Lambeth Palace

Patrick Comerford

The coffin of a former Bishop of Lichfield is among the remains of five Archbishops of Canterbury that have been found in a crypt beneath a mediaeval church beside Lambeth Palace, the official residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Frederick Cornwallis was Bishop of Lichfield ((1750-1768) before becoming Archbishop of Canterbury (1768-1783). His coffin is one of five coffins that have been discovered at the deconsecrated church of Saint Mary-at-Lambeth while it was being refurbished, but the exciting discovery was kept secret for months until yesterday [16 April 2017] so that the work could be finished.

The redevelopment team at the Flower Garden Museum, led by Karl Patten and Craig Dick, accidentally came across the dark entrance to the tomb as they began stripping back the flagstones from the church.

After uncovering a set of stairs under a slab, they fashioned a long torch out of a mobile phone attached to a selfie stick. This gave them their first glimpse of a hidden crypt with 30 lead coffins.

Karl Patten told the BBC at the weekend: ‘We discovered numerous coffins – and one of them had a gold crown on top of it.’ Archbishops were often buried with gold-painted mitres on their coffins.

While the identity of some of the bodies remains a mystery, three of the coffins have nameplates: Richard Bancroft (Archbishop of Canterbury 1604-1610); Matthew Hutton (1757-1758); Thomas Tenison (1695-1715); John Moore (1783-1805) and his wife Catherine Moore; and Frederick Cornwallis (1768-1783). Also buried here is an ecclesiastical judge, John Bettesworth, Dean of the Arches (1710-1751).

Saint Mary-at-Lambeth, where Archbishop Cornwallis was buried in 1783 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Cornwallis was born in London, the seventh son of Charles Cornwallis, 4th Baron Cornwallis. He was educated at Eton and Christ’s College, Cambridge. He was ordained priest in 1742.

In 1746, Cornwallis became a chaplain to King George II and a canon of Windsor. In 1750, he became a canon of Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London. Later that year, he became Bishop of Lichfield thanks to the patronage of the Duke of Newcastle, then Secretary of State.

While he was Bishop of Lichfield, Cornwallis was also Dean of Windsor (1765-1768) and Dean of Saint Paul’s (1766-1768). On the death of Thomas Secker in 1768, his friendship with the then-prime minister, the Duke of Grafton, secured his appointment as Archbishop of Canterbury.

As Archbishop of Canterbury, his sociability and geniality made Cornwallis popular. He was a consistent supporter of the administration of Lord North, and led efforts in support of dispossessed Anglican clergy in the American colonies during the American Revolution. He is regarded as a competent administrator, but an uninspiring leader of the 18th century church – a typical product of the latitudinarianism of the day. It was this lack of zeal that is said to have paved the way for the later rise of both the Evangelicals and the Oxford Movement in the early 19th century.

When Cornwallis died on 19 March 1783 at the age of 70, he was buried at Saint Mary’s Church, Lambeth. But the exact place of burial and his coffin were lost to history until the discovery announced yesterday.

Lambeth Palace has been the official London residence of the Archbishops of Canterbury for almost 800 years, so perhaps it is little surprise that these coffins were buried here. The coffins have been left undisturbed, although the builders have installed a glass panel in the floor above them so visitors can peer into the crypt.

The Garden Museum, which has been closed for the present £7.5 million redevelopment since 2015, is expected to reopen next month, on 22 May 2017.

Flowers in the Flower Garden in Saint Mary-at-Lambeth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

This report was subsequently published in the ‘Lichfield Mercury’ on 20 April 2017 under the headline ‘Coffin of Bishop of Lichfield found in crypt beneath mediaeval church’

Back in Lichfield for a few days
and to be fed spiritually

Back in Lichfield for a few days to relax and recharge my batteries

Patrick Comerford

After a busy Lent, Holy Week and Easter, I am back in Lichfield today for a few days. I arrived early this afternoon after a mid-morning flight to Birmingham, and I am staying in the Hedgehog Vintage Inn, on the northern edges of Lichfield, at the corner of Stafford Road and Cross-in-Hand Lane.

I have stayed many times in the Hedgehog in recent years. Some years ago, shortly before I arrived back in Lichfield, I received an email from the team here that said: ‘Welcome to your new rural retreat.’

It is an insightful description of the way I have benefitted in recent years from my stays at the Hedgehog, with its rural charm and rustic character yet close to Lichfield Cathedral.

Over the next few days, I hope to meet up with some old friends and family members, to enjoy some walks in the countryside between Lichfield and Farewell, by Stowe Pool and Minster Pool or Beacon Park, to stroll along Beacon Street into the Cathedral for some of the daily services, and to visit the chapel in Saint John’s Hospital.

This is a time to be fed spiritually after a busy season that has included 13 services over eight days in six churches. But this is also a time to relax and recharge my batteries in a place that I have seen affectionately as my spiritual home for the past 46 years.

There may even be time this week to visit Comberford, between Lichfield and Tamworth, or the Moat House in Tamworth, or to walk around the Roman ruins at Wall once again.

I am looking forward too to browsing in some of the bookshops and to meals in some of my favourite restaurants.

Tomorrow evening, we are having a big family reunion, with cousins and extended family coming to dinner.

‘Make yourself at home,’ that recent email from the Hedgehog said.

Yes, it is good to be back.

‘Welcome to your new rural retreat’ … the Hedgehog on Stafford Road in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

An old house and former centre
for spirituality goes on the market

Luisne, originally built as Darraghville ... the spirituality centre in Kilcoole is now on the market (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I see in the property sections in the national newspapers that Luisne, an old house that is home to a centre for spirituality about a mile north of Kilcoole, Co Wicklow, is now on the market.

This once elegant historic house stands on 52 acres of beautiful unspoilt Wicklow countryside, with a gate lodge, former schoolhouse and two walled gardens.

For more than a decade, this house has been home to the Luisne Spirituality Centre, which was established in 2004. But the presence of the Holy Faith community dates back to the 1890s, and the house is a century older.

The Holy Faith Sisters bought Darraghville in 1894 and opened new schools, including a junior boarding school for boys in 1898, where the more famous pupils included the comedian Jimmy O’Dea.

The ministry of the Luisne Spirituality Centre began in 2004, and the estate is still farmed and used for grazing livestock. However, the Holy Faith Congregation can no longer afford to fund the Luisne Centre. In recent years, there were discussions about setting up a charitable trust to manage Luisne in the years to come so it can continue and expand.

Open and without walls, Luisne has described itself as ‘a contemporary monastic settlement inspired by the early monasteries and the scientific revelation that all life is intimately interconnected and richly diversified.’

The programmes at Luisne have included meditation twice a day and regular extended meditation practice in weekly classes and weekend workshops, as well as classes on art appreciation, astronomy, cookery, herbal remedies, vegetarian cooking, mindfulness and yoga.

Now, it seems, the efforts to save Lusine have come to an end, and the house and lands are on the market through WK Nowlan Real Estate Advisers, with an asking price in excess of €775,000.

The original house, Darraghville, was built by John Darragh, a former lord mayor of Dublin, ca 1782, on lands first leased from the Gardiner family, Earls of Blessington and Viscount Mountjoy – they gave their name to Gardiner Street, Mountjoy Square, Blessington Street and other Georgian streets in Dublin.

Darraghville is a two-storey over basement, five-bay, Georgian residence, with a projecting semi-hexagonal bay to the west, parapet hipped roof to the east, and treble-hipped ‘A’ roofs to the west. There are Venetian windows with sidelights feature on the two principal façades.

The house retains many of its original features, including decorative plaster ceilings, stone flooring, vaulted basements, and staircases and woodwork of architectural importance. The façade was brickwork, but is now concealed behind painted render. The three-storey extension to the north probably dates from the mid-19th century.

Photographs from the 1870s record the resplendent grandeur of a lower walled garden with an extensive glassed greenhouse, tea-house and an ornamental bridge. The lower garden is now overgrown, but the walls and entrances remain, and it still features a meandering stream, the bridge base and the old tea-house, very much in need of restoration.

A second walled garden beside the house is well maintained. It may have had a tennis court and fruit trees originally, but is now a vegetable patch, with fruit trees and flower beds, as well as a small greenhouse.

John Darragh traded as a china and earthenware merchant on Lower Ormond Quay, Dublin. When his widow Mary died in 1799, the Darraghville estate passed to the Newton family, and George Newton built a new house on the site.

What does the future hold for this house? Property journalists are suggesting it could become a wellness-retreat centre, or a hospitality facility.

But I imagine it is more likely that someone is going to buy this part of Kilcoole’s history as a trophy home.