Friday, 22 May 2020

A lockdown ‘virtual tour’
of a dozen buildings
in Tamworth (Part 1)

Tamworth Castle is one of England’s best preserved motte-and-bailey castles (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

The lockdown that is 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 or Britain to other parts of Europe for the next few months.

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 these islands and across Europe.

Over the past half century or more, the historic heart was torn out of Tamworth, by planners eager to modernise an old market town. In the process, much of the legacy of the narrow streets and Tudor shops was lost.

The old Paregoric Shop stood opposite Saint Editha’s Church on Church Street … but Tamworth’s architectural heritage has survived in many places

When people decry the destruction of Tamworth’s architectural legacy, they often cite the loss of the old Paregoric Shop and a row of 14th century timber-framed houses opposite Saint Editha’s Church in Church Street that were demolished in the 1960s.

Although Tamworth lost much of its architectural heritage in this wave of urban vandalism in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, it still retains some earlier Tudor buildings many interesting Georgian and Victorian buildings that should not be overlooked and in places it is still possible to find surprising legacies from the town’s once-elegant architectural past.

Most visitors in search of the past in Tamworth visit Tamworth Castle, Saint Editha’s Collegiate Church, and the Town Hall on Market Street, and perhaps also the Moat House on Lichfield Street, Guy’s Almshouses and the Assembly Rooms on Corporation Street.

So, this evening and tomorrow evening (23 May 2020), I invite you to join me on two ‘virtual tours,’ visiting a dozen buildings each evening that are part of Tamworth’s architectural legacy.

1, Tamworth Castle:

Entering Tamworth Castle through the castle courtyard (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Tamworth Castle stands above the point where the River Anker and the River Tame meet and is one of England’s best preserved motte-and-bailey castles. Until the changes in county boundary in 1889, the castle site was in Warwickshire, while most of the town, including the Moat House, was in Staffordshire.

This was the site of the residence of the Anglo-Saxon kings of Mercia. When Tamworth became the chief residence of Offa, ruler of the expanding Mercian kingdom, he built a palace there. From the year 781, many charters were issued from the sedens in palatio regali in Tamoworthige. However, the castle was abandoned during successive Viking invasions, and little trace of its former glory survived the Viking attack in 874 that left the town ‘for nearly forty years a mass of blackened ruins.’

Tamworth was rebuilt in 913 by Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians, who had newly fortified the town with an earthen burh. However, this did little to protect the town when it was again sacked by the Vikings in 943.

The site of Tamworth Castle was granted to William the Conqueror’s steward, Robert Despenser, who built a wooden castle in the typical Norman motte and bailey style in the 1080s. His castle stood on the south-west part of Æthelflæd’s earlier burh, and was the forerunner of the present building.

Robert Despenser had no children when he died and the castle passed to his nieces. One of these nieces, Matilda, married Rogert Marmion, who inherited Tamworth Castle in 1095. The Marmion family were hereditary champions of the Dukes of Normandy and the Kings of England. They held the castle for almost two centuries from 1095 to 1291.

During their time, the original wooden castle at Tamworth Castle was replaced by a castle, and the shell keep wall and tower built in 1170-1190 are the oldest parts of the castle.

Looking from the Great Hall into the courtyard at Tamworth Castle (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Philip Marmion was the last male member of his family to own Tamworth Castle. He had no legitimate sons, and when he died in 1291 the castle passed first to his daughter and then to her niece Joan, wife of Sir Alexander Freville.

The Freville family owned the castle until 1423, when the male line came to an end with Baldwin de Freville died while he was still a child. Tamworth Castle then passed to the Ferrers family, who lived at the castle until 1688.

The Ferrers family made many alterations and additions to Tamworth Castle over almost three centuries, especially in the Elizabethan and Jacobean period. The heraldic decoration of the ‘Withdrawing Room,’ illustrating the descent of the Ferrers family and their kinship with the royal family of Scotland, certainly rivals the heraldic decoration with a similar theme produced for the Comberford family in the Moat House.

The castle passed by marriage in 1688 to the Shirley family of Chartley and then in 1715 to the Comptons when Elizabeth Ferrers married the 5th Earl of Northampton. The castle again fell into disrepair but it was refurbished again after Charlotte Compton married George Townshend of Raynham in 1751. The Townshend family was forced to sell Tamworth Castle to pay off debts in 1821, but they bought it back again in 1831. However, the castle was let out to tenants for most of the 19th century.

The Townshend family put the castle up for sale by auction in 1891, when it was bought by Tamworth Corporation, to mark Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee. As well as maintaining the building and developing it as a tourist attraction, Tamworth Corporation has also landscaped the castle grounds as a public park.

2, Saint Editha’s Church:

Saint Editha’s Collegiate Church Tamworth … one of the largest and oldest parish churches in the English Midlands (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Saint Editha’s Church is one of the largest and oldest parish churches in the English Midlands, dating back 1,200 years. The English architectural historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner has described Saint Editha’s as ‘one of the largest parish churches of Staffordshire … and one of the most interesting.’

The church is especially notable for its Norman work, its monuments, its Pre-Raphaelite and other windows by Edward Burn Jones, William Morris and Ford Madox Ford, and for the restoration works in the 19th century by great Victorian architects, including Benjamin Ferrey and George Gilbert Scott (1850s), and William Butterfield (1871).

Many people wonder why Tamworth, a relatively small market town for most of its history, has such a large and magnificent parish church. The answer is found in the history of Tamworth, dating back to Saxon days 1,200 years ago, when this became an important settlement of Mercia.

The church has ninth century origins, shown in the plan of former crossing tower. There are Norman crossing arches, chancel south wall and part of the north wall, and an Early English north porch. Most of church dates from the mid to late 14th century following a fire of 1345, the west tower dates from the late 14th and the west tower, clerestories and roofs date from the 15th century.

Saint Augustine was sent from Rome in 587 on a mission to the Anglo-Saxons, and 70 years later, in 667, Saint Chad became Bishop of Lichfield. It is thought he visited nearby Tamworth and an early church soon stood on today’s site of Saint Editha’s Church.

A century later, Tamworth was the capital of Mercia, the principal kingdom in England. King Offa (775-796) built his great palace at Tamworth and kept the great feasts of Easter and Christmas here, so the church in Tamworth was probably of some size and splendour.

No less than 14 royal charters were issued from Tamworth Between 796 and 857, many of them witnessed by senior church figures. Tamworth was invaded by the Danes in 874, the town was sacked and the church was destroyed. But in 913 Aethelfleda, Lady of the Mercians and daughter of King Alfred the Great, drove back the Danish invasion and rebuilt the town and church.

Attempts were made to negotiate a peaceful settlement between Mercia and Northumbria in 925, where Sigtrygg the Dane was king. A marriage was arranged between King Sigtrygg and Aethlefleda’s niece, Editha, sister of King Athelstan of Mercia. The wedding took place in the presence of King Athelstan and solemnised by Bishop Ella of Lichfield.

But Sigtrygg soon lapsed from Christianity, the marriage was never consummated, and Editha returned to Tamworth and entered a convent at Polesworth. Here she devoted her life to the poor and sick, and was the abbess of a convent in Tamworth until she died in 960. When the church needed a dedication, the local people asked for Editha’s name, and so she became a saint by popular acclaim.’

However, the story of pillage continued, and in 943 the Danes razed Tamworth again and its church was destroyed, only to be rebuilt by Kind Edgar in 963.

The great Norman church was built in 1080, probably as an extension of King Edgar’s church and it was at least as long as the present building (190ft), in the shape of a crucifix and with a central tower over the crossing.

There is a deeply splayed round-headed window on the south side of the chancel, which in the 12th century was an outside wall. This window has beautifully twisted columns with cushion capitals externally, and a delicately carved string course underneath.

The chancel of Saint Editha’s Church, with the ‘elegant but modest’ 18th century wrought iron screen (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

There are two great Norman arches in the chancel, but originally there were four. The four arches carried the tower and the position of the two former transverse arches can be traced by the roughness of the walls showing where they were cut away. Remnants of the zig-zag moulding of the Norman screen wall – originally grey stone, but burned a deep red by fire – still face the nave.

Tamworth was a collegiate church, and although it was not a cathedral it had a dean and a college of six prebendaries or canons, supported through the tithes of neighbouring parishes.

The great West Tower was built between 1380 and 1420. The height to the battlements is 30 metres, with the highest weathervane at 42 metres. The tower has a unique double helix spiral staircase that is just under two metres in diameter. There are 106 outer steps and 101 inner steps, so that two people can climb the tower at the same time without seeing each other until they reach the top. The tower is unusual in England, and the only other examples are in Much Wenlock and Pontefract.

The College of Canons and their vicars survived until 1547, when it was dissolved at the Reformation and Saint Editha’s became the parish church of Tamworth.

Visitors to Saint Editha’s are easily taken aback by the windows in the church, and by the number of side chapels, dating back to its days as a collegiate church with a large number of priests, each in need of an altar to celebrate Mass daily.

The real treasure in the church is the Pre-Raphaelite East Window in Saint George’s Chapel by Sir Edward Burne-Jones. This window is a memorial to Sir John Peel (1804-1872), MP for Tamworth. The window, known as ‘Angels of Creation,’ connects the story of the six days of creation with redemption. The glass is by William Morris. The central figure is Saint Christopher carrying the Christ Child, and lower panels depict Old Testament prophets and New Testament saints.

Saint George’s Chapel also has four sets of four-light windows, including one set by Burne-Jones and William Morris, one by William Morris and two sets by the Camm Brothers.

The great East Window, designed by William Wailes, is filled with figures representing the 12 Apostles. The Marmion Windows, high up in the clerestory on the south side of the church, tell the legend of Saint Editha. They were designed by Ford Maddox Brown with glass by William Morris and installed in 1873.

The Comberford Chapel was the burial place of the Comberford family (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Comberford Chapel in the former north transept was built by the Comberford family of Comberford Hall, north of Tamworth, who also had a townhouse in Tamworth at the Moat House on Lichfield Street.

The monuments in the Comberford Chapel include a fragment of a 15th century effigy of a knight, and a wall tablet with a Latin inscription erected in 1725 by members of the Comerford family in Ireland to members of Comberford family of Staffordshire.

3, The Moat House, Lichfield Street:

The Moat House on Lichfield Street, Tamworth … the site may have been owned by the Comberford family before 1391 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

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.

4, The Town Hall, Market Street:

Tamworth’s Town Hall and the statue of Sir Robert Peel on Market Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In the 16th and 17th century, when Tamworth was divided between Staffordshire and Warwickshire, and the Comberford family of the Moat House and the Ferrers family of Tamworth Castle were rivals in the civic, political and social life of the town, Tamworth had two town halls: one for the Staffordshire half of the town on Lichfield Street, near the Moat House, and one for the Warwickshire half of the town on Market Street, perhaps first on a site later occupied by the King’s Arms and the Peel Arms, opposite the Castle Hotel.

A new Town Hall was built in 1700-1701 on the site of a previous town hall, parts of which had vaults under the Butter Market and some timbers are incorporated in the present building.

The cost of building the town hall, estimated at £1,000, was met by Thomas Guy, MP for Tamworth in 1695-1708. Sir Thomas Guy was an important local benefactor, and he was also the founder of Guy’s Almshouses in Lower Gungate, Tamworth, and Guy’s Hospital in London.

No architect for the town hall has been identified with confidence, although its design and the details have been compared with the stables of Calke Abbey, near Ticknall, Derbyshire, built in 1727 by William Gilkes, a builder from Burton on Trent. It is a matter of speculation that Guy employed his maternal relations, members of the Vaughton family, to carry out and supervise the building programme.

Guy’s finished town hall comprised a rather austere double cube room approached on the east side by a flight of steps, from which it is said rival factions would pitch their opponents at election time.

It is said that Thomas Guy was so incensed at not being re-elected as Tamworth’s MP in 1708 he threatened to tear down the town hall and withdraw his endowment for the almshouses in Lower Gungate. He abandoned his plans to build a hospital in Tamworth, either on Albert Road or on Lichfield Street, and transferred his large fortune to London, where he founded what would become Guy’s Hospital.

The 18 Doric columns form cloister-like arcades on the ground floor of Tamworth Town Hall (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

At first, Tamworth Town Hall was just a single room supported on 18 massive stone Doric columns. The open area at ground level was used a butter market, where dairy produce was sold, while access to the town hall on the floor above was provided by a flight of steps at the east end.

This exterior staircase also served as a platform for public events and announcements.

For two centuries, the Town Hall was the centre of civic government in Tamworth from 1700 to 1900. It also served as an amenity centre. Tamworth had no assembly rooms in the 18th century and until later in the reign of George III the town had no theatre, so the town hall met these community needs.

The building has been extended on many occasions. Two rooms were added at the east of the town hall in 1721. The Town Clerk’s office was added in the late 18th century, and a Mayor’s Parlour was added in the early 19th century.

The turret in the centre of the roof was a later addition and the domed cupola with the weathervane housed a lantern and contained a bell that summoned fire crews at a time when the area beneath the town hall housed Tamworth’s first fire engine.

The clock was presented to the town in 1812 by the then owner of Tamworth Castle, John Robins, a London merchant who later bought the Moat House in 1821.

Sir Robert Peel, MP for Tamworth and twice Prime Minister, delivered his ‘Tamworth Manifesto’ speech from a first-floor window at the west end of the building, facing onto Market Street, in 1835. He helped fund additions to the Town Hall, which was rebuilt in 1845.

The interesting architectural details and features of the Town Hall include the chequer brick with ashlar dressings, the arcaded ground floor with a two-bay arcade on Doric columns, the round-arched windows with keystones, Sir Thomas Guy’s coat of arms and an oval cartouche with the town arms above, and a clock face on the pediment.

The first-floor council chamber has a ceiling with fluted fans to angles, an early 19th century marble fireplace with grate, royal arms dating from 1814 and a gallery.

Sir Robert Peel, who made many of his speeches from a west window of the town hall, died after a fall from a horse in 1850. A statue of Sir Robert Peel, standing in front of the town hall, is the work of Matthew Nobel and was unveiled on 23 July 1853.

The town hall’s crumbling Doric columns and arches were renewed a six-year project in the 1960s and 1970s. Tamworth Borough Council held its last meeting in the Town Hall on 20 May 1981, before moving to Marmion House on Lichfield Street, along with the council offices which moved from the White House on Church Street.

The Town Hall is now owned by Tamworth Borough Council and is used occasionally for events and civic functions. Each year, the Town Hall is open to the Public on the second weekend in September as part of the English Heritage Open Day.

5, The Assembly Rooms, Corporation Street:

The Assembly Rooms on Corporation Street … once the centre of social and political life in Tamworth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

The Tamworth Assembly Rooms on Corporation Street,were built in 1887-1889 to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887.

The building cost £5,500, which was in part raised by public subscription. It was opened by Philip Muntz, who was the first MP for the new Tamworth Division of Warwickshire.

The building was designed in in the Italianate style, and the pediment bears the borough’s original coat-of-arms, which shows a fleur-de-lys supported by two buxom mermaids. However, when the council decided in 1936 to spend the £136 needed to register this coat of arms for Tamworth, it was discovered that similar insignia had been used 1568 by Boston in Lincolnshire.

In 1965, the Mayor of Tamworth, Trevor Willcocks, and the council asked the College of Heralds to design a new coat-of-arms for the town. The new arms depict the bear of Warwickshire and the lion of Staffordshire fighting over the arms, symbolising when the boundary of the two shires that ran through the middle of the town along Church Street.

The other symbols on the coat of arms represent the Marmion family who lived at Tamworth Castle from the reign of William the Conqueror, a cross representing the Kingdom of Mercia and King Offa, who made Tamworth his capital, and a fleur-de-lys from the old arms of Tamworth.

The Assembly Rooms have served as a theatre and as a venue for political orators, elegant Edwardian parties, receptions and balls, and the Suffragettes protested on the steps during political meetings.

In 1924, ‘the Duke of York and future King George VI was entertained here with a formal lunch when he came to Tamworth to open the War Memorial at the hospital. Two years later, during the General Strike in 1926, a soup kitchen was set up at the Assembly Rooms, and the Jarrow Marchers stopped here for food and rest on their way to Westminster 80 years ago in 1936.

In 1960s, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones played here, and other legends who played here include the Hollies, the Swinging Blue Jeans, the Bachelors, Alvin Stardust, Joe Brown, the Searchers, the Barron Knights, Georgie Fame, Alan Price, Brian Poole and the Tremolos, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Bob Geldof and Midge Ure, as well as Vince Hill, Val Donican, Elkie Brooks, Dominic Kirwin, the Drifters and Chaz ’n’ Dave.

The Assembly Rooms have been used for polling and vote counting as well as debates, and continues to be used for concert, plays and shows. They were refurbished in 2002, and today they continue to have a central role in the cultural, social and political life of Tamworth.

6, Guy’s Almshouse:

Thomas Guy’s almshouses in Lower Gungate, one of the architecturally interesting buildings in the centre of Tamworth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The striking old almshouses in Lower Gungate form one of the architecturally most interesting buildings in the town centre.

The almshouses were established in the 17th century by Thomas Guy, a former MP for Tamworth. Guy’s original buildings dated from 1678 when he drew up plans for a block of almshouses for the maintenance of 14 old women, who received 4s 6d a week, with lodgings, coal, medical attendance and medicine.

Thomas Guy was born in 1644 in Pritchard’s Alley in Fair Street, Southwark. His father, also Thomas Guy, was a lighterman, coalmonger and carpenter with a wharf on the banks of the River Thames. His mother, Ann Vaughton, was originally from Tamworth. Ann was the daughter of William Vaughton of Tamworth. For generations, members of her family had been bailiffs, burgesses and church wardens in Tamworth.

After Lichfield was captured by the parliamentary forces on Sunday 5 March 1643, two people from Comberford died as they fought on the Parliamentarian side: Richard Vaughton of Comberford was killed as he was engaged in building a trench on the west side of Lichfield, outside the Cathedral Close, and was buried in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth, on 21 March 1643, and Thomas Riccard of Comberford was slain in the Cathedral Close. This Richard Vaughton appears to have been an uncle of Thomas Guy’s mother, Anne Vaughton of Tamworth.

Guy’s father died when he was only eight, and his mother brought him to Tamworth, her home town, with his younger brother and sister. Thomas was sent to Tamworth Grammar School, then in Lower Gungate. In 1660, when he was 16, he returned to London to be apprenticed to John Clark, a bookbinder and bookseller in Cheapside. Meanwhile, back in Tamworth, his widowed mother married Joseph Seeley of Coventry in Saint Editha’s Church on 18 June 1661, and the couple probably continued to live in Tamworth.

After finishing his apprenticeship, Guy started his own small publishing house. The Bible and Oxford University were the mainstays of his business, and he was elected a Freeman of the Stationers’ Company and an Alderman of the City of London.

But Guy did not forget Tamworth or his extended family there – the Ortons, the Woods, the Vaughtons and the Osbornes. In 1677, he paid for the refurbishment of Tamworth’s Free Grammar School, and a year later, in 1678, he bought land opposite the Grammar School that had been the site of the guildhouse of the Guild of Saint George. There he built his almshouses for poor women, with generous provisions for the residents.

The original almshouses were built in 1678 at a cost of £200 and provided housing for seven poor women. Each resident had her own entrance and living room and the large central garden was used to cultivate vegetables. A large library also housed the books of Revd John Rawlett. The almshouses were extended in 1692 to house men as well as women.

Thomas Guy first stood for election in Tamworth in 1690 but was beaten into third place behind Sir Henry Gough and Michael Biddulph. At his second attempt in 1695, he was returned as an MP with Sir Henry Gough without opposition, and Guy was elected MP for Tamworth six times.

The restrictions remain in place: ‘Guy’s Almshouses for relations and Hamleteers’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In 1701, he paid to build a new Town Hall in Market Street, and it was completed in 1702. But when he lost his seat as an MP, he was deeply hurt at being rejected by his own people. He abandoned his plans to build a hospital in Tamworth and transferred his large fortune to London, where he founded what became Guy’s Hospital.

In his rage, Guy threatened to pull down the town hall he had built in Tamworth and to abolish the almshouses. The burgesses sent a deputation to meet him in London with the offer of re-election in 1710, but Guy rejected all conciliation, saying Tamworth had been ungrateful to him. He abandoned all political ambitions and concentrated on making money to finance his philanthropic deeds in London. He died on 27 December 1724, at the age of 80, without ever seeing the completion of Guy’s Hospital.

He left his fortune to Guy’s Hospital, which opened in 1725. But even on his deathbed, the rejection he felt in Tamworth still continued to hurt him. He stipulated in his will that inhabitants of Tamworth should not be allowed shelter in his almshouses. Only his own relatives, together with poor people from the hamlets of Wilnecote, Glascote, Bolehall, Amington, Wigginton and Hopwas – all areas that voted for him – were to become residents.

Guy’s original almshouses were rebuilt in 1912 and 1913 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In time, Guy’s original almshouses fell into disrepair and the trustees decided they should be replaced. This original buildings were demolished over a century ago, and the present buildings were built on the same site.

In 1912, the old residents were moved temporarily to The Paddock – the Jennings family house in nearby Aldergate, later the site of the bus garage. The new almshouses were built at a cost of between £5,000 and £6,000, and opened within a year, in 1913.

The old tablet from Guy’s original building, with an inscription about the foundation, was placed above the main entrance to the new almshouses building. The stone plaque recalls Guy’s pique and original restrictions, declaring: ‘Guy’s Almshouses for relations and Hamleteers.’ This restriction still applies in relation to the boundaries of the borough, as they existed in his day.

7,Tudor House, 110-111 Lichfield Street:

The Tudor House Café at No 110-111 Lichfield Street … claims to be the oldest shop in Tamworth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Tudor House at Nos 110-111 Lichfield Street, with its centuries-old Tudor architecture, claims to be the oldest shop in Tamworth. No 110 and No 111 are listed together as a Grade 2 building and were built as one house that was later subdivided in two.

The building dates from the late 16th century or the early 17th century, with later alterations. It is a timber-frame building with brick infill and 19th century rendering and refronting to the left half, and a steep hipped tile-roof with a brick stack to the rear of the ridge.

This is a two-unit plan with cross-wing and a small addition to the right end. The jettied first floor, which is familiar and much-loved part of Tamworth’s streetscape, has exposed timber framing to the cross wing at No 111.

The ‘hall’ range at No 110 has shop windows flanking the entrance with a canopy over and the left end has a segmental-headed entry. This is now a barber shop.

The 20th century shop front to No 111, with a former entrance, is glazed, with a small wing to the right end. The first floor has 20th century casement windows, one blind window to the left of the cross wing and a small square light to the end wing.

The rear has a projecting cross wing. Inside, No 110 has exposed wall posts, No 111 has stop-chamfered beams with exposed joists, and the roof has heavy collar trusses.

8,Timber-framed houses, behind 116-117 Lichfield Street:

The timber-framed buildings hidden behind Nos 116-17 Lichfield Street, Tamworth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The north side of Lichfield Street is an eclectic mix of architectural styles, so that the large early 19th-century Georgian-style properties at the west end give way towards the east end to much smaller buildings, including the timber-framed Nos 110 and 111, which date from the late 16th or early 17th century.

The Cottage Shop and Evelyn Rose Bridal Wear, two shops at Nos 116-17 Lichfield Street, are both housed in a building that dates from the 15th and16th centuries. The house is timber-framed, and No 117 retains a small-paned bow window. But the front of the building is rendered, and you have to go round the back of these two shops to see the timber-framing, which is exposed only in the long rear range that houses the Cottage Healing Centre.

A long rear range houses the Cottage Healing Centre (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Nos 116 and 117 Lichfield are parts of one, two-storey house that was later subdivided into two, with shops on the ground floor. The original house probably dates from the second half of the 16th century, with alterations made in the 19th and 20th centuries. The front is timber-framed but rendered, and there is a tile roof with brick stacks to the front of the ridge. The first floor was probably jettied originally, though this feature is long lost.

The rear of the building has a gabled wing with square framing (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

No 116 has a central segmental-headed entrance with a half-glazed door, and No 117 has a similar entrance at the right end. The ground floor has two segmental-headed windows of two lights with pegged frames and shutter pegs, and similar windows on the first floor with iron opening casements flanking a blind window.

No 117 has a small-paned bow window with a frieze, cornice and canopy extending over the entrance to the right and shutters. The first floor has a three-light, mullioned tramsomed window with a casement to the right of a blind window. There are large stacks in the centre with a smaller, later, stack on the left.

The rear of the building has a gabled wing with square framing, and irregular fenestration with casements and entrances. This rear wing has an early 17th century staircase with serpentine splat balusters, and the top flight has a 16th century fluted timber frieze that has been reused as a handrail.

Some accounts say that these buildings at 114-115 Lichfield Street are among Tamworth’s oldest surviving buildings. One account dates them from the 1200s, which would making them older than the Moat House and contemporaneous with many of the earliest parts of Tamworth Castle. But it is more likely that they date from the 15th and16th centuries.

Today, the Cottage Healing Centre is a not-for-profit co-operative of therapists and volunteers, offering alternative therapies.

This collection of buildings is particularly attractive, and they offer a sharp contrast to the tower blocks on Lichfield Street that loom above it. This hidden corner of Tamworth should not be missed by anyone walking along Lichfield Street.

9, The White House, 93 Lichfield Street:

The White House at No 93 Lichfield Street, Tamworth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The White House at No 93 Lichfield Street was once part of the Moat House estate. The street frontage is in Georgian style with many alterations in the late 20th century, and much of the building dates from ca 1810, although it may incorporate parts of earlier buildings on the site.

This is two-storey Georgian-style house, with an attic. There is a six-window range, with two windows in a forward break to the left end, and a gable to three windows to the right of this. At the top there are modillioned cornices to either side of gable.

The round-headed entrance to the right of the bow window has a doorcase with pilasters, entablature blocks and a plain open pediment, and a fanlight with ogee glazing bars over the six-panel door in panelled reveals.

The two-storey bow window to the left end has rustication and pilaster strips on the panelled plinths to both floors, an entablature on slender brackets to the ground floor, a continuation of the top cornice on slender brackets to the first floor, and both have three 12-pane sashes.

The ground floor to the right has three windows with 16-pane sashes and one with a 12-pane sash to the right end. The first floor has three windows with 16-pane top-hung casements and flanking windows with 12-pane casements. The attic has 6:8:6-pane casements to the gable. The rear has a 20th century range and wing.

In the 20th century, this was the Miners’ Welfare Club and Institute, but in recent years it has been converted into apartments and offices.

10, 92 Lichfield Street:

No 92 Lichfield Street … a Georgian building almost opposite the Moat House in Tamworth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Almost opposite the Moat House, No 92 Lichfield Street is a Grade 2 Listed building. It was built in the early 19th century in the Georgian style and is now in offices. It is a three-storey house, built in brick with ashlar dressings, a tile M-roof and brick end stacks, with a double-depth central-staircase plan, and a symmetrical three-window range.

The ground and first floor have sill bands, there is a top cornice, and there are coped gables. The round-headed entrance is up three steps and has a doorcase with pilasters, entablature blocks and an open pediment, with a fanlight with intersecting glazing bars over a six-fielded-panel door. The windows have rubbed brick flat arches, those to ground and first floors are over 12-pane horned sashes. The second floor has windows with sills and casements. There is a rear brick cornice and a 20th century single-storey addition.

Inside, there are some shutters to the windows and a stick-baluster stair.

11, The Manor House, 95 Lichfield Street:

The Manor House at No 95 Lichfield Street, Tamworth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Manor House at No 95 Lichfield Street is another Grade 2 listed building in Tamworth. The Manor House is now in offices but was formerly the residence of a Tamworth GP. It stands on the site of an earlier house that was home to generations of the Vaughton family who played prominent roles in the life of Tamworth. They included bailiffs, chamberlains, churchwardens and holders of official, civic and church offices.

In 1652, the widowed Anne (Vaughton) Guy returned home from Southwark to Tamworth with her children, and so this house is said to have been the boyhood home of Thomas Guy, who founded Guy’s Almshouses in Tamworth and Guy’s Hospital in London, and built the Town Hall in Tamworth.

The Manor House is an early 19th century remodelling of an earlier house, with 17th or 18th century origins, or perhaps even earlier when it was part of the Moat House estate and the Comberford family was claiming the Lordship of Tamworth Manor.

The house is built of brick with ashlar dressings, and has a hipped tile roof. It is a two-storey house built in the Georgian style, with a double-depth central-staircase plan. It is a symmetrical five-window range, with two windows to each end in forward breaks.

There is an ashlar plinth, a ground floor sill band and a top cornice. The entrance is up three steps to a doorcase with an architrave, a fluted frieze and a consoled cornice, and an over-light to the six-panel door.

The windows have rubbed brick flat arches, and those to the ground floor are over 12-pane sashes. The first floor has windows with sills, and 12-pane top-hung casements. The end small single-storey wings have entrances with doorcases: the one to the left has a stone-coped parapet, while the one to the right has a segmental-headed window with a 12-pane sash.

The rear has an architraved entrance with large windows to the forward break to the left with 12-pane sashes.

12, The White House, Church Street:

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

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.

The mixed architectural heritage of Tamworth seen from Tamworth Castle (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Tomorrow: A lockdown ‘virtual tour’ of a dozen buildings in Tamworth (Part 2)

Some recent ‘virtual tours’:

More than a dozen Comberford family homes;

More than a dozen Comerford and Quemerford family homes;

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.

The coat of arms of Tamworth on the façade of Marmion House on Lichfield Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Praying in Easter with USPG:
41, Friday 22 May 2020

The United Nations Peace Garden near the West Door of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick … today is International Day of UN peacekeepers (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

The season of Easter continues from Easter Day, through Ascension Day, until the Day of Pentecost. 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 (17 to 23 May 2020), the theme of the USPG Prayer Diary is ‘Ascension Day: Mystery and Infinity.’ The Rev’d Canon Richard Bartlett, Director of Mission Engagement at USPG, introduced this theme in the Prayer Diary on Sunday morning.

Friday 22 May 2020 (International Day of UN peacekeepers):

Pray for the staff of St Luke’s Mission Hospital in Malawi, that they remain dedicated and protected especially whilst dealing with COVID-19.

The Readings:

Acts 18: 9-18; Psalm 47: 1-6; John 16: 44-53.

The Collect of the Day:

Grant, we pray, Almighty God,
that as we believe your only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ
to have ascended into the heavens;
so we in heart and mind may also ascend
and with him continually dwell;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow