13 April 2021

Praying in Lent and Easter 2021:
56, the Chapel, the Moat House, Tamworth

The former Peel School was housed at No 17 Lichfield Street in 1837-1850 … was this originally the private chapel of the Moat House? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During the Season of Easter this year, I am continuing my theme from Lent, taking some time each morning to reflect in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship that has been significant in my spiritual life;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).

This week, I am offering photographs of churches with close associations with my family and ancestors. My photographs this morning (13 April 2021) are part of my search for a family chapel in the Moat House on Lichfield Street, the Comberford family’s Tudor townhouse in Tamworth.

For many generations, my family continued to regard Comberford as our ancestral home, despite some of the complicated details in our family tree. My great-grandfather, James Comerford (1817-1902), had a very interesting visit to Comberford and Tamworth at the end of the 19th or in the early 20th century. His visits included Comberford Hall and the Comberford Chapel, Saint Editha’s Church and the Moat House.

I first visited the Moat House in 1969 or 1970 and I have often been shown the panelling that was said to have hidden more than one ‘priests’ hole’ that allowed Catholic priests to escape searches of the house in Elizabethan and early Jacobean times when the Comberford family was recalcitrant in its recusancy.

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.

Although I have often seen the location of the supposed ‘priests’ holes’ in the Moat House, I was not aware until recently that there may have been a private chapel in the grounds of the Moat House. Until the late 17th century, members of the Comberford family used Saint Catherine’s or the Comberford Chapel in the north aisle of Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth, as the private family chapel, including for family burials and memorials. The Comberford family also had a chapel in Comberford Hall that continued in use until the mid-18th century according to Staffordshire Church historian Michael Greenslade.

In a comment on a Tamworth Facebook page last year, Andrew Hale suggested that the building at No 17 Lichfield Street that once served as the Peel School was originally a private chapel located in the original grounds of the Moat House.

He says the original bill for moving the building was paid not by the owners of the Moat House but by Sir Robert Peel, on condition that it was converted into a school.

Andrew Hale did his prize-winning history project on the Moat House and its history in 1978-1980 while he was at Wilnecote High School. His mother was the head chef at the Moat House for many years and much his information came from the trust and owners of the Moat House at that time. The history project earned him the school history and research prize for 1980.

When Sir Robert Peel was moving his school from Church Street to Lichfield Street in 1837, Dr John Woody was living at the Moat House. The Woody family had been tenants of the Moat House, and they bought it in 1821 when parts of the Tamworth Castle estate were being sold off to clear the debts of the Townshend family.

If Sir Robert Peel moved the former chapel at the Moat House lock, stock and barrel to a new location a little further east along Lichfield Street for use as a school, was this the original chapel at the Moat House? And does this explain some of its pre-Victorian details, including large the Gothic window in the gable and the lower Tudor-headed window and door?

The premises at No 17 Lichfield Street when it was a furniture shop (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 3: 7-15 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said to Nicodemus:] 7 ‘Do not be astonished that I said to you, “You must be born from above.” 8 The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’ 9 Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can these things be?’ 10 Jesus answered him, ‘Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

11 ‘Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.’

It was whispered that the oak panelling inside the Moat House hid more than one ‘priests’ hole’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (13 April 2021) invites us to pray:

Let us pray for all those who work in education to transform lives and communities.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The Moat House on Lichfield Street, Tamworth … did it once have a private chapel? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

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