20 February 2023
Six tower blocks dominate
Tamworth’s skyline, but
also recall historical figures
I was honoured to be invited to say grace at Sunday’s lunch celebrating the work of the Tamworth and District Civic Society.
The lunch in the Castle Hotel, Tamworth, celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the Tamworth Civic Society in 1973, and the guests included Founder Chairman of Tamworth Civic Society, Dr FGA Noon, and the Mayor of Tamworth, Councillor Moira Greatorex, who proposed the Loyal Toast.
The guest speaker, Professor David Evans of Chester, is a Trustee and Board Member of Civic Voice, and Councillor John Harper, Deputy Mayor of Tamworth a local historian and former journalist at the Tamworth Herald, spoke of the important work of the society the post-war era, when Tamworth was in danger of losing much of its built heritage.
Before Sunday’s lunch, I visited the Comberford Chapel in Saint Editha's Church and had some short time to walk along the banks of the River Anker, between Lady Bridge and the Moat House, the former Comberford family home on Lichfield Street.
Towering above the Moat House and the river bank for almost 60 years are six 15-sorey modern tower blocks off Lichfield Street. They dominate the skyline of Tamworth, and have become more visible landmarks of Tamworth than, say, Tamworth Castle, Saint Editha’s Church, the Town Hall, Guy’s Almshouse, or the Moat House which is dwarfed by their size and scale.
As John Harper said yesterday, without the work of the society, Tamworth might have lost more of its historical heritage in the post-war era decades to developers whose vision was to transform Tamworth into another Coventry or Birmingham. There was a key difference, he pointed out: unlike Birmingham and Coventry had been destroyed by German bombs during World War II.
This riverside development along Lichfield Street was built in 1967, and includes six 15-storey houses, each with 58 dwellings. Between 1965 to 1981 the population of Tamworth doubled from 32,000 to 64,000, with the development of major new housing estates including these high rise tower blocks on the edge of the town centre.
When it came to naming the six blocks, the planners paid some tribute to the history and heritage of Tamworth whose loss they were contributing to in the 1960s, including previous owners of both Tamworth Castle and the Moat House.
Weymouth House is the closest to the town centre, at the east end of Lichfield Street, almost on the corner of Lichfield Street and Silver Street, and diagonally opposite the corner of Aldergate and Church Street.
Weymouth House takes its name from a title held by the Thynne family, whose 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 who was a close friend of William Comberford of Comberford Hall and who also held properties in Comberford, Wigginton and Tamworth.
Through this marriage, Lord Weymouth inherited large estates and political interests in the Tamworth area, including Draycott Bassett, and extensive Irish estates in Co Monaghan. His mother-in-law, Lady Mary Seymour (1637-1673), was a daughter of William Seymour, 2nd Duke of Somerset and Lady Frances Devereux (1599-1674), who, as the Dowager Duchess of Somerset, she also held properties in Comberford, Wigginton and Tamworth.
Weymouth inherited more estates through a division of land 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 Weymouth succeeded to the inheritance of Lady Frances Devereux, Duchess of Somerset.
Weymouth was MP for Tamworth (1679-1681), High Steward of Sutton Coldfield (1679-1714), High Steward of Tamworth (1681-1714), and High Steward of Lichfield (1712-1714). His sons including son Henry Thynne (1675-1708), MP Tamworth (1701-1702) with Thomas Guy, one of Tamworth’s great benefactors.
The Thynne family later owned Comberford Hall for almost 30 years (1761-1789), and Weymouth’s descendants held the title of Marquis of Bath – but, perhaps, the planners thought it injudicious to give a tower block the name Bath House.
Strode House is southwest of Weymouth House, and recalls Grace Strode, who married Weymouth’s son, Henry Thynne (1675-1708), briefly MP for Tamworth (1701-1702).
Grace Strode was the daughter of Sir George Strode and a wealthy heiress, and at her marriage in 1695 she brought her husband a fortune of £20,000.
Weymouth House and Strode House are separated from the other four blocks by New Street.
Peel House, to the west of Weymouth House, obviously takes its name from Sir Robert Peel and the Peel family who dominated political life in Tamworth for much of the 19th century, beginning with Sir Robert Peel (1750-1830), MP for Tamworth (1790-1820), who lived at Drayton Bassett.
Sir Robert Peel (1788-1850), was twice Prime Minister (1834-1835, 1841-1846), and also bought up the mortgages on Comberford Hall.
Other members of the Peel family included William Felton Peel (1839-1907) was living at Comberford Hall from 1900 to 1902, and the Revd Maurice Peel (1873-1917), Vicar of Tamworth, who was an army chaplain when he was killed by a sniper during World War I.
Townshend House, in the middle of the development, takes its names from the Townshend family, who inherited Tamworth Castle by marriage in the mid-18th century. The Townshend family also became proprietors of the Moat House. They were was forced to sell the castle to pay off debts in 1821.
The Townshend family bought back Tamworth Castle in 1831, but they never recovered the Moat House. They finally put the castle up for sale by auction in 1891, when it was bought by Tamworth Corporation, to mark Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee.
Stanhope House, at the west end of the development, overlooks the high rise development of Devereux House, which separates these high rise blocks from the grounds of the Moat House.
The name of Stanhope House recalls Ferdinando Stanhope (1619-1643), a younger son of Philip Stanhope, 1st Earl of Chesterfield. He was MP for Tamworth (1640-1643) and a Royalist colonel in the English Civil War.
Stanhope and Colonel William Comberford of the Moat House were among a group of royalist officers who were created MA of the University of Oxford by Charles I. Stanhope fought at the Siege of Lichfield when he was killed in a skirmish near West Bridgford in 1643.
Shortly before his death, Stanhope married his step-sister Lettice Ferrers, a daughter of Sir Humphrey Ferrers of Tamworth Castle, and their daughter Anne was born after his death.
Harcourt House is in the south-west corner of the development. The south side of Harcourt House overlooks the banks of the River Anker and towers above the Moat House to its immediate west.
Harcourt House recalls a family who were intermarried with the Comberford family and who once lived in the Moat House. Under an agreement made in 1554, the ultimate right to the Moat House passed the heirs of Humphrey Comberford (1496-1555). Humphrey Comberford’s daughter, the widowed Mary (Comberford) Ensor had married her second husband, Walter Harcourt of Tamworth, by 1563.
When Mary Harcourt died ca 1591, the title to the Moat House reverted to the Comberford family, although Walter Harcourt continued to live there until he died in 1598, when he was buried in Saint Editha’s Church.
Meanwhile, the title to the Moat House inherited by Mary Harcourt passed to her nephew, William Comberford, who moved to the Moat House from Wednesbury.
In the same area off Lichfield Street, the low-rise housing developments include Balfour and Devereux House. Devereux House, between the tower blocks and the Moat House recalls a family closely linked with the political life of Tamworth and Lichfield in the 16th and 17th centuries and with the Comberford family.
I once thought Balfour was named after Arthur James Balfour (1848-1930), 1st Earl of Balfour, who was Prime Minister in 1902-1905. But, instead, perhaps, Balfour recalls Jabez Spencer Balfour (1843-1916), MP for Tamworth (1880-1885), but later jailed for financial fraud. A series of companies he set up and controlled, starting with the London and General Bank and culminating in the Liberator Building Society, left thousands of investors penniless. Instead of advancing money to home buyers, they advanced money to property companies to buy properties owned by Balfour, at a high price.
After the swindle was uncovered, Balfour fled Britain but was arrested in Argentina in 1895 and sentenced to 14 years in prison.
Hardly an inspiring MP for Tamworth, even in these days!
Recently, Tamworth Borough Council began an improvement programme on the blocks, which are almost 60 years old. About £1.75 million is being spent to replace soil and ventilation pipes. But this aging development needs more attention.
The tower blocks frequently provide a stark contrast to the prevalent scale and character of Tamworth, and have long had a significant impact on Tamworth’s skyline, contributing to the disproportionate poor image and perception of the town.
Recent reports have recommended addressing the issues by reconfiguring the layout of the estate around more conventional streets and urban blocks and through the selective demolition of houses and maisonettes. This will enable the development of a number of contemporary high density dwellings to wrap around and integrate the tower blocks at the ground floor-level and take maximum advantage of the riverside setting.
The reports also recommend reconfiguring the entrances to the tower block to integrate them into the street-scene and to create a more welcoming arrival point. They also recommend addressing the visual impact of the blocks by individually recladding them to create a softer and less uniform appearance and exploring innovative approaches to roof treatments and lighting design to create some character and visual interest to the Tamworth skyline.
The high-rise towers are unlikely to be demolished in the decades to come, so they will continue to have a significant impact on Tamworth’s skyline
Walking along the river bank, behind the Moat House and the tower blocks, on Sunday afternoon (Patrick Comerford, 2023)
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Patrick Comerford, my maiden name is COMERFORD so I enjoy reading the history you present of the COMERFORD family. I see in the above history that the Weymouth descendants go back to the Marquise if Bath. I have recently discovered that my maternal grandmother’s Bowker line (also known as Bouchier, Bouker and a few other spellings) goes back to the 3rd Earl of Bath. I also found a document that placed him in Virginia Colony in 1619 (possibly a Jamestown member?). He does return to England before his death however. His name was William Brochier, 3rd Earl of Bath.
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