17 September 2019

The Comberfords of
Comberford Hall
and the Moat House

Comberford Hall … a Grade II listed building in Lichfield District and the ancestral home of the Comberford family (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Lichfield Civic Society,

Tuesday 17 September 2019,

7.45 p.m., Wade Street Church Community Rooms,

Frog Lane, Lichfield


The Comberford family and the cathedral city of Lichfield have been intimately associated in my mind long before I first arrived in Lichfield about 50 years as I began to research the origins and story of the Comberford family.

At the time, I still accepted the long-standing belief that the Comerford family of Ireland was descended from the Comberford family of Staffordshire. My research since then has challenged that popular belief in our family, has clearly defined the lines of descent and has established that the links and kinship are more comparable to mutual adoption between both families. Yet my own associations with Lichfield have continued over the decades, so that I have felt at home here for the past half century.

I began my career in journalism as a freelance contributor to the Lichfield Mercury, and continue to be grateful for the encouragement and opportunities provided by the Lichfield Mercury and its then editor, Neil Beddows, in the early 1970s.

On a more personal level, my experiences in the chapel at Saint John’s Hospital, on Saint John Street, in 1971, and in Lichfield Cathedral, mark the beginning of a pilgrimage that led eventually to my ordination and priesthood.

The former offices of the Lichfield Mercury at No 17 Bird Street, Lichfield, now the Ma Ma Thai Restaurant (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Family origins

Many of the original historical documents concerning the Comberford family, Comberford Hall, and the family’s estates and property, including wills, transcripts and other records, were once held in a collections in the Lichfield Record Office before being moved to the Staffordshire Record Office in 2018, and they have provided me with valuable primary sources for tracing the story of the Comberford family.

Comberford, the village from which the family takes its name, is part of the Parish of Wigginton and Alrewas, within Lichfield District Council, which is centred on Lichfield.

Comberford was transferred from the former Tamworth Rural District to Lichfield Rural District in 1934 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Wigginton and Comberford were transferred from the former Tamworth Rural District to Lichfield Rural District in 1934. Lichfield City Council and Lichfield Rural District Council were amalgamated in 1974 to form Lichfield District Council. Lichfield District covers 331 sq km in south-east Staffordshire, with a population of 96,700, of whom 31,000 live in Lichfield City (14 sq km).

The historic buildings in Lichfield District include Comberford Hall, Comberford Lodge and Comberford Manor Farm, which are Grade II listed buildings.

Comberford Hall, set back from the River Tame, in the rich, green Staffordshire countryside (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Comberford is on the east bank of the River Tame, and many of you may have caught a glimpse of Comberford Hall from the train between Lichfield and Tamworth.

Most authorities agree the name is Anglo-Saxon in origin, meaning ‘the river crossing of the valley.’ However, Bardsley says a ‘Comb’ was a cell or hollow in a hillside, where there was a sheltered habitation. The Celtic word cwm means a hollow, while the Anglo-Saxon camb means the crest of a hill.

The story of Comberford, from the time the Marmion family came into the possession of Tamworth until modern times, is a story that is intimately linked with the story of the Comberford family, the principal family associated with the Moat House.

The Comberford family tree compiled by DP Adams in the late 1960s

The Comberford Family

Earlier this year, our friends and colleagues in the Tamworth and District Civic Society have been celebrating the 400th anniversary of the visit to Tamworth in 1619 of King James I, who stayed in Tamworth Castle, and his son Prince Charles, the future Charles I, who was a guest of the Comberford family at their town house, the Moat House on Lichfield Street, Tamworth.

For many generations, this family has been intimately involved with civic, political and church life in both Tamworth and Lichfield. This evening, I want to speak about the role of the family in Lichfield, but I should first of all say something about the family’s origins.

The first person to use the name Comberford appears at the end of the 11th century [see Comberford 1: The Comberford Family of Comberford, Staffordshire, an introduction]. The name Alan de Comberford appears from soon after 1070 repeatedly until 1278, a 200-year period, spanning six or seven generations. However, it is often difficult to distinguish and separate their identities, or to establish with certainty their kinship with each other. At this time, the family also held land at Chesterfield, near Wall, south of Lichfield.

Alan de Comberford, who claimed Wigginton Manor in 1278, was sued by the Marmion family for £10 in damages caused in fields in Coton and Wigginton. Around that time, Wigginton and Comberford were providing an annuity of £6 for the Prebendary of Wigginton and Comberford, one of the five canons in the Collegiate Church of Saint Editha, Tamworth.

Roger de Comberford represented the men of Wigginton when they and the burgesses of Tamworth granted common land to John de Hastings in 1286. Roger’s seal was used alongside the town’s common seal to ratify that grant.

His son Richard was as lord of Comberford in 1312, and by the late 1320s Richard was holding a manorial court for his tenants.

The family continues as a relatively unremarkable minor gentry family throughout the 14th and 15th centuries, and it is questionable whether at the time Comberford was a manor or merely a freehold estate. Although we have a hint of the family’s ambitions to assert manorial status when John de Comberford is licensed to have an oratory or chapel in his house at Comberford in the 1370s.

The Moat House on Lichfield Street, Tamworth … the site may have been owned by the Comberford family before 1391 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

In 1391, John de Comberford owned a messuage and property in Otewellestrete, now Lichfield Street, Tamworth, which may have been the site subsequently of the Moat House. The holding included rights to common pasture on the river side of the Lichfield Road. His will in 1414, included bequests of 3 shillings to the high altar in Saint Editha’s Church, 1s. 6d. to the Holy Trinity altar, and 6d. to each of the other altars in the church. He also left 10 shillings for masses to the Carmelites of Coventry and 10 shillings to the Franciscan mendicant friary in Lichfield.

His nephew, John Comberford, in 1424 owned a ‘messuage in Lychfeldestrete (Lichfield Street) between the highway and the field known as Wallefurlonge.’ DP Adams suggests that this site may have been nearer into the town and on the other side of Lichfield Street from the Moat House. That year, John Comberford leased property in Lichfield Street to Edmund Pachette or Paget, who paid 6 shillings 8 pence to enter the property in the liberty of the town.

The family begins to rise to regional and national prominence with this John’s son, William Comberford (ca 1403/10-1472), a lawyer who worked for John Talbot (1384/1390-1453), 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, and Humphrey Stafford, Earl of Stafford, steward of the Duchy of Lancaster estate at Tutbury in Staffordshire.

In 1439, William Comberford was building a new house for himself at Comberford, a half-timbered, moated manor house that was still partly standing in the early 18th century. He was MP for Newcastle-under-Lyme and then for Staffordshire in the 1440s and 1460s. In 1469, he was admitted to membership of the Guild of Saint Mary and Saint John in Lichfield. He died in 1472.

Chesterfield House near Shenstone … the Comberford family held land in Chesterfield from the early 12th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Early holdings near Lichfield

Successive generations of the Comberford family were involved in the civic, political, social and ecclesiastical life of Lichfield over the centuries.

The Comberford family interests in the area begin with the successive generations at the very beginning of the family story, each with the name Alan Comberford. The first of these, Alanus de Cumberford, or Alan of Comberford, who was holding Comberford in the reign of William I or II, ca 1070-1120, from the Beauchamp family, also held land at Chesterfield, near Shenstone, on the south-west fringes of Lichfield. Chesterfield was known to Holinshed as Chesterford and has also been called Campfield.

A generation later, Alanus de Comberford, who is mentioned during the reign of Henry I (1100-1135) in the pipe rolls and other Staffordshire records, held lands at Chesterfield in Scertestan (Shenstone), on the edges of Lichfield. In 1166, yet another Alanus de Comberford was “dominus de Comberford.” When he received a grant of the manor and lands of Wigginton, the witnesses included Godfrido Briano, ‘sacredote’ (priest), and Nicholao de Licefelde [of Lichfield].

Chesterfield Farm … by the late 12th century, the Comberford family owned the Manor of Chesterfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

A generation later, in the reign of Richard I (1189-1199), Shaw notes, the Comberford family owned the Manor of Chesterfield, near Wall, on the southern edges of Lichfield.

John Comberford left a small legacy to the Franciscan Friary in Lichfield in 1414 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Lichfield civic life

The Comberford family become directly engaged in the civic and ecclesiastical life of Lichfield in the 15th and 16th centuries, with bequests to the Franciscan Friary and four successive generations of the family being admitted to membership of the Guild of Saint Mary and Saint John, which was the effective city government of Lichfield from its incorporation by charter in 1387 until 1548. One member of the family was Master of the Guild, a position that was equivalent to that of Mayor before the incorporation of the city by charter from Edward VI in 1548.

I have already mention that when John Comberford died in 1414, he left 10 shillings for masses to the Franciscan mendicant friary in Lichfield.

His son William Comberford and his wife Anne extended their land holdings on the edge of Lichfield in 1460, and in the surrounding district when they succeeded in a legal dispute with Thomas Kegworth and his wife Joan. William recovered seven messuages, two cottages, two gardens, 48 acres of land, 2½ acres of meadow, and 139 acres of pasture in Lichefeld (Lichfield), Longedon (Longdon), Morghwhale (the lost hamlet of Morughale, south-west of Streethay and close to the present Trent Valley Railway Station in Lichfield), Curburgh (Curborough), Stretehay (Streethay), King’s Bromley and Elmehurst (Elmhurst).

With his extensive property and commercial interests in Lichfield and his political power in Staffordshire, it was only natural that William would become involved in the civic life of this city. In 1469, as ‘Will’s Combford,’ he was admitted to membership of the Guild of Saint Mary and Saint John in Lichfield, along with Ralph FitzHerbert (‘Radius Fitzherbard’), father-in-law of William’s grandson, Thomas Comberford. Within a few years, William Comberford’s son, John Comberford (ca 1426-1508), as ‘Joh’s Cumberforde,’ was admitted to membership of the Guild of Saint Mary and Saint John the Baptist in 1476.

The Guildhall, Lichfield: four generations of the Comberford family were members of the guild, which acted as the city government for almost 200 years (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Before the end of the 15th century, a third generation of the Comberford family became involved in the governance of the city when Thomas Comberford (ca 1472-1532) of Comberford, as M’r Thomas Cumberforth, was admitted to membership of the Guild of Saint Mary and Saint John the Baptist in 1495. Thomas extended his land holdings and property interests in the Lichfield area in 1499, when he and David Rochford, a Lichfield mercer, leased the Manor of Timmor for 12 years from John Beaumont. Timmor was a part of the Bishop of Chester’s Manor of Lichfield (later Longdon).

Lichfield House (now the Tudor Café) was built in 1510, close to the Guildhall, while Thomas Comberford was a member of the guild (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

We have a good account of Thomas Comberford’s land holdings in the Lichfield area around the year 1525, when John Archard, Master of the Guild of Saint Mary and Saint John, recorded the land holdings of the guild on the outskirts of the city and also provided a thorough account of neighbouring estates held by Thomas Comberford, particularly in Wall and Wigginton. In that account, Archard spelt the family’s name variously as Comberfort, Combyrford, Combyrforde, Combyrfort, Cumberforde, Cumberforte and Cumbyrford.

The coat-of-arms of Lichfield City includes a Master of the Guild as one of the supporters; Humphrey Comberford was Master of the Guild in 1530

Humphrey Comberford, who was married to a niece of Elizabeth (or Anne) Stanley of Hammerwich, near Lichfield, and of John de Wolseley [see Comberford 4: Comberford wealth from Wednesbury], was the fourth generation of his family to take an active role in the life of the Lichfield Guild. In 1530, as ‘Humfridus Cumberforde,’ he became the Master of the Guild of Saint Mary and Saint John the Baptist.

In the same year, his sister-in-law, ‘Dame Isabella Cumberforde’ (Isabel Biggs), wife of Judge Richard Comberford [see Comberford 7: The Quaker Comberfords of Bradley, Staffordshire], was admitted to membership of the guild, indicating her strong commercial interests in the city. The admittance of a woman to guild membership, almost 400 years before women's votes, was a rare and remarkable occasion, and further underlines Isabella's personal prestige and the importance of the Comberford family in Lichfield.

The importance of the guild in the civic life of Lichfield began to fade after 1548, when Lichfield was incorporated as a city under a charter from Edward VI. The lordship and manor of Lichfield, previously held by the Bishop of Lichfield, were leased to the Corporation of Lichfield, and the town’s government was vested in two bailiffs and 24 burgesses. Five years later, in 1553, Queen Mary made Lichfield a county separate from the rest of Staffordshire.

The Precentor’s House in the Cathedral Close, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The Comberford family and Lichfield Cathedral

During the reign of Queen Mary, Humphrey Comberford’s brother, Henry Comberford (ca 1499-1586), became Precentor of Lichfield Cathedral in 1555, and he was a key figure in the events surrounding the Reformation in Lichfield. Henry Comberford was the Precentor of Lichfield Cathedral from 9 June 1555 until 1562, and the Prebendary of Bishop’s Itchington at the same time.

The precentor was the first residentiary canon of Lichfield Cathedral, and as such was a Justice of the Peace or Magistrate for the Cathedral Close. For many centuries the precentor’s residence traditionally has been at No 23 in the Cathedral Close in Lichfield. Bishop’s Itchington, or Fisher’s Itchington, near Stratford-on-Avon, Warwickshire, takes its name from the River Itchen and from the Bishops of Lichfield, the former landowners of the village. The Prebend of Bishop’s Itchington was traditionally held by the Precentor of Lichfield. Henry Comberford was still Prebendary of Bishop’s Itchington on 15 April 1558, and appears on the pardon roll of 15 January 1559.

The Precentor’s stall in the chapter of Lichfield Cathedral: Henry Comberford was precentor 1555-1559 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

In February 1559, the two bailiffs of Lichfield City, Edward Bardell and John Dyott, accused Comberford of ‘lewd preaching and misdemeanour.’ He was summoned before the Privy Council on 27 February, was deprived of all his benefices because of his extreme Catholicism, and was in prison until April 1559.

Two months later, in June 1559, Ralph Baynes was deprived as Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield. At the same time, the Dean of Lichfield, John Ramridge, was sent to the Tower. When he was released on bail, Ramridge escaped to Flanders, where he was later murdered. In addition, the Chancellor, Alban Longdale, was deprived, the Treasurer, George Lee, resigned, and many of the prebendaries and cathedral clergy were deprived or forced to resign between 1559 and 1564.

In a report on the recusants of Staffordshire in 1562, Edward Grindall, Bishop of London, described Henry Comberford as ‘learned, but wilful,’ and he was deprived as the Precentor of Lichfield and Prebendary of Bishop’s Itchington that year.

Henry Comberford was subsequently ordered to live in Suffolk, although he was given liberty to travel twice every year into Staffordshire, for six weeks on each occasion. In 1570, he was brought before the Yorkshire ecclesiastical commissioners and charged with defending the Mass. By 1579, when he was aged 80, Henry Comberford was a prisoner in Hull for his religious beliefs, which were regarded as dangerous to the state. He died on 4 March 1586 in Hull Prison.

Saint Chad’s Church, Stowe … Catherine Comberford’s son, Sir John Heveningham, was charged with not attending church, but claimed Saint Chad’s was not a parish church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2007)

Henry Comberford’s Catholic views were shared by his sister, Dorothy Comberford, wife of Christopher Heveningham of Aston and Pipe Hall. Pipe Hall, the manor of Pipe at Burntwood, west of Lichfield, is part of Saint Michael’s Parish, Lichfield, and during the reign of Elizabeth I, according to Greenslade, ‘the manor was a nest of Papists.’ Dorothy was fined with her cousin Katherine Badduley or Bodlilighe of Stone for non-attendance at church in 1581. In 1606, her son, Sir John Heveningham of Pipe Hall, a ‘suspected papist,’ was accused of failing to attend church at Saint Chad’s Church, Stowe, but he defended himself by pointing out that he had worshipped at Lichfield Cathedral and arguing that Stowe was not a parish church.

Lichfield ca 1610 … a map by John Speede

The Comberford family interests in the area continued throughout this time, and in 1586 William Comberford was still in possession of the lands at Chesterfield that had been owned by the family for generations. He was in Lichfield on 27 April 1586, when he was robbed violently in nearby Shenstone. He was set on by ‘Little Neddy,’ a well-known highwayman, who robbed him of £72, a £5 gold ring, and a sword. Little Neddy (Edward Stevenson) was later apprehended and convicted.

The Cathedral Close, Lichfield: Colonel William Comberford and his nephew, William Comberford, fought at the sieges of Lichfield during the English civil war (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The civil war in Lichfield

With the outbreak of the English Civil war in the mid-17th century, both Colonel William Comberford and his nephew, also William Comberford, were involved in the events surrounding the siege of Lichfield.

William Comberford ‘the nephew’ appears to have lived in Lichfield, drawing on his neighbours in the city to form trusts that secured his interest in the mortgaged Comberford estates, acting as the godfather to the children of many leading citizens in Lichfield, and leaving bequests to them at his death. When a list of trained horse was taken at Stafford on 5 June 1634 and at Lichfield on 2 October 1634, Colonel William Comberford of Tamworth and his nephew, William Comberford of Comberford, were listed as being liable for one cuirassier each.

As the civil war unfolded, Colonel William Comberford was appointed High Sheriff of Staffordshire. On 2 February 1643, he wrote from a besieged Stafford to his kinsman Ralph Weston of Rugeley, asking him to send ‘with all speed to Lichfield’ for muskets and fowling pieces to help in the defence of Stafford.

The plaque in Dam Street marking the spot where William Comberford’s godson, John Dyott, shot and killed Lord Brooke during the siege of Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2007)

The assault on Lichfield in March 1643 was led by Richard Greville, 2nd Lord Brooke, and Sir John Gell. Brooke was notorious for his hostility to the Church. As he was leaning out the window of a house in Dam Street, he was hit by a deflected bullet in a shot from the central tower of Lichfield Cathedral fired by a sniper, John ‘Dumb’ Dyott, who was a godson of William Comberford’s nephew, William Comberford. The incident took place on 2 March 1643, Saint Chad’s Day, and because of this coincidence the accidental killing of Brooke was quickly hailed as a miracle by the royalists.

Lichfield Cathedral: Richard Waughton of Comberford was killed as he was building a trench outside the Cathedral Close, and Thomas Riccard of Comberford died in fighting in the Cathedral Close (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Lichfield was captured by the besieging parliamentary forces three days later, on Sunday 5 March 1643. During the fighting that ensued in Lichfield, two people from Comberford died as they fought on the Parliamentarian side: Richard Waughton of Comberford was killed as he took part in building a trench on the west side of Lichfield, outside the Cathedral Close, and he was buried in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth, on 21 March 1643; Thomas Riccard of Comberford died in fighting in the Cathedral Close.

William Comberford then took a royalist force to garrison Tamworth Castle for the crown. As High Sheriff, he issued a warrant for the seizure of the estate of his neighbour, the Lord General and Parliamentarian commander, Robert Devereux of Drayton Bassett, 3rd Earl of Essex, who also held the lordship of the Manor of Lichfield. The House of Commons moved on 4 April 1643 to compensate Essex with the estate of the royalist Lord Capell, who was later beheaded. The House of Lords concurred with the Commons on 26 May, saying Essex had been ‘plundered, robbed, and spoiled, of his Goods and Estate, amounting to a great Value, by divers Traitors and Rebels’ under a warrant issued by ‘William Comberford, the pretended High Sheriff of the County of Stafford.’

During the siege of Tamworth in June 1643, Comberford and his supporters sought refuge with the Ferrers family in Tamworth Castle. The siege lasted a mere two days before the castle was captured by a parliamentary detachment commanded by Colonel William Purefoy. After the fall of Tamworth, as the Moat House, the Comberford family townhouse on Lichfield Street, was being sacked, William Comberford escaped to Lichfield, where once again he joined the royalist army defending the city against a new parliamentarian siege.

Lady Frances Devereux … ‘trulie virtuous ladie’ named in the will of William Comberford, she left her books to Lichfield Cathedral

In his will, William Comberford left a book of pedigrees of the Nevilles, Earls of Warwick to his friend, Frances, Marchioness of Hertford, later the Duchess of Somerset: ‘The book of pedigrees of the Earles of Warwick, I give and devise to the Right Honorable and trulie virtuous ladie, the Marchioness of Hertford, for whose sake … I bought the same.’

This ‘truly virtuous lady’ was the former Lady Frances Devereux (1599-1674), a sister and co-heir of Robert Devereux, 3rd Earl of Essex, and the youngest child of Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, Lord of the Manor of Lichfield. Her husband, William Seymour (1587-1660), Duke of Somerset, whom she married at Drayton Basset, near Tamworth, on 3 March 1616, was the Recorder of Lichfield. As Dowager Duchess of Somerset, she was also the tenant of properties in Comberford, Wigginton and Tamworth between 1662 and 1674. When she died on 24 April 1674, she left her collection of 1,000 books to Lichfield Cathedral, including the Saint Chad’s Gospel, which continues to be used in liturgical processions in Lichfield Cathedral.

Meanwhile, William Comberford’s nephew, also William Comberford, had moved to secure his interests in the Comberford estates through the formation of trusts involving some of the leading citizens of Lichfield. On 16 May 1641, this William Comberford placed all his interests in the Comberford estates in a trust formed by three trustees, Sir Richard Dyott of Lichfield, John Birch of Cannock and Thomas Wollaston.

This appears to have been an effort to secure the ownership of the estates against any loans and mortgages, to ensure that Comberford Hall, then occupied by his kinsman Francis Comberford, returned to his immediate heirs, and to guarantee that the estates remained in the hands of the Comberford family, whatever difficulties might face the family in the coming crisis.

Market Street, looking from Bird Street towards Market Square … the Dyott townhouse was on the left, on a site later occupied by Woolworth, and William Comberford may have had a townhouse on the same street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Without actual possession of the Comberford estates, William may have lived on in Lichfield. This is indicated in his choice of leading Lichfield residents in the formation of his trusts, by his ties as godfather to the children of key people in Lichfield at the time, and by the many bequests in his will to people who lived in Lichfield. The first trustee, Sir Richard Dyott (died 1659) of Freeford Manor, Stichbrooke and Saddler Street (now Market Street), Lichfield, was Steward and Recorder of Lichfield, and had been MP for Lichfield in the 1620s. He later commanded the royalist troops at the Siege of Lichfield in 1643. Sir Richard’s brother, John Dyott, who played a dramatic role in the siege of Lichfield, was William Comberford’s godson, while another brother, Matthew Dyott of Stychbrooke, was married to Mary Babington, a distant cousin of William Comberford, and a sister-in-law of the second trustee, John Birch.

The second trustee, John Birch, a lawyer, of Leacroft, Cannock, was the son of John Birch of Bloxwich, near Lichfield. The younger John Birch was married to Margaret Babington of Curborough near Lichfield. Her sister Mary was married to Matthew Dyott of Stychbrook, a brother of both Sir Richard Dyott and John ‘Dumb’ Dyott, while her brother, Canon Matthew Babington, was a chaplain to Charles I and a canon of Lichfield Cathedral.

The third trustee, Thomas Wollaston, was a member of a prominent family in the Lichfield and Walsall areas.

In his will, William Comberford removed Sir Richard Dyott as a trustee of his estates, and replaced him with his brother John Comberford, retaining John Birch and Thomas Wollaston as trustees and as his executors. The move was timely, for on 16 August 1646, the Parliamentary Committee of Staffordshire sequestered all the estates of Sir Richard Dyott, including his lands in Lichfield, Freeford, Stychbrook, Chorley and Stafford. In his will, William provided bequests for his brothers Robert Comberford (£100) and John Comberford, John’s wife, his sisters Ann, Agatha, Elizabeth and Hester, and his kinsman, Francis Comberford of Bradley.

Other bequests or legacies were made to his friends John Birch, Thomas Wollaston, Robert Stanley, Joseph Gorwey, Thomas Wollaston’s son John, his cousin George Hawe, and his servant William Pirbard of Comberford. He expressed the hope that each of them would buy a gold ring with the 20 shillings he had left them. He left £5 for each of his godchildren, John Dyott, ‘sonne of Anthony Dyott, Esqr, Doctor of Phisiche, lately residing in the citie of Lichfeild (sic),’ … …, son of Thomas … of Whittington, Robert Ward, son of Alexander Ward of Shenstone, Staffordshire, and Elizabeth Goode, daughter of the Revd Francis Goode of Yoxall, asking that they use the £5 to buy plate ‘having my name and armes engraven thereon.’

He also left £5 in cash to three other godchildren, Mary Walmsley, daughter of Richard Walmsley of Lichfield, Mary Baxter, daughter of Richard Baxter of Whittington, and Mary Pirbard, daughter of William Pirbard of Comberford.

The bequests to John Dyott and the other godchildren show William’s continuing connections with the families who had fought on the royalist side during the sieges of Lichfield: John Dyott had fired the fatal shot that killed Sir John Gell during the siege of Lichfield three years earlier in March 1643. Richard Ward was the youngest son of Alexander Ward, an innkeeper in Lichfield who was Bailiff of Lichfield on three occasions. Alexander Ward had acquired a large estate in Shenstone and was buried there when he died on 10 December 1663 at the age of 75.

Richard Walmsley or Walmisley was the appraiser of probate in the Diocese of Lichfield. He was the father of both William Comberford’s god-daughter, Mary, and William Walmesley, who was Registrar of Lichfield (1692), a Justice of the Peace (JP) or magistrate for Staffordshire, Whig MP for Lichfield City (January to November 1701), and Chancellor of the Diocese of Lichfield from 1698 until his death in 1713.

He was accused of misusing charitable funds in the election in January 1701, and was almost unseated as MP for Lichfield on petition. He was a Whig candidate for Lichfield again in 1710, but was soundly beaten. He was dismissed as a JP in 1712, and was denounced as self-interested and insolent in politics. He died in July 1713.

In 1675, he married Dorothy, daughter of Humphrey Gilbert of Fradley, and they had three sons, including Gilbert Walmesley, Samuel Johnson’s mentor, and William Walmesley, who was Dean of Lichfield Cathedral from 1720 to 1730.

Elias Ashmole, who was born in Breadmarket Street, Lichfield, in 1617, recorded many of the details of the Comberford family in March 1663 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Restoration Lichfield

After the civil war and the Caroline restoration, the Comberford family appears to have continued to have a town house in Lichfield, although they were involved at a much quieter level in the life of the city. At the age of 69, William Comberford’s brother, Robert Comberford, attested the Comberford family tree in Lichfield on 30 March 1663, the first day of the Visitation of Staffordshire conducted by the antiquarian and the Norroy King of Arms, Sir William Dugdale (1605-1686).

Dugdale, who later became Garter Principal King of Arms, had received the degree MA at Oxford with Robert Comberford’s uncle, William Comberford, in November 1642. He had been commissioned in 1641 to make a copy of all the monuments in English cathedrals and churches, including Lichfield Cathedral and Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth.

At the visitation in Lichfield in March 1663, Dugdale was assisted by two heralds who were born in Lichfield and educated at Lichfield Grammar School: his clerk, Gregory King (1648-1712), who later became Lancaster Herald and a pioneering statistician; and Dugdale’s son-in-law, Elias Ashmole (1617-1692), who held the office of Windsor Herald and who was to become Lichfield’s most noted antiquarian.

Ashmole was born in Breadmarket Street, Lichfield, and like Dugdale was, undoubtedly, familiar with the career of Robert’s brother, William Comberford. During the English Civil War, Ashmole was appointed the King’s Commissioner of Excise at Lichfield in 1644. Soon afterwards, he was given a military post at Oxford, where he devoted most of his time to study and at Brasenose College, although he did not formally enrol as a student. In late 1645, he left Oxford to accept the position of Commissioner of Excise at Worcester. Ashmole was given the additional military posts of Captain of the Horse and Comptroller of Ordnance, though he seems never to have taken part in any fighting.

Robert Comberford furnished Ashmole with many of the details of the Comberford or Cumberford (the spellings are used interchangeably, even in one manuscript) family, although Grazebrooke is pertinent when he asks why Robert failed to furnish a number of pertinent particulars, including the full name of his father-in-law. In addition, it might be asked why he failed to provide dates of death for his brothers and sisters, or particulars of their marriages and children, some of which ought to have been known to Ashmole and perhaps to Dugdale too.

Robert must have been in his late 50s or early 60s when he married Catherine Bates of Sutton, Derbyshire, and she appears to have been at least 30 years younger than him. The Bates family was a Catholic family and in the late 17th century they moved to Pipe Hall, outside Lichfield, the former home of the Heveningham family.

The widowed Catherine Comberford was still living in 1683, perhaps in Lichfield, when she filed a renunciation in Lichfield of any interest in the estate of her daughter, Mary Giffard, who had just died. The administration of the personal estate of Mary Giffard of Comberford was then granted at Lichfield to her sister Anne Brooke.

The estate at Comberford Hall had been claimed unsuccessfully by Robert Comberford’s cousin, Francis Comberford, the Quaker of Bradley. Francis Comberford’s daughter, Anne (ca 1644?-post 1667), was married in Lichfield on 12 November 1667 to Richard Meighim, a tanner from Shropshire.

Donegal House, beside the Guildhall in Lichfield, was the town house of Lord Donegall of Comberford Hall (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Continuing links with Lichfield

The subsequent owners of the former Comberford estates at Comberford, the Moat House in Tamworth and in Wednesbury continued to be engaged in the civic and cultural life of Lichfield.

Lord Donegall, who owned Comberford Hall at the end of the 18th century, gave his name to Donegal House in Bore Street, Lichfield. Donegal House was built in 1730 by a local merchant James Robinson, whose great-grand-daughters, Ellen-Jane and Marianne, who died in 1812, are commemorated as the “Sleeping Children” in Lichfield Cathedral in a marble memorial sculpture by Sir Francis Chantrey (1817).

William and Hill Boothby, who owned the Moat House in Tamworth, were the great-grandparents of Sir Brooke Boothby (died 1824), a member of the Lichfield literary circle that included Anna Seward, Erasmus Darwin and Richard Lovell Edgeworth.

The site of Morughale, where the Comberford family once owned lands, is now lost in the houses and streets on the eastern edges of Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2008)

Lichfield and the Comberford arms

The close engagement of the Comberford family with the civic, political, social and ecclesiastical life of Lichfield, and their extensive property interests in the surrounding area, also offer plausible explanations for the Comberford coat-of-arms, which also came to be used by the Comerford family in Ireland.

The Comberford family’s extensive property interests in Lichfield included lands in Streethay (Stretehay) and the lost hamlet of Morughale (Morghwhale), beside Streethay, in Saint Michael’s Parish, Lichfield. These holdings were consolidated as family possessions with William Comberford’s successful legal action in 1460. Streethay is 1½ miles east of Lichfield City Centre, close to Lichfield Trent Valley Station.

William’s landholdings in Streethay may explain the Comberford heraldic bearings of a red shield charged with a white hunting dog (gules, a talbot passant argent). Similar arms were used by two neighbouring families, the Strethay family of Lichfield (argent, a lymmer hound gules), and the Wolseley family of Wolseley (argent, a talbot passant gules).

As William was admitted to membership of the Guild of Saint Mary and Saint John in Lichfield in 1469, he may have been anxious to emphasise his commercial and civic links with the cathedral city by using heraldic emblems that obviously identified him with the city. Later, Humphrey Comberford married a niece of John Wolseley of Bloxwich, near Lichfield. Once again, these close family ties may have been emphasised by using arms that were visibly identifiable with the Lichfield area.

The Comberford and Comerford coats-of-arms quartered by the Comerfords of Ballybur
The Irish family link:

The Comerford family in Ireland claimed kinship with the Comberford family of Staffordshire from, perhaps, the early 17th century, if not from an earlier period. By the 18th century, the Irish genealogist, Sir William Betham, was accepting the claims that the Comerford family in Ireland was of Norman origin, coming to England with William the Conqueror in 1066, and then to Ireland in 1189.

Indeed, the family claimed not just a single, but a double descent from the Comberfords of Comberford. The first claim is that Sir Henry de Comerford and his nephew Sir Fulco de Comerford are said to have gone to Ireland with Prince John, son of Henry II, King of England, as early as 1172.

The second line of descent is introduced with the claim that when the male line of descent of this uncle and nephew was dying out, Richard Comberford, who was living in Staffordshire in 1547, married a niece of Edmond Comerford, Bishop of Ferns, who died in 1509, and was the direct ancestor of my branch of the family.

Joseph Comerford registered this pedigree in 1724. But it contains a number of unsubstantiated and unsustainable claims. For example:

● It provides an average of 22 years for each generation, which is highly improbable and totally unbelievable.

● There never was such an uncle and nephew pair of Sir Henry de Comerford and Sir Fulco de Comerford, either in Irish history or in the history of the Tamworth area.

● And Richard Comerford never married a niece of the Bishop of Ferns, in fact he never, ever visited Ireland.

These claims are further strengthened by a memorial plaque erected in the Comberford Chapel in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth, by the Irish family in 1725.

My direct ancestor, Richard Comerford of Ballybur Castle, Co Kilkenny, has been confused with Judge Richard Comberford (ca 1512-post 1547), second son of Thomas Comberford who died in 1532.

However, this Richard Comberford was, in fact, the ancestor of the Bradley branch of the family. He was born ca 1512. With his brothers, Canon Henry Comberford and Humphrey Comberford, he was educated at Cambridge (BA 1534, MA 1537). He was a Fellow of Saint John’s College (1534), and the Senior Bursar of Saint John’s (1542-1544). A senior barrister, Richard was a serjeant-at-law or servillus ad legem, and held one of the highest judicial posts in the land as the King’s Remembrancer from about 1547.

Richard Comberford married Isabel Biggs. This is the woman who in 1530, as Dame Isabella Cumberforde, was admitted to membership of the Guild of Saint Mary and Saint John the Baptist in Lichfield while her brother-in-law, Humphrey Comberford, was Master of the Guild.

Richard and Isabel Comberford had a son and two daughters, their only son Francis Comberford, being the ancestor of the Bradley branch of the family. As Richard Comberford was still living in Staffordshire in 1547, a second marriage is an impossibility, for this would leave 12 generations between Richard’s death, many years after 1547, and Joseph Comerford’s death in the 1729 – an average of less than 15 years for each generation over a span of less than 180 years.

The claims of Staffordshire origins for the Irish family were first questioned in 1888 by the Irish genealogist George Dames Burtchaell (1853-1921), who pointed out that the earliest spelling of the name of the Irish-based family was Quemerford. My research has since been able to identify the origins of this family in Quemerford, once a small village and now part of suburban Calne in Wiltshire.

The Comberford coat-of-arms used by James Comerford as a bookplate in 1902 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Nevertheless, it is as though the Comerfords of Ireland and the Comberfords of Staffordshire had adopted each other as family and kin. These mutual bonds of affection and adopted kinship, these claims and the confusion they have caused when it comes to identifying the origins of the Comerford family in Ireland, continued through the persistent use of the Comberford coat-of-arms by many branches of the Irish Comerford family from the early 17th century.

It was a mutual bond of affection and adopted kinship that continued with the interesting visit to Comberford, Tamworth, Wednesbury and Lichfield from Ireland by my great-grandfather James Comerford at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Around August 1900 or 1901, James Comerford, describing himself as ‘a descendant’ of the Comberford family, set out to rediscover and own the Comberford roots of the Comerford family, visiting Comberford Hall, the Moat House, the Comberford Chapel and Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth, and Wednesbury. In Saint Editha’s, he took detailed notes of the Comberford plaque erected by Joseph Comerford in 1725, and of the alabaster effigy, which he ascribed to William de Comberford (1349). In Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Wednesbury, he saw the figures of John Comberford in armour and his wife, the name of William Comberford among a list of charitable bequests over the south door, and the name of William Comberford (1623) inscribed on the sixth bell. He also noted many of the references to the Comberford family in other records. At Comberford Hall, he visited the Peel family, and he also visited the Moat House in Tamworth.

James Comerford collected his findings in a very small, seven-page pamphlet, that was privately published in a small print run of 25 on 26 November 1902, and bound with it photographs of the Moat House and Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth – although, surprisingly, there are no photographs of the Comberford monuments he describes in Tamworth and Wednesbury, or of Comberford Hall. Shortly after the account of his visit was printed and bound, James Comerford added his bookplate and additional handwritten notes to the slim volume, and these notes add further clues to his identity and the date of his visit.

All these ties of affection amount to bonds of kinship, and they make it important to record the history of the Comberfords of Comberford when telling the story of the Comerfords of Ireland. Despite its bizarre, fictitious, fantastic claims, there is a romantic side to Joseph Comerford’s family tree. In its own charming way, his pedigree, serves to emphasise how by the late 17th century and the early 18th century the Comerfords of Ireland totally identified with the Comberfords of Staffordshire, and had forged strong ties of kinship and affinity.

James Comerford’s small pamphlet describes himself as ‘a descendant’ of the Comberford family … a surviving copy in the local history collection at Tamworth Library (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

A 20th century connection continues the link

In the second half of the 20th century, descendants of John Comerford (ca 1826-post 1901) of Irish Street, Newtownbarry, Co Wexford, and his wife Anne (Hore) moved to live in Lichfield. (see Comerford 8: Comerford of Bunclody and Dublin)

John and Anne Comerford were the parents of Jane Comerford (born 1878), who married (1) John Falconer (1868-1906) in Saint Vincent’s Church, Birmingham in 1900, and had two children. After John Falconer’s death, Jane returned to Ireland with her children. She later returned to the English Midlands, and she married (2) James O’Connor in Saint Vincent’s Church, Birmingham. The children of Jane (Comerford) and John Falconer included: Mary Margaret (Falconer) (1901-1980), of Lichfield, Staffordshire.

On 21 March 1939, in Saint Vincent’s Church, Vauxhall, Mary married Maurice Bernard Perrett of 191 Saint Saviour’s Road, Birmingham, and they later lived in Lichfield, Staffordshire, where she died in June 1980.

The Comberford name remembered on a hassock in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Some sources and select bibliography:

Moat House Papers, D 5368/4, Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent Archive Service, Staffordshire Record Office.
Salt Historical Collection, various volumes.
Tamworth Parish Registers.
Victoria County History of Staffordshire, various volumes.
Visitations of Staffordshire and Warwickshire.

DP Adams, The Moat House and the Comberford Family (privately published, n.d., ca 1970).
JD Burtchaell, Genealogical Memoirs of the members of parliament for the county and city of Kilkenny (Dublin: Sealy & Co., 1888).
James Comerford, Some Records of the Comerford family collected by a descendant (1902).
JF Ede, History of Wednesbury (Wednesbury: Wednesbury Corporation, 1962).
Sampson Erdeswicke, A Survey of Staffordshire (ed Thomas Harwood, Westminster: 1820). FW Hackwood, Wednesbury: Ancient and Modern (Wednesbury, 1902).
Thomas Harwood, The History and Antiquities of the Church and City of Lichfield (1806).
HC Mitchell, Tamworth Parish Church (Welwyn: Alcuin Press, 1935).
CFR Palmer, History of the Town and Castle of Tamworth (Tamworth: Jonathan Thompson, 1845).
Robert Plot, The Natural History of Staffordshire (Oxford, 1686).
Stebbing Shaw, History and Antiquities of Staffordshire (1798).
Henry Wood, Tamworth Borough Records (Tamworth: Tamworth Corporation, 1952).
Henry Wood, Borough by Prescription: a history of the municipality of Tamworth (Tamworth: Tamworth Corporation, 1958).
Henry Wood, Medieval Tamworth (Tamworth: Tamworth Corporation, 1972).

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is a priest in the (Anglican) Diocese of Limerick and a former adjunct assistant professor in Trinity College Dublin and the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. He worked for over 30 years as a journalist, starting as a freelance contributor to the ‘Lichfield Mercury’ and becoming Foreign Desk Editor of ‘The Irish Times’

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