25 September 2019
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.
During my return visit to Lichfield last week, as I walked many times between the Hedgehog on Stafford Road and Lichfield Cathedral, I was pleased to see that the former Angel Croft Hotel, Westgate House and Westgate Cottage on Beacon Street are being saved for future generations.
The Angel Croft once epitomised elegant hotel accommodation in Lichfield. But in recent years the building had fallen into such a sad state of disrepair and neglect that I had wondered on many occasions (2011, 2013, 2013) whether it was beyond saving and restoring.
However, Friel Construction, based in Great Wyrley, recently acquired the former Angel Croft Hotel, Westgate House and Westgate Cottage, along with the surrounding land on Beacon Street, including the hotel car park.
The Angel Croft came with planning permission to convert both the hotel and its outbuildings into nine apartments. Friel Construction are developing the three-acre site into what is described as ‘luxury city centre living while harmonising with the Georgian architecture of the surrounding area.’
The Angel Croft is a Grade 2* listed building, and Westgate House and Westgate Cottage are Grade 2 listed buildings. This means these buildings must be restored with care and attention. The surrounding land is also of historic interest, and an archaeologist was involved in the project from an early stage.
Although both the Angel Croft Hotel and Westgate House date from ca 1750, their stories date back to the mid-12th century and the prebendal lands that provided stipends or incomes for the prebendaries or canons of Lichfield Cathedral.
Land in the Gaia Lane area was included in the endowment of the Prebend of Gaia in Lichfield Cathedral and was in existence probably by the mid-12th century. The prebend was divided into two prebends, Gaia Major and Gaia Minor, before 1279.
In 1498, the Prebend of Freeford’s property in Lichfield included the Angel in Beacon Street on the south side of the later Angel Croft hotel. It was rebuilt in the early 16th century, but was destroyed in the Civil War.
A rental from this time (1497-1498) also shows that the property of the Vicars Choral included two inns in Beacon Street: the Talbot on the site of the later Angel Croft hotel and the Cock.
A house was built on the site of the Talbot ca 1790 for George Addams, a wine merchant.
It became the Angel Croft hotel around 1930. However, by the 1980s its reputation was slipping, and one reviewer described it as Lichfield’s ‘very own Fawlty Towers.’ Yet it was still being advertised as recently as 2008, although by then its AA rating had slipped to one star.
New owners began refurbishing the hotel around 2008, but the property was broken into soon after, the pipes were stolen and the building was flooded.
The Angel Croft Hotel closed in recent years. Some reports said it was bought by the Best Western chain, which also owns the George Hotel on Bird Street, where the playwright George Farquhar was supposed to have stayed.
Renovation work resumed a few years ago, but for many years it seemed nothing was being done to repair the building, and while there was no sign outside to say the hotel was closed, it lay empty for years. again.
Some window panes – over the main front door and at the rear – were broken, the rear gate was open, and the Angel Croft Hotel became a sad sight. Although a conservation team from Lichfield District Council was said to be monitoring the situation and in regular contact with the owners, no work has been carried out for some years, and English Heritage regarded the building as ‘at risk.’
As for Westgate House, a house outside the Close was annexed to the Prebend of Wolvey in the later 1270s. This house, known as Pool Hall by 1438, stood on Beacon Street on the site of the present Westgate House.
It seems to have been destroyed during the Civil War in the mod-17th century, but was rebuilt by 1670. The present Westgate House and its front wall and railings date from ca 1750, when it was rebuilt once again, possibly by Peter Garrick, a brother of the actor David Garrick, who had leased the property.
The Friary School opened a boarding house for about 30 girls in Westgate House in 1953.
The school became a mixed comprehensive in 1971, and a new large school was built on Eastern Avenue and opened in 1973. Westgate House was closed in 1981, and the school stopped taking boarders.
Other properties on Beacon Street were also associated with the canons of Lichfield Cathedral, so that the Prebend of Hansacre had a tenement in Beacon Street by 1393, as did the Prebend of Weeford in 1548.
The vicars choral also received grants of houses, land, and rent charges from the early 13th century and became the largest clerical landowners in Lichfield. A rental of 1497-1498 shows the extent of their property. Apart from the Talbot on Beacon Street, later the site of the Angel Croft, their property included the Swan in Bird Street, acquired in 1362, the Talbot and a second inn on Beacon Street known as the Cock, and a house called White Hall in Beacon Street on the north side of Dr Milley’s Hospital.
By 1592, the vicars also had an inn in Beacon Street known as the Lamb, on the site of Westgate Cottage and opposite the entrance to the Cathedral Close.
Westgate Cottage dates from the 18th century, with early 19th century alterations. It is a two-storey, Tudor style house built in painted brick with a stucco façade. A return has a short wing connecting Westgate Cottage with Westgate House.