25 September 2019
Dyott memorials survive
in the Dyott Chapel in
new library in Lichfield
During my visit to the new Library in Saint Mary’s Church, Lichfield, last week, I spent some time looking at the Dyott Chapel on the north side of the church and the monuments there to members of the Dyott family.
One of my earliest freelance features in the Lichfield Mercury was on the Dyott family, and I was reminded too that there were many connections between the Dyott family of Freeford and the Comberford family of Comberford Hall in the 17th century.
I was in Lichfield last week at the invitation of Lichfield Civic Society to speak about the Comberford family’s links with Lichfield. A previous speaker, in June 2016, was Richard Dyott who spoke about the history of the Dyott family of Freeford.
Freeford Manor is an 18th-century country house and Grade II listed building near Lichfield, and has been the home of the Dyott family since the late 16th or early 17th century.
At the time of the Domesday Book, Freeford (Fraiforde) was a substantial manor with about 720 acres, held by a one Ranulph as a tenant of the Bishop of Chester.
There was a leper hospital at Freeford in early mediaeval times, as well as a quarry that provided building stone for Lichfield Cathedral. Edward II stopped at Freeford in 1326, before entering Lichfield. John of Freeford was the MP for Lichfield in 1377. He had three daughters but no sons, and when he died the estate became divided and was not reassembled for 300 years.
John Dyott (1519-1580) appears to have moved from Dorchester on Thames to Stychbroke, near Lichfield, in 1549. He was a barrister and was Bailiff of Lichfield on three occasions. Dyott family tradition says he made the Manor of Freeford his home in 1549.
This John Dyott of Stychbroke was the father of Anthony Dyott, MP for Lichfield and the first of four Dyotts to sit for Lichfield at Westminster. Anthony Dyott consolidated the family’s hold on Freeford Manor by 1616 and also acquired lands to the east in Whittington.
His son, Anthony Dyott, was a barrister of the Inner Temple and Recorder of Tamworth and became MP for Lichfield. He successfully reassembled the three parts of the Manor of Freeford.
His son, the first of many members of the family known as Richard Dyott, married into the Dorrington family of Stafford.
Through many intermarriages over the next 400 years, the Dyott family became linked with many prominent Staffordshire families.
Sir Richard Dyott of Lichfield was one of the trustees of the Comberford estates in the 17th century
Sir Richard Dyott was one of three members of the trust into which William Comberford placed all his interests in the Comberford estates on 16 May 1641, the two other trustees being to a trust formed by three trustees, Sir Richard Dyott of Lichfield, John Birch of Cannock and Thomas Wollaston. The trust was formed to ensure that Comberford Hall and other the estates remained in the hands of the Comberford family in the face of a looming crisis.
Although the Dyott family supported the Royalist side during the English Civil War, the family managed to survive with its property intact. Richard Dyott was charged by the Cromwellians with involvement in the Battle of Edgehill, but pleaded that although he was present, he took no part in the battle.
An inscription in Dam Street, Lichfield, marking the spot where John ‘Dumb’ Dyott shot Lord Brooke (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)
Richard Dyott’s deaf-mute brother, John ‘Dumb’ Dyott, is said to have fired the shot from the cathedral tower that killed Richard Greville, Lord Brooke, on Dam Street on 2 March 1643 during one of the sieges of Lichfield. John Dyott was William Comberford’s godson, while his brother, Matthew Dyott of Stychbrooke, was married to Mary Babington, a distant cousin of William Comberford, and a sister-in-law of another Comberford trustee, John Birch.
Freeford Hall was saved for the Dyott family, and another Richard Dyott was MP for Lichfield in 1690-1715. When he died in 1719, his son, also Richard Dyott, decided to move from Lichfield to Freeford. He built a new, three-bayed, red brick house about 1730, and this was extended and improved throughout the 18th century.
Richard’s son, also Richard Dyott, had a son, Matthew Dyott, who married Elizabeth, Boulton, sister of Matthew Boulton, a leading member of the Lunar Society in Birmingham.
Two Richards later, Richard Dyott, who had a townhouse on the site of the former Woolworth shop in Market Street, Lichfield, began building a new Freeford Manor to replace Freeford Hall.
A century later, yet another Richard Dyott was Recorder of Lichfield again and was the High Sheriff of Staffordshire in 1798 This Richard became the first President of the Staffordshire Agricultural Society and was known as an agricultural improver. He had no children, and when he died in 1813 the Freeford estate was inherited by his brother, General William Dyott.
William’s military career, spanning almost half a century, brought him to Ireland, Nova Scotia, the West Indies, Egypt and the Netherlands, and he was an aide de camp to King George III.
A posting to Egypt in 1801 brought an end to William’s romantic interest in Maria Gresley of Drakelow Hall, north-east of Lichfield, near Burton upon Trent.
But during another posting to Ireland in 1805, Dyott proposed to Eleanor Thompson of Greenmount, Co Antrim. William and Eleanor were the parents of a daughter and two sons. But in 1813, on the excuse of health concerns, Eleanor moved to London and Bristol to avail of the Turkish baths in Downing Street and to enjoy the hot springs at Clifton.
A year later, in 1814, Eleanor sought a legal separation. William accused her of having an affair with her physician Charles Dunne, and took a civil action for ‘criminal conversation’ in 1815. In her counterclaim, Eleanor said William was guilty of adultery and cruelty.
William presented a divorce petition in Parliament, and, despite an admission to his brother-in-law that he had taken ‘improper liberties’ with a young maid, he obtained his divorce and along with it a quarter share of his wife’s interest in over 1,200 acres of plantations and several hundred slaves on the island of St Croix in the Virgin Islands.
William and their children moved to Hanch Hall, three miles north-west of Lichfield, in 1817 and they never again saw Eleanor. When his sister-in-law died in 1826, William moved into Freeford Hall and commissioned the Lichfield architect Joseph Potter to make alterations.
William Dyott strongly opposed most progressive reforms of his day, including the abolition of slavery, granting workers’ rights and extending access to education. Initially, he opposed the railway, but eventually the Dyott family became important investors in the development of the railways in the Lichfield area.
When General Dyott died in 1847 at the age of 86, his coffin was taken in a funeral procession from Freeford through the streets of Lichfield at night to the Dyott crypt at Saint Mary’s Church. His memorial in Saint Mary’s describes him as ‘a most kind, most indulgent father’ and refers to ‘the affection of his family,’ but there is no reference to his family.
He was succeeded by his son, yet another Richard Dyott (1808-1891). He was a director of the South Staffordshire Railway and MP for Lichfield from 1865 to 1880. His coat-of-arms, shown on the colourfully-decorated Victorian railway bridge in Upper John Street, beside Lichfield City rail station, are also displayed on many family monuments in the Dyott Chapel in Saint Mary’s: or, a tiger passant sable, armed and langued gules.
When Lieutenant-Colonel ‘Dick’ Dyott died in 1891, 15,000 people attended his burial at midnight in Saint Mary’s Church, Lichfield.
This Richard Dyott had no children, and the Dyott estate was inherited by his first cousin, Richard Burnaby who changed his family name to Dyott. His son predeceased him, and so at his death his grandson, Richard Dyott, inherited Freeford. The time this Richard Dyott spent at Freeford was the longest by any family member. He married Mary Paget of Elford Hall, whose family donated the site for Saint Mary’s and Saint George’s Church in Comberford 100 years ago. He died in 1965.
No longer are members of the Dyott family buried at midnight in the crypt beneath the Dyott Chapel in Saint Mary’s Church, Lichfeld. But Freeford Manor retains its Georgian character and in September each year the annual Sheriff’s Ride takes a traditional stop at Freeford Manor.