30 June 2022

The Castle Hotel in Tamworth,
a tragic fire, and its links with
the Moat House and Comberford

The Castle Hotel in Tamworth dates from the early 18th century, with additions from the mid-19th century and the early 20th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

During our recent visit to Lichfield and Tamworth, two of us stayed in the Hedgehog Vintage Inn on Stafford Road, Lichfield, and in the Castle Hotel on the corner of Holloway Street and Ladybank with Market Street in Tamworth.

The Hedgehog has been a favourite place in Lichfield to stay in for many years, but this was my first time to stay in the Castle Hotel in Tamworth. While staying there, I was reminded there were connections between the owners of the Castle Hotel in the early 19th century and the owners of the Moat House, the former Comberford family home on Lichfield Street, which I had visited once again that afternoon.

The Holloway leads down from the town centre, past Tamworth Castle and over Lady Bridge. It is lined with some fine and interesting buildings, including the Castle Hotel, once owned by William Tempest, once Mayor of Tamworth.

The hotel building dates from the early 18th century, with additions from the mid-19th century and the early 20th century. The hotel itself dates back to at least 1814, when George Townshend (1778-1855), 3rd Marquis Townshend and the proprietor of Tamworth Castle, sold Tamworth Castle, the Castle Inn (now the Castle Hotel) and the castle gardens to John Robins.

Lord Townshend’s father had enthusiastically restored Tamworth Castle, and the Moat House had been the residence of his steward, John Willington and then of Lord Townshend until he died in 1811.

The family titles were inherited in 1811 by his son, George Townshend, who became the 3rd Marquis Townshend. The tenants at the Moat House included Sir John Sheal, from 1811 to 1815.

George Townshend had been disinherited by his father, and he lived in exile in Italy instead of living at Tamworth Castle, partly due to public scandal created by his wife, the former Sarah Dunn Gardner, her extramarital affairs and bigamous marriage and her children born outside the marriage.

As part of the efforts to clear the debts of the Townshend family, the Moat House and the Castle Inn were sold as part of the Tamworth Castle estate to John Robins, a London auctioneer, John Robins, a London auctioneer. He lived in the castle after seven years delay in legal proceedings to complete the purchase, after claiming the castle to settle debts owed him by the 2nd Marquis in 1814. From 1815 to 1821, Dr Robert Woody, a surgeon, was renting the Moat House, and he licensed the house as an asylum for the insane. He died in 1823 and his widow Alice died in 1863.

Visiting the Moat House on Lichfield Street last week … when John Robins died in 1833, Tamworth Castle, the Castle Inn and the Moat House were sold at public auction (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

George Townshend’s younger brother, Lord Charles Vere Ferrers Townshend, twice sat as MP for Tamworth, in 1812-1818 and 1830-1835. He was watching Tamworth Castle, the family estates and the Townshend titles slipping from his grasp and passing out of the family to his sister-in-law’s illegitimate children.

When John Robins died in 1833, a family dispute ended up in the Court of Chancery. The court decided that his estates should be sold by public auction, including Tamworth Castle, the Castle Inn, the Moat House and his property near the river, described as ‘a garden with a terrace walk along the bank of the River Tame, a summer house and bowling green.’

Lord Charles Townshend was successful in buying back Tamworth Castle, and the estates came into the ownership of the Townshend family once again. He then petitioned the House of Lords in 1842 to have Sarah’s children declared illegitimate.

George Townshend died in Genoa on 31 December 1855; he was 77. His only brother, Lord Charles Townshend, who had succeeded in having Sarah’s children declared illegitimate, had died two years earlier, on 5 November 1853. He had no sons either, and the Townshend title passed to a cousin, John Townshend (1798-1863), who was MP for Tamworth (1847-1855).

Meanwhile, the Castle Hotel was the scene of a tragic fire in 1838, when the building was severely damaged and six maidservants were trapped in upper rooms and died. A monument was erected in Saint Editha’s churchyard to record the incident, and because of the fire, the town’s first fire brigade was formed.

Tamworth Castle and the Castle Hotel, including the Castle Bowling Green, were put up for sale again in 1897. The castle was bought by Tamworth Borough Council for £3,000, while the Castle Hotel was bought privately.

William Tempest (1830-1911), proprietor of the Castle Hotel, was born in Burley near Duffield, Derbyshire, and became a wealthy businessman, hotelier and wine merchant. He moved to the Lodge Farm in Drayton, Staffordshire, in 1858, before moving to Tamworth.

Tempest was involved public life in Tamworth. He was elected an alderman in 1874 and was elected Mayor in 1878. He served as Mayor of Tamworth three times, being re-elected in 1880 and again in 1900.

He was a Governor of the Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School and a trustee of the Municipal Charities, Tamworth’s Permanent Benefit Building Society and Tamworth’s Friendly Institution. He was a director of Tamworth’s Savings Bank and Tamworth Gas Company, and a director of the Tamworth Herald from its formation in 1877.

He died on 8 August 1911 and was buried in Aldergate Cemetery.

The Castle Hotel at No 39 Holloway, the night club and the ‘Bow Street Runner’ on Market Street, form an interesting set of buildings on a prominent street corner.

The hotel is built of brick with ashlar dressings, with tile roofs with brick stacks. It is in an L-plan, with three storeys and a four-window range. The entrance to the right end has a Tuscan porch with a scrolled wrought-iron balcony, and a blind overlight to the paired half-glazed doors. Some of the windows have interesting stained glass, decorated with the fleur-de-lys, once the heraldic symbol of Tamworth.
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The left return to Market Street has a five-window range with four Ionic pilasters, a frieze and a cornice at the entrance with paired doors and flanking four-pane horned tripartite sash windows.

The mid-19th century additions at the right, including the Holloway façade, have additions dating from ca 1900. It is worth noting one large and two small shaped gables, and two elliptical-headed carriage entrances with banded arches and hoods, two elliptical-headed windows with keystones and hoods, and a large oriel window.

Inside, the hotel has chamfered beams and staircase with column-on-vase balusters. Two of us stayed above the Market Street façade, which dates from the 19th century, and could see the Town Hall and the statue of Sir Robert Peel on Market Street.

The Market Street frontage, with the hotel’s ‘Vodka Bar’, was once used as a grocer’s shop, and before that housed Ford and Rowley’s Castle Garage, with a petrol pump outside, an important early facility for motorists.

The Brewery House, at the end of Lady Bank opposite Holloway Lodge, is now an annex of the Caste Hotel. The Old Brewery House was donated to the town as a workhouse in 1750 by Thomas Thynne (1710–1751), 2nd Viscount Weymouth, High Steward of Tamworth, and by Francis Willoughby (1692-1758), Lord Middleton, a former MP for Tamworth (1722-1727).

There was another Comberford connection here, for Lord Weymouth’s geat-uncle had bought Comberford Hall from Cumberford Brooke in 1710. His son, Thomas Thynne (1734–1796), 1st Marquess of Bath, later sold Comberford Hall and the estate in 1790 to Arthur Chichester, Earl of Donegall.

The Brewery House gained its later name when it was later bought by a businessman, Edward Morgan, who owned a brewery behind the property. The house became his home and the brewery offices.

Facing the Castle Hotel, Bank House dates from 1845, and was used as the Tamworth Savings Bank, founded by Sir Robert Peel in 1823.

At the end of Lady Bank and opposite the Brewery House, Holloway Lodge was built as a gatehouse and is the most recent addition to the castle. The lodge was built by the 2nd Marquis Townshend in 1810 as an entrance to his castle. Originally it was a single-storey building, but a second storey was added ca 1897.

Lady Bridge, at the end of Lady Bank, crosses the point where the River Tame and the River Anker meet. The Lady Bridge was built in 1796, replacing an earlier, mediaeval bridge that was destroyed over time by ice and floods.

Documents dating back to 1294 name Lady Bridge as the Bridge of Saint Mary. It was probably given this name because it once had a pedestal supporting a figure of the Virgin Mary on a cross. The pedestal survives and has been placed on the approach to the Castle’s square tower.

When Thomas Comberford died in 1532, his estates included the Manor of Wigginton, the Manor of Comberford, the right to hold a fair in Tamworth twice a year, the rights of fishery for a 2½-mile stretch along the River Tame from Lady Bridge, marking the boundary between the Staffordshire and Warwickshire parts of Tamworth, to Hopwas Bridge, and the right to keep six swans in the river.

Lady Bridge was widened at each end in 1840. For many years, the bridge carried the main Birmingham to Nottingham trunk road, but it was closed to traffic in 1984. Today there are beautiful views from the bridge of the castle and west along the river towards the Moat House.

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

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