13 May 2019

Two historians who
researched and wrote
about Tamworth’s past

The memorial to the historian Henry Charles Mitchell in the chancel of Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

For any writer or historian working with the history of Tamworth and its buildings, two historians of the 19th and early 20th century stand out: Charles Ferrers Palmer (1819-1900) and Henry Charles Mitchell (1873-1947).

The research and publications of both historians was important when I was researching the history of the Comberford family, Comberford Hall, the Moat House, and the role of the Comberford family in civic and political life in Tudor and Stuart Tamworth.

I was pleased to come across a memorial to Henry Charles Mitchell in the chancel of Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth, on Friday afternoon. It reads:

To the memory of
Henry Charles Mitchell
of Tamworth
Beloved Husband of
Mary Mitchell.
Lord I have loved the
habitation of Thy House
and the place where
Thine honour dwelleth.

The Biblical quotation (Psalm 26: 8) seems so apt for a man who wrote so much about Saint Editha’s Church. His work was important in my research of the history of the Comberford family and the Moat House.

Mitchell’s publications included Tamworth Tower and Town, Tamworth Parish Church, A Short History of Tamworth Castle, and A Guide and Short History of St Editha’s, Tamworth.

Mitchell managed the Tamworth firm of monumental sculptors, HY Mitchell and Sons, which he ran from 31 Aldergate. Both his father and his grandfather had been part of the business, and he was outstanding figure in the life of Tamworth.

In a feature in the Tamworth Herald as part of a special edition marking the 150th anniversary of the newspaper, the Tamworth historian and journalist, John Harper, quoted Mitchell’s description of the Moat House in 1936 as a ‘priceless heritage from a magnificent age.’

Harper went to ask: ‘So why was the ghastly, flat-roofed extension we have to suffer today allowed to be erected during the Moat House’s time as a Berni restaurant? The fact that such architectural vandalism was ever permitted says much about Tamworth’s lamentable planning standards of the 1960s.’

An earlier Tamworth historian, Charles Ferrers Palmer (1819-1900), was the son of Dr Shirley Fielding Palmer (1786-1852), a medical doctor, surgeon and writer, who first studied medicine with Mr Salt, a surgeon of Lichfield. Shirley Palmer moved to Tamworth in the early 19th century, and he was twice elected high bailiff of the town.

Although he had a medical practice in Birmingham from 1831, Shirley Palmer continued to live in Tamworth. His works included The Swiss Exile, which was dedicated to Anna Seward, the ‘Swan of Lichfield,’ and a medical dictionary. He also edited medical dictionaries, and was an early contributor to the Lichfield Mercury.

Shirley Palmer and his family lived in the centre of Tamworth, at the Paddock, a stately home on he had built at Aldergate in 1820. He died in Tamworth on 11 November 1852, and was buried in the new churchyard that had once formed part of his garden.

His son, Charles Ferrers Raymund Palmer, was born at the Paddock in 1819. Both father and son had names that recalled the earlier owners of Tamworth Castle, so, perhaps, it was inevitable that Charles Ferrers Palmer should become both a surgeon and the Victorian historian of Tamworth Castle, the town, its parish church, Saint Editha’s, and the Marmion family, mediaeval owners of the castle.

Initially, Charles Ferrers Palmer continued his father’s practice as a surgeon in Birmingham. In 1845, he published The History of the Town and Castle of Tamworth, which was a key work in my research work on the Moat House and the Comberford family. John Harper, in his book Tamworth Past and Present (2002/2008), has described this book as ‘the most erudite and meticulously researched work ever written about the town.’

Palmer later became a Dominican priest, and wrote extensively on Church history and the history of the Dominicans.

Another member of this family, Charles Frederick Palmer, was living at Comberford Hall in 1916. Charles Frederick Palmer (1869-1920) was a journalist and editor, closely associated at the end of his career with the politician and business fraudster Horatio Bottomley. Palmer was MP for The Wrekin in Shropshire for a few months until he died in 1920.

Meanwhile, the Paddock, the former Palmer family home in Aldergate, was bought by John Lea Jennings (1823-1906), who was Mayor of Tamworth in 1858, and then by the Chadwick family. The Paddock was demolished in 1927 when it was acquired by the Birmingham and Midland Omnibus Company to make way for their garage. This in turn became the site of the Midland Red and later the Arriva Bus Garage.

The Moat House, the former Comberford house on Lichfield Street, Tamworth … HC Mitchell described in it 1936 as a ‘priceless heritage from a magnificent age’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

A new future for a listed Georgian
house on Church Street, Tamworth

The White House on Church Street once served as Tamworth’s municipal offices (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Although Tamworth lost much of its architectural heritage over the past half century, it still retains many interesting Victorian, Georgian and earlier Tudor buildings that should not be overlooked.

The Georgian heritage in the centre of Tamworth includes the White House at No 16-20 on the north side of Church Street. This is a Grade II listed building, but it ought not be confused with the White House further west at 93 Lichfield Street. It adjoins the Assembly Rooms and once served as Tamworth’s Municipal Offices.

Although the White House sands on the corner of Church Street where it is joined by Corporation Street, the house is set well back from the street and is worth looking at again because of its scale and nature.

This is a large, three-storey, five-bay, early 19th century stuccoed house, and at the rear it has a full-height bow.

The architectural features include a platt band over the ground floor, angle pilasters with entablature blocks, and a top cornice and coped parapet. The entrance has a doorcase with a pediment and a four-fielded-panel door, with steps with iron rails.

The windows have sills, there are keystones over 12-pane horned sashes, and central windows in a forward break. The left return has two lateral stacks, and there is a round-headed stair window has small-paned glazing.

Inside, the White House has a stick-baluster staircase on the left side, with an entablature.

John Harper, in his Tamworth Past and Present (Tamworth Herald, 2002/2008), notes that this high-quality townhouse was the home of the Hamel family in the 1880s. They were descended from the Tamworth artist, Etienne Bruno Hamel, who also established the tape mill in Bolebridge Street.

The White House was acquired by the local authority in 1888, and later served as Tamworth’s municipal offices. The council vacated the premises in 1980-1981, and moved to the newly-built Marmion House on Lichfield Street.

In the years that followed, the building was divided into a number of office units.

The White House on Church Street was sold recently by Calders, the Tamworth-based Chartered Surveyors, with an asking price of £465,000 and the potential for office and residential use, with consent to redevelop the ground floor as commercial space ad five residential apartments on the upper floors.