Thursday, 14 May 2020
The lockdown introduced as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic continues to grip most of Europe, and the latest discussions indicate there may be no travel from Ireland to other parts of Europe for the rest of 2020.
But I can still travel in my mind’s eye. And, so, in recent months I have been posting a number of ‘virtual tours,’ inviting you to join me in ‘virtual tours’ of churches, monasteries, synagogues, historic sites, and even pubs and restaurants across Europe.
This evening I invite you to join me in a ‘virtual tour’ with a genealogical theme, visiting a dozen or more ancestral homes of the Comberford family. Most of these are in the Lichfield and Tamworth areas, but some are a little further out in Staffordshire: one or two are in Warwickshire, and one is in Shropshire.
I hope to follow this evening’s ‘virtual tour’ later with a ‘virtual tour’ of ancestral homes of different branches of the Quemerford and Comerford families.
1, Comberford Hall:
Comberford is on the east bank of the River Tame, and many local people can catch a glimpse of Comberford Hall from the train between Lichfield and Tamworth.
Most authorities agree the name is Anglo-Saxon in origin, meaning ‘the river crossing of the valley.’ However, Bardsley says a ‘Comb’ was a cell or hollow in a hillside, where there was a sheltered habitation. The Celtic word cwm means a hollow, while the Anglo-Saxon camb means the crest of a hill.
The story of Comberford is intimately linked with the story of the Comberford family. The name Alan de Comberford appears from soon after 1070 repeatedly until 1278, a 200-year period, spanning six or seven generations. However, it is often difficult to distinguish and separate their identities, or to establish with certainty their kinship with each other. At this time, the family also held land at Chesterfield, near Wall, south of Lichfield.
In 1439, William Comberford was building a new house for himself at Comberford, a half-timbered, moated manor house that was still partly standing in the early 18th century.
Comberford Hall remained at the heart of the Comberford family estates for successive generations and in the centuries that followed. The family estates passed to Robert Comberford (ca 1594-1669), who was living in Comberford Hall in 1657, having recovered it from a distant cousin, Francis Comberford (1620-1679), a Quaker and former Parliamentarian.
Robert Comberford had no sons, and his heirs were his two young daughters, Mary and Anne, who later married Thomas Giffard and Thomas Brooke. These sisters sold some of their property in the early 1680s, but the Comberford estate passed to Anne’s son, Cumberford Brooke, who in 1710 sold it with the manorial rights to Thomas Thynne, Viscount Weymouth, also Lord of Drayton.
However, Robert Comberford’s widow, Catherine, was still living at Comberford Hall when she died in 1717.
The present Comberford Hall stands to the west of Comberford village. It was built in the late 18th century. It is square in plan, with two storeys and an attic, the main three-bay west front has a Tuscan porch.
The Thynne family retained Comberford Manor and the estates until 1790, when Viscount Weymouth, recently created Marquess of Bath, sold them to Arthur Chichester, Earl of Donegall, who also owned he neighbouring estate at Fisherwick Hall estate.
The trustees of Lord Spencer Chichester sold Comberford and Wigginton, along with other parts of the estate, in 1808 to pay off his gambling debts. The Howard family of Elford owned the estate for more than a century, but Comberford Hall was lived in by a variety of interesting families as tenants.
From about 1888 until about 1896, Comberford Hall was the home of Sydney Fisher (1857-1927), a Tamworth paper manufacturer. When James Comerford visited Comberford ca 1900-1902, William Felton Peel (1839-1907) was living at Comberford Hall, which was his family home from 1900 to 1903. In 1916, Charles Frederick Palmer was living there.
The remaining part of the Comberford estate was sold by the Howard family in 1919, along with most of the Elford estate. Later, Comberford Hall passed to the Arden, Pickin, Coltman, Mills and Darrell families.
Comberford Hall was severely damaged by fire in the 1980s, with the loss of the original shutters on the outside windows, and much of the interior, including the original Georgian staircase. The house has been rebuilt, and has been sold many times since.
2, The Coach House, Comberford:
But, if the present Comberford Hall was built in the late 18th century, where was the Comberford Hall William Comberford was building as a new moated manor house in 1439?
The Coach House, a partly timber-framed coach house five-bedroom residence beside Comberford Hall is said to be part of the earlier house.
When it was sold recently, a report in the Tamworth Herald said the Coach House dates back 300 or 400 years, which means it was built while the Comberford family was still living at Comberford Hall.
If Shaw is correct in saying the original Comberford Hall stood east of the present Comberford Hall, then both Comberford Hall Cottage and the Coach House may stand on the original site or incorporate parts of the original house.
In the early 1970s, a ridged indentation in one of the fields to the north of the Comberford Hall close to the right of way that leads to Comberford village, was pointed out to me as the site of the original Comberford Hall. However, this contradicts Shaw’s descriptions of an original house east of Comberford Hall. Instead, it probably matches the crater shape in the field to the left of the path from Comberford village to Comberford Hall that was known to the village children in the 1950s and 1960s as ‘the bomb field’ and caused by a stray war-time bomb.
Comberford Hall Cottage, beside Comberford Hall, is a Grade II Listed house with four bedrooms.
This semi-detached cottage directly adjoins Comberford Hall and may have been a part of the original house.
3,Comberford Manor Farm, Comberford:
A third possible location for the original Comberford Hall may be Comberford Manor, at the north edge of Comberford Village.
While Comberford Hall is set a good distance back from the banks of the River Tame, Comberford Manor at the north end of Manor Lane is close to the banks of the river and on the flood plane. I surmise that its location suggests that this may indeed be the site of the original Comberford Hall and the centre of the manor once owned by the Comberford family.
Manor Farm has been run as a mixed dairy and arable farm, and more recently it has been an arable enterprise with some grassland for heifer rearing. The farmland has good road access and river frontage to the River Tame.
Comberford Manor is a Grade II listed three-storey farmhouse, and was described a few years ago by the Lichfield blogger Lichwheeld as ‘one of those ‘yes please’ houses.’
4, Chesterfield House:
Alanus de Cumberford or Alan of Comberford, who was holding Comberford in the reign of William I or II, ca 1070-1120, from the Beauchamp family, also held land at Chesterfield, near Shenstone, on the south-west fringes of Lichfield. Chesterfield was known to Holinshed as Chesterford and has also been called Campfield.
A generation later, Alanus de Comberford who is mentioned during the reign of Henry I (1100-1135) in the pipe rolls and other Staffordshire records, held lands at Chesterfield in Scertestan (Shenstone), on the edges of Lichfield.
In the reign of Richard I (1189-1199), Shaw notes, the Comberford family owned the Manor of Chesterfield, near Wall, on the southern edges of Lichfield.
The Comberford family interests in the area continued throughout the centuries, and in 1586 William Comberford was still in possession of the lands at Chesterfield that had been owned by the family for generations. He was in Lichfield on 27 April 1586, when he was robbed violently in nearby Shenstone. He was set on by ‘Little Neddy,’ a well-known highwayman, who robbed him of £72, a £5 gold ring, and a sword. Little Neddy (Edward Stevenson) was later apprehended and convicted.
5, The Moat House, Lichfield Street, Tamworth:
The Moat House in Lichfield Street, Tamworth, is a handsome Tudor Mansion of dark-red brick with mullioned windows and fine chimneys that has been described by one local historian as ‘Tamworth’s Elizabethan treasure.’ Because of its riverside location on the banks of the River Tame, the house was built on a series of brick arches or vaults. The front consists of five gables, two large ones extending forward on either side of the house, and three smaller ones in between. Tall chimneys of twisted brickwork complete the typical aspect of an Elizabethan manor house.
However, the name of the Moat House refers not to a water-filled moat, but to a high Anglo-Saxon defensive ditch known as a motte.
Land known as ‘le Mot,’ there has been a house on this site since at least in the mid-14th century. This land was located ‘Otewall’ (later Lichfield) Street, on the west side of Tamworth.
John de Comberford owned a messuage and property in Otewellestrete, now Lichfield Street, Tamworth, by 1391. This may have been the site of the Moat House. The holding included rights to common pasture on the river side of the Lichfield Road.
His nephew, John Comberford, owned a ‘messuage in Lychfeldestrete (Lichfield Street) between the highway and the field known as Wallefurlonge’ in 1424. DP Adams suggests that this site may have been nearer into the town and on the other side of Lichfield Street from the Moat House.
A reference in 1460 to William Comberford’s house in Tamworth ‘lately burned down’ may well refer to the Moat House in Lichfield Street, which was not rebuilt until the mid-16th century. But the gap in records makes it difficult to trace what happened to the house and site in Lichfield Street for almost a century between 1460 and 1540.
In 1549, the house on the site was known as the ‘Mote.’ It was set back off the south side of the street and near the river. The house was mortgaged in 1549 by Richard Jakes (or Jekes) to Thomas Ensor of Comberford. Under an agreement made in 1554, the ultimate right to the Moat House should rest with the heirs of Humphrey Comberford (ca 1496-1555).
In 1551, Thomas Ensor left the house to his wife Mary, daughter of Humphrey Comberford.
By 1563, the widowed Mary (Comberford) Ensor had married her second husband Walter Harcourt of Tamworth. When she died ca 1591, the title to the Moat House reverted to the Comberford family, although Walter Harcourt continued to live there until he died in 1598.
When the title to the Moat House was inherited by William Comberford, he moved to the Moat House from Wednesbury. In 1591, the family’s Comberford and Wednesbury estates were settled on William’s son Humphrey, and William was left with only the Moat House.
Humphrey also lived at the Moat House in the early 1590s, and a ‘priests’ hole,’ said to have been used by the Jesuits harboured in the Moat House by Humphrey Comberford, led to the River Tame. The river may have provided safe routes down to Wednesbury Manor or north to the homes of other Catholics among the Staffordshire gentry.
The gallery of the Moat House, looking west, with the windows overlooking the River Tame on the south side (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)
William may already have started planning the lavish, heraldic decoration of the ceiling of the gallery on the first floor of the Moat House when he moved into the house in 1591, with advice as early as 1592 from his first cousin, the herald and genealogist William Wyrley (1565-1618) and the Staffordshire antiquarian Sampson Erdeswick.
The Moat House was described as ‘a fair dwelling house’ in 1619, the year William Comberford had Prince Charles as his guest at the ‘Mothall’ while King James I stayed at Tamworth Castle. The king was the guest of Sir Humphrey Ferrers on the night of 18 August 1619, while his son, the future Charles I, stayed at the Moat House as William Comberford’s guest.
William Comberford built a brick wall in 1620 to enclose the croft in which the Moat House stood. He was Sheriff of Staffordshire in 1622 and died at the Moat House in 1625.
William Comberford, who next lived at the Moat House, was an active Royalist in the Civil Wars. During the siege of Tamworth in June 1643, William and his supporters sought refuge with the Ferrers family in Tamworth Castle. According to the local historian, the late Mabel Swift, Comberford escaped to Lichfield, where once again he joined the royalist army defending the cathedral city.
In his absence, the Moat House was ransacked by the Cromwellian forces, who also mutilated the Comberford monument in Saint Editha’s Church, defaced the Comberford Chapel, and, according to Swift, sacked Comberford Hall.
William Comberford died in 1656, and asked to be buried with his parents in the Comberford Chapel in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth.
Captain Thomas Fox, the parliamentarian MP for Tamworth, lived at the Moat House from 1659 until he sold it to Sir William Boothby in 1663. Boothby in turn sold the ‘Moat Hall’ in 1671 to Sir Edward Littleton of Pillaton in Penkridge, who moved into the house.
The Moat House later passed to the Wolferstan family, and then to William Abney, who sold the house in 1767 to George Townshend, 1st Viscount Townshend, a godson of King George I and the owner in his wife’s name of Tamworth Castle.
The Moat House was sold as part of the Tamworth Castle estate to John Robins in 1814. From 1815 to 1821, Dr Robert Woody, a surgeon, was renting the Moat House, and he licensed the house as an asylum for the insane.
The ownership of the Moat House then passing to their son John Francis Woody, who continued the asylum until he died in 1894. In 1863, Woody opened the Moat House in 1863 for the Tamworth Horticultural Show.
When Dr Edward Hollins died in 1921, the house was sold to Dr William Lowson, who offered it to Tamworth Borough Council when he retired in 1950. Instead, it was sold to a Birmingham businessman, and passed through the Ashworth, Jones, Roddis and Egling family before it was bought in the 1960s by the Paul family in the 1960s, who welcomed me on my first visit to the Moat House in 1970.
It was run by various private owners as a country club from the early 1960s and as a restaurant from 1972. It has been known as the Gazebo Club, The Moat House Country Club, and other names. The house was acquired in the 1980s by the first of a succession of national hotel or brewery groups, including Berni Inns, and since then it has seen periodic closures and re-openings.
The Moat House reopened as bar, restaurant and event venue last year, 400 years after the Comberford family had welcomed the future Charles I as their guest.
6, Wednesbury Manor:
Wednesbury Manor … the remains of the manor house seen in an old postcard in 1892
Humphrey Comberford (ca 1496-1555), who was the Master of the Guild in Lichfield in 1530, made a politically and socially strategic marriage when he married Dorothy Beaumont. Dorothy and her sisters were the heirs to the vast Beaumont family estate in Wednesbury and other parts of south Staffordshire.
Wednesbury Manor House stood on a site about a quarter of a mile north-east of Saint Bartholomew’s Church. The Beaumont family, who claimed French royal ancestry, inherited Wednesbury through the marriage of Joan Heronville and Sir Henry Beaumont, while the Heronville family had acquired the estate a generation earlier through the marriage of Henry Heronville and Joan Leventhorpe.
When Thomas inherited Wednesbury from his mother Dorothy (Beaumont), he moved there and settled Comberford and Wigginton on his son William Comberford (1551-1625), who was living in Comberford by 1589.
At Wednesbury, William Comberford invested in an iron works, and it was perhaps in order to provide a supply of charcoal that his sons acquired woodland in Hopwas Hay in the 1590s. The profits were used to rebuild the Moat House.
According to the local historian, William Hackwood, who lived at Comberford Cottage in Bridge Street, Wednesbury, Colonel William Comberford probably sold Wednesbury Manor in 1642 to raise money for the Royalist cause. It first passed to a Parliamentarian named Gilpin. Between 1657 and 1663 the manor was sold to John Shelton of West Bromwich, a Cromwellian and strict Presbyterian. Shelton had already bought property in the Wednesbury area from John Comberford of Handsworth. Shelton was Sheriff of Staffordshire in 1672.
Wednesbury Hall was sold in 1710 by Shelton’s son, John Shelton, to John Hoo of Bradley, serjeant-at-law. Wednesbury Hall was used as a farmhouse, but it deteriorated in the early 18th century when it was owned by the Hoo family. The top storey of the old manor house was removed about 1755, and it was soon reduced to ‘a common farm[house],’ so that Shaw in 1779, in his History and Antiquities of Staffordshire, says the manor house at Wednesbury ‘has nothing remarkable about it, now being converted into a common farm.’
A modern artistic impression of Wednesbury Manor … a painting by D Clarke now in the Sandwell Museums
When Thomas Hoo, Lord of the Manors of Great Barr and Wednesbury, died unmarried in 1791, the manors passed through to his second cousin, Mary Whitby, and to her first cousin once removed, Elizabeth Maria Foley Hodgetts, wife of the Hon Edward Foley (1747-1808).
These two women were ‘the present ladies of the manor’ at the end of the 18th century. Wednesbury then passed to Sir Joseph Scott (1752-1828), became a baronet in 1806. He was still in possession of Wednesbury Hall in 1820 and died on 17 June 1828. His son, Sir Edward Dolman Scott (1793-1851), was MP for Lichfield.
The coal-mining interests of the Comberford and Parkes families passed in the 17th century to the daughters of Richard Parkes of Old Park. In 1727, Sarah married Sampson Lloyd, a leading Quaker whose descendants gave their name to Lloyds Bank. Sarah’s sister married Thomas Pemberton, whose descendants also married into the Lloyd family.
By 1834, Wednesbury Hall was owned by Sir Horace St Paul (1775-1840), a baronet and a count of the Holy Roman Empire, and the house was described as ‘a venerable brick mansion.’ Wednesbury Hall was inherited by his son, Sir Horace St Paul (1812-1891) in 1840. However, by 1854, the manor house had been converted into a farmhouse, ‘retaining nothing of its former magnificence.’
Wednesbury Manor House remained a farmhouse until the late 19th century. FW Hackwood, who saw the house in its later years, described it with ‘small red bricks, heavy sandstone mullioned windows, very plain but somewhat high. Its open entrance porch had a seat on each side.’
Wednesbury Hall was later known as Mason’s Hall, and the manor house was in slum conditions by the mid-19th century. It was only the size of a cottage when it was photographed in 1894, and it was completely demolished at the beginning of the 20th century.
The manor house lay about 300 metres north-east of Saint Bartholomew’s Church, by Manor House Road, close to today’s primary school and Beaumont Road, although in the early 1970s the site of the original manor house of Wednesbury Hall was pointed out to me as a Midlands Electricity sub-station between Nos 98 and 100 Manor House Road, near the corner of Harcourt Road and Beaumont Road.
7, Mancetter Manor, near Kingsbury:
William Comberford bought two-ninths of the Manor of Mancetter, outside Tamworth. Mancetter had previously been the home of the Glover family, and William Comberford was buying up estates around Tamworth as he became one of the most extensive landowners in south-east Stafford.
Humphrey Comberford (ca1568-1609), who moved into Comberford Hall in 1591, was jailed for recusancy in 1592. After his release, he was living in 1599 at both Comberford Hall and Mancetter Manor in the parish of Kingsbury, seven miles south of Comberford and four miles south of Tamworth.
William Comberford (ca 1592-1653), was 17 at the time of his father’s death, and was 19 when he inherited Comberford Hall from his grandfather in 1611. He was 32 when his grandfather William Comberford died in 1625. At the Visitations of Warwickshire, he was described as ‘de Cumberford et Kingsberrow’ or Kingsbury, Warwickshire, a reference to his interest in one-ninth of the manor of Mancetter within the Parish of Kingsbury.
8, Bolehall Manor, Tamworth:
William Comberford bought the Manor of Bole Hall, near Tamworth, in 1615, from William Anson, ancestor of the Earls of Lichfield. Comberford bought the manor from Anson soon after it had been sold to him by Sir Walter Aston.
Bolehall Manor is set back a few metres from the footpath on Amington Road, in grounds bordered by Amington Road on the south and on the north by the Anker River and pastureland that was once part of the manor grounds.
There is a ‘mock Elizabethan’ feel, architecturally, about the house, and Garth Thomas, writing for Tamworth Heritage Trust, has said the house, with its steeped gables, is ‘reminiscent of the genuinely-Elizabethan Moat House in Lichfield Street.’
The Bolehall estate was sold off piecemeal by the Peel family from 1884 because of debts run up by the third and fourth baronets. The Revd William MacGregor (1848-1937), former Vicar of Tamworth (1878-1887), founder of Tamworth Co-op in 1885 and England’s foremost amateur Egyptologist, ‘remodelled’ Bolehall Manor in 1891. An inscription carved in stone above the entrance reads, ‘Worlds Above And Worlds Below Mansions Are They All Of The Great Father’s House.’
Differences in the brickwork indicate that MacGregor incorporated parts of the earlier Bolehall Manor into the house he designed for his retirement. A statue of Saint Andrew, seen among the first-floor windows, is said to have been placed there by MacGregor to face the spot in the garden where he had buried two rotting mummies.
From the windows on that side of the house MacGregor could also see the four tower pinnacles of Saint Editha’s Church in Tamworth.
MacGregor died on 14 December 1937, and in 1939 Bolehall Manor became Bolehall Manor Club. The club celebrated its 80th anniversary last year (August 2019) with the unveiling of a blue heritage plaque honouring the Revd William MacGregor.
MacGregor devoted his life to the people of Tamworth and spent the first 10 years of his ministry visiting the poor and squalid homes where typhoid was often rampant. His co-operative movement helped many of the poor. His boys’ clubs, girls’ clubs and mothers’ union did much to soften the blows of poverty.
He was the chairman of the Tamworth Herald in 1906-1928, started a free library and a coffee house and established a working men’s club as a place where workers could have a social evening.
After recuperating from illness in Egypt, he became a renowned Egyptologist. Although his collection is now scattered around the world, some items are in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, and most of the collection is in the British Museum London.
To honour MacGregor, the club recently created ‘The MacGregor Suite,’ with its own bar and dance floor.
9, The Precentor’s House, the Cathedral Close, Lichfield:
During the reign of Queen Mary, Henry Comberford (ca 1499-1586), became Precentor of Lichfield Cathedral in 1555, and he was a key figure in the events surrounding the Reformation in Lichfield. He was the Precentor of Lichfield from 9 June 1555 until 1562, and the Prebendary of Bishop’s Itchington at the same time.
The precentor was the first residentiary canon of Lichfield Cathedral, and as such was a Justice of the Peace or Magistrate for the Cathedral Close. For many centuries the precentor’s residence traditionally has been at No 23 in the Cathedral Close in Lichfield.
Henry Comberford was still Prebendary of Bishop’s Itchington on 15 April 1558, and appears on the pardon roll of 15 January 1559.
In February 1559, the two bailiffs of Lichfield City, Edward Bardell and John Dyott, accused Comberford of ‘lewd preaching and misdemeanour.’ He was summoned before the Privy Council on 27 February, was deprived of all his benefices because of his extreme Catholicism, and was in prison until April 1559.
Henry Comberford was subsequently ordered to live in Suffolk, although he was given liberty to travel twice every year into Staffordshire, for six weeks on each occasion. In 1570, he was brought before the Yorkshire ecclesiastical commissioners and charged with defending the Mass. By 1579, when he was aged 80, Henry Comberford was a prisoner in Hull for his religious beliefs, which were regarded as dangerous to the state. He died on 4 March 1586 in Hull Prison.
Not all the cathedral clergy lived within the Close. For example, from the 13th century the Archdeacon was assigned a house in Beacon Street. The archdeacon’s house was on the corner of Beacon Street and Shaw Lane on the west side of Beacon Street, opposite Gaia Lane.
It was described in 1448 as being outside the Close but in the town.
If Henry Comberford was archdeacon, then he may have lived in the house on this site rather than in the Cathedral Close. The site of this is now occupied by the premises housing the Lichfield Family Dental Practice, 19 Beacon Street.
It can be presumed that, apart from Henry Comberford’s house in Lichfield as Precentor, the Comberford family had a townhouse in Lichfield for two-and-a-half centuries, from the early 15th century until the late 17th century.
In 1424, John Comberford leased property in Lichfield Street to Edmund Pachette or Paget, who paid 6 shillings 8 pence to enter the property in the liberty of the town.
The Comberford family become directly engaged in the civic and ecclesiastical life of Lichfield in the 15th and 16th centuries, with bequests to the Franciscan Friary, and four successive generations of the family being admitted to membership of the Guild of Saint Mary and Saint John, which was the effective city government of Lichfield from its incorporation by charter in 1387 until 1548. One member of the family was Master of the Guild, a position that was equivalent to that of Mayor before the incorporation of the city by charter from Edward VI in 1548.
William Comberford and his wife Anne extended their land holdings on the edge of Lichfield in 1460, and in the surrounding district, when recovered seven messuages, two cottages, two gardens, 48 acres of land, 2½ acres of meadow, and 139 acres of pasture in Lichefeld (Lichfield), Longedon (Longdon), Morghwhale (the lost hamlet of Morughale, south-west of Streethay and close to the present Trent Valley Railway Station in Lichfield), Curburgh (Curborough), Stretehay (Streethay), King’s Bromley and Elmehurst (Elmhurst).
Thomas Comberford’s land holdings in the Lichfield area around 1525 included land in Wall and Wigginton, and family members continued to be admitted to membership of the Guild in Lichfield until 1530, when Humphrey Comberford was Master of the Guild.
With the outbreak of the English Civil war in the mid-17th century, both Colonel William Comberford and his nephew, also William Comberford, were involved in the events surrounding the siege of Lichfield.
As the civil war unfolded, Colonel William Comberford was appointed High Sheriff of Staffordshire. On 2 February 1643, he wrote from a besieged Stafford to his kinsman Ralph Weston of Rugeley, asking him to send ‘with all speed to Lichfield’ for muskets and fowling pieces to help in the defence of Stafford.
After the fall of Tamworth, as the Moat House, the Comberford family townhouse on Lichfield Street, was being sacked, William Comberford escaped to Lichfield, where once again he joined the royalist army defending the city against a new parliamentarian siege.
Without actual possession of the Comberford estates, William may have lived on in Lichfield. This is indicated in his choice of leading Lichfield residents in the formation of his trusts to protect family property interests. After the civil war and the Caroline restoration, the Comberford family appears to have continued to have a town house in Lichfield, although to date I have not been able to identify this house.
10, Bradley Hall:
Bradley Hall, Staffordshire, home of the Quaker Comberfords in the 17th century
The Staffordshire historian Sampson Erdeswick described Bradley as ‘a manor belonging to Lord Stafford’s barony ever since the Conquest.’ But, a large part Bradley was acquired by the Comberford family in the mid-16th century in a series of leases from Saint John’s College, Cambridge, from 1545 to Richard and John Comberford. They were brothers of Humphrey Comberford (1496/8-1555) of Comberford, a Master of the Guild in Lichfield, and Canon Henry Comberford, Precentor of Lichfield Cathedral.
Richard Comberford (ca 1495-post 1547) is often confused by 18th century genealogists with Richard Comerford of Ballybur, Co Kilkenny. He was born at Comberford ca 1495, and was a Fellow of Saint John’s College Cambridge (1538) and the Senior Bursar (1542-1544).
Richard Comberford was a senior barrister, a serjeant-at-law or servillus ad legem, and the King’s Remembrancer from about 1547. His wife Isabel (Biggs), as ‘Dame Isabella Cumberforde,’ was admitted to membership of the Guild of Saint Mary and Saint John the Baptist in Lichfield in 1530 when her brother-in-law, Humphrey Comberford, was Master of the Guild.
John Comberford lived in Wednesbury. He was Treasurer of Archbishop Thomas Crannmer of Canterbury, or Treasurer of Canterbury Palace (1543-1544), and died in 1559.
Richard and John Comberford both leased lands at Much Bradley in Staffordshire from Saint John’s College from 1545. On 4 May 1545, Richard, who was described as ‘Ri. Comberford of Cambridge, gent.’ leased a messuage and lands at Much Bradley for 20 years from Michaelmas 1549, at a rent of £13. On the same day, John Comberford rented lands in Much Bradley from Michaelmas 1552, at a rent of £6 4s.
Richard Comberford’s only son, Francis Comberford, who died in 1629, first lived at Linsell or Linshull, that is, Lilleshall Abbey, Shropshire, which had been acquired after the Dissolution of the Monasteries by the Leveson family, for whom he worked. He later settled at Bradley, near Gnosall and Penkridge, four miles south of Stafford.
Francis Comberford was probably the builder of Bradley Old Hall, which stood until 1939. He married Joan Brereton or Breton, daughter of John Breton of Tamworth, MP for Tamworth in 1585.
Bradley Old Hall was inherited in 1629 by their only son, also Francis Comberford (ca 1592-1648/9). The collection of title deeds in the Staffordshire Record Office relating to the tithes and advowson of Bradley from 1632 to 1790 shows that the patronage of this living passed from the Craddock family to the Comberford family, and later to the Curzon, Vere and Anson families.
Bradley continued through successive generations of the Comberford family, and Francis Comberford (ca 1620-1679), who inherited Bradley ca 1649, was a Commissioner of Staffordshire, a Justice of the Peace and a leading Parliamentarian until he became a Quaker while he was living at Comberford Hall in 1653. For several years, he held Quaker meetings at his home in Bradley after he returned there from Comberford.
In the 1666 Hearth Tax records for Bradley Constablewick in Cuttlestone Hundred, he was assessed for seven hearths, indicating his house was half the size of Comberford Hall. With the death of his cousin Robert Comberford in 1671, Francis claimed the Comberford family estates which he had first leased from his kinsman, William Comberford, but he was unsuccessful. He later moved to Shropshire, where he died on 1 March 1679.
11, Oxley Manor, Bushbury:
Two generations of the Comberford family lived at Oxley Manor in Bushbury, near Wolverhampton. Oxley was the home of the Austen family until the death of Thomas Austen in 1613. Francis Comberford (ca 1592-1648/1649) was a tenant at Oxley Farm from around 1613 until he inherited Bradley from his father in 1629.
Oxley Farm was later the home of Francis Comberford’s son, also Francis Comberford (ca 1620-1679). He moved from Oxley Farm, near Wolverhampton, to Bradley when he inherited it ca 1648.
Oxley Manor, or Oxley Hall, was later inherited by Judith Austen, an only daughter who was married three times: to Sir William Bassett, William Boothby and Sir Richard Corbet. Members of the Boothby family later owned the Moat House in Tamworth.
No trace of the early manor house remained by the early 19th century apart from a square farmhouse. Alexander Hordern rebuilt Oxley Manor in 1854, adding steep gables and Tudor windows but retaining the older portion of the house.
When Alexander Hordern died in 1870, Oxley Manor passed to his brother-in-law, Henry Hill, a Wolverhampton banker who died in 1872. The house was then inherited by Henry Hill’s son, Alexander Staveley Hill (1825-1905), who was Conservative MP for Coventry (1868-1874), Staffordshire West (1874-1885) and Kingswinford (1885-1900), and Judge Advocate of the Fleet.
His son, Colonel Henry Staveley-Hill (1865-1946), was MP for Kingswinford (1905-1918). He was appointed a County Court judge in 1918, but resigned in 1928, after an order in bankruptcy had been made against him. Oxley Manor was demolished the following year, 1929.
12, Madeley Court, Shropshire:
Madeley Court, near Telford in Shropshire, was the home of Comberford Brooke, the last heir of the Comberford Hall branch of the family to bear the name Comberford.
The last male descendant of the Comberford family to live at Comberford Hall was Robert Comberford (1594-1669). Robert his brother John Comberford leased the Manor of Comberford and Wigginton to John Birch, William Bromwich and John Hopkins on 23 March 1664 for 20 years. The lease may have been a form of mortgage or a trust for the benefit of Robert’s wife, Catherine, their two daughters, Mary and Ann. Robert and his family continued to live at Comberford Hall until he died in 1669. He was buried in the Comberford Chapel in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth.
Catherine was still living in 1683, when her daughter, Mary Giffard died. She was living at Comberford in 1705 with her three grandchildren, Comberford Brooke, Catherine Brooke and Mary Grosvenor, and she continued to live at Comberford Hall until she died in 1718.
The elder daughter of Robert and Catherine Comberford, Mary (ca 1654/1655-ca 1683), married ca 1680 Thomas Giffard of The Lodge, High Offley Park, near Wolverhampton. Their younger daughter, Anne (1655-ca 1705), married Thomas Brooke of Wolverhampton and Comberford in 1675, and their descendants continued the representation of the Comberford family.
Thomas Brooke was the son of Sir Basil Brooke of Madeley Court, a leading Shropshire royalist who died in the Tower of London in 1646. Madeley was the subject of further sequestration when Thomas Brooke was accused of treason. Anne and Thomas Brooke were the parents of Comberford Brooke (ca 1675-1711), also known as ‘Mr Brooke of Cumberford’ or Captain Cumberford.
Comberford Brooke was living with his sisters and his grandmother, Catherine Comberford, at Comberford in 1705. He became an English Jacobite and a captain in the German Regiment of Saar. He maintained regular contact with his family and friends, and recovered his family estates at Madeley Court, near Telford in Shropshire.
As Comberford Brooke of Comberford he made his will in 1711. He married Rose Austen, and they were the parents of a son Basil and two daughters, Catherine and Rose.
Madeley Court is a 16th-century country house and was originally built as a grange to the medieval Wenlock Priory. The house is ashlar built in two storeys to an L-shaped plan and is a Grade II* listed building. To the south west of the house is a 16th-century gatehouse that is grade I listed and recently restored.
Sir Robert Brooke, later Speaker of the House of Commons, acquired the Manor of Madeley from Wenlock Priory in 1544 after the dissolution of the monastic houses, and built Madeley Court in 1553 on the site of an earlier monastic grange.
The manor passed down in the Brooke family. When Comberford Brooke’s son, Basil Brooke, grandson of Robert Comberford, died aged 19 and still a minor in 1727, the Manor of Madeley was divided between Basil’s two sisters, Catherine Smitheman and Rose Giffard. The house went into decline, and the tenants were a succession of gentleman and yeoman farmers it suffered from the ravages of coal mining.
When Catherine died, her half passed to her husband John Unett Smitheman and from him to their son John who sold it in 1774 to Abraham Darby III. Darby sold it in 1781 to his former brother-in-law Richard Reynolds, his partner in the Coalbrookdale Company and a Quaker philanthropist and ironmaster.
The direct line of descent of the Comberford family of Comberford continued with the descendants of Rose (Brooke) Giffard in Parry, Slaughter and Mostyn families. Rose’s half of Madeley was subdivided between her four daughters.
By 1781, Richard Reynolds had gradually acquired those portions as well, thus reuniting the holding under one name in 1780-1781.
The manor passed to the Ball family in 1871-1889, and the leading trustee was the Revd Canon CR Ball, who died in 1918. But Madeley Court was described in 1880 as ‘fast going to decay’ and ‘a scene of utter desolation.’ Some repairs were made in 1904, but by the 1970s the hall range and garden walls were in a ruinous condition, the gatehouse was cracking and by 1977 the buildings were uninhabitable.
Telford Development Corporation began a restoration project in 1973, making the house structurally sound and weatherproof in 1976-1979 and rebuilding the gatehouse. The property was later converted into an hotel and is now (2020) the Mercure Madeley Court Hotel.
Patrick Comerford in Comberford village
Some recent ‘virtual tours’:
A dozen Wren churches in London;
Ten former Wren churches in London;
More than a dozen churches in Lichfield;
More than a dozen pubs in Lichfield;
A dozen former pubs in Lichfield;
A dozen churches in Rethymnon;
A dozen restaurants in Rethymnon;
A dozen churches in other parts of Crete;
A dozen monasteries in Crete;
A dozen sites on Mount Athos;
A dozen historic sites in Athens;
A dozen historic sites in Thessaloniki;
A dozen churches in Thessaloniki;
A dozen Jewish sites in Thessaloniki.
A dozen churches in Cambridge;
A dozen college chapels in Cambridge;
A dozen Irish islands;
A dozen churches in Corfu;
A dozen churches in Venice.
A dozen churches in Rome.
A dozen churches in Bologna.
A dozen churches in Tuscany.
Comberford Hall, ancestral home of the Comberford family of Comberford, Staffordshire (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 1971)
Today in the calendar of the Church is the Feast of Saint Matthias the Apostle.
Our churches remain closed because of the Covid-19 pandemic, but I am continuing to use the USPG Prayer Diary, Pray with the World Church, for my morning prayers and reflections throughout this Season of Easter.
USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is the Anglican mission agency that partners churches and communities worldwide in God’s mission to enliven faith, strengthen relationships, unlock potential, and champion justice. It was founded in 1701.
Throughout this week (10 to 16 May 2020), the USPG Prayer Diary is focussing on Climate Justice and the Church of Bangladesh. This focus was introduced in the Prayer Diary on Sunday morning by Rebecca Boardman of USPG.
Thursday 14 May 2020:
Pray that all people might learn to live in harmony with Creation and with each other.
The Readings: Isaiah 22: 15-25; Psalm 15; Acts 1: 15-26; John 15: 9-17.
who in the place of the traitor Judas
chose your faithful servant Matthias
to be of the number of the Twelve:
Preserve your Church from false apostles
and, by the ministry of faithful pastors and teachers,
keep us steadfast in your truth;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Lord God, the source of truth and love,
Keep us faithful to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship,
united in prayer and the breaking of bread,
and one in joy and simplicity of heart,
in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Saint Matthias in a roof boss in Saint Helen’s Church, Bishopsgate, Norwich