Thursday, 28 February 2019

A reminder in Lichfield that
we were too hasty to end
remembering World War I

‘Pax 1919’ is the overpowering message on the gates into the Garden of Remembrance in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I wonder whether we were we too soon in bringing the commemorations of World War I to an end at the end of last year.

The date 1919 is prominent on iron gates into the Garden of Remembrance in Lichfield, and the three medals most allied participants in the war received, including my grandfather, include the ‘Victory Medal 1914-1919.’

The Garden of Remembrance is a beautiful and peaceful garden in the heart of the Lichfield, beside Minster Pool and with the three spires of Lichfield Cathedral in the background.

After World War I, the people of Lichfield were keen to create a memorial to people who had died in the war Three projects were proposed: peace celebrations, a permanent war memorial, and an assembly room for concerts. It was decided to build a permanent war memorial should be built, and a public appeal was launched to raise the funds.

The location was chosen because of its picturesque setting between Minster Pool and the Cathedral Close.

Work on laying out the garden began in 1919. The War Memorial was designed by the prominent architect, Charles Edward Bateman (1863-1947), and the work was carried out by the Lichfield stonemasons, Bridgeman and Sons of Lichfield.

The memorial, which is the focal point of the garden, is carved from Guiting stone, and the central figure of Saint George is sculpted in Portland stone. The dedication ceremony took place on 20 October 1920. The lower panels added later are dedicated to people who had died in World War II and later wars.

The stone lions on the gate piers reputedly came from Moxhull Hall in Wilshaw, near Sutton Coldfield. The 18th century stone balustrades and plinth came from Shenstone Court, south of Lichfield.

Each of the stone lions on the gate piers was embellished with the Lichfield city coat of arms, and the above the gates in wrought iron are the words and date PAX 1919.

The dates ‘1914-1919’ are used on the memorial at the former Lichfield Brewery in Upper John Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

At one time, I though the date 1919 referred to the year work began on laying out the garden. But then I realised that at first World War I was referred to as either the Great War or the 1914-1919 War – few realised that this was just the first among world wars, and that the second would begin just 20 years later.

It was a matter for local authorities to decide whether the war years engraved on memorials were ‘1914-1918’ or ‘1914-1919.’

The dates ‘1914-1919’ are used, for example at the memorial with 13 names at the former Lichfield Brewery in Upper John Street, Lichfield. The same dates appear on war memorials from Penkridge and Cambridge to overpowering war memorial at the entrance to Liverpool Street Station in London.

The dates 1914-1919 on the War Memorial in Penkridge, Staffordshire (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The medals received by most Irish and British participants in World I, including my grandfather, Stephen Edward Comerford, included the Victory Medal 1914-1919, which is inscribed ‘The Great War for Civilisation 1914-1919.’

I noticed in Venice recently how Italian memorials give the dates for World War I as 1915-1919.

The ‘Victory Medal 1914-1919’ (right) is also inscribed ‘The Great War for Civilisation 1914-1919’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

So, if Armistice Day on 11 November 1918 marked the end of World War I, why is it dated 1914-1919 on so many monuments?

The armistice signed by the Allies and Germany brought a cessation to hostilities on the Western Front at 11 a.m. – ‘the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month’ in 1918.

This is the date of the ceasefire on the Western Front. But hostilities continued in other regions, especially across the former Russian Empire and in parts of the old Ottoman Empire.

It took a further six months of negotiations at the Paris Peace Conference before the Treaty of Versailles was signed on 28 June 1919, ending the state of war between Germany and the Allied Powers. It was exactly five years after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, one of the principal events leading to the outbreak of World War I – or should I say the ‘1914-1919 War’?

But what really strikes me each time I pass the gates of the Garden of Remembrance in Lichfield is that the central message is PAX, ‘Peace.’ Instead of wondering whether we were too soon in ending the commemorations of World War I, we might ask whether we too soon in giving up the struggle for Peace in 1919 and ensuring that those who died had died in a ‘war to end all wars.’

The 1914-1919 War Memorial in Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

A family trail that leads
to Holocaust victims and
heroes in the Venice Ghetto

The plaque erected in the Ghetto in Venice in 1947 commemorating Chief Rabbi Adolfo Ottolenghi (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

In my search earlier this week for the two Comerford brothers, Bert (Bert Brantford) and Harry (Harry Ford), and their wives, the two Sipple sisters, Aggie and Rosina, I was fascinated by finding that these two sisters are descended from some of the most interesting Sephardi Jewish families in Europe.

Many of their immediate ancestors could trace their ancestry directly to leading Sephardi families who lived in Amsterdam, Livorno, Venice and Seville, including Spanish Marrano families who had been forced to convert to Christianity in Seville during the Inquisition but had maintained their Jewish faith and practices in their private family and domestic life.

The grandmother of Agnes and Rosina Comerford, Dove Deborah (Paloma) de Isaac Nunes Martinez (1788-1876) was married twice, marrying Abraham Ottolenghi (1794-1847) in 1847. He was her second husband and she was his second wife.

Abraham Ottolenghi’s father, Israel Ottolenghi (1774-1828), was born in Livorno in Tuscany. The Ottolenghi family apparently originated in Germany, and the name is an Italian form of Ettlingen. Prominent members of the family include: Joseph b Nathan Ottolenghi (died 1570), Rabbi of Cremona; Samuel David b Jehiel Ottolego (died 1718), scholar and kabbalist, born in Casale Monferrato; and Abraham Azariah (Bonaiuto) Ottolenghi (1776-1851), rabbinical scholar, born in Acqui.

But this complex and remote connection with the Comerford family also reminded me of the story I heard in Venice three months ago of another member of the Ottolenghi family, Adolfo Ottolenghi (1885-1944) a Jewish scholar who was Chief Rabbi of Venice (1919-1944) and perished in the Holocaust.

Chief Rabbi Adolfo Ottolenghi, his wife Regina and their children (Photograph: CDEC)

Adolfo Ottolenghi was born on 30 July 1885 in Livorno, the son of Avraham Abramo and his wife Amalia (nee Ventura). He studied at the rabbinical college in Livorno and law at the University of Pisa, qualifying as a procuratore or lawyer, and initially planned to follow a career in the legal profession.

He also received the diploma of a maschil in 1907, a qualification found principally in Italy. The word refers traditionally to a ‘scholar’ or ‘enlightened man,’ and one who held a secondary rabbinical position corresponding to that of a dayyan. In Italy, and especially in Tuscany, the title maschil is conferred on rabbinical students. In 1911, he qualified as a chakham, the official title used among Sephardi Jews, particularly Spanish and Portuguese Jews, for local rabbis.

At the end of 1911, the Jewish community in Venice invited him to become secretary of the Fraterna Generale di Culto e Beneficenza, the main Jewish charity in the city. At the time, Moisè Coen Porto (1834-1918) was the Chief Rabbi of Venice and Giuseppe Musatti (1841-1928) was the president of the Jewish community (1903-1919).

Giuseppe Musatti and Amedeo Grassini, a prominent lawyer, founded a financial group that started the transformation of the Lido into a tourist destination and that financed Grassini’s formation of the first vaporetto company in Venice. Ever since, the vaporetti or water buses have carried residents and millions of tourists every day along the Grand Canal and to the lagoon islands. But Grassini is also remembered as the father of Margherita Sarfatti (1880-1961), the beguiling art critic who became Mussolini’s lover and his first biographer in 1925.

Ottolenghi served the community in Venice as a rabbi from 1911 to 1919. Because of his short-sightedness, he was exempted from military conscription during World War I. But the frontline was close to Venice, and throughout the war he took care of Jewish refugees, taking many of them to Livorno.

The Chief Rabbi of Venice, Moisè Coen-Porto, died in Mantua on 9 December 1918, and Adolfo Ottolenghi was elected to succeed him as the Chief Rabbi of Venice on 18 May 1919.

As chief rabbi, he became involved in deciphering inscriptions on the graves in the Jewish cemetery in the Lido and was involved in researching the history of the Jewish community in Venice. He published a number of monographs and papers in Jewish newspapers, including the Corriere Israelitico, the Vessillo Israelitico and the Rassegna mensile di Israel.

His services to the city of Venice and its culture and history were recognised when he was elected a fellow of the Ateneo Veneto, the Venetian academy, in 1933.

The Jewish school had grown under his oversight, allowing the community to accommodate all Jewish students who were expelled from public schools after Italian racist laws were enforced in 1938.

Italy, which had been an ally of Nazi Germany, became an occupied country in September 1943. The Nazis began a systematic hunt for Jews in all Italian cities, including Venice. In November 1943, Jews were declared ‘enemy aliens’ in accordance with the manifesto of the puppet state, the Italian Social Republic, to be arrested and their property seized.

When the Nazis occupied Venice, they demanded the President of the Jewish community, Giuseppe Jona (1866-1943), a distinguished doctor and academic, hand over a list of all Jews living in Venice. During World War I, the Italian Ministry of the Interior had recognised him as ‘an enthusiastic patriot of unshakable faith’ who had given ‘all his indefatigable work as a citizen to his country. A true example of activity and of very high civil value.’

Although Dr Jona had not been a practising Jew, the promulgation of fascist racist laws in 1938 forced his expulsion from academic life and the practice of medicine. In June 1940 he was elected the President of the Jewish community in Venice in succession to Aldo Finzi, who had been a fascist sympathiser.

On the morning Dr Jona had been commanded to deliver the list to Nazi headquarters, Jona decided to burn the list and end his own life on 17 September 1943. Thanks to his heroic self-sacrifice that day, the Nazis were never able to locate all the Jews of Venice. As well as being Chief Rabbi, Adolfo Ottolenghi now took over as president of the community.

An order was issued on 30 November 1943 to deport the members of the Jewish community in Venice and to confiscate their property.

On the night of 5/6 December 1943, 150 Jews were arrested and were held at Marco Foscarini college, the women’s prison on Giudecca, the prison at Santa Maria Maggiore. About 40 Jews were deported to the concentration camp at Fossoli on 19 December 1943.

Elio Gallina, a notary in Treviso who saved hundreds of Jews, helped Carlo Ottolenghi, his wife Annamaria (nee Levi Morenos) and their children Alberto and Elisabetta, Adolfo Ottolenghi’s two grandchildren, to escape to Switzerland in December 1943, using false papers with the name Vianello.

The ghetto was raided on 31 December. Days later, Adolfo Ottolenghi’s wife, Regina, fled and was sheltered by Gallina in his home in Treviso until 7 April. He gave her forged papers in the name ‘Pennella’ and she made her way to her sister in Piedmont, while her youngest son Eugenio was taken to safety in Genoa.

Among the prisoners arrested in December 1943, only those over the age of 70 were allowed to return to Venice in early 1944, and there they were imprisoned in the Casa di Ricovero Israelitica.

In 1944, the remaining 20 old people in the Jewish convalescent home in the Ghetto were arrested and 29 people were taken from their hospital beds in 1944 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Meanwhile, Adolfo Ottolenghi, now infirm and almost blind, spent a month in prison in Como. He was finally arrested on the night of 17/18 August 1944, along with the remaining 20 old people in the convalescent home and 29 people taken from their hospital beds. Most of those arrested that summer spent some time in the Risiera di San Sabba concentration camp in Trieste.

Ottolenghi was deported to the Auschwitz, where he died after 2 September 1944, although the exact date is not known.

In all, 243 Venetian Jews were deported from Venice, but about 1,200 other members of the community managed to escape, many to Switzerland and others to Allied-liberated parts of Italy. Of the 243 people forcibly deported to Auschwitz, only eight returned home to Venice. The Jewish population of Venice was 2,000 in 1938 out of 30,000 people; by the end of World War II, it had been reduced to 1,050.

The Holocaust memorial sculpture by Arbit Blatas in the Campo del Ghetto Nuovo in Venice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Adolfo Ottolenghi is remembered for his sincerity and his devotion to the needs of his community. He wrote several historical essays, including a biography of the 17th century Jewish scholar in Venice, Leon da Modena (1571-1648), published in 1929, and of Rabbi Abraham Lattes (1809-1875) of Venice, published in 1930.

Venice’s Holocaust victims are commemorated in the Campo del Ghetto Nuovo in the memorial sculpture by Arbit Blatas. Chief Rabbi Adolfo Ottolenghi is also commemorated in a memorial tablet there and at a memorial woodland at Mestre.

Meanwhile, Dr Giuseppe Jona is remembered in a plaque of the Campo del Ghetto di Venezia as a ‘master of righteousness and goodness’ for helping the Jewish community ‘in the sad hour of persecution,’ offering ‘the treasures of his great soul.’

In 2007, Yad Vashem recognised Elio Gallina as ‘Righteous Among the Nations.’

With antisemitism continuing to infect the body politic throughout Europe, it is important to remember these heroes and victims of the Holocaust, no matter how remote or distant the connections may be.

‘O earth, do not cover my blood’ (Job 16: 18) … a reminder of the Holocaust in the Jewish Museum in Venice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Preparing for Lent with
George Herbert, priest,
poet and ‘country parson’

‘George Herbert (1593-1633) at Bemerton’ (William Dyce, 1860)

Patrick Comerford

Quiet often in my daily prayer I use the calendar in Common Worship in the Church of England. It is much richer than the calendar in the Book of Common Prayer in the Church of Ireland, with many more reminders from throughout the Anglican Communion and the wider Churchof the Communion of Saints and the rich heritage handed down by those who have gone before us in the faith.

Today, the calendar in Common Worship commemorated the Welsh-born English poet, orator and Anglican priest, George Herbert (1593-1633). I was reminded too of George Herbert and his poem ‘Lent’ as I searched for some appropriate material for Lent, which begins a week from today on Ash Wednesday [6 March 2019].

The Lichfield-born philosopher and writer Samuel Johnson was a pious and prayerful Anglican, but he thought that prayer was too high and holy for poetry. Although Johnson knew of Herbert and Donne, he lived a century before poets like Christina Rossetti and Gerard Manley Hopkins. Nor could anyone fail to appreciate the intimate connections between faith, prayer and poetry in the life-work of TS Eliot.

The poet Henry Vaughan described George Herbert as ‘a most glorious saint and seer.’ The Puritan Richard Baxter was moved to say: ‘Herbert speaks to God like one that really believeth a God, and whose business in the world is most with God. Heart-work and heaven-work make up his books.’

George Herbert was a priest, poet, teacher, and also an accomplished musician. In his poetry, he brings together poetry, music and architecture. His spirituality is the Anglican Via Media or Middle Way par excellence. His poetry is constantly evident of the intimacy of his dealings with God and his assurance that, alone in a vast universe, he is held safe by the Crucified Christ.

Although he is not included in Alister McGrath’s collection, The SPCK Handbook of Anglican Theologians (London: SPCK, 1998), Herbert, along with John Jewel, Richard Hooker and Lancelot Andrewes, had a profound influence on the Caroline Divines, including John Cosin and Jeremy Taylor, and he is ranked with John Donne as one of the great Metaphysical poets.

Among other poets, Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote of Herbert’s diction that ‘Nothing can be more pure, manly, or unaffected.’ The poet laureate WH Auden wrote of him: ‘His poetry is the counterpart of Jeremy Taylor’s prose: together they are the finest expressions of Anglican piety at its best.’

Many of George Herbert’s poems have been adapted as hymns, including ‘King of Glory, King of Peace’ (Irish Church Hymnal, 5th ed, 2000, No 358), ‘Let All the World in Every Corner Sing’ (360), ‘Teach me, my God and King’ (601) and ‘Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life’ (610), and his poetry has been set to music by several composers, including Ralph Vaughan Williams, Benjamin Britten, Randall Thompson and William Walton.

The Dean’s Yard, Westminster Abbey … as Dean, Lancelot Andrewes was one of George Herbert’s teachers (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

George Herbert was born on 3 April 1593 in Montgomery Castle in Wales, the seventh of 10 children in an eminent, intellectual artistic and wealthy Welsh landed family. When the first folio of Shakespeare’s plays was published in 1623, it was dedicated to Herbert’s kinsmen, ‘the most noble and incomparable pair of brethren,’ William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, and Philip Herbert, Earl of Montgomery.

George Herbert’s mother Magdalene (nee Newport) was a patron and friend of John Donne, who dedicated his Holy Sonnets to her, and of other poets. His older brother, Edward Herbert, later Lord Herbert of Cherbury, was an important poet and philosopher, often referred to as ‘the father of English deism.’

Herbert’s father, Richard Herbert, Lord Herbert of Cherbury, died in 1596, when George was three, leaving a widow and 10 children. The poet’s mother was determined to educate and raise her children as loyal Anglicans. The family moved first to Oxford in 1599 and then to London in 1601, and George Herbert was tutored at home before entering Westminster School in 1604 at the age of 10.

In his first year at Westminster School, he came under the tutelage of Lancelot Andrewes, then the Dean of Westminster Abbey. As early as 1604, he penned Musae Responsoriae, later published in 1620, a collection of lightly satirical verses against the Presbyterian controversialist Andrew Melville.

In 1606, Herbert’s widowed mother, Magdalene, married Sir John Danvers, who was then only 20 but proved himself to be a benign and generous stepfather.

From Westminster School, Herbert went on to become one of three members of his family to win scholarships to Cambridge. On 5 May 1609, he was admitted to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he excelled in languages and music, and there he first considered becoming a priest. As his surviving letters reveal, Herbert’s time in Cambridge was marked by ill health and worries about money.

At Trinity, he began both to write devotional poetry and his first two sonnets, sent to his mother in 1610, maintained that the love of God is a worthier subject for verse than the love of woman. His first verses to be published, in 1612, were two memorial poems in Latin on the death of Prince Henry, the heir apparent.

Trinity College Cambridge … George Herbert was elected a major fellow in 1618 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Herbert graduated first with the degree BA (Bachelor of Arts) in 1613. He became a minor Fellow of Trinity College in 1614 before proceeding MA (Master of Arts) in 1616, the year of William Shakespeare’s death. He was elected a major fellow of Trinity in 1618, and was he appointed Praelector or Reader in Rhetoric at Cambridge.

In 1619, he was elected the Public Orator of Cambridge University. In this post, Herbert represented Cambridge at public occasions, writing and addressing formal official speeches in Latin to king and court and to visiting dignitaries and ambassadors. He described the post as ‘the finest place in the university,’ and he continued to hold that post until 1628. Although the texts of three of Herbert’s public orations still exist, such as that written for the presentation of honorary degrees to two European ambassadors at Cambridge in 1622, we cannot be sure whether the English translations are Herbert’s own.

He spent some time away from Cambridge when he was MP for Montgomery in King James I’s last parliament in 1623-1624. A fellow MP at the time was Nicholas Ferrar, who was a contemporary of Herbert’s at Cambridge as an undergraduate at Clare Hall. However, his potentially promising parliamentary career was short.

James I had shown favour to Herbert, and he appeared to be facing a successful career at the royal court. However, circumstances worked against him. The king died in 1625, and two of Herbert’s influential patrons, the Duke of Richmond and the Marquess of Hamilton, died around the same time.

However, after the death of King James and at the urging of a friend, Herbert’s interest in ordained ministry was renewed. He had been ordained deacon in 1624, and in 1626, while he was still a deacon, he was appointed Prebendary of Leighton or a canon in Lincoln Cathedral and became Rector of Leighton Bromswold, a small village in Huntingdonshire.

Herbert was not even present at his institution as a prebend, and it appears he never resided in Leighton Bromswold, appointing two vicars to take charge of the parish. However, with the help of Nicholas Ferrar, he raised funds to refurbish the church, which had not been in use for 20 years. Ever since then, Saint Mary’s Church has two pulpits dating from 1626, attributed to Herbert’s emphasis that a parson should both pray and preach.

Herbert’s mother died in 1627, and John Donne, a close family friend, preached at her funeral in Chelsea. Herbert resigned as university orator in Cambridge in 1627, and later moved to Wiltshire. On 5 March 1629, he married Jane Danvers, a cousin of his step-father.

By then, Herbert had abandoned any lingering academic and political ambitions, and in 1630 he was ordained priest in the Church of England. In 1630, he was presented to the living of Fugglestone with Bemerton, and he was installed as rector on 26 April. On 19 September, he was ordained priest in Salisbury Cathedral, and he spent the rest of his life as a rector of the little parish of Fugglestone St Peter with Bemerton St Andrew, a Wiltshire rural parish near Salisbury and about 75 miles south-west of London.

In Bemerton, Herbert preached and wrote poetry and helped to rebuild the church, drawing on his own funds. He was known too for unfailing care for his parishioners, bringing the sacraments to them when they were ill, and providing food and clothing for needy parishioners.

In those three years, he came to be known as ‘Holy Mr Herbert’ around the countryside. His practical manual offering practical pastoral advice to country clergy, A Priest to the Temple (or The Country Parson) (1652), exhibits the intelligent devotion he showed to his parishioners. He tells them, for example, that ‘things of ordinary use,’ such as ploughs, leaven, or dances, could be made to ‘serve for lights even of Heavenly Truths.’

On his deathbed, he sent the manuscript of The Temple to his friend, Nicholas Ferrar, who had founded the semi-monastic Anglican religious community at Little Gidding – a name best known today through the poem Little Gidding by TS Eliot. In his letter, Herbert said of his writings: ‘They are a picture of spiritual conflicts between God and my soul before I could subject my will to Jesus, my Master.’ He asked Ferrar to publish the poems if he thought they might ‘turn to the advantage of any dejected poor soul,’ but otherwise he should burn them.

Suffering from poor health, Herbert died of tuberculosis on 1 March 1633 at the age of 40, less than three years after being ordained priest. An inscription found in the Rectory at Bemerton after his death reads:

To My Successor:

If thou chance for to find
A new House to thy mind,
And built without thy cost;
Be good to the Poor
As God gives thee store,
And then my Labour’s not lost.


Another version reads:

If thou dost find
An house built to thy mind,
Without thy cost;
Serve thou the more
God and the poor;
My labour is not lost.


His first biographer Izaak Walton described Herbert on his deathbed as ‘composing such hymns and anthems as he and the angels now sing in heaven.’

The Temple was edited by his friend Nicholas Ferrar and was published in Cambridge later that year as The Temple: Sacred poems and private ejaculations. It met with such popular acclaim that it had been reprinted 20 times by 1680, and went through eight editions by 1690.

He is commemorated on 27 February throughout the Anglican Communion, perhaps because Saint David was already commemorated on 1 March and Saint Chad of Lichfield on 2 March. There is a window honouring Herbert in Westminster Abbey and a statue of him in niche 188 on the West Front of Salisbury Cathedral.

Izaak Walton … biographer of John Donne, Richard Hooker and George Herbert

Izaak Walton’s The Life of Mr George Herbert was published in 1670, 37 years after Herbert’s death. As a result of Walton’s friendship with and great admiration for Herbert, the biography is far from objective, but it was influential in shaping the image of Herbert as a model of Christian piety and a model priest.

Herbert’s reputation as a firm rejecter of the vanities of the world – ‘like a saint, unspotted of the world’ – is supported by Herbert’s own self-identification as a ‘country parson.’ The term ‘country’ at the time was often used in direct opposition to the court as well as to the city, so that the idea of a country ‘parson’ or priest implies someone in retreat, exile, or isolation from court and city life.

Herbert implicitly contrasts the ideal parson with the intellectual, with the poet, and with the courtier, preferring the parson’s emotional ‘patience, temperance ... and orderliness’ to the poet’s clamours of the soul.

As a result, Herbert is often placed firmly and irrevocably on one side of the many great and enduring religious, moral and aesthetic debates – between Catholicism and Puritantism, court and country, feigning and integrity, ornament and plainness, difficulty and simplicity, and so on – which characterise the social and literary cultures of the Renaissance period.

Critical interest in Herbert’s poetry struggles in a debate about whether his voice is that of the philosopher or the country pastor. When Herbert is thought of as a parson, his poems may seem simple; when he is considered as a metaphysical, his poems may seem academic and complex.

George Herbert at prayer … a window in Salisbury Cathedral

Herbert was close to Nicholas Ferrar and the Community of Little Gidding, which showed that prayer, community life, and a life of discipleship and service ought to be inter-woven.

For Herbert, prayer is concerned not only with things heavenly, but also with the earthly. In his poem ‘Prayer,’ he writes:

Prayer, the Church’s banquet, Angels’ age,
God’s breath in man returning to his birth,
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth;
Engine against th’Almighty, sinner’s tower,
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
The six-days world transposing in an hour,
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;
Softness and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,
Exalted Manna, gladness of the best,
Heaven in ordinary, man well drest,
The Milky Way, the bird of Paradise,
Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul’s blood,
The land of spices; something understood.


In this poem, Herbert is saying that in prayer it is possible to be transported, even if momentarily, to another realm. The phrases ‘Angel’s age,’ ‘the milky way,’ and a ‘tune … beyond the stars’ suggest that prayer touches the infinite. The poem concludes with ‘something understood’ – a profound but elusive encounter with the mysterious otherness of God.

Herbert’s Jacula Prudentium (sometimes seen as Jacula Prudentum), is a collection of pithy proverbs published in 1651, included many sayings still repeated today, such as: ‘His bark is worse than his bite.’ His Outlandish Proverbs was published in 1640.

Herbert’s pithy proverbs include:

His bark is worse than his bite.

God’s mill grinds slow, but sure.

No sooner is a temple built to God, but the Devil builds a chapel hard by.

The offender never pardons.

It is a poor sport that is not worth the candle.

Help thyself, and God will help thee.

Words are women, deeds are men.

The mouse that hath but one hole is quickly taken.

A dwarf on a giant’s shoulders sees farther of the two.


George Herbert … Prayer, the Church’s banquet

As an accomplished player of the lute, Herbert was a fan of the works of John Dowland (1563-1626). According to the historian of the Diocese of Ferns, WH Grattan-Flood, Dowland was born in Dalkey, Co Dublin. Dowland’s ‘The Most Sacred Queen Elizabeth, Her Galliard’ (1610) – from Varietie of Lute Lessons, prepared by his son Robert Dowland – perfectly matches the meter and rhyming scheme of Herbert’s ‘Easter’ and may have been intended as the music to which it would be sung.

Before his death in 1633, Herbert finished a collection of poems, The Temple, which imitates the architectural style of churches through both the meaning of the words and their visual layout. The themes of God and love are treated by Herbert as much as psychological forces as metaphysical phenomena.

An example of Herbert’s religious poetry is The Altar. A ‘pattern poem’ in which the words of the poem itself form a shape suggesting an altar.

‘My thoughts are all a case of knives, / Wounding my heart / With scattered smart …’ George Herbert’s consoling words in ‘Affliction’ recall a night of nightmares and prayers that turned to a beautiful day at High Leigh in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

George Herbert wrote five ‘Affliction’ poems. This is the fourth ‘Affliction’ poem and sometimes headed ‘Temptation.’ This is a poem of spiritual conflict and healing.

In the privacy of our own hearts and minds, on the most intimate level, we all deal with affliction, pain, criticism, loneliness, regret and fear.

This poem reminds me of a restless and sleepless night some years ago while I was at a USPG conference in High Leigh, near Hoddesdon, in Hertfordshire. I had been travelling since early morning, and had a busy working morning in Cambridge, before going on the conference that afternoon. Late at night, I realised I had forgotten to take my medication, prescribed for my sarcoidosis, with breakfast that morning. Anyone who has been prescribed steroids knows the dangers of taking them too late and night, and the fears and dreams that can come to the fore in our dreams.

I woke constantly, and was disturbed continually. But I was comforted throughout that night by the truth of the words of Compline we had prayed collectively that night before I went to bed:

Before the ending of the day,
Creator of the world, we pray
That you, with steadfast love, would keep
Your watch around us while we sleep.

From evil dreams defend our sight,
From fears and terrors of the night;
Tread underfoot our deadly foe,
That we no sinful thought may know.

O Father, that we ask be done
Through Jesus Christ, your only Son;
And Holy Spirit, by whose breath
Our souls are raised to life from death
– (Common Worship, p. 82)

I awoke to a very pleasant morning and a fresh new day in the Hertfordshire countryside.

In this poem, Herbert gives voice to interior pain, to thoughts that are out of control, to helplessness in the face of anxiety. But in his honesty, we can see a way forward to hope.

However, he does not mention any external event at the root of his affliction. His entire focus is on the experience of suffering on the spiritual, mental and emotional level.

He reminds us that we are not in total control of our thoughts, and not all thoughts are good, true or helpful. He asks God to ‘dissolve the knot’ of his fears and emotions, because he cannot do it for himself. Into the unruly conflict of his own mind, he invites God’s presence, because God’s light will ‘scatter’ all the ‘rebellions of the night.’

Herbert concludes that life’s difficult journey, ‘day by day,’ has God alone as its goal. If our thoughts can wound us, then God alone can heal us. God can subdue and calm our painful and rebellious thoughts, and he is the source of all Light.

Affliction

Broken in pieces all asunder,
Lord, hunt me not,
A thing forgot,
Once a poor creature, now a wonder,
A wonder tortured in the space
Betwixt this world and that of grace.

My thoughts are all a case of knives,
Wounding my heart
With scattered smart;
As wat’ring-pots give flowers their lives.
Nothing their fury can control,
While they do wound and prick my soul.

All my attendants are at strife
Quitting their place
Unto my face:
Nothing performs the task of life:
The elements are let loose to fight,
And while I live, try out their right.

Oh help, my God! let not their plot
Kill them and me,
And also Thee,
Who art my life: dissolve the knot,
As the sun scatters by his light
All the rebellions of the night.

Then shall those powers which work for grief,
Enter Thy pay,
And day by day
Labour Thy praise and my relief:
With care and courage building me,
Till I reach heav’n, and much more, Thee.


‘That ev’ry man may revel at his door’ (George Herbert, ‘Lent’) … the Classical Gate in the Jesus Lane wall of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Lent by George Herbert

Staying in Sidney Sussex College over many years has brought the privilege of being within strolling distance of most if not all of the major churches, chapels and colleges in Cambridge.

The Classical Gate in Sidney Sussex College was originally erected in Hall Court to replace the first main gate. During Wyatville’s alterations in 1832, the gate was moved to the north-east corner of the gardens, where it remains an eye-catching feature. But the gate must be closed permanently, for I have never seen it open into Jesus Lane, which forms the northern boundary of the grounds of Sidney Sussex.

Almost opposite the closed Classical Gate in Jesus Lane is Wesley House, which is also home to the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies. And a little further on is Jesus College and, opposite it, on the same side as the Classical Gate, are All Saints’ Church and Westcott House.

George Herbert with Bishop Westcott and Henry Martyn in the ‘Saintly Cambridge Anglicans’ window in All Saints’ Church, Cambridge

All Saints’ Church is a wonder of the Gothic Revival in English church architecture and of the influence of the Arts and Crafts movement on interior design. For many years, this was Cambridge’s highest Anglo-Catholic church. But the population of the parish moved out to the big new housing estates, and in 1973 All Saints’ was declared redundant, and was scheduled for demolition.

However, the church was saved at the eleventh hour and was put in the care of the Churches’ Conservation Trust in 1981. Since Easter 2007 the church has been open to the public seven days a week, and the church is used regularly by Westcott House and other theological colleges.

The ‘Saintly Cambridge Anglicans’ window, installed in the church in 1923 by Kempe & Co, has three panels of stained-glass designed by John Lisle honouring three Cambridge saints: the priest poet George Herbert (1593-1633); Bishop Brooke Foss Westcott (1825-1901) of Durham, who gave his name to Westcott House; and the pioneering missionary Henry Martyn (1781-1812). Herbert and Westcott were fellows of Trinity College Cambridge, while Martyn was a Fellow of Saint John’s College, which explains why the coat-of-arms of each college is also depicted in the window.

Below the panel depicting George Herbert is an image of Saint Andrew’s Church, Bemerton, the Wiltshire parish church where he was buried, and has the words: ‘Here George Herbert ministered and beneath the Altar of Bemerton Church was buried AD 1632.’

Of course, George Herbert never ministered in All Saints’ Church, and he died in 1633, not in 1632.

Lent

Welcome dear feast of Lent: who loves not thee,
He loves not Temperance, or Authority,
But is compos’d of passion.
The Scriptures bid us fast; the Church says, now:
Give to thy Mother, what thou wouldst allow
To ev’ry Corporation.

The humble soul compos’d of love and fear
Begins at home, and lays the burden there,
When doctrines disagree,
He says, in things which use hath justly got,
I am a scandal to the Church, and not
The Church is so to me.

True Christians should be glad of an occasion
To use their temperance, seeking no evasion,
When good is seasonable;
Unless Authority, which should increase
The obligation in us, make it less,
And Power itself disable.

Besides the cleanness of sweet abstinence,
Quick thoughts and motions at a small expense,
A face not fearing light:
Whereas in fulness there are sluttish fumes,
Sour exhalations, and dishonest rheums,
Revenging the delight.

Then those same pendant profits, which the spring
And Easter intimate, enlarge the thing,
And goodness of the deed.
Neither ought other men’s abuse of Lent
Spoil the good use; lest by that argument
We forfeit all our Creed.

It’s true, we cannot reach Christ’s forti’eth day;
Yet to go part of that religious way,
Is better than to rest:
We cannot reach our Saviour’s purity;
Yet we are bid, ‘Be holy ev’n as he,’
In both let’s do our best.

Who goeth in the way which Christ hath gone,
Is much more sure to meet with him, than one
That travelleth by-ways:
Perhaps my God, though he be far before,
May turn and take me by the hand, and more:
May strengthen my decays.

Yet Lord instruct us to improve our fast
By starving sin and taking such repast,
As may our faults control:
That ev’ry man may revel at his door,
Not in his parlour; banqueting the poor,
And among those his soul.


Trinity College Cambridge in snow … George Herbert was a student here and later a fellow (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

This posting includes material used in an earlier posting on site ‘Dead Anglican Theologians Society

Exhibition on Pilgrimage comes
to an end as Lichfield Cathedral
celebrates Saint Chad’s festival

Preparing to celebrate Saint Chad before Lent begins … Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Today and tomorrow [27 and 28 February 2019] are the last two days to visit the ‘Pilgrimage and Prayer’ exhibition in Lichfield Cathedral, the first exhibition of the year in the cathedral.

People of all faiths and of none recognise the role of pilgrimage in our lives. This exhibition began a year at Lichfield Cathedral of considering journeys in space, light and time. The exhibition explores how modern ideas build on the historical tradition of Christian pilgrimage, including pilgrimage to Lichfield Cathedral from the time of Saint Chad to the present day.

The exhibits include a 14th century document listing relics owned by the cathedral, stonework linked with the mediaeval shrine of Saint Chad, a 1420 edition of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and a 17th century casket that contained the relics of Saint Chad after the Reformation.

The exhibition ‘Pilgrimage and Prayer’ opened on 14 January and closes tomorrow (28 February 2019).

The on Friday (1 March), the cathedral holds the first of a number of services to mark the festival weekend of Saint Chad, Bishop and Missionary, patron saint of Lichfield Cathedral, whose feast day is on Saturday (2 March).

These begin with Morning Prayer and Litany at 8 a.m., followed by the Eucharist at 12.30 and the Solemn First Evensong of Saint Chad at 5.30 p.m.

The services on Saturday (2 March), the feast day of Saint Chad, include Morning Prayer (8 a.m.), the Eucharist (12.30), Evening Prayer (Said) in the Chapter House (5 p.m.) and the Solemn Eucharist (5.30) at the High Altar, sung by the Chamber Choir.

These celebrations of Saint Chad continue on Sunday (3 March) Morning Prayer (7.40), Holy Communion (8 a.m., Traditional Language), and at the Patronal Eucharist (11 a.m.), when Dame Fiona Reynolds, Master of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, will read the sermon.

Lent begins later next week on Ash Wednesday (6 March 2019). Over recent years, Lichfield Cathedral has developed the idea of ‘Ashes to Go,’ when the invitation to share in the beginning of Lent is taken outside the church walls. As people go about their daily business, they are offered the chance to receive the cross of ash as a token of repentance, to be prayed for and to receive a prayer card.

As an expression of the cathedral’s mission to people beyond the congregation, Canon Pat Hawkins will be offering this ministry in Dam Street at lunch time on Ash Wednesday, from 12 noon to 2 p.m.

During Lent, Lichfield Cathedral is hosting an exhibition on the theme of the Stations of the Cross and is hosing a series of Lent lectures.

‘Journey to the Cross’ is an exhibition of works by the cathedral’s Artist in Residence, Peter Walker, reinterpreting the Stations of the Cross.

This exhibition, from Ash Wednesday (6 March) to Easter Day (21 April), is the culmination of two years’ work to create a contemporary fine-art telling of Christ’s journey through Jerusalem to Calvary and his crucifixion, death and burial. The stations invite contemplation and reflection, enabling us to bring our life experiences into our prayer.

The Lent lecture series, ‘Perspectives on Abraham,’ explores the influence of Abraham on the faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

The lectures at 7.30 p.m. in College Hall at 7.30 p.m. include:

Thursday 14 March, ‘A Jewish Perspective,’ Rabbi Tanya Sakhovich of Nottingham.

Wednesday 20 March, ‘A Christian Perspective,’ the Revd Dr John Binns of the Queen’s Foundation, Birmingham, a former vicar of Great Saint Mary’s, the University Church Cambridge, and a Visiting Professor and a founding director of the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies, Cambridge.

Wednesday 27 March, ‘A Muslim Perspective,’ Professor Ataullah Siddiqui.

Wednesday 3 April, ‘Exploring Common Ground,’ Bishop Michael Ipgrave of Lichfield.

Wednesday 10 April, ‘Talking together,’ Dan Cohn-Sherbok, George Chryssides and Usama Hasan.

Taking ashes on Ash Wednesday from the cathedral to the city … Dam Street with Lichfield Cathedral to the north (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Tuesday, 26 February 2019

The Jewish prize-fighter
who beat an Irish ‘squire’
fits on many family trees

Daniel Mendoza the prize-fighter … his connections with the Comerford sisters is more direct than any supposed Irish ancestry

Patrick Comerford

My posting this morning on the Comerford family of music hall artists and actors and their descent some of the most interesting Sephardic families of Seville, Venice, Amsterdam and the East End of London was a reminder how we are all inter-related and how identity is so often something that we select in a ‘pick-and-mix’ manner from the variety of identities available to any family on these islands.

In his book Jewish Dublin: Portraits of Life by the Liffey (2007), the late Alan Benson cited Louis Hyman in The Jews of Ireland to claim that the famous 18th century boxer Daniel Mendoza was ‘descended … from an impoverished Irish Jewish family of ten children, forced by circumstances to emigrate to England.’

But as I looked through the Sephardi ancestors of the Sipple sisters Aggie and Rosina who married the Comerford brothers Albert (Bert Brandford) and Harry (Harry Ford) and their family tree, I realised these two Comerford actors and stage stars were descended from the same family as Daniel Mendoza.

The Mendoza family can be traced back, not to Ireland, but to David de Mendoza (1650-1730), a Marrano or a member of a Jewish family that had converted publicly to Christianity at the Inquisition but continued to practice Judaism privately. David Mendoza and his wife Abigail David de la Penha Castro (1665-1751) moved with their children from Seville to Amsterdam, where they were free to resume the public practice of their Jewish faith and rituals.

Their grandson, Aaron Daniel de Mendoza (1709-1751), and his wife Bienvenida Abraham Tubi (1709-1765), were married in Bevis Marks or Spanish-Portuguese Synagogue in London in 1730. They were the parents of Abigail Nunes Martinez (1744-1810), the grandmother of Sarah (A’Cohen) Asher, who in turn was the grandmother of the sisters Aggie and Rosina Comerford.

But Abigail Nunes Martinez was also the sister of Abraham Aaron Mendoza (1732-1805), whose son Daniel Mendoza (1764-1836) was the famous prize-fighter and the boxing champion of England in 1792-1795.

Daniel Mendoza was born in London, the son of Abraham Aaron Mendoza (1732-1805) and his wife Esther Lopez Crespo, although Wikipedia mistakenly names his parents as Moses and Judith Mendoza. In any case, this Moses was a brother of both Abigail Nunes Martinez and Abraham Aaron Mendoza, so we are talking about the same generation in the same family.

Daniel Mendoza was the first Jewish prize-fighter to become a champion. One of his epic bouts in July 1789 pushed the Storming of the Bastille off the front pages.

The real connection with Ireland comes that year, when Daniel and a younger brother came to Dublin to give boxing exhibitions at the newly-opened Astley Theatre at the corner of Bride Street and Peter Street.

Two years later, Mendoza was booked to fight the ‘Squire’ Fitzgerald in Dublin, who claimed he was going to thrash this Jewish ‘trickster’ and that ‘one Irishman is the equivalent of any number of Jews.’

Asher Benson writes that at first Mendoza kept his cool. But as the antisemitic barbs intensified his temper frayed and amid tumultuous applause ‘he well and truly clobbered the squire.’

Asher Benson is generous in giving Fitzgerald his due, for after the bout he said, ‘If in the heat of the moment I used any expression that was insulting, I apologise to you.’

Mendoza was deeply touched by the warmth of his reception in Ireland and later expressed his appreciation of the friendliness shown by all he met.

Mendoza helped transform the popular English stereotype of a Jew from a weak, defenceless person into someone deserving of respect. He is said to have been the first Jew King George III ever spoke to.

Mendoza died in 1836 at the age of 73, leaving his wife Esther and 11 children in poverty and with no money.

The actor Peter Sellers (1925-1980) claimed he was the great-great-grandson of Daniel Mendoza, and he pursued this claim in several films, hanging portraits of Mendoza in the background and making Inspector Clouseau an admirer of Mendoza.

Peter Sellers was born Richard Henry Sellers, the son of William Sellers and Agnes Doreen ‘Peg’ Marks (1892-1967). Peg claimed her mother, Benevenida (‘Welcome’) Mendoza (1854-1932), was a daughter of Isaac Mendoza, one of the 11 impoverished children of Daniel Mendoza.

In fact, Benevenida was a daughter of Israel (Mordechai) Mendoza (1811-1897), who was a son of Mordechai (Moses) Mendoza (1774-1851), who in turn was a son of Moses ‘Aaron’ Mendoza (1742-1779). This is the Moses Mendoza who was an uncle of the prize-fighter and who is named by Wikipedia as his father.

So, to claim Peter Sellers is a descendant of Daniel Mendoza the prize-fighter is like making the same claim for the sisters Aggie and Rosina Comerford.

But then, we are all related by no more than six degrees of separation, I suppose. We can all rejoice in the diversity we share, thanks to a time when borders were open and refugees fleeing religious persecution were welcomed with open arms on these islands.

Peter Sellers made Inspector Clouseau an admirer of Daniel Mendoza

A Comerford theatrical family
with roots in the Sephardic
families of Venice and Seville

Bert Brantford and Harry Ford … two Comerford brothers who regularly shared music hall and stage billings with their stage names

Patrick Comerford

An interesting Comerford family in London was associated with the theatre music halls and movies at the end of the 19th century and for much of the first half of the 20th century.

Two Comerford brothers, Bert and Harry, married two Sipple sisters, Aggie and Rosina, and almost created a theatrical move dynasty.

Albert (Bert) Alfred G Comerford was a composer who used the stage name Bert Brantford. He was born in London on 23 December 1879. He played a significant supporting role for his brother, composing many of his songs. Bert’s wife, Agnes Violet (Aggie) Sipple, was an actor who used the stage name Agnes Brantford. She was known for her roles in a number of films, including Everything is Rhythm (1936), A Will and a Way (1922) and The Last Post (1929).

Bert’s brother, Harry Comerford, used the stage name Harry Ford. He married Aggie’s sister, Rosina Sipple. The Sipple sisters’ mother, Betsy (Asher), was a vocalist and musician.

Bert Comerford and Aggie Brantford were was the parents of two actors who also used the stage name Brantford: Michael Richard Henry Comerford (1912-1984), who starred as ‘Mickey Brantford’, and Agnes Violet Rebecca Comerford (1915-2008), who as a child actor with the name ‘Aggie Brantford’ had roles in Second to None (1927) and Carry On! (1927)

But the family is also interesting because the Sipple sisters who married the Comerford brothers are descended from some of the most interesting Sephardi Jewish families in Europe. Many of their immediate ancestors were married in the Bevis Marks Synagogue in London, and they could trace their ancestry directly to leading Sephardi families who lived in Amsterdam, Livorno, Venice and Seville, including Spanish Marrano families who had been forced to convert to Christianity in Seville during the Inquisition but had maintained their Jewish faith and practices in their private family and domestic life.

The Sipple family:

John James Sipple (1831-1873) married Rosemary (‘Rosina’) Mary Anne Hambrook (ca 1834-1895). In the 1891 census, Rosina Sipple was living at 10 Seldon Street, West Derby, Liverpool. She was born ca 1834/1835 in Rotherhithe. She was a widow, aged 56. She died 18 May 1895.

Their children included:

1, John James Sipple (1853-1905), comedian, actor, born Blackfriars, London, in 1853, of whom next.
2, Henry Sipple, aged 28 in 1891, born in Whitechapel, described in the census as ‘imbecile,’ and living with his widowed mother in West Derby, Liverpool.
3, Agnes Ann (Sipple) Nolan, who used the stage name Agnes Hazel. She seems to have married her first husband Edward Scott in Sunderland in 1884 and to have had a son Herbert Scott, who was born in Newcastle ca 1886 and who was living with his grandmother, aged 5, in 1891. Agnes moved to Australia and was living in Melbourne at the time of her mother’s death in 1895. There she married the comedian and music hall star Michael Nolan, who died in January 1910. Their children included a son and daughter:
1a, Herbert (Bert) Nolan.
2a, Agnes (Aggie) Nolan.

The eldest son in this family was:

John James Sipple (1853-1905), comedian, actor, born in Blackfriars in 1853. He was aged 38 in 1891. In 1876, he married Elizabeth (Bessie or Betsy) Asher. Bessie was born in Whitechapel, London, ca 1858, the daughter of David Asher (1812-1866) of Birmingham and London, and his wife Sarah Cohen (1814-1895); see below. Betsy was aged 32 in 1891, a vocalist and musician, and they were living with his widowed mother in West Derby, Liverpool in 1891. John James Sipple died in 1905.

They were the parents of five children:

1, William Sipple, born in Birmingham ca 1879/1880, living with his parents and grandmother in West Derby, Liverpool 1891, aged 11.
2, Rosina Sarah (Sipple) Comerford (1881- ), born 1881 in Liverpool, aged 10 in 1891. She married Harry William John Comerford (1874-1955), the brother of Agnes Sipple’s husband, Albert AG Comerford. He used the stage name Harry Ford. (See below).
3, George Ayton Sipple (1883-1957), born in Scotland in 1883, died 25 October 1957.
4, Agnes Violet (Aggie) Sipple (1884-1965), born 30 October 1884 in Dundee, aged 7 in 1891, and living with her parents and grandmother in Liverpool. She married Albert (Bert) Alfred George Comerford (1879-1973), the brother of Rosina Sipple’s husband, Harry William John Comerford. She died on 15 July 1965 in Brighton. (See below).
5, Michael Joseph Sipple (1891-1940), later Michael Joseph Sipple-Asher. He was born in South Shields, Durham, in 1891, and was aged 2 months at the 1891 census, when he was living with his parents and grandmother in Liverpool. He married Florence Kate … They lived at 91 Tamworth Lane, Mitcham, Surrey. Michael, Kate and their daughter Michelle died together when their home in Mitcham was hit by a bomb on 5 November 1940.

Michael Comerford (Mickey Brantford) in the movie ‘Mr Cohen takes a Walk’

The Comerford family:

Michael Comerford, born ca 1814, in Deptford Kent, married Mary …, born ca 1816 in Westminster. They were the parents of seven children, including:

1, Henry Comerford (1851-1918), of whom next.
2, John Comerford.
3, James Comerford.
4, Michael Comerford.

Their first named son:

Henry Comerford (1851-1918) was born in Lambeth in 1851 and died in 1918. He was a stereotyper (printer). He married Rosena Emily Dunn (1856-1912), who was born in Clifton, Bristol, in 1856. They were the parents of two sons:

1, Harry William John Comerford (1874-1955), of whom next.
2, Albert (Bert) Alfred George Comerford (1879-1973), of whom later.

The first named son:

Harry William John Comerford (1874-1955) was a popular music hall and variety comedian and actor under the stage name of Harry Ford

Harry William John Comerford (1874-1955) was born in Newington, Southwark, on 21 August 1874. He was a popular music hall and variety comedian and actor under the stage name of Harry Ford. He married in 1903 Rosina Sarah Sipple (1881- ), whose sister Aggie married Albert (Bert) Albert George Comerford (1879-1973), known on stage as Bert Brantford.

Harry made his first appearance on stage as a boy in 1887 at the Elephant and Castle Theatre. His first music hall performance was at the Middlesex Music Hall in a sketch called Young Fred, and he went on to became a music hall star. He sang some of the most original and amusing songs the halls had ever heard and his brother, Bert Comerford, played a significant supporting role as composer of many of those songs.

Although Harry was at his peak while the likes of Dan Leno, Marie Lloyd and George Robey dominated bill-topping positions at the Tivoli, Oxford, and the Pavilion, London, he regularly took his place on these bills for several years in the late 1890s and early 1900s and held his own. Indeed, at the London Pavilion in particular, he was a recognised favourite for many years. He frequently did top bills throughout London, as well as in the major provincial cities. The Variety Theatre once described him as a true star of the Metropolis.

Harry Comerford (Harry Ford) died in Birmingham on 31 March 1955, aged 80.

His brother:

Albert (Bert) Alfred George Comerford (1879-1973) was a brother of Harry Comerford (Harry Ford), and used the stage name of Bert Brantford. He was born at 30 Henshaw Sttreet, Newington, Lambeth, London on 23 December 1879. He married Agnes Violet (Aggie) Sipple (1884-1965), sister of Rosina (Sipple) Comerford. Aggie was born on 30 October 1884 in Dundee, Scotland. She was aged 7 in 1891 and was living with her parents and grandmother in West Derby, Liverpool.

As an actor, Aggie Comerford used the stage name Agnes Brantford. She was known for her parts in Everything is Rhythm (1936), A Will and a Way (1922) and The Last Post (1929). She died on 15 July 1965 in Brighton, Sussex.

Bert Comerford died in Richmond upon Thames in June 1973; Agnes Brantford died in 1965. They were the parents of three children:

1, Albert Henry George Commerford (1907-1994), born Wandsworth.
2, Michael Richard Henry Comerford (1912-1984), ‘Mickey Brantford’.
3, Agnes Violet Rebecca Comerford (1915-2008), ‘Aggie Brantford’, who was born in Wandsworth.

Michael Richard Henry Comerford (1912-1984) was an actor and film production manager who worked with the stage name of Mickey Brantford. He was born on 26 March 1912 in Brixton, London, into this theatrical family.

He began his acting career at the age of three and as a popular child actor in the silent film era in the 1920s and 1930s. He appeared in a series of Sexton Blake shorts as the detective’s assistant, Tinker. He was known for Suspense (1930), The Stolen Necklace (1933) and Strictly Illegal (1935). He died on 18 October 1984 in Buckinghamshire.

His sister was:

Aggie Brantford (1915-2008), who was born on 14 January 1915 in Lambeth, London, as Agnes Violet Rebecca Comerford. As an actor, she was known for Second to None (1927) and Carry On! (1927). She died on 31 October 2008 in Jedburgh, Scotland.

The Aron Hakdesh or Holy Ark for the Torah scrolls in the Bevis Marks Synagogue … many of the ancestors of the Comerford (Sipple) sisters were married here in the 18th and 19th centuries (Photograph: Devor Avi/Wikipedia)

The Asher and Cohen families:

José Nunes Martines (ca 1687-1764), arrived in London sometime between 1695 and 1710, when he married Sarah de Moses Cardoza de Chavez (ca 1691-1754), daughter of Moses Nunes Cordosa and his wife Rachel de Chavez.

They were the parents of:

Abraham Joseph Nunes Martinez (1719-1781). He married in Bevis Marks Synagogue in London on 30 November 1739 Abigail (1720-1806), daughter of Abraham Isaac Rodriguez Ribeiro (1690-1751) and his wife Paloma Jacob Mizahi (ca 1700-1751).

They were the parents of:

Isaac Moses Abraham Martin Nunes Martinez (1745-1841). He was born on 6 November 1745 and died in 1841 or 1842. He married on 23 May 1764 in the Bevis Marks Synagogue, London, Abigail Aaron Mendoza (ca 1744-1810), who was born in Livornia, Tuscany, and died in London. (For her ancestry, see below). They were the parents of:

Dove Deborah (Paloma) de Isaac Nunes Martinez (1788-1876). She was born in Mile End, London, in 1788. She married her first husband, Moses Moseh Hanoch A’Cohen (1784-1832) in Bevis Marks Synagogue, London, on 16 March 1806. He was born on 25 March 1784, and died on 9 January 1832, aged 48.

Dove married her second husband, Abraham Ottolenghi, on 28 May 1847. The Ottolenghi (Ottolengo) Jewish Italian family in Piedmont apparently originated in Germany, and the name is an Italian form of Ettlingen. Prominent members of the family include: Joseph b Nathan Ottolenghi (died 1570), Rabbi of Cremona; Samuel David b Jehiel Ottolego (died 1718), scholar and kabbalist, born in Casale Monferrato; and Abraham Azariah (Bonaiuto) Ottolenghi (1776-1851), rabbinical scholar, born in Acqui.

Dove and Abraham were both in the Portuguese Jewish Hospital, Mile End Road, London, in 1861. Abraham died in 1866 and Dove died in 1876.

Dove and her first husband Moses A’Cohen were the parents of:

Sarah (Cohen) Asher (1814-1895). Sarah was born on Mile End Road in 1814, and died in 1895, aged 81. She married David Asher (1812-1866) in Birmingham in 1843. He worked as a confectioner and a hatter, and worked in New Street, Dudley Street and Lower Temple Street in Birmingham before moving to London, where he died in 1866. David Asher and Sarah (Cohen) were the parents of a number of children, including:

Elizabeth (Bessie or Betsy) Asher (1858- ), who was born in London 1858. She performed on the stage at a very early age. Bessie married John James Sipple in 1876. Their children included two daughters who married two Comerford brothers:

Rosina Sarah Sipple (1881- ), who married Harry William John Comerford (1874-1955), known on stage as Harry Ford.
Agnes Violet (Aggie) Sipple (1884-1965), who married Albert (Bert) AG Comerford.

Inside the Scuola Spagnola in Venice, founded around 1580 by Spanish and Portuguese speaking Jews … Bienvenida Abraham Tubi de Mendoza ancestors included Jewish families in Venice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018; click on images for full-screen resolution)

The Mendoza and Tubi families:

While the Asher family were Ashkenazi Jews, Rosina Sarah (Sipple) Comerford and her sister Agnes Violet (Sipple) Comerford were descended through their grandmother’s family from some of the most interesting Sephardi families in Spain, Venice and Livorno (Leghorn) in Tuscany. As I researched the story of this branch of the Comerford family, I was particularly moved by this detail, having visited the synagogues and ghetto in Venice last November, and followed the Jewish trails through the former Jewish quarter in Seville the month before.

The history of the Jewish community in Livorno begins with the history of the town itself. The first stone was for building the city and port of Livorno was laid in 1577. To populate the new town, the Grand Duke Ferdinando I de Medici of Tuscany issued edicts known as the Livornine in 1591-1593, providing new immigrants with tax exemptions, some immunities and complete religious freedom. Jewish, Turkish and Moorish merchants were expressly invited to move to the town. Jews could own houses, open shops in all parts of the city, study at the university and did not have to wear the Jewish badge.

Thanks to these provisions and Livorno’s central position in the Mediterranean, Jews flocked in the port and the Jewish population soon reached one eight of the entire population of the town.

Because most of these new settlers were Marranos and Levantines, Spanish became the official language of the Jewish community in Livorno. These Jews kept contacts with their places of origin, and their cultural and commercial contacts and trade networks throughout the Mediterranean lasted for centuries.

In 1765, more than one-third of the 150 largest commercial houses in Livorno were owned by Jews. For 300 years Livorno, ‘the city without a ghetto,’ was a point of reference for the Diaspora. But after Napoleonic capture, the port of Livorno declined in commercial importance and the Jewish population dwindled in numbers.

David de Mendoza (1650-1730) of Jaén was a Marrano or a member of a Jewish family that had converted publicly to Christianity at the Inquisition but continued to practice Judaism privately. Jaén is about 90 km north of Granada, 100 km east of Cordoba, and 240 km east of Seville. He married Abigail David de la Penha Castro (1665-1751), daughter of David Haim Joseph de la Penha Castro and Gracia de Ledesma. They moved from Seville to Amsterdam, where he died on 22 December 1730, and she died on 13 July 1751.

They were the parents of:

Daniel de David Mendoza (ca 1685-1758) was born in Seville. His wife Esther (1689-1774) also seems to have been born in Seville. He died in Amsterdam on 28 October 1758, and she died there on 2 May 1774.

They were the parents of:

Aaron Daniel de Mendoza (1709-1751) of Amsterdam and London. He was born in Amsterdam in 1709. He was a shochet or kosher ritual butcher. He married Bienvenida Abraham Tubi (1709-1765) in the Spanish-Portuguese Synagogue in London on 22 March 1730. She was born in Livornia in 1709. Her father, Abraham Judah Tubi (1670-1739), was born in Venice and died in Livornia; his father was Judah Tubi (1629-1670). Bienvenida’s mother was Abigail Emanuel Nunes (1673-1747).

Their children included a daughter:

Abigail Aaron Mendoza (1744-1810), who was born in Livorno in 1744 and died in London in 1810. She married Isaac Moses Abraham Martin Nunes Martinez (1745-1841). They were the grandparents of Sara (A’Cohen) Asher, the grandmother of Aggie Comerford and Rosina Comerford.

Following the Caminos de Sefarad or Sephardic trail in the former Jewish Quarter in Seville … David de Mendoza’s family moved from Seville to Amsterdam, and then to London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Last revised and updated: 4 April 2019.

Monday, 25 February 2019

Columbus said it was Heaven on Earth
Did Venice give its name to Venezuela?

Gondolas moored at the Doge’s Palace in Venice … but did Venice give its name to Venezuela (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

As the current crisis Venezuela continues to unfold, I have wondered why its name sounds like Venice. After all, why would a former Spanish colony in Latin America acquire a name from the most beautiful city in Italy?

After my visit to Venice three months ago [November 2018], my curiosity deepened.

For the past 20 years, Venezuela has been known officially as the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, since a new constitution was adopted in 1999. Before that, the official names have been Estado de Venezuela (1830-1856), República de Venezuela (1856-1864), Estados Unidos de Venezuela (1864-1953), and again República de Venezuela (1953-1999).

But where does the name Venezuela come from?

During his third voyage to the Americas, Christopher Columbus sailed near the Orinoco Delta in 1498, and landed in the Gulf of Paria. Amazed by the great off-shore current of fresh water that deflected his course eastward, Columbus wrote to the Spanish monarchs Isabella and Ferdinand saying he must have reached Heaven on Earth.

A year later, according to the most popular version, an expedition led by Alonso de Ojeda visited the Venezuelan coast in 1499, accompanied by the Italian-born navigator, Amerigo Vespucci (1454-1512) from Florence.

Vespucci is said to have commented that the houses on stilts in the area of Lake Maracaibo reminded him of Venice, and so he named the region Veneziola, or ‘Little Venice.’ The name Venezuela is said to be the Spanish version of Veneziola.

However, another account attributes the name to Martín Fernández de Enciso, a member of the crew with Vespucci and Ojeda. In his Summa de geografía, he claims the crew found indigenous people who called themselves the Veneciuela.

Two decades later, the territory now known as Venezuela was colonised by Spain in 1522.

In 1811, it became one of the first Spanish-American territories to declare independence, when a national assembly declared Venezuela independent on 5 July 1811. However, this independence was short-lived, and Spanish forces were in control once again a year later.

The area was finally liberated by Simon Bolivar in 1821. But at first, Venezuela was incorporated into a larger, federal republic state known as Gran Colombia, which from 1819 to 1831, Gran Colombia included the territories of present-day Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, Venezuela, and parts of northern Peru, western Guyana and north-west Brazil.

However, as Gran Colombia begin to break up and Venezuela gained full independence in 1830.

It is believed nearly 12% of Venezuelans live abroad with Ireland becoming a popular destination for students.

But there is another curious historical link between Ireland and Venezuela that has been brought to life by research by William FK Marmion. He has unearthed the story of Brigadier-General Michael (Miguel) Marmion (1736-1818), who was born in Dundalk, served as Governor of part what is now Venezuela, and died in Cuidad Bolivar in 1818.

Marmion was an officer in the Spanish Army from 1770 to 1799, and a colonial governor until he retired in 1800. His records in the Spanish Military Archives in Segovia list him as ‘noble’ and ‘distinguished’ birth. He was probably born in 1736, and a very young age he was brought to Spain in 1746 by a ‘noble relative’. He enrolled in the Spanish Military Academy in Barcelona in 1758, and he graduated as a sub-lieutenant of engineers in 1762. He went into the regular Spanish Army given his graduation from the Military Academy primarily for engineers.

After time in different regiments in Spain, including one in Mallorca, he left for the colony of ‘New Granada’ in South America in late 1768 as a captain. Earlier that year, he had married Tomasa Villamayor, the daughter of a Spanish colonel.

The separate Captaincy General or Kingdom of Venezuela was formed in 1777, and Marmion worked from the capital, Santiago de Leon de Caracas, now known as Caracas, the capital of Venezuela. But he spent much of his time in the Spanish colony of Guyana. He was promoted lieutenant-colonel in 1779, colonel in 1789, and served as Governor of the colony from 1785 to 1790.

He then served as the Chief Engineer in all the Spanish colonial areas dependent upon Caracas, travelling to several islands, as well as Florida and Cuba.

He was promoted brigadier-general in 1794 and retired in 1800 at the age of 64. He never returned to Spain or to Ireland, and instead lived on in what is now Venezuela. He died without surviving children in 1817 or 1818; his wife appears to have died before him.

Patrick and Thomas Marmion from Dundalk claimed they were his close relatives and wrote to Spanish officials inquiring about any estate he may have left. But by the time they wrote, Venezuela was no longer under Spanish rule, having become part of Gran Colombia shortly after his death.

Several of Marmion’s signed reports relate to disputes with the British and the Dutch about the boundaries of Guyana, and there is a school named after him in what is now Ciudad Bolivar in Venezuela.

I missed Comerford’s Lot
the first time round, but
then found it by accident

On the banks of the River Suir at Comerford’s Lot in Golden, Co Tipperary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018; click on image for full-screen view)

Patrick Comerford

Quite naturally my interest in Comerford family history means I take an interest not only in the genealogical details of different branches of the Comerford family, but I am interested too in places and shopfronts that bear the Comerford name.

Apart from the two places that provide separate origins for families with this name – Comberford, between Lichfield and Tamworth in Staffordshire, and Quemerford, near Calne in Wiltshire – these names crop in many places across these islands.

I have found myself photographing pubs and shop front with the name Comerford in different towns and villages, including James Comerford’s pub in Mooncoin, Co Kilkenny, the former Comerford shopfront in Barrack Street, Castlecomer, Co Kilkenny, Comerford’s drapery on the Main Street in Rathdrum, Co Wicklow, and Comerford’s Pub in Doonbeg, Co Clare.

There is Comerford Road in London SE4 is off Brockley Road in the Borough of Lewisham, Quemerford Road in Islington, London N7, and Comerford Way in Winslow in Buckinghamshire. In addition, there is Comberford Road in Tamworth, Comberford Lane between Comberford and Wigginton, Comberford Drive is in Wednesbury, Cumberford Avenue in Birmingham and Cumberford Close and Cumberford Hill in Bloxham, near Banbury, Oxfordshire.

I was aware too of Comerford’s Lot in Co Tipperary, but when I visited Golden, near Cashel, a few months ago, I missed Comerford’s Lot. There were no road signs to tell me where it was, no name plates or plaques telling me where I could find the place.

It was only during an idle moment at the weekend that I noticed I had actually been to Comerford’s Lot and stood on the ground there as I was taking photographs on the banks of the River Suir.

When my photographs are moved to Google Photos and stored in the Cloud, Google not only tracks when these photographs have been taken, but actually specifies where they have been taken, right down to the detail of the townland where I have been standing.

Comerford’s Lot is in the Electoral Division of Golden in Co Tipperary

To be precise, Comerford’s Lot is in the Electoral Division of Golden, in the Civil Parish of Relickmurry and Athassel, in the Barony of Clanwilliam, in Co Tipperary. Other townlands in the parish with similar names include Hoop’s Lot, Sergeant’s Lot and Persse’s Lot.

Among the places I was photographing from Comerford’s Lot was a seven-bay multiple-storey mill, built ca1820. It stands close to the banks of the River Suir and was once part of a large mill complex that was powered by the river.

The mill has a hipped slate roof, roughcast rendered walls and square-headed window openings with timber louvres. Although no longer in use, the mill retains its form and structure and is a reminder of the industrial past of Golden.

The seven bay, 200-year-old mill, photographed in Comerford’s Lot at Golden, Co Tipperary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

While I was in Comerford’s Lot, I also photographed the splendid 12-arch road bridge over fork of River Suir, fist built ca1500 and rebuilt around 1770. This long bridge stands at an important crossing point of the River Suir, in the centre of the mediaeval settlement at Golden.

Golden takes its name from the Irish An Gabhailín, referring to the fork in the River Suir. The bridge at Golden straddles an island in the River Suir at Comerford’s Lot, and in the past this village was also known as Goldenbridge.

The 12-arch bridge in Golden spans the River Suir and Comerford’s Lot (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The bridge is a prominent landmark in Golden and spans two channels of the River Suir in a curve of graceful arches. It is a technical, architectural and engineering achievement and its considerable age makes it one of the more important bridges in Co Tipperary.

The ruined tower house on the bridge recalls its strategic function in the past. This is a rare, round-plan tower house built by the Butlers of Ormond to defend the river crossing and to protect river traffic. The castle is said to have sheltered 120 men, women and children for 11 weeks during the 1641 rebellion. A well close to the castle is known as Cromwell’s Well.

The bridge also displays a bronze portrait of Thomas McDonagh (1878-1916). However, this Tipperary-born poet seems to have had no connections with Golden.

The tower and bridge are now set within a park that is partly in Comerford’s Lot. This park surrounds the bridge area and offers picturesque views of the River Suir.

The castle ruins and bridge at Comerford’s Lot in Golden, Co Tipperary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Golden, in the heart of the ‘Golden Vale’ in Co Tipperary, is about 6 km south-west of Cashel and is made up of two mediaeval parishes, Relickmurry or Religmurry and Athassel, in the Barony of Clanwilliam.

An Augustinian Priory was founded in Athassel in the late 12th century by William Fitz Aldelm de Burgho, for the Canons Regular of the Order of Saint Augustine, and was dedicated to Saint Edmund King and Martyr.

The priory was so rich and so powerful that the Abbot of Athassel sat in the Irish parliament with the bishops as one of the spiritual peers. After the priory was dissolved at the Reformation, the priory and its estates were granted to Thomas Butler, Earl of Ormond.

Golden’s most famous person was Father Theobald Mathew (1790-1856), the ‘Apostle of Temperance,’ who was born nearby at Thomastown Castle, the home of the Mathew family, Earls of Llandaff.

Thomastown Castle, now in ruins, was first built in the 17th century by George Mathew, half-brother of James Butler, the 1st Duke of Ormond. It was dramatically altered and enlarged in neo-Gothic style around 1812 with new wings and four slender towers designed by Richard Morrison (1767-1849).

When Edward Comerford was Archbishop of Cashel (1695-1710), he survived as the parish priest of Thurles under the protection of the Mathew family, and lived at Annfield, the home of Toby Mathew.

At the time of Griffith’s Valuation, nobody recorded as living within the townland of Comerford’s Lot. But the name of Comerford’s Lot in Golden may predate those links with the Mathew family, and may date to some grant of land from the Ormond Butlers to the Comerford family.

Obviously, I need to do some more research to discover the origins of Comerford’s Lot.

Comerford’s Lot is a townland in Golden … similar names for neighbouring townlands include Hoop’s Lot, Sergeant’s Lot and Persse’s Lot