Tuesday, 24 April 2018

The Wyatt Family of Weeford:
a Lichfield architectural dynasty

James Wyatt (1746-1813) of Weeford … the most famous member of the Wyatt architectural dynasty, his work on Lichfield Cathedral was condemned by AWN Pugin

Patrick Comerford

Lichfield Civic Society,

Wade Street Church Community Rooms,

Frog Lane, Lichfield,

7.45 p.m., 24 April 2018


Introduction

There are several interesting architectural dynasties in the 19th century, including the Hardwick, Barry, Pugin and Scott families. But the Wyatt family tree stretches back much further than any of these, and the Wyatt family stands out for the variety and influence of its work by five or six generations of influential English architects in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.

The best-known member of this dynasty was, perhaps, James Wyatt (1746-1813), although his work on rebuilding and restoring Lichfield Cathedral at the end of the 18th century drew the opprobrium of the greatest Gothic Revival architect of them all, AWN Pugin, when he visited Lichfield.

I am familiar with the work of the Wyatt family, not only because of my research on Pugin’s work, and because my family had worked on Pugin churches in the 19th century, but also because of their strong family links with Lichfield, because of Wyatt contributions to the architectural shape of Sidney Sussex College in Cambridge, and because of one unique architectural feature – Wyatt Windows – which are found in large measure in two towns in Ireland: in Bunclody, Co Wexford, which was the Irish home town of my father’s ancestors, and Rathkeale, the principal town in my group of parishes in the Diocese of Limerick in south-west Ireland.

Visiting Weeford

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

I was reminded once again of the Wyatt family’s prolific work and unique contribution throughout these islands on a recent visit to Weeford, near Lichfield, which has been associated with the Wyatt family for almost six centuries.

Weeford is one of the five original ‘prebends’ in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Weeford is 6 km (four miles) south of Lichfield, close to Toll 4 on the M6, but is in quiet rural Staffordshire. It is mentioned in the Domesday Book and it was one of the five original ‘prebends’ that paid ‘wax Scot’ or ‘Plough Alms’ to Lichfield Cathedral from the beginning of the 12th century. Indeed, there was a church in Weeford for many centuries, and there is still a stall for the Prebendary of Weeford in the chapter stalls in Lichfield Cathedral.

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

In Lichfield, I recently bought a copy of the old parish registers for Saint Mary’s, dating back to 1562. The Weeford Parish Register was prepared for the Staffordshire Parish Register Society and 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.

A footbridge over the Blackbrook River in Weeford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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’ 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 of 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 – and both were 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 this 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.

Early Wyatts in Weeford

An outline of the Wyatt family tree (Wikipedia)

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.

These registers show that the Wyatt family was living in the parish since at least as early as 1540, if not earlier. The baptism of Thomas Wyatt, son of Robert Wyatt, on 29 July 1562, is 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.

There were Wyatts in Weeford from before 1540, when William Wyatt was the father of Humphrey Wyatt, and the Wyatt architectural dynasty can be traced back to William Wyatt of Thickbroom, near Weeford, who died in 1572.

The Wyatt dynasty was consolidated by a great number of marriages between cousins – over 20 in all, with eight in one generation alone. Wyatt family members often worked together in the architectural world. But the family also includes artists, painters, sculptors and journalists.

The grave in the churchyard in Weeford of John Wyatt (1675-1742), his wife Jane (1677-1739), their son Benjamin Wyatt (1709-1772) and other family members (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Edward Wyatt, who was buried in Weeford in 1572, was the great-great-grandfather of Edward Wyatt (1632-1705), whose son, John Wyatt (1675-1742) from Thickbroom in Weeford, was the immediate ancestor of this outstanding architectural dynasty.

This John Wyatt married Jane Jackson (1677-1739) on 4 June 1699, and they were the parents of at least nine children, eight sons and one daughter. Their eldest son, John Wyatt (1700-1766), who was probably born in Thickbroom and baptised in Weeford parish church, was also related to Sarah Ford, the mother of Dr Samuel Johnson.

John was a carpenter by trade, and worked in Birmingham, where he became a talented inventor. His inventions included a compound lever weighing machine for weighing loaded wagons, and he developed a spinning machine that predated Richard Arkwright’s ‘Spinning Jenny.’

The second son of John and Jane Wyatt of Thickbroom was William Wyatt (1701-1772) of Sinai Park House, near Burton-upon-Trent. A surveyor, who was steward to the Paget family, and was involved in their unpopular enclosures of land in Staffordshire.

I shall return to his descendants and their architectural legacy later on.

Architectural genius

Swinfen Hall … the finest architectural achievement of Benjamin Wyatt (1709-1772)

Among John Wyatt’s eight sons, the first to work as an architect was Benjamin Wyatt I (1709-1772). He too was baptised in Weeford, in 1709, and in the same church he married Mary Wright on 27 May 1731.

He was a ‘farmer, timber merchant, building contractor and sometime architect.’ Benjamin and Mary Wyatt were living at Coton, near Tamworth, before he built his own house, Blackbrook in Weeford, which was home to seven generations of the Wyatt family.

Benjamin Wyatt’s finest architectural achievement was Swinfen Hall, between Weeford and Lichfield, which he built in 1757 for Samuel Swinfen and his wife. Almost half a century ago, Sir Nikolaus Pevsner observed in 1974: ‘Much more ought to be found out about the house.’ I think this has been rectified in recent decades.

Around 1769, he built Soho House in Handsworth (then in Staffordshire), the Birmingham home of Matthew Boulton (1728-1809), a Birmingham industrialist and a member of the Lunar Society. Later work on the house was carried out by two of John’s sons, Samuel Wyatt (1737-1807), who extended the house in 1789, and James Wyatt (1746-1813), who added the main entrance (1796).

Benjamin Wyatt senior’s other works in Staffordshire include the General Hospital in Foregate Street, Stafford (1766-1771).

The gate lodge of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge ... part of the alterations by Sir Jeffry Wyatville in 1832 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Benjamin and Mary Wyatt had a large family. Their eldest son, William Wyatt (1734-1781), was a land surveyor and inclosure commissioner, and he married his first cousin, Sarah Wyatt of Sinai Park.

Their second son, John Wyatt (1735-1797), was a successful surgeon in London. He returned to Weeford to marry Catherine Anderson on 31 March 1761, when his parents were still living at Blackbrook Farm, and when he died in 1797 he was buried in Weeford too.

Another son, Samuel Wyatt (1737-1807), nicknamed ‘Chip’ because he was also a carpenter, was an architect and builder. He married his cousin, Jane Wyatt. His works include Trinity House on Tower Hill, which has been described as ‘the last word in Georgian elegance.’

Pevsner says Samuel Wyatt was ‘the best architect to work at Shugborough’, which was originally built in 1693. He designed what Pevsner calls the ‘grandest portico in Staffordshire by far,’ the eight-column giant portico set in front of the house in 1794.

He also added the awkwardly projecting saloon, former dining room and drawing room, and the elliptical entrance hall, and designed the Milford Lodges at the entrance.

The next son, Joseph Wyatt (1739-1785), who married his cousin Myrtilla Wyatt, was the father of Sir Jeffry Wyatville (1766-1840). He changed his surname from Wyatt to Wyatville (frequently misspelled Wyattville in south Dublin housing estates), and Sir Jeffry Wyatville was responsible for significant works at Windsor Castle and Chatsworth House.

I have first-hand familiarity with Jeffry Wyatville’s alterations to Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, in 1832, including the gatehouse. Under his supervision, the exterior brick of Sidney Sussex College was covered with a layer of cement, the existing buildings were heightened slightly, and the architectural effect was also heightened.

Benjamin and Mary Wyatt were also the parents of Benjamin Wyatt II (1744-1818), who moved to Wales in 1785 and was the agent to Lord Penrhyn.

James Wyatt and Lichfield Cathedral

Lichfield Cathedral … Pugin called James Wyatt a ‘wretch,’ a ‘pest’ and a ‘monster of architectural depravity’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

But the most famous son of Benjamin and Mary Wyatt was James Wyatt (1746-1813), who was born at Blackbrook Farmhouse near Weeford, and became the most acclaimed and influential architect of his age. His first major building, the Pantheon in Oxford Street, London, was described by Horace Walpole as ‘the most beautiful edifice in England.’ Sadly, this building burned to the ground in a spectacular fire in 1792, only 20 years after its opening. The site is now occupied by the Oxford Street branch of Marks and Spencer.

In 1792, James Wyatt was appointed the Surveyor General, which effectively made him England’s most prominent architect. He was also involved in works at Windsor Castle, Kew Gardens, the Radcliffe Observatory in Oxford, the restoration of the House of Lords. His other acclaimed works include Fonthill Abbey near Hindon, in Wiltshire, Broadway Tower in Worcestershire, the folly on the second highest point of the Cotswolds, Heveningham Hall in Suffolk, Ashbridge Park in Hertfordshire, and the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich.

He also worked on Alton Towers for the Earls of Shrewsbury, although Pevsner was unable to determine the extent of his contribution.

James Wyatt rebuilt Saint Mary’s Church in Weeford in 1802-1804, now a Grade 2 Listed Building, and donated the altar, pulpit, screens, font and ornamental furnishings. Other family members involved in rebuilding the church included James Wyatt’s nephew, Lewis William Wyatt (1777-1853), son of Benjamin Wyatt II (1744-1853).

James Wyatt was began working on the restoration of Lichfield Cathedral in 1788 – his first cathedral task – and worked until here 1795. He oversaw work to remove 500 tons of stone from the nave roof, replacing it with lath and plaster, and effectively saving the cathedral from collapse. He blocked up the four the four western choir arches, removed or altered the screen, put a glass screen in the east arch of the crossing, and added the two heavy buttresses outside the south transept. He also largely rebuilt the central spire.

The architect on the site was Joseph Potter senior.

When the great figure in the Gothic Revival, AWN Pugin, first visited Lichfield in 1834, over 20 years after James Wyatt had died, he was taken aback by his refurbishment of the cathedral 30 years earlier and believed the fabric of the cathedral had been mutilated by James Wyatt, – and he also described Lichfield as ‘a dull place – without anything remarkable.’

Pugin described Wyatt as a ‘Wretch,’ a ‘pest,’ an ‘accursed tutor’ and a ‘monster.’ He declared: ‘Yes – this monster of architectural depravity, this pest of Cathedral architecture, has been here. need I say more.’

Referring to another Lichfield architect, Joseph Potter, Pugin said: ‘The man I am sorry to say – who executes the repairs of the building was a pupil of the Wretch himself and has imbibed all the vicious propensities of his accursed tutor without one spark of even practical ability to atone for his misdeeds.’

James Wyatt’s major neoclassical country houses include Packington Hall, two miles from Lichfield, and the home of the Babington and then the Levett family for generations.

James Wyatt’s major works in Ireland include Castle Coole, the Enniskillen home of the Earls of Belmore, Lady Anne Dawson’s mausoleum in Dartrey, Co Monaghan, the interiors of Curraghmore for Lord Waterford, and Avondale House, Co Wicklow, the family home of the Irish patriot Charles Stewart Parnell.

It interesting to note his broad and sweeping influence on the design of houses in towns such as Carlow, Bunclody (Newtownbarry), Co Wexford, and Rathkeale, Co Limerick, for example.

Wyatt windows can be seen in many buildings in Bunclody, including the former Comerford family home (now the Post Office). The rectory, built in 1808, has windows that diminish in scale on each floor in the classical manner, producing a graduated visual impression, once again in a style inspired by James Wyatt. Wyatt windows can be seen too in some of the many once-elegant Georgian townhouses in Rathkeale.

James Wyatt was also briefly the President of the Royal Academy (1804). His life came to an abrupt end on 4 September 1813, when the chariot-and-four in which he was travelling overturned on the Marlborough Downs. He was buried in the South Transept in Westminster Abbey.

James Wyatt’s second son and pupil, Benjamin Dean Wyatt (1775-1852), built the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane, London, and was also the Surveyor at Westminster Abbey. Another son was the sculptor Matthew Cotes Wyatt (1778-1862).

The Irish work of the dynasty

Thomas Henry Wyatt built Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Ballsbridge, in 1864-1867 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I said I would return to William Wyatt (1701-1772), the elder brother of Benjamin Wyatt (1709-1772). This William Wyatt was the grandfather of Matthew Wyatt (1773-1831), who studied law instead of architecture. He moved briefly to Ireland when he was appointed a barrister and police magistrate in Roscommon.

Matthew Wyatt’s son, Thomas Henry Wyatt (1807-1880), was born at Loughlynn House, Co Roscommon, on 9 May 1807. Although he was born in Ireland, he is often regarded as an English architect.

When Thomas was about 11, the Wyatt family returned to England in 1818, and his brother, Sir Matthew Digby Wyatt (1820-1877), was born in Rowde, Wiltshire. By 1825, the family was living in Lambeth.

Thomas Wyatt first began a career as a merchant sailing to the Mediterranean. But he returned to the family’s tradition of architecture, and his early training was in the office of Philip Hardwick. There he worked until 1832, and was involved in work on Goldsmiths Hall, Euston Station and the warehouses at Saint Katharine Docks.

He began to practice on his own as an architect in 1832, and became the District Surveyor for Hackney, a post he held until 1861.

He married his first cousin, Arabella Montagu Wyatt (1807-1875), a daughter of his uncle, Arthur Wyatt, who was the agent of the Duke of Beaufort. By 1838, he had acquired substantial patronage from the Duke of Beaufort, the Earl of Denbigh and Sidney Herbert (1810-1861). David Brandon joined Wyatt as a partner, and this partnership lasted until 1851. Their works included Saint John the Baptist Church, Tixall, commissioned by the Hon John Chetwynd Talbot, and the now lost Saint Thomas Church in Wednesdfield. In 1860, Thomas Wyatt’s son, Matthew Wyatt (1840-1892), became his partner.

Thomas Wyatt’s practice at 77 Great Russell Street, London, was extensive with a large amount of work in Wiltshire, thanks to the patronage of the Herbert family, and in Monmouthshire through the Beaufort connection. Wyatt worked in many styles ranging from the Italianate of Wilton through to the Gothic of many of his churches.

Inside Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Ballsbridge …the church has a unique place in the history of Victorian church architecture in Ireland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Wyatt probably received the commission for Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Ballsbridge, in the expanding, comfortable Victorian suburbs of south Dublin, through the patronage of the Herbert family who were the landlords of that part of Dublin. As the Earls of Pembroke, they give their name to a new township based on Ballsbridge. Wyatt worked closely with Sidney Herbert, younger brother of the Earl of Pembroke, who administered the family estates and donated the site for the ‘Pembroke District Church.’ Sidney Herbert was a brother-in-law of Thomas Vesey (1803-1875), the 3rd Viscount de Vesci, who married Lady Emma, daughter of George Herbert, 11th Earl of Pembroke. Lord de Vesci had commissioned Wyatt to restore Abbeyleix House, Co Laois, and to design the parish church of Saint Michael and All Angels in Abbeyleix.

Sidney Herbert, who had sent Florence Nightingale to Scutari during the Crimean War, was the father-in-law of both the theologian Friedrich von Hügel and the composer Hubert Parry. He lived at Mount Merrion in south Dublin and was managing the Pembroke estates when the site for Saint Bartholomew’s was donated and Wyatt was commissioned to design the new church.

Wyatt’s also enlarged and altered Saint Mary’s Church in Gowran, Co Kilkenny. He also reported on the completion of the restoration of Saint Canice’s Cathedral, Kilkenny, and worked on several Irish country houses, including Abbeyleix, Co Laois, for Lord de Vesci, Ramsfort, Co Wexford, for Stephen Ram, Lissadell House, Co Sligo, for the Gore-Booth family, and Palmerstown House, Co Kildare, for the de Burgh family.

The font in Saint Bartholomew’s was a personal gift to the church by Thomas Henry Wyatt (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The font in Saint Bartholomew’s Church was his personal gift to the church. He died on 5 August 1880 leaving an estate of £30,000, and is buried at Weston Patrick.
Sir Matthew Digby Wyatt of Cambridge designed 24-25 Grafton Street, Dublin … today it is stripped of its original ground-floor shopfront (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Thomas Wyatt’s younger brother and former pupil, Sir Matthew Digby Wyatt (1820-1877), was an art historian and the first Slade Professor of Fine Art at Cambridge. He too also worked in Ireland, and he designed Nos 24-25 Grafton Street, Dublin, in the ‘Celtic revival’ style for William Longfield.

This building had one of the finest Romanesque façades until the ground floor was vandalised to make way for modern shopfronts. The original shopfront combined details from many churches and cathedrals, including the doorway in Saint Lachtain’s Church, Freshford, Co Kilkenny, crosses from Monasterboice, Co Louth, and the chancel arch and crosses from Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Tuam, Co Galway.

The first and second floors, which have survived, have two super-imposed Romanesque arcades. Above them, the third floor looks like a Venetian loggia. The rich details throughout these three floors include interlaced capitals, keystone masks, foliated string courses, and chevron or saw-tooth ornamentation.

In 1863, the Irish Builder hoped Wyatt would ‘stimulate many an Irish architect to ... recreate a national style,’ and praised the building for being ‘at once novel and successful.’

A continuing link

The grave of John Wyatt (died 1820) in Weeford Churchyard (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The grave of the journalist Woodrow Wyatt in Weeford Churchyard (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

As I strolled through Saint Mary’s churchyard in Weeford recently, I came across other interesting members of the Wyatt family, and more recent family members, including the former amateur cricketer and captain of Warwickshire, Worcestershire and England, Robert Elliott Storey (Bob) Wyatt (1901-1995), and the politician, journalist and chairman of the Tote, Woodrow Wyatt (1918-1997), who was made Lord Wyatt of Weeford by Margaret Thatcher and who is also buried in the churchyard.

The Old Schoolhouse in Weeford continues to celebrate the Wyatt name (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Across the country lane from the churchyard, the Wyatt dynasty is remembered in the Wyatt Pavilion, a popular wedding venue incorporated into the bar and restaurant in the old schoolhouse.

Conclusions:

Wyatt windows in a terrace of houses in Rathkeale, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Wyatt windows in the former Comerford family house in Bunclody, Co Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Thomas Wyatt has been described unfairly by John Betjeman as ‘one of the dullest Victorian architects.’ On the other hand, despite Pugin’s scorn and contempt for James Wyatt, John Betjeman has praised him for his ‘symphony’ of ‘exquisite plaster, marble and painted details.’

James Wyatt has been acclaimed both as ‘the successor to Robert Adam as England’s most fashionable architect in the classical idiom,’ and for his ‘mastery of the Gothic style.’ Sir Nikolaus Pevsner has called his work at Woolwich ‘one of the most important pieces of military architecture’ in Britain.

But James Wyatt is also controversial, because he is also taken to task for having followed fashions in a superficial way, and to Pugin he was ‘a monster of architectural depravity’ for his insensitive work at Lichfield and other cathedrals.

Little of Wyatt’s work at Lichfield Cathedral survived the later Victorian restoration and rebuilding. Pevsner has pointed out that much of Lichfield Cathedral, as we see it today, is George Gilbert Scott’s work, including mouldings, capitals and statues, and most of the window tracery.

The finest surviving works by the Wyatt family in Staffordshire are Shugborough and Swinfen Hall.

If you wish to see their legacy in the Lichfield area, then visit Swinfen Hall, take a stroll through Weeford, or admire the work in Lichfield of James Wyatt’s pupil, Joseph Potter (1756-1842), including Newtown’s College in the Close (1800), the Causeway Bridge at Bird Street (1816), and Holy Cross Church, Upper Saint John Street, Lichfield (1835).

Potter’s other works in Lichfield and the surrounding area include:

● Christ Church, Burntwood (1819-1820);
● Chetwynd Bridge, Alrewas (1824);
● Freeford Hall, enlarged for the Dyott family (1826-1827);
● The High Bridge, Armitage (1829-1830);
● Saint John Baptist Roman Catholic Church, Tamworth (1829-1830).

His son, Joseph Potter Jnr. (1797-1875), took over his architectural practice and designed the Guildhall (1846-1848) and the Clock Tower (1863) in Lichfield.

Appendix 1: Wyatt works in Staffordshire:

Benjamin Wyatt I (1709-1772):

Blackbrook Farmhouse, Weeford (pre 1750), Wyatt family home in Weeford.
Swinfen Hall (1755-1757), for Samuel Swinfen.
Soho House, Handsworth (1769) for Matthew Boulton.
Benjamin Wyatt senior’s other works in Staffordshire include the General Hospital in Foregate Street, Stafford (1766-1771).

Samuel Wyatt (1737-1807):

Soho House (1789), extended for Matthew Boulton.
Shugborough House (1790, 1806), Milford Lodges and portico 1794 in front of 1693 house.

James Wyatt (1746-1813):

Lichfield Cathedral (1788-1795): restoration work.
Packington Hall, for the Babington and Levett families.
Little Aston Hall (late 18th century), rebuilt by Edward J Payne (1857-1859).
Soho House (1796), added main entrance front for Matthew Boulton.
Saint Mary’s Church, Weeford (1802).
Alton Towers (Pevsner is unable to determine the extent of his contribution).
Canwell Hall: added two wings (demolished 1957).

Thomas Wyatt (1807):

Saint John the Baptist Church, Tixall (1849), Wyatt and Brandon, commissioned by John Chetwynd Talbot.
Saint Thomas Church, Wednesfield (1842-1843), chancel by Wyatt and Brandon, burnt in 1902, rebuilt by FT Beck (1903).

Appendix 2: A search in vain

The Weeford Parish 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.

Some sources:

‘The Wyatt Dynasty’, the Victorian Web, http://www.victorianweb.org/art/architecture/misc/wyattdyn.html (last accessed 22 April 2018).
Rosemary Hill, God’s Architect: Pugin and the Building of Romantic Britain (London: Penguin, 2007).
(Sir) Nikolaus Pevsner, Staffordshire, The Buildings of England (Harmondsworth Penguin, 1974).
John Martin Robinson, The Wyatts: An Architectural Dynasty (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979).
Norman W Tildesley (ed), Weeford Parish Registers, Baptism, Marriages, Burials 1562-1812 (Wednesbury: Staffordshire Parish Registers Society, 1955). Reginald Turnor, Nineteenth Century Architecture in Britain (London: Batsford, 1950).
Chris Woodcock, Notes on a line of the Galloway Family (2016).

Biographical Note: (Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Priest-in-Charge of the Rathkeale Group of Parishes in the Diocese of Limerick and Precentor of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick. He is a former professor at Trinity College Dublin, and lectured in church history and liturgy at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. He has family links with the Lichfield area that stretch back generations and centuries, and in the past has written for the Lichfield Mercury, the Lichfield Gazette and City Life in Lichfield. He blogs daily at www.patrickcomerford.com, where many of his postings are about Lichfield life, history and architecture.

A lecture in Lichfield on
the Wyatts of Weeford,
an architectural dynasty

Lichfield Cathedral … Pugin called James Wyatt a ‘wretch,’ a ‘pest’ and a ‘monster of architectural depravity’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

I am back in Lichfield today, and later this evening I am delivering the monthly lecture in the programme organised Lichfield Civic Society at Wade Street Church Community Rooms in Frog Lane.

This evening’s lecture [7.45 p.m., 24 April 2018] tells the story of ‘the Wyatt Family of Weeford: a Lichfield architectural dynasty.’

There are several interesting architectural dynasties in the 19th century, including the Hardwick, Barry, Pugin and Scott families. But the Wyatt family tree stretches back much further than any of these, and the Wyatt family stands out for the variety and influence of its work by five or six generations of influential English architects in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.

The best-known member of this dynasty was, perhaps, James Wyatt (1746-1813), although his work on rebuilding and restoring Lichfield Cathedral at the end of the 18th century drew the opprobrium of the greatest Gothic Revival architect of them all, AWN Pugin, when he visited Lichfield.

I am familiar with the work of the Wyatt family, not only because of my research on Pugin’s work, and because my family had worked on Pugin churches in the 19th century, but also because of their strong family links with Lichfield, because of Wyatt contributions to the architectural shape of Sidney Sussex College in Cambridge, and because of one unique architectural feature – Wyatt Windows – which are found in large measure in two towns in Ireland: in Bunclody, Co Wexford, which was the Irish home town of my father’s ancestors, and Rathkeale, the principal town in my group of parishes in the Diocese of Limerick in south-west Ireland.

While I am in Lichfield this week, I am staying at Saint John’s House on Saint John Street, directly opposite Frog Lane.

The house was badly damaged about two months ago [15 February 2018] when a car crashed into the classical-style columns supporting the portico, causing one of the columns to collapse and causing serious damage to the portico.

Given the architectural focus of this evening’s lecture, it is interesting to stay in Saint John’s House, a Regency or Georgian house that is one of the oldest houses in the centre of Lichfield. It is a listed grade II* Georgian house, and has been listed since 1952.

The four-bay colonnade at the façade, which was severely damaged in the incident, is said to replicate the columns on the Tower of the Winds in Athens.

Unusually for a house of this age, and despite the recent crash and two restorations in recent decades, it still has many of its original features – including the butler’s pantry (now the reception area), the servant’s bell pulls, the staircases, and the larder with the original pegs for hanging game.

The renovations and restorations have been entirely faithful to the original plans for the house, and any alterations have used modern materials to show the evolution of the house for future generations.

Johann and Sarah Popp bought the house in July 2003. At the time, they felt it was an extravagant outlay, and so they decided to finance their purchase by opening the house for bed and breakfast. The house has since been transformed totally, using traditional and natural materials such as lime, horse hair, reclaimed glass and wood – along with blood, sweat and a few tears!

During his work on the house, Johann Popp came across the original living room mantelpiece that had been buried in the garden. The former billiards room still has the old billiard cue holder in the corner and also has a Victorian open fireplace for winter months.

Part or all of St Johns House incorporates the former Bear Inn, which appears in local records in Lichfield in 1698 and it is marked on maps of Lichfield since at least 1766. It stood opposite the entrance to Throgmorton Street, now known as Frog Lane.

The Bear Inn was one served by one of three Lichfield stage coach services. Giles Tottingham ran the Lichfield Flying Wagon from Anglesey in North Wales to London, using the Bear Inn as a staging post. The journey took only four days, and so the Bear Inn was once an important stage on the journey between Dublin and London in the 18th century.

Neighbouring inns and public houses in Saint John Street included the Lord Nelson and the Robin Hood, which stood on either corner of Frog Lane, opposite the Bear Inn. The Lord Nelson was incorporated into Lichfield Grammar School as part of the living accommodation in the mid-19th century, and later passed to Lichfield District Council; the Robin Hood was levelled within the last two decades.

When the Bear Inn ceased being a pub around 1815, the house was renovated extensively in the Regency style. The portico, with its columns and pillared cove, dates from this time. The site British Listed Buildings says the four-bay colonnade on the ground floor has columns modelled on those of the Tower of the Winds in Athens, with three pairs and a single columns to the ends, a frieze with wreaths over the columns and a cornice with a blocking course.

Other features from this time include the decorative stucco façade, including the pedimented windows on the first floor, and much of the cornicing and plaster-work.

The south wing was added in Victorian times, along with the stables, and some fireplaces upstairs were replaced. William East Holmes, who owned St Johns House in 1849, probably built the stables and one of the rooms in the stables is named after him.

Later, the house was owned by Frederick Simmonds, an iron merchant, and then by Archdeacon John Allen, the Master of Saint John’s Hospital, which is only a few doors away. He was followed by Mrs Susan Coyney, a Mrs Young, a Major Matthews, and Mrs Louisa Dawson, a haberdasher.

In 1902, a local colliery proprietor named Peake owned St John’s House. It was renamed Peake House and the Peake family lived here for over 50 years with their daughters.

Saint John’s Preparatory School was housed here from about 1958, but the school moved to Longdon Green in the early years of this century.

Dan and Elly Ralley acquired St Johns House in August 2012. Having fallen in love with the building, they set about bringing the building back to life. This includes a rear extension, which is now the Pavilion Room, acting as the main function room at the house.

They have taken great care in restoring the features of the house and have combined contemporary furnishings with classic antiques to create a very stylish, warm and friendly place to stay. Elly is a self-trained chef with a real flair for home cooked cuisine which is very popular with customers, and Dan and the team run the place from a front of house perspective.

The accommodation includes 12 individually styled bedrooms, of which 11 are doubles and one is a single; eight are located in the main house and four in the stables across the courtyard from the main house. Many of the Victorian features have been restored, including the fireplaces and the encaustic tiles, perhaps by Craven Dunnill.

The names of the rooms reflect the history of the house, including Francis, Coyney, Tottingham, Holmes, Peake, Simmonds and St John’s Suite, as well as the Terrace, and the Victoria, Peacock, Cottage and Garden rooms.

St Johns House Bed & Breakfast is located on Saint John Street in Lichfield and further information can be found at http://www.stjohnshouse.co.uk/. St Johns House can be contacted at: 01543 252 080.


St John’s House … the four-bay colonnade is said to replicate the columns of the Tower of the Winds in Athens (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

A first-time visit to
a chocolate factory

Busy at work in the chocolate factory … Skelligs Chocolate near Ballinskelligs (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

During my visit to Ballinskelligs, Co Kerry, at the end of last week, I also visited Skelligs Chocolate, Ireland’s only open-plan chocolate factory.

The factory is on the Skelligs Ring, which was named in The Lonely Planet’s ‘Top 10 Regions’ to visit in 2017.

The factory is just a few steps away from Saint Finian’s Bay and looks out to Skellig Michael, the UNESCO World Heritage site that was a backdrop in the latest ‘Star Wars’ movie, The Last Jedi.

This open-plan chocolate factory welcomes visitors to come and see the award-winning chocolates being made, to taste the chocolate and to learn about chocolate-making.

The first factory opened in 1996, with two small production rooms, one for making chocolate and the other for packing. ¬It was a big move from a kitchen table to that factory, starting with a staff of four, one chocolate wheel machine and a passion for chocolate making that survives to this day.

Somehow, people found the factory in this remote location and in May 2010 the company extended the factory to deal with the increased demand from shops and visitors.

However, tragedy struck just as the new factory was working to full capacity to prepare for the 2010 Christmas season. The factory was burned to the ground, but no one was hurt or injured.

The business received great support from family, friends and customers and in February 2011 a temporary production facility was set up nearby in Cahersiveen.

After a tough year of fighting for planning permissions, the business returned to the home of Skelligs Chocolate within a week of the first anniversary of the fire, and the new state-of-the-art production facility opened in 2012. The first premises were about 1,200 sq ft; the new one is 6,500 sq ft.

Children are welcome at Skelligs Chocolate near Ballinskelligs (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The philosophy at Skelligs Chocolate is to keep it simple and to make sure everyone has the best possible chocolate experience. The company aims to make the factory as pleasant to visit as it is to work in and is constantly trying to improve the visitor experience.

This is an actual working chocolate factory with the only ‘open plan’ chocolate production facility in Ireland. It was nominated by Failte Ireland as one of the ‘50 secret destinations of the Wild Atlantic Way.’

This was my fist visit to a chocolate factory. After gift buying and before leaving, we had coffee in the Puffin Café looking across at the Skellig Islands. We then made our way down to Saint Finian’s Bay for a walk on the beach in the small cove and another view of Skellig Michael before continuing on to Valentia Island and Cahersiveen.

A walk on the beach, with a view of Skellig Michael, at Saint Finian’s Bay, beside Skelligs Chocolate (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)