01 November 2023

Daily prayers in Ordinary Time
with USPG: (151) 1 November 2023,
All Saints’ Day

All Saints’ Church in Yelvertoft, Northamptshire, was connected with the Comberford family for about a century and Henry Comberford was the rector in 1546-1560 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

We are in Ordinary Time in the Church Calendar, and this week began with the Last Sunday after Trinity (Trinity XXI, 29 October 2023). The Church Calendar today (1 November 2023) celebrates All Saints’ Day.

Before today begins, I am taking some time for prayer and reflection early this morning.

Throughout this week, with the exceptions of All Saints’ Day (today 1 November) and All Souls’ Day (tomorrow 2 November), my reflections each morning this week are following this pattern:

1, A reflection on a church or cathedral in Southwark;

2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Inside All Saints’ Church, Yelvertoft, facing east (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

All Saints’ Church, Yelvertoft, Northamptonshire:

Today is All Saints’ Day. In the early weeks of summer this year, I visited All Saints’ Church in the village of Yelvertoft, between Northampton and Rugby, in rural Northamptoinshire. Canon Henry Comberford was the rector from 1546 to 1560, and the Comberford family had links with parish for about a century.

The advosom of Yelvertoft, or the right to nominate the rector of the parish, was held by the Combeford family for almost a century, from some time after the 1460s, when John Comberford married Joan Parles, the heiress of Watford Manor and Shutlanger, until 1563, when Thomas Comberford sold the Cumberford Manor in Watford to Sir John Spencer and the Comberford family interest in Yelvertoft parish came to an end.

All Saints’ Church, Yelvertoft, is an attractive country church, with an interesting mediaeval tomb niche, a series of carved heraldic shields on the outside north wall of the chancel, a surviving mediaeval sedilia and piscina, a double south aisle and mediaeval carvings on the south porch.

There has probably been a church on the site in Yelvertoft since Saxon times. A church is mentioned in the Domesday Book (1086), although there are no visible traces from that time.

The lofty chancel and a slightly taller nave were built of local cobblestones in the early 12th century in Norman style. The east chancel wall was rebuilt towards the end of the 13th century, when the west tower was added.

The north and south aisles were added to the nave ca 1330 to create a wide, spacious interior. An unusual second south aisle was added to the first south aisle in the 15th century, making the interior of the church almost as broad as it is long. When the second south aisle was built, the south door and porch were moved and reinserted in south side of the new, second aisle.

The most intriguing feature of the church is in the chancel, where half the north wall is taken up by an elaborate tomb in Perpendicular style, probably dating from the 15th century.

Within the tomb niche is the alabaster effigy of a priest, thought to be the Revd John Dycson or Dixon, who was the Rector of Yelvertoft from 1439 to 1445. Although the figure is worn, the carvings are very detailed and finely crafted, and the details of the priest’s vestments are clearly visible. Traces of paint still cling to the effigy, indicating how colourful it was at one time.

The tomb niche of a priest, thought to be the Revd John Dycson or Dixon, Rector of Yelvertoft in 1439-1445 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

On the opposite wall in the sanctuary is a three-seat sedilia, where clergy – priest, deacon and sub-deacon – were seated during the liturgy. The columns separating the seats are worn or eroded, as if they had been badly damaged by weathering.

A local story says the incisions were caused by Cromwell’s soldiers during the Civil War, and that they used the sedilia to sharpen their swords before the Battle of Naseby, about 5 miles from Yelvertoft.

A piscina and aumbry are next to the sedilia.

There is a wall memorial to John Watkin (died 1772) in the chancel. Other monuments commemorate Thomas Rumpin (died 1770), by William Cox senior, to the left of the south chapel arch, with a marble tablet with a cherub below and an heraldic device above; and Thomas Wills (died 1774), in the south chapel, with a marble tablet with curved sides. There are other 19th century marble tablets in the church.

The east window is of painted glass and has suffered the ravages of time and over-enthusiastic cleaning.

The chancel and sanctuary floors are covered with attractive Victorian encaustic tiles, thought to be by Minton.

The columns of the sedilia are worn or eroded, and may have been damaged by Cromwellian soldiers before the Battle of Naseby (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The south window in the Lady Chapel was blown out during World War II. Most of the glass is recent but the tiny triangles at the top are original and date from mediaeval times.

Several pew ends in the nave have carved end panels that may date from the 16th century. They came from a church in the West Country and were installed in 1870. At the end of one pew, a brass plate on the floor commemorates Richard Ashby, a local benefactor who was one of the founders of the original village school in 1711. The school building on the High Street is now known as the Reading Room.

A memorial on the south wall commemorates airmen who died when two Allied planes collided in the air outside Yelvertoft during World War II, causing much blast damage. The organ by Norman Beard, dating from 1908, is a two-manual instrument and is in use every Sunday. There is a copy of Mappa Mundi on the west wall.

Near the carved font, a sheet of lead taken from the roof has the names of churchwardens and the plumber. Painted boards above the south door describe some local village charities that still exist.

The tower houses a ring of five bells, cast locally in 1635 by Hugh Watts II of Leicester. One bell has coins cast into its rim. The castellation at the top of the tower was renewed in 1959 and a new bell frame installed. The local ringers added a sixth bell in 1989. It was designed by a direct descendant of Hugh Watts to match the originals. The bells are rung every Sunday.

A rural churches millennium grant in 2000 was used to enclose the outer south aisle to form a meeting room with kitchen facilities.

Outside the church, the wall beneath the north window of the chancel, aligned directly with the Dycson tomb, is decorated with 32 heraldic shields.

These decorative shields were painted rather than carved, and it is safe to speculate that at one time the heraldic decorative work included the coats of arms of the Parles and Comberford families as patrons of the living, nominating many successive incumbents of the parish, and perhaps also the Babington family.

When John Comberford died in 1508, Cumberford Manor in Watford and his estates near Tamworth and Lichfield were inherited by his son Thomas Comberford (1472-1532), who also inherited the advowsom of Yelvertoft.

The south porch of All Saints’ Church, Yelvertoft (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Many of the Rectors of Yelvertoft appointed by the Comberford family were either drawn from church life in the Diocese of Lichfield or were part of a nexus of families that included the Comberford, Fitzherbert, Babington and Beaumont families. That nexus of families was strengthened by marriages between these families in the late 15th and early 16th centuries.

The priests nominated to Yelvertoft by the Comberford family included Canon William Smith LLD, who was the Rector of Yelvertoft in 1507-1510. He was a nephew of William Smith (1460-1514), Bishop of Lichfield (1493-1496) and Bishop of Lincoln (1496-1514), who refounded Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield, in 1495.

William Smith, the bishop’s nephew, studied canon law in Ferrara in Italy, as did William Fitzherbert, Chancellor of Lichfield Cathedral. Smith was incorporated LLD in Cambridge in 1505 and in Oxford in 1506, and was appointed to Yelvertoft by John Comberford the following year.

Smith was also Archdeacon of Northampton (1500-1506), Archdeacon and a Prebendary of Lincoln (1506-1528), Archdeacon of Stow (1507-1508) and a Prebendary of Chichester (1508-1528); Vicar of Bugbrooke, Northamptonshire (1501-1508) and Vicar of Earls Barton, Northamptonshire (1525-1528). He died in June 1528.

Smith was succeeded at Yelvertoft by the Revd Thomas Babington, who became Rector in 1510, the year he graduated BA in Cambridge. He was the sixth son of Thomas Babington of Dethick and was part of the nexus that included the Comberford, Fitzherbert, Babington and Beaumont families. He was presented to the parish by his wife’s uncle, Thomas Comberford (1472-1532) of Comberford.

This Thomas Comberford married Dorothy Fitzherbert, daughter of Ralph Fitzherbert of Norbury. She was a sister of: Sir Anthony Fitzherbert of Norbury; Canon Thomas Fitzherbert, Precentor of Lichfield Cathedral; Canon William Fitzherbert, Chancellor of Lichfield Cathedral (1476-1489); Alice Fitzherbert, Abbess of Polesworth, near Tamwortg; and Edith Fitzherbert, who married Thomas Babington of Dethick.

The Revd Thomas Babington was presented as the Rector of Yelvertoft by Thomas Comberford in 1510. He was a nephew of Thomas Comberford, being a son of Dorothy (Fitzherbert) Comberford’s sister, Edith Fitzherbert, and Thomas Babington (d 1518) of Dethick, Sheriff of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.

The Revd Thomas Babington’s brother, Humphrey Babington (1481-1544), married Eleanor Beaumont, the youngest of the three daughters and co-heirs of John Beaumont of Wednesbury. Their children included: Thomas Babington (1516-1567), who joined the plot to place Lady Jane Grey on the throne; and Francis Babington (d. 1569), Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University (1560-1562).

Dorothy Beaumont, the second daughter and co-heir of John Beaumont, married Thomas Babington’s cousin, Thomas Comberford’s son and heir, Humphrey Comberford, who was the Master of the Guild of Saint Mary and Saint John the Baptist in Lichfield in 1530.

Joan Beaumont, the eldest daughter and co-heir of John Beaumont, inherited Timmor, near Fisherwick and in the Parish of Saint Michael, Lichfield. She married William Babington, of Rothley Temple, Leicestershire. They were the ancestors of Canon Zachary Babington, Chancellor of Lichfield Cathedral and Master of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield, whose grand-daughter Margaret married John Birch, one of the trustees of the Comberford estates in the 1650s.

Thomas Babington was the Rector of Yelvertoft for only a short time, and he died in Cambridge in 1511. He was succeeded by Canon John Harding or Harden, who was the Rector of Yelvertoft until he died in 1541. He was also a canon of Lincoln Cathedral and Prebendary of Welton Brinkhall (1509-1541), a stall held briefly by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey in 1509.

Yelvertoft was transferred from the Diocese of Lincoln when the new Diocese of Peterborough was formed in 1541. Harding was succeeded by the Revd Thomas Younge, who was the Rector of Yelvertoft in 1542-1546.

Following the death of Thomas Younge, Canon Henry Comberford (1499-1586) was appointed Rector of Yelvertoft by his brother Humphrey Comberford in 1546. With his brothers, Humphrey and Richard, Henry Comberford was educated at Cambridge (BA 1533, MA 1536, BD 1545). He went on to become a Fellow of Saint John’s College and a Proctor of Cambridge University. His brother Richard Comberford was also a Fellow and Senior Bursar of Saint John’s College, Cambridge, and is sometimes said, confusingly, to be the ancestor of the Comerford family of Co Kilkenny and Co Wexford.

Like many of his clerical contemporaries, Henry Comberford was a careerist and a pluralist. After ordination, he was the Rector of Saint Mary’s, Polstead, near Colchester, Suffolk (1539), a Proctor of Cambridge University (1543-1544), Rector of All Saints’, Earsham, near Bunbay, Norfolk (1553-1558), on the nomination of the Duke of Norfolk, Rector of All Saints’, Hethel, near Norwich (1554-1559), Rector of Norbury, then the Fitzherbert family parish in Derbyshire and then in the Diocese of Lichfield (1558-1560), and Rector of Yelvertoft (1541-1560).

Throughout this time, Henry Comberford was also the Precentor of Lichfield Cathedral (1555-1559) and Prebendary of Bishop’s Itchington, and he may also have been the Archdeacon of Coventry (1558-1559) in the Diocese of Lichfield, although this is disputed.

As a pluralist who spent most of his time in the Cathedral Close in Lichfield, Henry might have been expected to treat Yelvertoft as a sinecure that supplemented or enhanced his income, and to not spend much time in his Northamptonshire parish. However, he is named as ‘Sir Henry Comberford, clerk, parson of Yelvertoft,’ in 1557, when he was appointed one of the executors in the will of Sir Thomas Cave, who died in 1558.

Henry was soon deprived of all his church appointments because of his Catholic sympathies. He was replaced in Yelvertoft by Canon William Walkeden (1526-1620), who was presented to the parish in 1560, and remained there until he died in 1589.

Walkeden was ordained in the Diocese of Lichfield and was also the Prebendary of Whittington and Berkswich in Lichfield Cathedral and Rector of Clifton Campville (1558-1607), Staffordshire, six or seven miles east of Comberford. He too seemingly shared Henry Comberford’s theological outlook, and in the Diocese of Lichfield he was threatened on 3 January 1561 by Bishop Thomas Bentham for ‘evil and papist stuff … uttered in his sermon.’

Thomas Comberford sold his manor in Watford to Sir John Spencer in 1563, and the Comberford family interest in Yelvertoft came to an end after a century of patronage and appointing the rectors of the parish.

• The Revd Graeme Anderson is the Rector of Crick, Lilbourn and Yelvertoft with Clay Coton, and the Rev Kris Seward is curate. Sunday services are at 11.15 am: First Sunday, Sung Holy Communion; Second Sunday, Sung Morning Worship; Third Sunday, Songs of Praise; Fourth Sunday, All-Age Service; Fifth Sunday, a united benefice service, Sung Eucharist in one of the churches in rotation.

Inside All Saints’ Church, Yelvertoft, facing west (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Matthew 5: 1-12 (NRSVA):

5 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

3 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8 ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9 ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10 ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 ‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.’

The carvings on the effigy of the Revd John Dycson are very detailed and finely crafted (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Today’s Prayers: USPG Prayer Diary (Wednesday 1 November 2023, All Saints’ Day):

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is inspired by a Reflection – ‘He restores my soul’ – by Revd Dale R Hanson, introduced on Sunday.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (1 November 2023, All Saints’ Day) invites us to pray in these words:

Let us give thanks for the lives and legacies of the saints who have gone before us. May we seek to be like them in our witness and devotion to the faith.

The mediaeval piscina in the chancel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The Collect:

Almighty God,
you have knit together your elect
in one communion and fellowship
in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord:
grant us grace so to follow your blessed saints
in all virtuous and godly living
that we may come to those inexpressible joys
that you have prepared for those who truly love you;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post Communion Prayer:

God, the source of all holiness and giver of all good things:
may we who have shared at this table
as strangers and pilgrims here on earth
be welcomed with all your saints
to the heavenly feast on the day of your kingdom;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Yesterday’s Reflection

Continued Tomorrow

The north window of the chancel seen from outside the church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Henry Comberford (1499-1586) was the Rector of Yelvertoft in 1546-1560 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

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