29 May 2023

A Victorian manuscript gives
details of families that lived
in the Moat House, Tamworth

The Moat House, the former Comberford home on Lichfield Street, Tamworth … a Victorian manuscripts offers insights on the Ensor family and their links with the Moat House (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

Last week, I received a large manuscript family tree of the Endsore or Ensor family, trying to connect branches of the family, in all their spellings, with people who lived in Comberford village, in neighbouring Wigginton, in the Moat House in Tamworth, and later in Wilnecote.

The manuscript pedigree was recently found among some old family papers by a descendent of the Woody family who lived at the Moat House in Tamworth in the 19th century.

The Moat House on Lichfield Street in Tamworth is an elegant Elizabeth and Jacobean house that was home to the Comberford family in the 16th and 17th centuries. Dr Robert Woody (1770-1823) became a tenant of the Moat House in 1815.

At the Moat House, Woody was a tenant of George Townshend (1778-1855), the 3rd Marquess Townshend, who had also inherited Tamworth Castle. However, Lord Townshend was involved in a number of high-profile scandals and court cases, including his wife’s bigamous second marriage, claims to succession to the family name and title by a man who was not his son, and an accumulation of debts that eventually lost Tamworth Castle to the family.

Townshend mainly lived abroad, leaving Woody undisturbed at the Moat House, and Woody soon had the house licensed as an asylum.

Meanwhile, John Robins, a London auctioneer, claimed Tamworth Castle and the Moat House in lengthy legal proceedings over debts owed to him by the 2nd Marquis Townshend, who died in 1811. Robins moved into Tamworth Castle in 1821, and almost immediately sold the Moat House to Dr Woody.

After Woody died on 6 August 1823, his widow, Alice Woody and their son Dr John Francis Woody continued to live in the Moat House. Lord Charles Vere Ferrers Townshend, brother of the 3rd Marquis Townshend, bought back Tamworth Castle for the Townshend family in 1833, but the Woody family remained at the Moat House, which by 1841 was known as ‘Mrs Woody’s Private Lunatic Asylum.’

After his mother’s death, Dr John Woody he took over running the asylum at the Moat House. But he was interested in being more than the resident surgeon at the old Jacobean manor house. Papers that were passed on to me some years ago show how Woody sought to determine whether he had any rights as the proprietor of the Moat House.

Woody commissioned the historian Markham John Thorpe (1817-1863) in 1852 to delve deeper into the history of the Moat House, and to see whether he had any rights and privileges that might have come from the previous owners, particularly the Comberford family.

John Francis Woody continued to live at the Moat House until about 1888, and died in 1894. His grandson, Edward Hollins, was the owner of the Moat House from about 1888, and was licensed to run the asylum. After his death, the Moat House and its furniture were sold in 1922.

The pedigree passed on to me last week by a descendant of the Woody family appears to be part of Thorpe’s work on behalf of the Woody family. It is in beautiful, Victorian copperplate script, although it is now worn and torn in many places. There are gaps in the family trees and pedigrees, but it seeks to trace these families back to the times of William the Conqueror and trails off at the end of the 17th century, with the last date in 1723.

These families intermarried with the Comberford family of Comberford and the Moat House, and this document was once part of the Moat House papers.

However, Thorpe seems to have been more intent on showing how the Ensor family of Wilnecote was descended from earlier branches of the Ensor and Endsore family in Derbyshire and were related to the Ferrers family of Tamworth Castle.

Tamworth Castle … the manuscript pedigree from the Woody family papers seeks to connect the Ensor family with the Ferrers family of Tamworth Castle (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Surprisingly, although Thorpe conducted extensive research on the Moat House families in local, parish and diocesan records, he does not seem to have been aware of the details in an earlier pedigree of the Endesore family of Comberford and Hopwas, compiled for the Visitation of Staffordshire in the year 1583.

Instead, this manuscript names the first definitive, continuous ancestor of the family as Thomas de Ednesouer or Ednesoure, ‘of a very ancient family’, living in the reign of Henry III.

There is a break once again during the reign of Edward I, and the family trees resume with Thomas Endsore of Comberford who, in the mid-16th century, married Anne, daughter and sole heir of John or William Hopwas of Comberford, ‘who represented the second line of the Comberfords.’

The pedigree then continues, generation by generation, through their eldest son, John Ensor of Comberford and Wilnecote, who bought land in Dosthill, and died in 1594.

Their son, Thomas Ensor of Comberford, was the first husband of Dorothy Comberford, daughter of Humphrey Comberford. She lived at the Moat House in Tamworth, and was twice married. According to this document, Thomas Ensore or Endsore was buried ‘as of Comberford’ on 25 September 1584, although most sources agree he died ca 1561, and that Dorothy married her second husband, Walter Harcourt of Tamworth, before 12 May 1563, when she was living in Tamworth.

Although the Moat House had been Comberford family property in the previous century, in 1549 it was granted to Thomas Endsore by Richard Jekes. Under an agreement made in 1554, the ultimate right to the ‘capital messuage’ of the Moat House should rest with the heirs of Mary’s father, Humphrey Comberford. Thomas Endsore died soon after, ‘seised of the manor or capital messuage called the Mote in Tamworth, and of land in Tamworth, Wigginton and Coton in County Stafford.’

Walter Harcourt was involved in a lengthy legal battle with the Jekes family in 1571, seeking to prove that the Moat House and about 600 acres was rightly his. The courts upheld that the Moat House was transferred from Jekes to Endsore in 1549 and was legally the estate of Ensor’s widow. When Mary died ca 1591, the title to the Moat House reverted to the Comberford family, although Walter Harcourt continued to live there until his death in 1598. Walter Harcourt was buried in Saint Editha’s, Tamworth, on 8 January 1598.

Mary Comberford and her first husband Thomas Ensor were the parents of four or five sons and three daughters:

1, Christopher Endsore (1562-1600) of Comberford. He married Jane (or Siscell or Cicelye) Breton, daughter of John Breton of Tamworth, on 23 January 1591/1592. She died in 1597, and that year he bought lands in Hints from the Comberford family.
2, Walter Endsore, of Wilnecote. He married and was the father of four daughters: Ann (baptised 1593), Dorothy (baptised 1595), Elizabeth (baptised 1599) and Catherine (buried 1605).
3, John Endsore, baptised in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth, 26 June 1572, and died in 1594. He married Anne … (died 1598). However, the pedigree from the Moat House Papers suggests he moved to London and may have been a widower who was buried in Wilnecote on 6 December 1625. The pedigree from the Moat House does not name their five children:
●1a, Thomas Ensor of Wilnecote, his son and heir, buried 18 February 1629. He is the ancestors of the Ensor family who held Wilnecote until it passed through a female line into the hands of the Paul family some 200 years later.
●2a, Barnaby Ensor of Wylnecote, yeoman. He married ca 1579 Agnes, daughter and co-heir of John Alport of Hatherton, Staffordshire. His will was proved in Lichfield on 23 February 1599, and he was buried in Tamworth. She was buried on 14 November 1625. However, the Moat House pedigree says he was a brother of Thomas Ensor who married Dorothy Comberford.
●3a, Ann, married William Nicklyn in 1588.
●4a, Walter Ensor, married and had several children, including Ann, Dorothy, Jane, Elizabeth and Katherine.
4, William Endsore, buried in Wilnecote, 7 February 1603.
5, George Endsore, with whom the Moat House pedigree continues.
6, Elizabeth.
7, Susan.
8, Isabel. Lee wonders whether she married James Stuart, created Lord Doune in 1581, ‘whose family brought about the Doone dynasty which featured Charles Stuart (Carver Doone), whose son was named Ensor Stuart Doone, and whose family featured in the legendary story Lorna Doone?’

Mary Comberford and her second husband Walter Harcourt were the parents of six children, none of whom married and all of whom may have died in infancy, apart from one son:

9, Edward Harcourt, still living in 1596, and who was buried in Tamworth on 4 September 1609.

The pedigree from the Woody family papers in the Moat House (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The pedigree from the Woody family papers does not mention Mary (Comberford ) Endsore’s second marriage to Walter Harcourt, and says she died not in 1591 but in 1601, and was buried on 1 May 1601.

The family tree continues with Dorothy (Comberford) Ensor’s fifth son, George Ensor, and his children.

George Ensor, who appears to be the fifth son of Dorothy (Comberford) and Thomas Ensor, is said in the Moat House pedigree to have been born ca 1574. He married a member of the Coleman family, and they were the parents of two sons and five daughters:

1, Christopher Ensor, baptised 17 August 1592, buried 1596.
2, John Ensor, ancestor of the remaining generations in the Moat House pedigree.
3-4, two daughters buried on 14 November 1594.
5, Lettice, buried 1596.
6, Dorothy, baptised 1597.
7, Grace, baptised 1601.

The surviving son, John Ensor, was born ca1593, and appears to be still living in 1642; he may have died in 1655. The pedigree continues for three more generations, and is mainly concerned with asking questions about the Ensor family’s property in Wilnecote up to 1723 – 300 years ago.

This manuscript pedigree from the Moat House is concerned mainly about the descent of property in Wilnecote through this branch of the Endsore or Ensor family. But the details, dates and the chronology in this document also challenge many of my interpretations of evidence for the descendants of Dorothy (Comberford) and Thomas Ensor of Comerford and the Moat House.

Surprisingly, it makes no mention of the Moat House itself.

So, I must now return to the family tree I had proposed for the descendants of Dorothy (Comberford) and Thomas Ensor, and see whether I need to correct my own interpretations of my research.

The Moat House, the former Comberford home on Lichfield Street, Tamworth … the Victorian manuscript challenges some of my interpretations of the Ensor family tree (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)


Dana said...

I'm thrilled to come across your post. My 10th great grandfather was John Ensor. Records indicate he was born in Derbyshire in 1594. On 1 Jul 1612, he was married to Athalanta Queale or O'Neal in Tamworth, Staffordshire. At some point after 1628, he emigrated from Staffordshire, England, to Baltimore, Maryland. John is the last of the Ensors I have been able to trace. I am hoping you can help me link John to his parents and beyond. I live in California so I have very limited access to British records. Looking forward to hearing from you. Dana

Corey L. Enzor said...

Thomas Edensore is my 12th great grandfather