05 July 2023

Comberford family links
with Coventry date back
over 600 years to 1414

The ruins of Whitefriars in Coventry … endowed by John Comberford in his will in 1414 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

During my ‘field trip’ to Coventry, I visited both Holy Trinity Church and the former Carmelite monastic house at Whitefriars. Both reminded me of the extensive links of the Comberford family with Coventry, dating back more than 600 years to 1414.

John de Comberford, who was Lord of Comberford ca 1350-1414, also held extensive estates in Hopwas, between Lichfield and Tamworth, and owned property on Lichfield Street, Tamworth, that may have been the site of the later Moat House.

In his will in 1414, as John Comberford of Tamworth, his bequest included 3 shillings to the high altar in Saint Editha’s Collegiate Church in Tamworth, 1s 6d to the Holy Trinity altar, and 6d to each of the other altars in the church. He also left 10 shillings for masses to the Carmelites of Coventry and 10 shillings to the Franciscan mendicant friary in Lichfield.

The Carmelite Friary in Coventry was built in 1342 and was commonly known as the Whitefriars.

The surviving sandstone building, close to the Whitefriars Ringway and the campus of Coventry University, was once part of a much larger complex. It contains the one surviving side of the friary’s cloister on the ground floor, while upstairs is the former dormitory where the friars slept.

Part of the foundations of the friary church are still visible on the site. The church was 96 metres long and much of the site now lies under the ring road. The friary survived almost 200 years but it was closed in 1538 with the dissolution of the monastic houses during the Tudor Reformation.

Whitefriars was closed in 1538 with the dissolution of the monastic houses during the Tudor Reformation (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

John Hales (1516-1572) bought the former Whitefriars in Coventry from Sir Ralph Sadler in 1544 for £83 12s 6d. Hales converted part of the Whitefriars into a residence, Hales Place, and set up a free grammar school in what had been the choir. In 1545 he was granted licence to establish the free school as King Henry VIII School in the former Saint John’s Hospital in Coventry.

During Hale’s exile in the reign of Mary Tudor, Coventry Corporation moved the school from Whitefriars church to the former Hospital of Saint John the Baptist and claimed the church as a parish church.

Queen Elizabeth I made her one and only visit to Coventry in 1555, staying for two days at Whitefriars with John Hales, and she described it as a ‘fine house.’ Mary Queen of Scots was held in Coventry on Elizabeth’s orders between 25 November 1569 and 2 January 1570, and spent part of that time in Whitefriars.

The surviving building remained a house until 1801, when it became Coventry’s workhouse. It became a Salvation Army hostel in 1948 and later was part of the Herbert Museum in the 1960s.

The museum closed in the early 1990s due to spending cuts, and is no longer open to the public. The Grade II listed Whitefriars Ale House nearby is named after the monastery and was once within its boundaries.

Whitefriars Inn is named after the monastery and was once within its boundaries (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

John Comberford’s brother, Richard Comberford, was the grandfather of Judge William Comberford (ca 1403/1410-1472), the first member of the family to attain national importance.

He was a judge, MP for Newcastle under Lyme, and an important landowner in south Staffordshire in the mid-15th century, with land in Comberford, Wigginton and Tamworth, and a members of the Guild of Saint Mary and Saint John in Lichfield (1469).

William Comberford and John Cateby were asked in 1472-1473 to arbitrate in a dispute between the Mayor and Corporation of Coventry and William Briscowe or Bristowe over rights to the lands and common pasture at Whitley Manor and Whitley Common near Coventry. The dispute was ‘contended fiercely and bitterly’ and led to ‘angry words and blows, public riot and costly litigation.’

The Archdeacon’s Court in the north-west corner of Holy Trinity Church, Coventry (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

William Comberford’s grandson, Henry Comberford, may also have been Archdeacon of Coventry (ca 1558 to 1559) in the Diocese of Lichfield, although this is disputed. At the same time, Henry Comberford was the Precentor of Lichfield from 1555 until he was deprived of all his church offices in 1559.

Henry Comberford was preceded as Archdeacon of Coventry from 1509 by Ralph Colyngwood, afterwards Dean of Lichfield, and from 1512 by John Blythe, who died in 1558.

During this time, the ‘Coventry Carol’ was first written down in 1534. This maternal lament for soon-to-be-slaughtered babies was originally part of a mediaeval mystery plays, performed annually in Coventry from the late 12th century until the Coventry plays were supressed in 1579.

The Archdeacon’s Court in the north-west corner of Holy Trinity Church, Coventry, was the court of the Archdeacons of Coventry from some time before 1350. It was used as an ecclesiastical court and was set aside for dispensing ecclesiastical justice.

The memorials in the Archdeacon’s Court include a mediaeval memorial to a member of the Morton family. The memorial is decorated with a rebus, or symbolic pun on the name Morton.

The exhibits in the Archdeacon’s Court include a copy of the Bishop’s Bible, published in 1568 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The exhibits in the Archdeacon’s Court include a copy of the Bishop’s Bible, published in 1568. This was one of the first Bibles in English, so that all could hear it in their own language. The Bishop’s Bible was sent to significant churches across the land, and Holy Trinity Church in Coventry was one of these churches. The cover of the Bible may have damaged in a fire in the north porch, but the Bible is virtually perfect inside.

Payment was made in 1589 ‘for making the seate for the Bishoppe in the Consistorie’ or Archdeacon’s Court in Holy Trinity Church.

One of the windows in the Archdeacon’s Court contains fragments of the Godiva Window, which had been destroyed during the Reformation. This stained glass panel with fragments of mediaeval glass survived the bombing of Coventry in 1940.

Fragments of the Godiva Window, destroyed during the Reformation, in a window in the Archdeacon’s Court (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Henry Comberford was succeeded as Archdeacon of Coventry in 1560 by Thomas Lever (1521-1577), a reformer and one of the founding Puritans who lived in exile during the reign of Mary Tudor.

Thomas Lever studied at Saint John’s College, Cambridge, (BA 1542, Fellow 1543, MA 1545). His time at Saint John’s overlapped with three Comberford brothers: Henry Comberford (BA 1533, MA 1536, BD 1545), his predecessor as Archdeacon of Coventry and a fellow of Saint John’s; Richard Comberford, the putative ancestor of the Irish branch of the family, who was a fellow (1534; MA 1537) and Senior Bursar (1542-1544) of Saint John’s; and Humphrey Comberford, who was also a student at Saint John’s (BA 1525, MA 1528).

At Saint John’s College, Thomas Lever was a leading figure in the theological disputes of the day in Cambridge from 1547. He preached before Edward VI in 1550, and was the Master of Saint John’s in 1551-1553.

Lever was among the Reformers who went into exile in Zurich in 1553, where he became friends with Heinrich Bullinger. He also visited Geneva to hear John Calvin lecture. When Lever returned to England, he succeeded Henry Comberford as Archdeacon of Coventry from 1559.

A mediaeval memorial to a member of the Morton family in the Archdeacon’s Court (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

A later family link with Coventry is found in ‘The Bosworth Crucifix,’ which once belonged to the Victorian book collector, antiquarian and notary, James Comerford (1807-1881). It now belongs to the Society of Antiquaries in London, and featured prominently in the exhibition ‘Making History’ (2008-2009).

The crucifix and many other Catholic relics passed from John Brown by 1793 to Joseph Carter, the sexton of Saint Michael’s Church, Coventry (later Coventry Cathedral). Joseph Carter had married Elizabeth Brown in Saint Michael’s Church, Coventry, in 1778, and she may have been related to John Brown. He died in June 1808, and his will was granted administration in the Consistory Court of the Diocese of Lichfield on 7 October 1808.

The crucifix then passed to his widow Elizabeth Carter and remained with the Carter family of Saint Michael’s Parish, Coventry. Presumably it was she who sold it to the Comerford family – probably James Comerford’s father – ca 1808-1810. However, it is still unclear how the crucifix passed from the Brown family in Coventry to the Carter family in Coventry and from the Carter family to the Comerford family.

The Bosworth Crucifix was owned by the family of the antiquarian and book collector James Comerford from around 1810. James Comerford was born in Holborn in 1807, the son of James Comerford, a Notary Public of Change Alley in Cornhill, London, who died in 1833. He appears to have been of Irish descent. However, John Ashdown-Hill, in his paper on the ‘Bosworth Crucifix’ in the Transactions of the Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society (no 78, 2004), wonders whether James Comerford was related to the Comerford family who lived in Saint Michael’s Parish, Coventry, in the first half of the 19th century.

The Bosworth Crucifix passed from the Brown and Carter families in Coventry to the Comerford family

Daily prayers in Ordinary Time
with USPG: (38) 5 July 2023

Holy Trinity Church Goodramgate is a hidden treasure in the centre of York (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

We are in Ordinary Time in the Church Calendar, and the week began with the Fourth Sunday after Trinity (3 July 2023).

I am taking part in a funeral in Saint Mary and Saint Giles Church, Stony Stratford, later this morning. But, before this becomes a busy day, I am taking some time this morning for prayer, reading and reflection.

Over these weeks after Trinity Sunday, I have been reflecting each morning in these ways:

1, Looking at relevant images or stained glass window in a church, chapel or cathedral I know;

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

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Holy Trinity Church, Goodramgate, is lit only by candles and light filtered through the stained glass windows (Photograph Patrick Comerford)

Holy Trinity Church, Goodramgate, York:

Holy Trinity Church, on Goodramgate in York, is a Grade I listed former parish church in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust.

Walking into Holy Trinity, the church has the air of a hidden treasure. It stands in a small, secluded, leafy churchyard, with York Minster towering behind, tucked away behind Goodramgate – one of York’s busiest shopping streets.

During one of our recent visits to York, two of us found our way into the church through an 18th century archway tacked on to buildings that served as artisans’ workshops in the 14th century.

Inside, the church is full of character. The interior is lit only by light filtered through the stained glass windows and by candlelight. There is no electricity or gas in the church, nor running water, with candles offering a soft golden glow. Light filters through the windows, illuminating honey-coloured stone. The floors and arcades are charmingly uneven.

There was a church on this site at the time of the Domesday Book, and Holy Trinity includes features from the 12th century. However, most of the building today dates from the 15th century, most of the exterior dates from the 17th and 18th centuries, and there are right up to the 19th century.

There are two mediaeval altar stones, one set in the chancel floor and one in the north chancel aisle. In the south-east chapel is a 1452 brass to a former Mayor of York, Thomas Danby.

The mediaeval features include the late 15th century east window, donated by the Revd John Walker, rector in 1471. Walker was not averse to a degree of self-aggrandisement, and inserted an image of himself, kneeling in prayer, below a depiction of the Holy Trinity.

The unusual inner Chantry Chapel of Saint James was separated from the south aisle and the main body of the church, and dates from the 13th century. A hagioscope or angled window was built into the chapel wall and allowed the chantry priest to say Mass simultaneously with the priest celebrating at the High Altar. This is a rare feature and the only one of its type in York. However, local lore continues to claim the hagioscope was a ‘leper squint’ that allowed people with leprosy to keep at a distance yet still take part in church services.

The south aisle and south arcade date from the 14th century, the font dates from the late 15th century with an oak cover is made from oak and dates from 1787, the reredos boards were installed in 1691, the double-decker oak pulpit is dated 1695, and the oak Communion rails and Altar or Communion table date from the late 18th century.

The irregular and rare 17th century box pews are unique in York and the only remaining box pews in the city. The high-sided pews gave churchgoers a degree of privacy but also helped to keep out drafts on a chilly day.

The monuments and memorials paint a picture of life in York through the ages. Two boards, with heads shaped like grandfather clocks, record the names of the Lords Mayors of York, including George Hudson, who made York a major railway centre in the 19th century.

The church was enlarged in 1823 when the north side was rebuilt. The south porch was added in 1849.

The church was in a poor state of maintenance by 1882 and regular worship was suspended for over half a century until 1937, when restoration work was completed. The oak rafters were renewed and the unusual saddleback roof was restored. The pier supporting the arches between the nave and north aisle were underpinned with concrete, and the decaying stonework on the south aisle walls was renewed.

Outdoor benches make the churchyard an inviting place for reflection, offering a welcome retreat from the hectic world outside.

A blue plaque marks the occasion when Anne Lister and Ann Walker took Holy Communion together at the church at Easter 1834 as an affirmation of their relationship. After that they considering themselves married.

The church was declared redundant in 1971, and has been in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust since 1972. Restoration was carried out between 1973 and 1974. Holy Trinity Church is used for services on at least two days a year and is open to visitors on most days.

The irregular and rare 17th century box pews are unique in York and the only remaining box pews in the city (Photograph Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 8: 28-34 (NRSVA):

28 When he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demoniacs coming out of the tombs met him. They were so fierce that no one could pass that way. 29 Suddenly they shouted, ‘What have you to do with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?’ 30 Now a large herd of swine was feeding at some distance from them. 31 The demons begged him, ‘If you cast us out, send us into the herd of swine.’ 32 And he said to them, ‘Go!’ So they came out and entered the swine; and suddenly, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and perished in the water. 33 The swineherds ran off, and on going into the town, they told the whole story about what had happened to the demoniacs. 34 Then the whole town came out to meet Jesus; and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their neighbourhood.

The unusual inner chapel was separated from the main body of the church in the 13th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayer:

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 ‘FeAST – Fellowship of Anglican Scholars of Theology.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday by the Revd Canon Dr Peniel Rajkumar of USPG.

Find out more HERE.

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (5 July 2023) invites us to pray:

Let us pray for our theological institutions, teachers and scholars and for the work of theological education and churches together.


O God, the protector of all who trust in you,
without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy:
increase and multiply upon us your mercy;
that with you as our ruler and guide
we may so pass through things temporal
that we lose not our hold on things eternal;
grant this, heavenly Father,
for our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion:

Eternal God,
comfort of the afflicted and healer of the broken,
you have fed us at the table of life and hope:
teach us the ways of gentleness and peace,
that all the world may acknowledge
the kingdom of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

The 15th century east window shows the donor, the Revd John Walker, kneeling in prayer below a depiction of the Holy Trinity (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

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