29 June 2022

How the Marquis of Bath
came to own Comberford
Hall for almost 30 years

Comberford Hall, seen from the train between Tamworth and Lichfield … owned for almost 30 years by the Thynne family (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

When two of us were visiting Tamworth and Lichfield earlier this month, including former homes of the Comberford family in the area, I was reminded of the interesting links between Comberford and the Thynne family.

The Thynne family owned Comberford Hall for almost 30 years (1761-1789), but the family’s connections with the Lichfield and Tamworth area begin with Thomas Thynne (1640-1714), 1st Viscount Weymouth, and his marriage in 1671 to Lady Frances Finch, a granddaughter of the Dowager Duchess of Somerset, a close friend of William Comberford of Comberford Hall, and who also held properties in Comberford, Wigginton and Tamworth.

Thomas Thynne was a descendant of Sir John Thynne (1515-1580), who bought Longleat, a former Augustinian priory, after the dissolution of the monastic houses. Thynne owed his political success and social advancement to the patronage of Edward Seymour (1500-1552), Duke of Somerset and uncle of King Edward VI, and who later provided interesting family connections through intermarriage between their descendants.

After studying at Christ Church, Oxford, Thomas Thynne entered public life as the English envoy to Sweden (1666-1669). After his return to England, Thynne married Lady Frances Finch, daughter of Heneage Finch, 3rd Earl of Winchilsea. Through this marriage in 1671, Thynne inherited large estates and political interests in the Tamworth area, including Draycott Bassett, and extensive Irish estates in Co Monaghan.

Lady Frances Finch’s mother, Lady Mary Seymour (1637-1673), was a daughter of William Seymour, 2nd Duke of Somerset and Lady Frances Devereux (1599-1674) – and there lies another connection with the Comberford family. In 1616, Lady Frances Devereux married William Seymour (1587-1660), later Duke of Somerset. As the Dowager Duchess of Somerset, she also held properties in Comberford, Wigginton and Tamworth.

When she died on 24 April 1674, she left her collection of 1,000 books to Lichfield Cathedral, including the Saint Chad’s Gospels and a book of pedigrees given to her by her close friend, Colonel William Comberford of Comberford Hall.

William Comberford had been the Royalist High Sheriff of Staffordshire and took an active role in the siege of Lichfield. When he died in 1656, he left a book of pedigrees of the Nevilles, Earls of Warwick to his friend, Frances, Marchioness of Hertford, later the Duchess of Somerset, saying: ‘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.’

His affectionate words and the terms of the bequest reveal a close and intimate friendship with the woman who restored the Lichfield Gospels to Lichfield Cathedral. Her donation of books to the cathedral also included this book William Comberford had bought for her.

After her death in 1674, Thynne inherited more estates through a division of land that came out of an agreement between the heirs of the two daughters of Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex. Earl Ferrers, who lived at Tamworth Castle, inherited the share of his grandmother, Lady Dorothy Devereux, while Thomas Thynne succeeded to the inheritance of Lady Frances Devereux, the earl’s elder daughter, later Marchioness of Hertford and Duchess of Somerset. This division was uneven, and in Lord Weymouth’s favour, but Lord Weymouth behaved generously to rectify this injustice to Ferrers.

Lady Frances Devereux ... the ‘trulie virtuous ladie’ named in the will of William Comberford, and ancestor of the Thynne family who bought Comberford Hall

Before he inherited Longleat, Thomas Thynne lived at Draycott Bassett near Tamworth, Lichfield and Sutton Coldfield. He was a royalist during the English Civil War. He was MP for Oxford University (1674-1679), but he was judged to stand little chance of re-election for the university. But his marriage had brought him a strong interest political in Lichfield and Tamworth, and he was elected for Tamworth to the Exclusion Parliaments (1679-1681).

He was also High Steward of Sutton Coldfield from 1679, High Steward of Tamworth from 1681, and High Steward of Lichfield from 1712, holding all three offices until he died in 1714, and he was a Justice of the Peace for Staffordshire (1680-1696).

In the 1681 election, he was involved in an unresolved double return at Tamworth, and never sat for Oxford. Instead, John Swinfen (1613-1694) of Swinfen Hall, near Freeford, a former parliamentarian, regained the seat in Tamworth. Swinfen’s descendant, Samuel Swinfen of Swinfen Hall, would later sell Comberford Hall to the Thynne family in 1761.

Thynne, who had succeeded his father as a baronet in 1680, entered the House of Lords a year after losing the Tamworth seat with the titles of Viscount Weymouth and Baron Thynne of Warminster (1682). A special provision allowed the titles to pass to the male heirs of his two brothers.

As Lord Weymouth, he was one of the four peers sent in late 1688 to ask William of Orange to summon a free Parliament. Although he took the oaths to the new regime, he protected non-jurors, ‘who cried him up for a very religious man, which pleased him extremely.’

When Thomas Ken, the saintly Bishop of Bath and Wells, was deprived of his see as a non-juror, Lord Weymouth, a friend since their days in Oxford, brought him to at Longleat and provided him with an annuity of £80. For 20 years, Ken lived on the top floor at Longleat and part of the West Wing was transformed into a chapel for daily worship.

Ken exerted a profound influence on his host, becoming what some describe as his conscience. Lord Weymouth acquired a reputation for good deeds inspired by the devout bishop. Thynne was a founding member of the Anglican mission agency the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG, now USPG, United Society Partners in the Gospel), and together Thynne and Ken founded the Lord Weymouth School, now Warminster School, in 1707.

While living in Longleat, Bishop Ken wrote many of his famous hymns, including ‘Awake my soul.’ When he died in 1711, he bequeathed his extensive library to Lord Weymouth.

As a Tory and a Jacobite suspect under William III, Lord Weymouth was excluded from political office until the reign of Queen Anne. His government offices included First Lord of Trade (1702-1707), and his royal appointments included Warden of the Forest of Dean (1712).

Thynne and his wife Lady Frances Finch were parents of four sons, including son Henry Thynne (1675-1708), who was MP Tamworth in 1701-1702 with Thomas Guy. However, none of the children outlived their parents. Family lore says Weymouth was twice offered an earldom, but declined the honours because he had no immediate male heir.

When he died in 1714, there was no immediate male heir, and his titles and estates passed to his great nephew, Thomas Thynne, 2nd Viscount Weymouth (1710-1751).

Thomas Thynne’s father died a month before Thomas was born, and at the age of four, on the death of his great uncle Thomas Thynne, 1st Viscount Weymouth, in 1714, he inherited the family titles and estates.

This Thomas Thynne maintained the family links with Tamworth, and in 1733 he became High Steward of Tamworth. His other offices included Keeper of Hyde Park, Keeper of the Mall, and Ranger of Saint James’s Park (1739-1751).

When his second wife, Lady Louisa Carteret, died in childbirth in her early 20s, her friend Mrs Delany wrote: ‘Her husband’s ... loss is irreparable.’ During her illness, Mrs Delany had written that ‘my Lord Weymouth is like a madman.’

Thomas Thynne (1734-1796), 1st Marquess of Bath, owned Comberford Hall from 1761 to 1789

When Lord Weymouth died in January 1751, he was succeeded in his titles and his vast estates by his elder son, Thomas Thynne (1734-1796), who became 3rd Viscount Weymouth and was given the additional title of Marquess of Bath in 1789. This Thomas Thynne bought Comberford Hall and the Comberford estate from Samuel Swinfen in 1761, and continued to hold them for almost 30 years.

Some local historians say Comberford Hall was rebuilt in the 1790s, after it was owned by Lord Bath, although Mrs Valerie Coltman, whose family lived there until the late 1950s, believes Comberford Hall was rebuilt at a much earlier date in 1720.

This Thomas Thynne held a number of political offices during the reign of King George III. He was Southern Secretary and Northern Secretary, during the American War of Independence. He was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland for a brief time in 1765, although he never visited Ireland. He is possibly best known for his role in the Falklands Crisis, a dispute with Spain in 1770 over the possession of the Falkland Islands.

Later, he was High Steward of Sutton Coldfield (1781-1796). But he was often accused of idleness and regular drunkenness, which depleted his great fortune, and it was said ‘his house was often full of bailiffs.’

On 1 August 1789, Lord Weymouth – who was about to become the 1st Marquis of Bath – and his son, the Hon Thomas Thynne, sold the Manors of Comberford and Wigginton, including lands in Hopwas and Coton, to Arthur Chichester (1739-1799), 5th Earl of Donegall.

Perhaps the sale of Comberford Hall provided much of the funds the Thynne family needed to meet the costs of recovering the Bath title. Within three weeks of the sale of Comberford, Lord Weymouth was given the additional title of Marquis of Bath on 18 August 1789. By then, his only public office was High Steward of Sutton Coldfield.

Lord Bath died in London on 19 November 1796 at the age of 62. He and his wife Lady Elizabeth Bentinck were the parents of three sons and four daughters, including Thomas Thynne (1765-1837), who succeeded as 2nd Marquess of Bath.

Earlier, Sir Robert Peel (1750-1830) was elected MP for Tamworth in 1790, having bought the borough along with many of Lord Bath’s estate in the area, including Drayton Bassett. Peel was the father of the later Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel (1788-1850), and the Thynne family’s links with Comberford and with the Tamworth and Lichfield area had come to an end.

There was one later, though distant, connection between the Thynne family and Comberford Hall over a century later. Henry Allsopp (1811-1887), 1st Lord Hindlip, married Elizabeth Tongue in 1839. She was the second daughter and eventual heiress of William Tongue of Comberford Hall. Their grandson, Charles Allsopp (1877-1931), 3rd Lord Hindlip, married in 1904, Agatha Lillian Thynne, a great-granddaughter of the 2nd Marquess of Bath, who had sold Comberford Hall with his father.

The Town Hall and the statue of Sir Robert Peel on Market Street, Tamworth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

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