01 May 2023

Three Howard families in
Lichfield and their links
with Comberford Hall

Dean Henry Howard’s tomb in the south choir aisle in Lichfield Cathedral … the work of Sir George Gilbert Scott and HH Armstead (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

While I was in Lichfield Cathedral last week, I was struck by the number of monuments to members of various Howard families, and wondered whether they were related to the Howard family who owned Comberford Hall in the 19th century. As today (1 May) is also Staffordshire, I thought it might be interesting to try to disentangle the three branches of the three Howard families in and near Lichfield and Tamworth, and to ask whether they were related.

Charles Howard (1707-1771) was a school friend of Dr Samuel Johnson. He was a proctor in the consistory court of Lichfield, and lived at No 19 in the Cathedral Close, now Bistro 19. There he improved the garden behind the house with a grotto of shells and fossils.

Charles Howard and his wife Penelope (née Foley) were the parents of Mary ‘Polly’ Howard who married Erasmus Darwin in Saint Mary’s Church, Lichfield, in 1757. Polly died on 30 June 1770 and her funeral took place in Lichfield Cathedral. Her grandson was the naturalist Charles Darwin (1809-1882).

Charles Howard’s monument can be seen in the south choir aisle in Lichfield Cathedral.

Charles Howard’s monument in the south choir aisle in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The Very Revd Henry Edward John Howard (1795-1868) was the Dean of Lichfield from 1833 to 1868. He had a prominent role in the restoration of Lichfield Cathedral by the architect Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811-1878) and laid the foundations for Lichfield Theological College.

Dean Howard’s tomb is also in the south choir aisle in Lichfield Cathedral. This tomb includes a white marble recumbent effigy with an ornate Gothic canopy behind. It was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott and is the work of the sculptor HH Armstead (1828-1905) in 1872. A figure at one end of the canopy holds a chalice. On the side of the tomb chest are carved symbols of the Passion, including spears, sponges dipped in vinegar, the crown of thorns, the garment and dice, and the cross and a ladder.
Charles Howard improved the garden behind No 19 in the Cathedral Close in Lichfield with a grotto of shells and fossils (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

I have found it difficult to trace the origins of Charles Howard and his family in Lichfield, tracing his branch back only two or three generations to a George Howard who died in 1734.

On the other hand, Dean Henry Howard was a member of the Howard family who owned Castle Howard for generations. He was descended through his father, Frederick Howard (1748-1825), 5th Earl of Carlisle, from the Dukes of Norfolk. His brother, George William Frederick Howard (1802-1864), 7th Earl of Carlisle, was Chief Secretary of Ireland (1835-1841) and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland (1855-1858), while another brother, the Revd William George Howard (1808-1889), 8th Earl of Carlisle, was also a priest in the Church of England. George James Howard (1843-1911), 9th Earl of Carlisle, was a Pre-Raphaelite artist, and a trustee of the National Gallery.

Their ancestor, Charles Howard (1629-1683), 1st Earl of Carlisle, was a distant (third cousin) of Craven Howard (1649-1700), of Elford Hall, east of Lichfield and north of Tamworth, who was the direct ancestor of the Howard family who came to own Comberford Hall in the early 19th century.

Elford Hall was owned by the Howard family and their descendants from 1684 until 1935

Craven Howard was descended from a branch of the Howard family who held the titles of Earl of Suffolk and Earl of Berkshire, but his imprudence and litigiousness led him to squander many of his advantages. His first wife, Anne Ogle, was a maid of honour to Queen Catherine of Braganza, but was described as an ‘ancient maid’ of ‘no fortune.’

Craven Howard’s second wife, Mary Bowes, inherited of Elford Hall when her brother Richard Bowes died in 1661. When she married Craven Howard in 1684, he immediately became the Master of Elford Hall, and when he died on 7 June 1700 he was buried at Elford. Elford Hall remained in various branches of his family until 1935.

Craven Howard’s son, Henry Bowes Howard (1687-1757), succeeded as 4th Earl of Berkshire in 1706 and as 11th Earl of Suffolk in 1745. For a brief period, he was the Recorder of Lichfield (1755-1757).

Henry’s son, William Howard (1714-1756), was known as Viscount Wendover, and married Lady Mary Finch. Elford Hall was eventually inherited by their daughter, the Hon Frances Howard, who married Richard Bagot (1733-1819), who changed his name to Richard Howard. He was a son of Sir Walter Wagstaffe Bagot (1702-1768) of Blithfield, and Lady Barbara Legge, daughter of William Legge, 1st Earl of Dartmouth.

Richard Howard (1733-1819) became the proprietor of Comberford Hall in 1808 (Staffordshire County Buildings Picture Collection)

Richard Bagot or Richard Howard (1733-1819), trained as a lawyer, but in 1761-63 went on a diplomatic mission to Italy with his friend the Earl of Northampton, to go to Italy, and they took with him the 16-year-old aspiring architect James Wyatt, whose family came from Weeford near Lichfield. Richard was 50 in 1783 when he married the heiress Frances Howard in 1783. Her vast inheritance Elford Hall, near Lichfield and Tamworth, as well as Ashtead Park, Surrey, Levens Hall, and Castle Rising, Norfolk.

Richard Howard and in 1808 he added to this portfolio in 1808 when he acquired the Fisherwick estate in Staffordshire, which adjoined Elford.

But, how did Richard Howard come to acquire Comberford Hall?

Richard Howard acquired Comberford Hall in 1808-1809

Viscount Weymouth – who was soon 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 and later 1st Marquess of Donegall, on 1 August 1789.

Within a year, Lord Donegall had raised £20,000 from the banker Henry Hoare, using the Manors and Lands of Comberford and Wigginton as collateral security. Lord Donegall is said to have rebuilt Comberford Hall. Eventually, however, the Chichester family, crippled by the gambling debts of a profligate son, found it impossible to pay off this loan, and was forced to sell Comberford Hall and the manorial rights and lands that went with it.

When Lord Donegall died in 1799, Comberford Hall and his other heavily mortgaged estates in Staffordshire, including Fisherwick, passed to a younger son, Lord Spencer Stanley Chichester, who also inherited Dunbrody Abbey, Co Wexford, along with a townhouse in Saint James’s Square, London, 20,000 acres on the Inishowen Peninsula in Co Donegal, lands in Belfast, and the family’s Gainsborough portraits.

But Lord Spencer Stanley Chichester was a heavily-indebted gambler. On 28 September 1808, John Forster, trustee for Lord Spencer Chichester, assigned two mortgages secured on his property in Comberford and Wigginton to William Bagot, 1st Lord Bagot, trustee for his brother Richard Howard (1733-1819).

The Chichester or Donegall family had owned Comberford Hall for less than 20 years, from 1789 to 1808. Richard Howard became the next proprietor of Comberford Hall, along with land, cloth and corn mills at Comberford, and fishing rights in the River Tame. The witnesses to this assignment in 1808 included Peter Gybon, bailiff of Burton. A year later, in 1809, the mortgages on Comberford Hall and the other Staffordshire estates acquired by the Chichester family were foreclosed by Sir Robert Peel, and the estates of Comberford and Wigginton were sold to Richard Howard.

Richard Howard may have been living at Comberford Hall when he died on 18 February 1819. His vast estates descended to his only daughter, Mary Howard (1785-1877), whose inheritance totalled almost 15,000 acres. She married Colonel Fulk Greville Upton (1773-1846), who also changed his surname to Howard.

Fulke Greville Howard was born in Geneva, the younger son of Clotworthy Upton (1721-1785), 1st Baron Templetown, an Irish peer and former MP for Co Antrim. As a career army officer, he fought in the Anglo-Russian invasion of Holland during the French Revolutionary Wars in 1799, and he lost the sight of one eye in the Helder Expedition. When he retired, he was MP for Castle Rising, Norfolk (1808-1832), a constituency long controlled by the Howard family.

Mary and Fulke Howard held the titles to the Manors of Comberford and Wigginton and one-third of the Manor of Packington between 1808 and 1844. They lived most of their lives at Elford Hall.

Colonel Fulke Howard died on 4 March 1846, but Mary Howard lived on for over 30 years. In 1873, as Lady of the Manor of Comberford, Mary Howard appointed Daniel Sell of Fisherwick as the gamekeeper of her manors. A court roll for the Manor of Comberford survives from December 1873.

Mary Howard died at the age of 92 on 19 October 1877. Mary and Fulke Howard had no children and before she died Mary Howard divided her estates among different cousins. Comberford Hall passed from the trustees of the Hon Mary Greville Howard to her distant cousin, Howard Francis Paget (1858-1935) of Elford Hall, son of the Revd Francis Edward Paget (1806-1882), Rector of Elford.

The Revd Francis Edward Paget was an early follower of the Oxford Movement, and was known as a writer of Tractarian fiction. In 1894, Mary Howard’s trustees and Howard Francis Paget appointed Augustus Frederick Coe, solicitor, as Steward of the Manors of Comberford, Wigginton, Coton and Hopwas and Elford and Oakley, and Coe in turn appointed Arthur Williams of Hopwas as Bailiff of the Manor.

The Paget family sold Comberford Weir to the Mayor, Aldermen, Burgesses and Rural District Council of Tamworth in 1906, and the Paget family proposed selling the Manor of Comberford and Wigginton in 1906-1907.

Howard Francis Paget donated land for building the Church of Saint Mary and Saint George in Comberford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Howard Francis Paget donated land to the Lichfield Diocesan Trust in 1914 for building a mission church in Comberford. The first stone was laid at a special ceremony in 1914 and the building was completed in 1915. Sadly, the small, picturesque Church of Saint Mary and Saint George closed ten years ago after the last service on 13 October 2013.

The tenants of the Howard and Paget families at Comberford Hall included Thomas Bradley Paget (1758-1817), a Tamworth banker, his daughter Sara Elizabeth (1789-1811), who was buried in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth, and her husband Henry Alford.

William Tongue was Howard’s tenant at Comberford Hall ca 1818-1849. His first daughter, Sydney Tongue (1825-1866), married John Dudley Oliver (1809-1870), son of the Revd John Oliver (1763-1832), of Cherrymount, Rathdrum, Co Wicklow, and Rector of Swepstone, Leicestershire. William Tongue’s second daughter, Elizabeth Tongue of Comberford Hall, married into the Allsopp brewing family of Burton-on-Trent.

Mary Howard’s later tenants at Comberford Hall included Richard Haines in 1860, and Edward Farmer (ca 1797-1871), who lived there in 1867-1871. He was succeeded as Comberford by his nephew, Charles Haywood, later Charles Haywood-Farmer (1829-1885), who lived at Comberford Hall until 1874 or 1875.

Sydney Fisher (1857-1927), a Tamworth paper manufacturer, was living at Comberford Hall in 1888-1896. He married Annie Louise Van Notten-Pole, a sister of Sir Cecil Pery van Notten-Pole (1863-1948). Frederick Arthur Morris was living at Comberford Hall in 1896, and was followed by William Felton Peel, who was living there when James Comerford visited Comberford Hall, and later by Algernon Francis Ardwick Mawson.

When Howard Francis Paget died in 1935, his son handed over the Elford estate to Birmingham City Council, along with many of the papers associated with the ownership of Comberford Hall. Later, Comberford Hall passed to the Arden, Pickin and Coltman families.

Elford Hall was demolished in 1965. But the Howard or Paget family interest in the area continued for generations. Howard Paget’s daughter, Charlotte Gabrielle Howard Paget, married Joseph Harold Hodgetts, and died in Lichfield in 1979. Their son, the late Harold Patrick Hodgetts, lived nearby at Model Farm in Elford, and Pat Hodgetts was proud that his grandparents had given the church to Comberford village.

Dean Henry Howard depicted on his tomb in the south choir aisle in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

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