23 January 2021

Charles Gray-Stack (1912-1985): a former
Dean of Ardfert and Precentor of Limerick

Nantenan Glebe near Askeaton … Charles Gray-Stack lived there in the 1950s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

The death of the Revd Martha Gray-Stack (1935-2021) earlier this week reminded me that her late husband, Dean Charles Gray-Stack (1912-1985), was one of my predecessors as Precentor of Limerick, and long before me had been in ministry in the Rathkeale Group of Parish in the 1940s and 1950s. He was also a well-known contributor to the The Irish Times in the 1950s and 1960s.

When a project looking at my predecessors as Precentors of Limerick was postponed some months ago due to pandemic limits on public events, I thought it might still be interesting to continue looking at past precentors in a number of blog postings.

In earlier postings, I recalled some previous precentors who had been accused of ‘dissolute living’ or being a ‘notorious fornicator’ (Awly O Lonysigh), or who were killed in battle (Thomas Purcell). There were those who became bishops or archbishops: Denis O’Dea (Ossory), Richard Purcell (Ferns) and John Long (Armagh).

There was the tragic story too of Robert Grave, who became Bishop of Ferns while remaining Precentor of Limerick, but – only weeks after his consecration – drowned with all his family in Dublin Bay as they made their way by sea to their new home in Wexford (read more HERE).

In the 17th century, two members of the Gough family were also appointed Precentors of Limerick. In all, three brothers in this family were priests in the Church of Ireland and two were priests in the Church of England, and the Rathkeale branch of the family was the ancestral line of one of Ireland’s most famous generals (read more HERE).

In the mid to late 18th century, two members of the Maunsell family were Precentors of Limerick: Richard Maunsell (1745-1747) and William Thomas Maunsell (1786-1781) (read more HERE).

They were related to Canon John Warburton who was, perhaps, the longest-ever holder of the office, being Precentor of Limerick for 60 years from 1818 until he died to 1878 (red more HERE).

Earlier this week, I looked at Warburton’ successor, Canon Frederic Charles Hamilton, who provides an interesting links with both this group of parishes, with the Mariners’ Church in Dún Laoghaire and the Anglican mission agency SPG, now USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), of which I am a trustee. (see HERE).

As I move to the end of the 19th and the early 20th century, Hamilton’s successor as Precentor, Francis Meredyth, was a published poet and dramatist, and some of the Precentors of Limerick were also among the last Deans of Ardfert, including Robert Archibald Adderley (1870-1946), who also served in Listowel and Ballybunion (see HERE).

Charles Maurice Gray-Stack was born in Armagh, the son of the Revd William Bagot Stack (1878-1953), a grandson of Charles Maurice Stack (1825-1914), Bishop of Clogher (1886-1902), and a descendant of the Stack family of Stackstown and Crotta, Co Kerry.

The Stacks were a prominent clerical family in the Church of Ireland. The bishop’s father, the Revd Edward Stack, and grandfather, Canon Walter Bagot, were both priests, while his brothers included Canon Thomas Stack (1810-1871) was an SPG missionary in New South Wales before moving to Sydney; and the Revd Richard Stack (1815-1851), curate of Saint Peter’s and known for his work as a ‘slum priest’ in Dublin.

The Revd William Bagot Stack (1878-1953) had worked in British colonial administration in Central Africa and was a lieutenant in the Royal Irish Fusiliers before being ordained deacon in 1907 and priest in 1908. Later in life he was the Rector of Dundalk (1934-1941) and Rector of Inistioge, Co Kilkenny (1941-1946) in the Diocese of Ossory.

He was educated at Campbell College Belfast and Trinity College Dublin (BA, MA), and was ordained deacon in 1937 and priest in 1939. He served his first curacies in Birr (1937-1938) and then in the dioceses of Ferns and Ossory – Ardamine (1938-1940), Kilnehue and Kilpipe (1940-1941) and Inistioge (1941-1944), where his father was the rector.

He then moved to the Diocese of Limerick and Ardfert, and for five years was the diocesan curate in Ardfert and Aghadoe and curate of Killarney (1944-1949). While he was there, he obtained a confirmation of the coat of arms of Bishop Charles Maurice Stack for the bishop’s descendants in 1948.

He moved to the Rathkeale and Nantenan Union of Parishes as curate in 1949, when Maurice Talbot, a future Dean of Limerick, was the rector, and lived for five years at Nantenan Glebe. During his time here, he changed his surname from Stack to Gray-Stack, recalling his maternal grandfather, Dr Robert Gray of Armagh.

He moved to Co Kerry as a parish rector in 1953, first in Kilgobbin (1953-1961), which included Dingle from 1957, and then in Kenmare and Sneem (1961-1985), which included Waterville and Valentia from 1984.

In the cathedral chapter, he was Prebendary of Ballycahane (1962-1963), Precentor of Limerick (1963-1966), and Chancellor of Limerick, Prebendary of Kilpeacon and Dean of Ardfert (1966-1985). Of course, the title of Dean of Ardfert was an honour or sinecure, often offered to the most senior rector in the Diocese of Ardfert: the cathedral in Ardfert had ceased to function for a long time, and the church there closed in the 1940s.

He married Martha Mary Stewart-Clarke from Castledawson in Saint George’s Church, Belfast, in 1959.

Charlie Gray-Stack became a national figure for his regular contributions to The Irish Times and to RTÉ. He was known as a liturgist and for his engagement in social affairs. He was prominent in ecumenical activities, especially the Glenstal and Greenhills ecumenical conferences.

When he died on 25 July 1985, he was still Rector of Kenmare and Dean of Ardfert, and his funeral at Saint Patrick’s Church, Kenmare, was featured on the RTÉ news.

His widow, Martha-Gray Stack, was ordained deacon in 1990 and priest in 1991. She was an NSM curate in Saint Mary’s Cathedral and Saint Michael’s Church, Limerick (1990-1993), Rector of Clara (1993-2000), and the chaplain of Kingston College (2000-2010) in Mitchelstown, Co Cork. She died earlier this week (21 January 2021).

Saint Brendan’s Cathedral, Ardfert, Co Kerry … Charles Gray-Stack was the Dean of Ardfert in 1966-1985 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Wall House near Lichfield,
part of a mediaeval manor,
is on the market for £4.25m

Wall House in Wall, near Lichfield … on the site of the mediaeval manor house and on the market for £4.25 million

Patrick Comerford

Wall House, an interesting house on the southern outskirts of Lichfield, has come on the market with an asking price of £4.25 million.

Wall is close the village of Shenstone and south of the cathedral city of Lichfield. It is known for the Roman settlement, Letocetum, and the ancient Roman Baths on a site owned and run by the National Trust.

Wall House on Green Lane probably stands on the site of the mediaeval manor house, although the present village of Wall dates mainly from the mid-17th century and the Civil War period.

The Manor of Wall was formed between 1135 and 1166 out of the bishop’s manor of Lichfield, later Longdon. It may have been created by Bishop Walter Durdent, Bishop of Lichfield (1149-1159), in the early 1150s for Rabel Durdent. He was probably a member of the bishop’s family, and he held Wall in 1166.

The Manor of Wall later passed through the Swinfen and Vernon families. When Sir George Vernon died in 1565, Wall passed to his daughter Margaret, who was twice married, first to Sir Thomas Stanley of Winwick (1532-1576), MP for Lancashire, and in 1584 to William Mather. When Margaret died in 1596, Mather acquired Wall from his stepson Sir Edward Stanley, and Mather’s son by a second marriage, Ambrose Mather, inherited Wall.

After Ambrose Mather died in 1625, John Popham and his wife Mary acquired a life interest in Wall in 1627 from Ambrose Mather’s widow Elizabeth. Popham had a house and 125 acres at Wall by 1634. He sold the manor in 1638 to Thomas Dutton of Chesterfield and Francis Erpe of Lynn, near Shenstone, and to Robert Wood, a London cook. They divided the Manor, with Dutton taking a half share that included the principal house, then called Mather’s Farm, and Erpe and Wood each taking quarter shares.

Erpe’s widow Lettice sold her husband’s share to Thomas Dutton in 1648, and the sale was confirmed in 1650. Wood’s son, William Wood, a London barrister, divided his share in 1652, selling half to John Marshall, a London cook, and half to Thomas Dutton. Marshall then sold his portion to Dutton in 1658.

Dutton had reassembled the manor, but he divided it once again. He gave a quarter share to William Quinton, who married his daughter Alice in 1658, and when he died in 1689, he left a quarter share to his grandson Thomas Porter. Dutton’s son, Edward Dutton, inherited what remained, except for the manorial fishpool and rabbit warren, which went to William Quinton.

Edward Dutton’s share was centred on the later Manor Farm. He was succeeded by his son Thomas Dutton in 1704. Thomas was succeeded in 1755 by his brother William, a London draper, whose son Thomas, a London sugar cooper, sold Manor Farm and his share of the manor in 1769 to Ann, widow of Richard Burnes of Aldershawe. She gave them to her son, John Burnes Floyer in 1777.

Manor Farm then descended with Aldershawe until 1925, when it was sold to the tenant, Walter Ryman, who was succeeded in 1949 by his son, WJ Ryman.

The share of the manor given to William Quinton centred on what was later known as Wall House, now on the market. When Quinton died in 1699, it passed to his son John Quinton, who was succeeded in 1714 by his brother Thomas Quinton.

Thomas Quinton died in 1736 and his estate was divided between his daughters Alice, then unmarried, and Anne, the wife of William Jackson, a Lichfield silversmith.

However, Thomas Quinton had mortgaged the estate, and when he defaulted it came to Robert Porter, a Lichfield lawyer. Porter had already in 1703 acquired the share bequeathed in 1689 to his brother Thomas Porter. Robert Porter was succeeded in 1744 by his son, Sheldon Porter, and in 1754 Alice Quinton, then wife of James Garlick, a Lichfield surgeon, confirmed Sheldon Porter’s right to her share of the manor.

When Sheldon Porter died in 1765, his heirs were his sisters Sarah, the widow of Edward Jackson of Wall Hall, and Penelope, a spinster. Penelope died in 1782, and her heir was a distant cousin Zachary Hill, a schoolmaster. His son Robert Hill, once a Birmingham shoemaker, held the manor in 1808. When Robert Hill died in 1812, the manor comprised Wall House, with 30 acres in Wall and 12 acres in Shenstone and Moat Bank House with 94 acres in Wall, was sold in two parts in 1813.

John Mott (1787-1869) … inherited Wall House in 1836 and was Mayor of Lichfield in 1850

Wall House and the manorial rights with it were bought in 1813 by William Mott, a Lichfield lawyer and deputy registrar of the Diocese of Lichfield. He built the house at No 19 The Close, Lichfield, to serve as the Diocesan Registry, and moved to No 20 The Close.

William Mott died in 1836 and was succeeded at Wall House by his son John Mott (1787-1869), who rebuilt No 20 on the Cathedral Close in Lichfield. He was Sheriff of Lichfield in 1836, and was Mayor of Lichfield in 1850.

John Mott’s wife, Henrietta Oakeley (1787-1869), was a sister of Canon Frederick Oakeley, the Lichfield hymnwriter associated with the carol, ‘O come, all ye faithful.’

The Church of Saint John the Baptist in Wall was built on site donated by John Mott (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John Mott of Wall House gave land for building a new church in Wall in 1843. Mott also gave an endowment of £700, augmented by funds that included £500 left by Robert Hill, the previous owner of Wall House. Further money for the endowment was raised by subscription.

A new parish was formed in 1845 out of Saint Michael’s Parish in Lichfield for Wall and the part of Pipehill outside the city of Lichfield.

The Church of Saint John the Baptist in Wall is built of sandstone and was probably designed by George Gilbert Scott. It has a short chancel, an aisleless nave, a west tower with a spire, and stained-glass windows by Charles Eamer Kempe (1837-1907), the Victorian stained-glass designer and manufacturer.

The patronage of the living was vested in the incumbent of Saint Michael’s, Lichfield, and became a vicarage in 1868. A peal of tubular bells was installed in the church spire in 1892, and a clock was placed there in 1920 as a war memorial. A graveyard was included in Mott’s grant of land for the church and was extended in 1910 and in 1926.

As for John and Henrietta Mott, they were the parents of the sisters Emily Mott (1822-1886) and Georgiana Mott (1823-1908). As children, they had lived in the Cathedral Close, and later in life they lived at Pool House, or No 30 Dam Street, Lichfield.

Pool House, a good example of Lichfield’s Georgian architecture, is at the north-east end of Dam Street, close to the entrance to the Cathedral Close, and looks out across Minster Pool, and it is. The Mott sisters were probably the last members of the once politically important Mott family to live in this part of Lichfield.

John Mott died in 1869, and his son and heir was William Arthur Mott (1815-1887), who married his first cousin, Louisa Ann Kynaston, in 1837. She was a daughter of Roger Kynaston (1776-1847) and Georgina Oakley; her elder sister Letitia (1774-1842) married William Selwyn and was the mother of both William Selwyn (1806-1875), Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at Oxford (1855-1875), and George Selwyn (1809-1878), first Bishop of New Zealand (1841-1868), Bishop of Lichfield (1865-1878) and who gave his name to Selwyn College in Cambridge and Selwyn House in the Cathedral Close, Lichfield.

William Arthur Mott’s son and heir, the Revd William Kynaston Mott (1840-1889), was baptised in Lichfield Cathedral. He presented the papers and sermons of his ancestor, the Nonjuror, the Revd Thomas Brett (1667-1744), to the library at Lambeth Palace in 1888. He died at Wall House in 1889 and was succeeded by his nephew, Roger John Kynaston Mott (1877-1956).

Roger Mott sold Wall House with five acres in 1919 to Captain Robert Hilton, who sold the house and land in 1920 to Colonel (later Brig-Gen) Claude Westmacott of Knowle Lodge, Lichfield. General Westmacott died in 1948, and the estate was sold to Christina Bather of Lichfield. When she died in 1984, Wall House was bought by Michael Bolland and his wife Janet.

Nearby, Wall Hall was built by the late 17th century to replace a house to the south in Castle Croft on Watling Street, owned by the Jackson family of Chesterfield in Shenstone by the late 16th century.

Wall House is a Grade II listed Georgian country house … the present house was built by Sheldon Porter in 1761

The present Wall House is a Grade II listed Georgian country house set in a conservation area within the village of Wall, south of Lichfield. The eight-bedroom house has an internal floor area of about 8,077 sq ft. It stands in over four acres of grounds, including formal gardens, and has views across the Staffordshire countryside.

The main house is built on a double-pile plan and was presumably built by Sheldon Porter. There is a rainwater head dated 1761 on the south side. It was built on the site of an earlier 16th century house and incorporates part of the structure and possibly some of the panelling from the earlier 17th-century house.

Both main elevations were originally of three bays in brick with moulded cornices. In the early 19th century, the interior was extensively refitted and new kitchens were built on the west.

The formal gardens at Wall House are made up of a series of garden ‘rooms’ with stone and gravel paths linking the gardens. The walled garden terrace features a stone terrace including a chess board in the centre, stone balustrading, ravelled pathways, Capability Brown-inspired planted borders, specimen trees and a central fountain feature.

All viewings of Wall House are strictly by prior appointment with Sophie Bullock of Aston Knowles, Chartered Surveyor and Estate Agents, of Sutton Coldfield.

Henrietta Mott, wife of John Mott (1787-1869), Mayor of Lichfield, who inherited Wall House from his father

See also: ‘Townships: Wall with Pipehill’, in A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14, Lichfield, ed MW Greenslade (London, 1990), pp 283-294. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/staffs/vol14/pp283-294 [accessed 23 January 2021].