23 September 2019

Comberford Processional
Cross finds new home in
the Spital Chapel, Tamworth

The Comberford Processional Cross is now in the Spital Chapel of Saint James, Tamworth (Photograph copyright: Susan Biggs)

Patrick Comerford

I was glad to hear during my visit to Lichfield last week that the processional cross from Church of Saint Mary and Saint George in Comberford is safe and has been moved to a neighbouring church.

The last service was held in the church in Comberford six years ago on 13 October 2013 before the church doors were closed for the final time. The church was built over 100 years ago on land donated by the Paget family to the Lichfield Diocesan Trust to build a mission church.

The closure came only months after the residents of Wigginton Parish, including the villagers in Comberford, had raised £6,000 to repair the roof of the church.

A sad report in the Tamworth Herald in 2017 talked about the local residents being distressed at the state of the church in Comberford three or four years after its closure.

In a report headed ‘Tamworth family furious after they claim diocese left church ‘gutted’,’ Jordan Coussins reported how a heartbroken family spoke of their disgust after the church in Comberford was gutted of its artefacts by the local diocese.

Descendants of the Paget family, who own the land on which Saint Mary’s and Saint George’s Church stands, say the ‘Church of England has taken contents not belonging to them,’ according to the report.

The church, which stands on Manor Lane, has been at the heart of a legal battle of ownership since it was closed and the Paget family claims that the diocese tried to sell the church.

Charles Hodgetts, a direct descendent of Francis Paget, a former owner of the church site, vowed to continue the fight for justice. ‘It’s tragic,’ he told the Tamworth Herald. ‘It’s complete vandalism what they have done to it. They have just ripped out items that were gifted by the Paget family.

‘These things should never have been taken from here – the church has been left like a building site. There is loose wiring everywhere. They have reduced a once beautiful church into nothing. ‘It should never have come to this. I’m so disappointed with the state it has been left in.’

The church was originally donated to a Lichfield Diocesan Trust for the people of Comberford by the Paget family who lived at Elford Hall. The first stone was laid in 1914 and the building was completed in 1915.

Joanne Cliffe, who is an active member of the Friends of Comberford Church, told the Tamworth Herald: ‘What we want to do is, first and foremost, get the building reinstated as it was when the church closed. And the now owners have agreed for the building to be for the community. The aim is to hold some events for the community as a whole, not just the people of Comberford.’

The church is of architectural interest as one of the churches designed by Andrew Capper. A well-known Gothic revival architect, he worked closely with George Edmund Street. His other churches in the Diocese of Lichfield included Saint Leonard’s Church, Dunston, South Staffordshire; Saint Cuthbert’s, Donington, a Grade II Listed Building; and, I think, Saint Mary’s, Dunstall. His work alone makes the church in Comberford of interest to architectural and heritage groups.

At the time, a spokesman for the Diocese of Lichfield told the Tamworth Herald: ‘Following the church’s closure in 2013 it was agreed to give the building to the family who originally donated the land on which it stands. Under due legal process, after permission was granted by the Chancellor of the Diocese, the fixtures of the building were removed and given to other local churches.’

Last week, the Tamworth and District Civic Society reported that the processional cross from Comberford Church has been relocated to the chancel of the 13th century Spital Chapel of Saint James, in Wigginton Road, Tamworth.

‘Many people would rather that Comberford Church was still in use and actively supported by the residents of Comberford. But, in the absence of that, at least the cross has a good home and is still within the ecclesiastical parish of Wigginton,’ the society said.

The south door of the 13th century Spital Chapel of Saint James on Wigginton Road, Tamworth (Photographs copyright: Susan Biggs)

The Spital Chapel was open to the public on Sunday afternoon [22 September 2019] as part of the programme for National Heritage Open Day in Tamworth.

The Spital Chapel was originally built in 1274 by Sir Philip de Marmion, who owned Tamworth Castle. There are records of a chantry or hospital founded by Sir Philip Marmion between 1266 and 1275. It is known as Spital Chapel because it is said to have served as a hospital at the time of the Black Death in 1349.

The Spital Chapel’s west wall was restored in 1914 by Alfred Sadler, a local businessman and former Mayor of Tamworth, as a memorial to his wife Emily. The south door was originally the main entrance of the Spital Chapel, but nowadays access is through the north door.

Spital Chapel is now hidden behind housing in the fork of land between Wigginton and Ashby Roads. It is sign-posted from Wigginton Road, just past the Spital Tennis and Bowling Club.

The chapel can seat about 50 people, services are held regularly, and there is an active Friends of Spital support group.

The Tamworth and District Civic Society also brought ‘King Charles I’ back to Tamworth yesterday afternoon [22 September 2019] as it continued its celebrations of the 400th Anniversary of the three-day visit of King James I and the future King Charles I to Tamworth in August 1619.

During that visit, King James I stayed at Tamworth Castle while Prince Charles was the guest of the Comberford family at the Moat House on Lichfield Street.

The visit was commemorated at the Moat House last month [August 2019], and Tamworth and District Civic Society brought ‘King Charles’ to the Town Hall in Market Street yesterday afternoon as the Mayor and civic society volunteers opened the 1701 civic treasure-house to the public, with the civic silver and regalia on display in the Mayor's Parlour.

During the afternoon, the unique double-helix staircase in the tower of Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth, was open to the public for the third and last time this year. The top of the tower offers breath-taking views of Tamworth, while the climb down offers an opportunity to visit the belfry of 10 bells and to try bell-ringing in the ringing chamber.

Guided tours were available inside Saint Editha’s Church, which includes the Comberford Chapel and monuments to the Comberford and Comerford families.

The Spital Chapel was restored in 1916 (Photograph copyright: Susan Biggs)

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