04 June 2019

How a leading Tory has
links with the Comberford
family and the Moat House

The Moat House on Lichfield Street, Tamworth … the direct descendants of Robert Comberford include the Tory frontbencher Amber Rudd (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

When I was speaking last month [9 May 2019] to the Tamworth and District Civic Society in Saint Editha’s Church about the Comberford family, the Moat House on Lichfield Street and Comberford Hall, I ought to have referred to how one of the politicians at the centre of the current debate about ‘Brexit’ within the Conservative Party, Amber Rudd, is descended from the Comberford family.

Amber Rudd is one of the last remaining ‘one nation’ Tories to continue to hold a prominent place in the Conservative Party. She has been Secretary of State for Work and Pensions since late last year [16 November 2018], previously served as Home Secretary from July 2016 to April 2018, and has been MP for Hastings and Rye since 2010. She identifies herself as a one-nation conservative, and has been associated with both economically liberal and socially liberal policies.

During my research last year for a lecture in Rathkeale, Co Limerick [9 February 2018] on the Southwell family, at the invitation of Rathkeale and District Historical Society, I realised that Amber Rudd is a direct descendant through the Southwell and Mostyn family from the Comberford family of Comberford Hall and the Moat House.

Thomas Arthur Joseph Southwell, 4th Viscount Southwell, married Charlotte Mary Barbara Mostyn, a descendant of Robert Comberford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

During that lecture, I pointed out that Thomas Arthur Joseph Southwell (1836-1878), who succeeded as 4th Viscount Southwell in 1860, married Charlotte Mary Barbara Mostyn, daughter of Sir Pyers Mostyn (1811-1882), a member of a leading Roman Catholic family in North Wales.

The Mostyn family had large estates across North Wales and elsewhere, including commercial, residential and agricultural holdings in Llandudno. Long after the stained glass windows in Saint Mary’s Church, Rathkeale, were completed, Charlotte’s younger brother, Francis Edward Joseph Mostyn (1860-1939), became the Roman Catholic Bishop of Menevia (1898-1921) in Wales and Archbishop of Cardiff (1921-1939).

The ‘Mostyn Christ,’ dating from 1450, is one of the principal treasures in Bangor Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

One of the major pieces of work in Saint Deiniol’s Cathedral, Bangor, is the ‘Mostyn Christ,’ a figure of the Pensive Christ carved in oak and thought to date from ca 1450. It depicts Christ before the Crucifixion, chained and seated on a rock, wearing the crown of thorns. The ‘Mostyn Christ’ is on loan to Bangor Cathedral from the Mostyn Estates. The branch of the Mostyn family of Talacre and Basingwerk was renowned for its allegiance to the ‘Old Faith’.

This Sir Pyers Mostyn was a grandson of another Sir Pyers Mostyn (1749-1823) and his wife, Barbara Slaughter (1757-1841), who, through her mother, Barbara Giffard, was a direct descendant of the Comberford family of Comberford Hall and the Moat House on Lichfield Street, Tamworth.

This means the descendants of this Lord Southwell are also descended from the Comberford family. So how are Charlotte (Mostyn) Southwell and Amber Rudd descended from the Comberford family of Comberford Hall and the Moat House?

Robert Comberford (ca 1594-1669) has been described as the last of this ancient family in England. He is described incorrectly by Shaw, Adams and Stone, and other historians, as the son of Colonel William Comberford and by Stone as William Comberford’s nephew.

However, in the pedigree Robert certified at Lichfield in 1663, he states clearly that he is William’s next brother and the second son of Humphrey Comberford. [See Comberford 5: Recusants, royal guests and civil war] In addition, Robert’s age in 1663 and at his death in 1669 confirm that he was born ca 1594, making it impossible for him to be William’s son.

Robert was born ca 1594. Following the death of his brother William Comberford in 1656, he recovered his family’s estates in Wigginton and Comberford from John Birch, the last remaining trustee of the Comberford estate, and from his kinsman Francis Comberford, paying off all the debts or mortgages taken on by his brother William Comberford.

By 1657, Robert Comberford and his wife were living at Comberford Hall, when they headed the list of 17 recusants or Roman Catholics reported as living in Comberford, although they were not molested in any way.

However, Robert Comberford does not appear to have recovered the Wednesbury estates that once belonged to the Comberford family and he appears to have been forced to sell the Moat House, the Comberford family’s Tudor-Jacobean town house on Lichfield Street in Tamworth, where Charles I had been a guest of the family when he was Prince of Wales.

Between 1657 and 1663, the Manor of Wednesbury was sold to the Shelton family, and John Shelton of West Bromwich was a strict Presbyterian. By then, the Moat House in Tamworth had been sold for £160 to Thomas Fox, a former Parliamentary captain and later MP for Tamworth, who was one of the most bitter enemies of the Comberford family. Stone says the Moat House was sold by Robert Comberford in 1654, although it is more likely that it was sold by Robert in an effort to clear his debts after William’s death.

Nevertheless, Robert Comberford managed to redeem the 60-year lease of Comberford Hall made in 1654 by his brother William Comberford to their Quaker kinsman Francis Comberford, and he recovered the other part of the estates leased by William Comberford from the last surviving trustee, John Birch.

In 1663, Robert was 69 and living at Comberford Hall. In Lichfield early that year, on 30 March 1663, he certified the pedigree for the Comberford family of Comberford on the first day of the Visitation of Staffordshire carried out 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 his MA at Oxford with Robert Comberford’s brother, William Comberford, in November 1642, had been commissioned in 1641 to make a copy of all the monuments in many 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 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.

Robert Comberford furnished Ashmole with many of the details of the Comberford or Cumberford family (the spellings are used interchangeably even in one manuscript). But Grazebrooke is insightful 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 Comberford and his brother John Comberford leased the Manor of Comberford and Wigginton with appurtenances in Staffordshire to John Birch, William Bromwich and John Hopkins on 23 March 1664 for 20 years. The lease may have been a form of mortgage or a trust for the benefit of Robert’s wife Catherine and their two daughters, Mary and Ann, for, despite this lease, Robert and his family continued to live at Comberford Hall. In 1666, he was assessed for 15 hearths at Comberford Hall and two hearths at Comberford Mill. He also had one small property with one hearth in Tamworth, where Thomas Hankes was his tenant.

Robert Comberford made his will in 1668-1670. He died in 1669 at the age of 77, and he was buried in the Comberford family vault in Saint Catherine’s or the Comberford Chapel in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth.

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 recusant or Catholic family and in the late 17th century they moved to Pipe Hall, outside Lichfield, the former home of the Heveningham family [see Comberford 4: Comberford wealth from Wednesbury]. Catherine was still living in 1683, when she filed a renunciation in Lichfield of any interest in the estate of her daughter, Mary Giffard, who had just died.

In 1705, when the Privy Council ordered a return by the parish clergy of papists and reputed papists ‘with their respective qualities, estates and places of abode,’ 55 were counted in Tamworth and its neighbourhood, including Mrs Comberford of Comberford, her three grandchildren (Comberford Brooke, Catherine Brooke, and Mary Grosvenor) and her three servants.

Catherine Comberford continued to live at Comberford Hall until her death in 1718, perhaps as a tenant of the Skeffingtons of Fisherwick. Her will, written in Latin, was made on 18 January 1716. This shows Catherine still held land in Wigginton, a cottage in Hopwas, and some property in Cawford Meadow, Tamworth, which she divided between her granddaughters, Catherine Brooke and Mary Grosvenor, wife of Sherrington Grosvenor of Tamworth. She named Catherine Brooke, Mary Grosvenor and Richard Nevill of Richardscote as her executors. Probate for the will of Catherine Comberford of Comberford in the Parish of Tamworth was granted in London on 7 November 1718.

Catherine and Robert Comberford were the parents of two daughters:

1, Mary (ca 1654/1655-ca 1683), who married ca 1680 Thomas Giffard of The Lodge, High Offley Park (born ca 1655, aged 25 in 1680). He was the son of Edward Giffard (ca 1624- ) of High Offley and Goat Street, Wolverhampton, and grandson of Peter Giffard (ca 1581-1663) of Chillington in Brewood. Mary died ca 1683, when her mother, Catherine Comberford, filed a renunciation in Lichfield of any interest in the estate of her daughter, Mary Giffard, who had just died.
2, Anne (born ca 1656), who married Thomas Brooke of Wolverhampton and Comberford. Their descendants continued the representation of the Comberford family.

With the death of Robert Comberford in 1669, the senior male line of the Comberford family had died out, although a junior branch was living in Shropshire, and Robert’s descendants continued through female lines in prominent Midlands families, including the Brookes, Giffard, Grosvenor, Mostyn, Parry, Slaughter and Smitheman families, and their descendants, many of them prominent Roman Catholics.

The Comberford plaque in the Comberford Chapel in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth, dated 1725, claims strong ties of kinship between the Comberford family of Comberford and the Comerford family in Ireland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

In 1725, 56 years after Robert Comberford’s death and seven years after the death of his widow Catherine, a memorial tablet was erected in the Comberford Chapel in Saint Editha’s Church, with the following inscription:

Hic situm est Monumentum diuturnitare vero
temporis et bellis plusquam civilibus dirutum
familiae non ita pridem florentis. Gentis
amplae et honostae Cumberfordiorum
Qui de hoc Municipio cum in alliistum.
In hoc Templo aedificando optime meruerunt.
Domini Cumberfordiae melaruere annis septigentis.
In Roberto autem novissimo stirpis Angliacae
Staffordiensis viro Gentis extinctum pleratur.
Qui obiit A.D. 1671 et hic cum consorte
Domina Catharina Bates filiisque duabus
Maria et Anna suis Haeredibus Tumulo
conditur Nomen adhuc viger in stirpe
Hibernica, quae Regem Jacobum Secundum
in Galliam secuta est; atque ibi Angluniae
In Provincia de Champagne Dominio
insignitur 1725

Translated, this inscription reads:

‘This place is truly a fitting monument to a family brought low by wars rather than civic affairs, and that no longer flourishes here. The generous and honest family of Cumberfords richly deserve the gratitude of this town in many things, including in the building of this church. The Lords of Cumberford, who survived for seven hundred years, became extinct with the death of Robert, last scion of the Staffordshire branch in England, when he died in AD 1671, and was buried here with his wife Lady Catherine Bates and their two daughters and heiresses, Mary and Anne. Henceforth, the name lives on in the Irish branch of the family, which followed James II into exile in France, and there they became the Lords of Anglunia in the Province of Champagne. Erected in 1725.’

Shaw, Palmer and James Comerford said that above this plaque there was a representation of the Comberford coat-of-arms (gules, a talbot passant argent) impaling those of Bates of Sutton (sable, a fess between three hands erect argent), with the Comberford crest of a ducal coronet and peacock’s head, but this has long since disappeared.

The plaque is surprisingly open in its Jacobite sentiments, only a decade after the Vicar of Tamworth was convicted for his Jacobite loyalties. The monument was probably erected in 1725 by Captain Joseph Comerford of Dublin who, in the previous year, had registered a pedigree in Dublin claiming descent from the Comberfords of Comberford for the Comerfords of Kilkenny. Comerford had bought the Anglure estate in Champagne, along with the title of Marquis d’Anglure, and he used the quartered Comberford and Parles arms as his own, placing them on a Comerford monument in Callan, Co Kilkenny.

The Comberford Chapel in Saint Editha’s Church Tamworth ... now used for parish coffee mornings (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The plaque incorrectly gives 1671 rather than 1669 as Robert’s date of death. Even then, it is difficult to imagine how – if Robert Comberford was the last of the line and died during the reign of Charles II – a branch of the family could later follow James II to Ireland and then into exile into France. The tablet in the Comberford chapel contains a number of other inaccuracies: at the time of Robert’s death, the Comberford family had been living in Staffordshire for no more than six rather than seven centuries; Robert’s death did not bring about the extinction of the Comberford line in England; and Mary Giffard and Anne Brooke are more likely to have been buried with their husbands than with their parents in Tamworth.

Nor did the Comberford family die out with the death of Robert Comberford. When he died, Robert had no sons, but while the Comberford name was continued in the Brooke family through his grandson, Comberford Brooke, the male representation of the Comberford line passed to his distant cousin, Francis Comberford of Bradley, who sued unsuccessfully for the estate.

Comberford Hall continued to be lived in by Robert Comberford’s widow, Catherine, their daughter, Anne Brooke, her son, Comberford Brooke, and his children, perhaps as tenants of the Skeffington family, until at least 1718. Undoubtedly, the family was crippled by debts and mortgages, and Comberford Hall eventually passed to Robert Comberford’s cousin and neighbour, Sir John Skeffington, Viscount Masserene and Baron of Loughneagh, a royalist who had actively supported the restoration of Charles II [see Comberford 8: Comberford Hall].

Mary (Comberford) Giffard (ca 1654/1655-ca 1683) was the elder daughter of Robert and Catherine Comberford. She was born ca 1654/1655, and she was aged eight when Robert Comberford recorded the Comberford family genealogy at the Visitation of Staffordshire in Lichfield in March 1663. She married ca 1680 Thomas Giffard (ca 1655-post 1680), of The Lodge, High Offley Park, Staffordshire (born ca 1655, aged 25 in 1680). He was the son of Edward Giffard (ca 1624- ) of High Offley and Goat Street, Wolverhampton, and grandson of Peter Giffard (ca 1581-1663) of Chillington in Brewood. Robert was aged 25 in 1680.

The Giffard family was the wealthiest of the Catholic families in Staffordshire, and the area around Wolverhampton was widely regarded as ‘a nest of papists,’ with families such as the Giffards being persistent in adhering to their Catholicism.

By the early 18th century, the 1,200 Catholics in Staffordshire were concentrated mainly at Brewood, close to the Giffard home at Chillngton. Mary died ca 1683, when her mother, Catherine Comberford, filed a renunciation in Lichfield of any interest in the estate of her daughter, Mary Giffard, who had just died, and the administration of the personal estate of Mary Giffard of Comberford was granted at Lichfield to her sister Anne Brooke.

Anne (Comberford) Brooke (ca 1655/1656-ca 1705?), was the younger daughter of Robert and Catherine Comberford. She was born ca 1655/1656, and she was aged seven in 1663. She married Thomas Brooke of Wolverhampton and Comberford on 14 April 1675, when both were described as ‘Papists.’ At Lichfield in 1683, Anne Brooke, the wife of Thomas Brooke of Comberford, was granted the administration of the personal estate of Mary Giffard of Comberford.

Thomas Brooke was the son and heir of Sir Basil Brooke of Madeley, a leading Shropshire royalist who died in the Tower of London in 1646, where he had been jailed for an alleged royalist plot. Madeley was the subject of further sequestration when Thomas too was accused of treason.

The 1705 return on papists and reputed papists show the three children of Anne and Thomas Brooke were living at Comberford Hall with their grandmother, Catherine Comberford of Comberford. This may indicate that Anne was dead by this time.

Anne and Thomas were the parents of a son and two daughters:

1, Comberford Brooke or ‘Mr Brooke of Cumberford,’ alias Captain Cumberford (ca 1675-1711), of Madeley, Shropshire, of whom next.
2, Catherine, who was living with her grandmother, Catherine Comberford, at Comberford in 1705. She is named in the will of her grandmother, Catherine Comberford, in January 1716, and was one of the executors of her will, along with her sister Mary Grosvenor.
3, Mary, who was living with grandmother, Catherine Comberford, at Comberford in 1705. She is named in the will of her grandmother, Catherine Comberford, in January 1716, and was one of the executors of her will, along with her sister Catherine Brooke. Mary married Sherrington Grosvenor of Tamworth. They were the parents of:
● 1a, Sherrington Grosvenor of Holt, who married Rose Austen, a niece of Rose Austen of Bexley, Kent, who married Comberford Brooke (see below). In 1771, Sherrington Grosvenor was living in Langley, Buckinghamshire, and he sold his last remaining lands in Comberford on 29 June 1771.

Madeley Court, Shropshire ... inherited by Comberford Brooke and his descendants

The Comberford name continued with the only son of Anne (Comberford) and Thomas Brooke:

Comberford Brooke, or ‘Mr Brooke of Cumberford,’ alias Captain Cumberford (ca 1675-1711), of Madeley, Shropshire, and Comberford Hall, Staffordshire. He was living with his sisters and his grandmother, Catherine Comberford, at Comberford in 1705. He became an English Jacobite and a captain in the German Regiment of Saar. He maintained regular contact with his family and friends. As Comberford Brooke of Comberford he made his will in 1711.

Captain Comberford Brooke married Rose Austen, daughter of Sir John Austen, 2nd Baronet, of Bexley, and aunt of Rose Austen, who married Sherrington Grosvenor of Tamworth (above). Rose and Comberford Brooke were the parents of a son and two daughters:

A portrait of Basil Brooke painted on oak in 1727, about 12" by 9". On the painting it reads, in part, ‘Basil, only son of Cumberford Brooke of Madeley Co. Salop & Cumberford Co. Staff. Esq; By Rose his wife Da. of S[i]r John Austen of Bexley in Kent Bar; Ob, 1727 Aged 19.’ (Photograph courtesy Paul and Kathy Schaefer, Fairfield, Iowa)

1, Basil Brooke, who was a child when he inherited the Madeley estate in Shropshire from his father. He was aged 19 and still a minor when he died in 1727. His sister Catherine was his executor. The Manor of Madeley was then divided between Basil’s sisters, Catherine and Rose.

The obverse of the portrait of Basil Brooke is inscribed: ‘A lineal descendant of Sir Rob[er]t Brooke Speaker of the House of Commons & Lord Chief Justice of the court of common Pleas in the reign of Queen Mary. Two sisters survived him, Cath[erine], Married John Unett Smitheman Esq; & Rose John Giffard of Chillington Co, Staff, Esqr; Basil was the last male heir of that noble family.’ (Photograph courtesy Paul and Kathy Schaefer)

2, Catherine, born ca 1705, aged 13 in 1718. She married John Unett Smitheman of West Coppice and Little Wenlock, Shropshire, and they had two sons and three daughters. Catherine Smitheman died in 1737, and her half of Madeley Manor passed to her husband. When he died in 1744 it descended to their only surviving son:
● 1a, John Smitheman (ca 1733-1809), of the Manor House, Little Wenlock, and West Coppice, Buildwas, Shropshire. John Smitheman and his wife sold Madeley Manor in 1774 to Abraham Darby; in 1781, Darby and his wife sold the manor to Darby’s former brother-in-law Richard Reynolds. John Smitheman married Margaret Ferriday on 27 February 1759. In 1761, John Smitheman was Sheriff of Shropshire. He died on 3 March 1809, aged 76, and Margaret died 7 February 1818, aged 75. They are buried at Holy Holy Trinity Church, Buildwas, Shropshire, and his plaque in the south nave recalls his descent from Comberford Brooke of Madeley and Comberford, Staffordshire. They were the parents of one son, who died in infancy, and five daughters, three of whom survived as co-heirs:
●● 1b, Catherine (1765-1829). She was born in 1765. On 23 March 1799 in Buildwas she married Major Benjamin Edwardes, second son of the Revd Sir Thomas Edwardes, 7th Baronet, Rector of Frodesley. She died on 31 August 1829, aged 64, and is buried in Buildwas. They had a daughter and a son:
●●● 1c,Margaret Edwardes (1800-1844 ), born 30 March 1800, died unmarried 15 February 1844.
●●● 2c, John Thomas Smitheman Edwardes (1802-1851). He was born on 28 July 1802 and inherited the estate in Little Wenlock, Shropshire, when his grandfather, John Smitheman, died in 1809. He sold that estate with 152 acres to Lord Forester in 1825. He died on 31 October 1851, and with his death this line of the descendants of the Comberfords of Comberford Hall came to an end.
●● 2b, Rose Smitheman (1767-1830). Born in 1767, she married in Buildwas on 20 September 1798 Robert Burton (d.s.p. 1841) of Longner Hall, High Sheriff of Shropshire. She died in 1830, and he died in 1841. They had no children.
●● 3b, Caroline Smitheman (1771-pre 1774). She was born in 1771, was baptised in Holy Trinity Church, Buildwas, and appears to have died in infancy before 1774.
●● 4b, Barbara Mary Anne Smitheman (1773-1830). She was born on 20 January 1773. On 27 December 1798, she married in Buildwas Thomas Harries (1774-1848) of Pontesbury, JP, DL. He was High Sheriff of Shropshire in 1802. She died in 1830. They had no children.
●● 5b, Caroline Smitheman (1774-1858), the youngest daughter. She was born on 28 May 1774, and was baptised in Holy Trinity Church, Buildwas, and died on 4 February 1858, aged 83. She is commemorated in a plaque in the north nave in Holy Trinity Church, Buildwas.
●● 6b, John Smitheman (1779- ), born on 19 May 1779, died in infancy.
3, Rose (ca 1708?-1763), of whom next.

The direct line of descent of the Comberford family of Comberford continued with the younger daughter of Rose and Comberford Brooke:

Rose (Brooke) Giffard (ca 1708?-1763). On 20 June 1733, she married John Giffard, a London merchant and younger brother of Peter Giffard of Black Ladies and Chillington, Staffordshire. His father, John Giffard, was a first cousin of Thomas Giffard who married Mary Comberford (see above). Rose Giffard died a widow in 1763. Rose and John Giffard had four daughters and co-heirs, who inherited equal shares of their mother’s half of the manor:

1, Rose, who married Peter Parry, of Twysog, Denbighshire, Wales. In 1765, Rose and Peter Parry sold their one-eighth share of the manor to Rose’s unmarried sisters Anne and Mary. They were the parents of:
● 1a, Katherine, who married as his third wife Robert Berkeley (1713-1804) of Spetchley Park, Worcester, son of Thomas Berkeley and Mary Davis. He was the author of Considerations on the Oath of Supremacy and Considerations on the Declaration Against Transubstantiation, both addressed to Joseph Tucker, Dean of Gloucester, and influential in the debates that led to the passage of Saville’s Catholic Relief Bill in May and June 1778. His first wife was Anne Wyborne, of Flixton, Suffolk; his second wife was Catherine, daughter of Thomas Fitzherbert of Swinnerton, Staffordshire. Robert Berkeley had no children, and when he died on 20 December 1804, his estates passed to his nephew, Robert Berkeley.
2, Anne. She was unmarried in 1765, when Rose and Peter Parry sold their one-eighth share of the manor to Anne and Mary. In 1774, Anne and her sister Mary Giffard agreed to sell their three-eighths of the manor to Abraham Darby. However, the agreement never took effect and in 1780 the sisters’ three-eighths share were sold to Richard Reynolds.
3, Mary. She was unmarried in 1765, when Rose and Peter Parry sold their one-eighth share of the manor to Mary and Anne. She was unmarried in 1774 when Mary and her sister Anne Giffard agreed to sell their three-eighths of the manor to Abraham Darby. However, the agreement never took effect and in 1780 the sisters’ three-eighths share was sold to Richard Reynolds.
4, Barbara, of whom next.

The direct descent of the senior line of the Comberford family eventually continued through the youngest daughter of Rose and John Giffard:

Barbara (Giffard) Slaughter, married Thomas Slaughter on 15 April 1756 in Madeley, Shropshire. In 1775, as the remaining Giffard heiress, the widowed Barbara Slaughter sold her one-eighth portion of the manor to William and Edward Elwell, two West Bromwich iron founders, and their brother John Elwell, a Westminster ironmonger. In 1778, Abraham Darby bought the Elwells’ one-eighth share, and in 1781 he sold it to Richard Reynolds, a Quaker philanthropist and ironmaster. Reynolds thus reunited the whole manor. Reynolds died in 1816. Thomas Slaughter (born 1732), died in Ingatestone, Essex. Barbara and Thomas Slaughter had three children:

1, (Dr) Henry Slaughter (1756-1823), medical doctor, of Phillimore Place, Kensington, London. He was born in 1756 in Ingatestone, Essex, and died on 1 February 1823 in Worcester, aged 67. He married on 21 May 1800 in Saint George’s, Hanover Square, London, Frances Manbury, Lady Montague, widow of Mark Browne, 9th Viscount Montague (1745-1774), daughter of Thomas Manbury of Downsell Hall, Essex, and Anne Colegreave. She died on 7 January 1823 in Phillimore Place, Kensington. They had eight children:
● 1a, Henry Robert Slaughter (1801-1826).
● 2a, Edward Slaughter (1802-1862) of Manfield Street, Portland Place, London. In 1844, he married Frances Mostyn, daughter of his cousin Sir Edward Mostyn (1785-1841) of Talacre, Flintshire. Their children included Monsignor Edward Henry Slaughter.
● 3a, Mary.
● 4a, Frances (born ca 1805).
● 5a, Basil Slaughter (1806-1866) of Edward Square, Romford, Essex.
● 6a, Constantia (ca 1808-1872), who in 1836 married as his second wife her cousin Sir Edward Mostyn (1785-1841), 7th Baronet, son of Sir Pyers Mostyn and Barbara Slaughter (see below).
● 7a, Eliza.
● 8a, Charles Slaughter (1812-1884).
2, Barbara (1757-1815), of whom next.
3, Basil Slaughter, born ca 1760.

The second child of Barbara and Thomas Slaughter was:

Barbara Salughter (1757-1815), born 1757 in Ingatestone, Essex, and died on 2 October 1815. She married Sir Pyers Mostyn (1749-1823), 6th Baronet, of Talacre, Flintshire, on 21 August 1780 in Spetchley, Worcester. Their children included:

(Sir) Edward Mostyn, 7th Baronet (1785-1841), of Talacre, Flintshire. He married his cousin, Constantia Slaughter (see above), and had a large number of children, including:

Sir Pyers Mostyn, 8th Baronet. He was the father of:

Charlotte Mary Barbara Mostyn married Thomas Southwell, 4th Viscount Southwell, who was at the centre of last year’s lecture in Rathkeale. They were the parents of:

The Hon Jane Matilda Mary Southwell, who married John FitzGerald, Baron FitzGerald. They were the parents of:

Maurice FitzGerald (1904-1991), who married Christine Broadhurst. They were the parents of:

Eithne FitzGerald, who married Tony Rudd (1924-2017). They are the parents of:

Amber Rudd.

And so, the direct line of descent from the senior branch of the Comberford family of Comberford is probably represented today among the descendants of the Slaughter, Mostyn, Southwell, FitzGerald and Rudd families.

Comberford Hall, between Lichfield and Tamworth … the descendants of Robert Comberford include the Tory frontbencher Amber Rudd (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Martinstown House, a design
influenced by the cottage orné
fashion and Strawberry Hill

Martinstown House … one of the few Irish houses designed by the 19th century architect Decimus Burton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

During the weekend, I visited Martinstown House, Co Kildare, one of the few Irish houses designed by the 19th century architect, Decimus Burton (1800-1881). This house, built in the 1830s at the edge of The Curragh, is an elegant gothic cottage surrounded by its own miniature park and set in delightful woodland, with an interior that has been beautifully furnished and decorated.

Martinstown House was originally part of the extensive estates of the Dukes of Leinster, and was completed by the Borrowes family in 1832-1840 as a cottage orné.

The cottage orné or decorated cottage style dates back to a movement of ‘rustic’ stylised cottages in the late 18th and early 19th century, when there was a fashion to discover a more ‘natural’ way of living as opposed to the formality of the baroque and neo-classical architectural styles. English Heritage defines the term as ‘a rustic building of picturesque design.’ These cottages often feature well-shaped thatch roofs and ornate timberwork.

Decimus Burton’s design of Martinstown House was inspired by Strawberry Hill House and the cottage ornée style (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

When it came to designing Martinstown House, Burton was inspired by Strawberry Hill House – often known simply as Strawberry Hill – the Gothic Revival villa in Twickenham built by Horace Walpole (1717-1797) in 1749-1776. It is the type example of the ‘Strawberry Hill Gothic’ style of architecture, and it prefigured the 19th century Gothic Revival. Parts of the house were designed by James Essex.

Martinstown House is a fine Strawberry Hill Gothic style cottage ornée in a peaceful setting on its own miniature park, with many fine old trees and a beautiful walled garden. This was originally a farmhouse in the 1730s, but today’s house was built in the early 19th century by Augustus Frederick FitzGerald (1791-1874), 3rd Duke of Leinster and a nephew of the 1798 leader Lord Edward FitzGerald (1763-1874).

The house was designed by Decimus Burton, one of the foremost English architects and urban designers of the 19th century. He worked in the Roman revival, Greek revival, Georgian and Regency styles.

Modern architectural historians, including Guy Williams (1990) and Dana Arnold (2004), say Burton’s contribution to architecture has been grossly underestimated in in the past because many of his works were attributed to Nash, because of the extensive attacks on his work and style by AWN Pugin, and because his family retained his archives, making them inaccessible to scholars for a long time.

Burton’s projects in London included Hyde Park – including the Gate or Screen at Hyde Park Corner and Wellington Arch – Green Park, Saint James’s Park, and Regent’s Park, the enclosure of the forecourt of Buckingham Palace, the Clubhouse of the Athenaeum Club, Carlton House Terrace, and houses at Kew Gardens. Outside London, he planned and designed the seaside resort towns of St Leonards-on-Sea and Fleetwood, and the spa town of Tunbridge Wells.

For two decades, Burton was engaged on a vast landscaping project to renovate the Phoenix Park in Dublin. He was the architect of Dublin Zoo, including the layout and the gates, and also the architect of what later became Garda headquarters in the Phoenix Park, and of the renewal of Queenstown or Cobh as a seaside resort.

Burton was a leading member of Georgian and Regency society in London, and a close friend of Princess Victoria, the future Queen Victoria, the Duchess of Kent, the Duke of Devonshire, Sir John Soane John Nash.

Martinstown House is a cross between a luxury hotel and a private home (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Today, Martinstown is known as a wedding venue with excellent food and a feeling of luxury and elegance. It is a cross between a luxury hotel and a private home, where Edward and Roisin Booth are hands-on owners and engaging hosts. The house also offers dinner parties, lunches, guest accommodation and cooking classes and is a venue for corporate and family gatherings.

Inside, each room has been designed individually to ensure it is unique and dramatic in style and finish.

The Morning Room is decorated with antiques and rare prints of Rome, and is a comfortable, quiet space, with a log fire. The Drawing Room, with double-height ceilings, large sofas, a piano and an open fire, is used for larger parties. The Dining Room is an intimate venue for meals, with a long antique mahogany dining table, sideboards and silver candelabra.

Last weekend, the walled garden was filled with flowers, but it also provides fresh fruit and vegetables. Here, the Vintage Tent hosts large celebrations.

Martinstown House also has a fully working farmyard, and the farm has cattle, sheep, several horses and two rescue donkeys, and the entire estate is a bird sanctuary, with a variety of bird life.

The gardens at Martinstown House were filled with flowers at the weekend (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

A notorious resident of Martinstown House in the 1950s and 1960s was Otto Skorzeny (1908-1975), a leading Nazi and the SS commander who captured Mussolini while he was being held by the allies in a hilltop fortress in Italy.

Skorzeny was born in Vienna and joined the Austrian Nazi party in the early 1930s. At the outbreak of World War II, he was involved in fighting on the Eastern Front, taking part in the German invasions of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union. By April 1943, he had become the head of German special forces, in charge of a unit of elite SS commandos.

Fritz von der Schulenburg, the grandfather of the Dublin-based journalist Kim Bielenberg, was captured and tortured by Skorzeny after a plot to kill Hitler.

He was tried for war crimes in 1947 but was acquitted. But Skorzeny remained unapologetic about his Nazi activities and showed no remorse for his war-time activities.

He was a pioneer of what is now known as special operations warfare and in the early 1950s, he was an adviser to the Egyptian dictator Gamal Abdel Nasser, training his army in guerrilla tactics. He later moved to Madrid, where he ran an import-export business, believed by many to be a front for shuttling escaped Nazi war criminals to Argentina. For many years, Skorzeny lived in Argentina where he was Eva Peron’s bodyguard.

Skorzeny first travelled to Ireland from Madrid in June 1957. At a gala reception by politicians and celebrities Portmarnock Country Club hotel, he was feted by Dublin’s social glitterati, including an up-and-coming young Charles Haughey.

Following this warm welcome, Skorzeny bought Martinstown House and the 160-acre farm at the Curragh in 1959, in the hope of becoming a permanent resident in Ireland. He was allowed temporary visas to stay in Ireland with the proviso that he would not travel to Britain.

The latest volume of Documents on Irish Foreign Policy 1957-1961 includes a note from Conor Cruise O’Brien, then a senior official in the Department of External Affairs, in June 1957 referring to a visa application: ‘Skorzeny, who is now stateless, resides in Spain. He is on the UK Home Office blacklist as an undesirable character. I think this means no more than that he made their faces red in the matter of Mussolini. We are not aware of any specific war crimes charges against him.’

Skorzeny applied for permission to become a permanent resident in Ireland. At the end of 1959 another official, Timothy Horan, reported allegations in the French press that Skorzeny was using his residence in Spain to engage shipping arms to Arab countries.

The secretary of the Department of Justice, Peter Berry, advised that Skorzeny be given permanent residency. His view was supported by his minister, Oscar Traynor, but the Minister for External Affairs, Frank Aiken, strongly advised the Department of Justice against granting residence.

Each room in Martinstown House has been designed individually (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

For a few years, Skorzeny lived a peaceful life at Martinstown House as a gentleman farmer. He stood 6 ft 4 in tall, weighed 250 lb, and was known as ‘Scarface’ because of a long, distinctive scar on his left cheek.

But Irish politicians became increasingly concerned that he was engaged in ‘anti-Semitic activities’ in Ireland. Dr Noel Browne raised concerns in the Dail about Skorzeny’s anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi activities.

Newspaper reports in the early 1960s alleged Skorzeny had opened up an escape route for Nazis in Spain and his farm in Kildare was a refuge for fascists on the run.

In the end, he was unable to obtain a permanent Irish visa and in 1962 he moved back to Spain, still ruled by Franco’s fascist regime. He rarely visited Ireland after 1963 and sold Martinstown House in 1971. He died of cancer in Madrid in 1975, aged 67. Skorzeny never denounced Nazism and was buried by his former comrades who gave Nazi salutes and draped his coffin in Nazi flags and colours.

Martinstown House is now a unique wedding venue (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)