04 May 2022
Searching for some Comberford
family links in Newport Pagnell
and near Milton Keynes
Earlier this week I was in Newport Pagnell, one of the towns in north Buckinghamshire that have been absorbed into Milton Keynes. Newport Pagnell is separated from the rest of Milton Keynes by the M1, and the Newport Pagnell Services was Britain’s second motorway service station. The town is also known as the original home of the Aston Martin and for Britain’s last remaining vellum manufacturer.
However, I was more interested in finding out whether I could find any evidence of the links between the Comberford family and Newport Pagnell that go back almost six centuries ago, to 1442 or earlier.
Newport Pagnell is first mentioned in the Domesday Book in 1086 as ‘Neuport,’ an Anglo-Saxon name meaning the ‘New Market Town.’ The suffix ‘Pagnell’ was added later when the manor passed into the hands of the Pagnell or Paynel family.
This was the principal town of the ‘Three Hundreds of Newport,’ and at one time Newport Pagnell was one of the largest towns in Buckinghamshire, with the assizes of the county held there occasionally.
William Comberford (ca 1403/1410-1472), along with Humphry Starky and Thomas Stokley, was granted lands and other properties in Newport Pagnell and Tykford (Tickford), Buckinghamshire, by Geoffrey Seyntgerman (St Germain), in 1471-1472. By then, William Comberford was in his 60s, but already he had substantial property and political interests in the area.
From 1442 or earlier, William Comberford was a key political ally of Henry Stafford (1402-1460), Earl of Stafford and later 1st Duke of Buckingham. Stafford was the key political figure in Buckinghamshire at the time, and they shared a political ally in John Talbot, 2nd Earl of Shrewsbury.
William was an important landowner in south Staffordshire in the mid-15th century, with land in Comberford, Wigginton and Tamworth, and he was also a trustee of the manors of Whichnor, Sirescote and other estates.
He built Comebrford Hall, a new house at Comberford, between Tamworth and Lichfield, in 1439. He may also have been one of the early members of the Comberford family to own the Moat House on Lichfield Street, Tamworth.
Three years after he built Comberford Hall, William Comberford became one of the two MPs for Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire, on 27 March 1442, on the nomination of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, because he was a judge and one of the Duke of Buckingham’s retainers. He remained an MP until 3 March 1447.
William was first appointed to the Staffordshire bench in 1442, and was a Justice of the Peace (JP) until 1471. In 1446, he became an attorney for the Duchy of Lancaster in the Court of Common Pleas. Soon afterwards, the Duke of Buckingham’s patronage secured for him the office of second protonotary or chief clerk in the Court of Common Pleas. He was one of the Commissioners appointed to distribute money in distressed areas in the late 1440s.
Comberford’s patron, the Duke of Buckingham, was killed at the Battle of Northampton on 10 July 1460. Nevertheless, Comberford continued to play an important role in the political, civil and judicial life of Staffordshire. In addition, as ‘Will’s Combford,’ he was admitted to membership of the Guild of Saint Mary and Saint John in Lichfield in 1469, along with Ralph FitzHerbert, father-in-law of William’s grandson, Thomas Comberford.
From 1452, William Comberford’s ward was Joan Parles, the daughter of John Parles (1419-1452) of Watford and of Shutlanger, near Stoke Bruerne, five miles south of Northampton and about 13 miles north-west of Newport Pagnell, Stony Stratford and Milton Keynes.
Joan Parles came of age in 1461 and she later married William’s son and heir, John Comberford (ca 1440-1508). The marriage was so important for the Comberford family, both politically and financially, that the Parles coat-of-arms, with its cross and five red roses, was quartered with the Comberford arms, and sometimes even substituted for the arms of the Comberford family.
Meanwhile, Henry Stafford (1455-1483), 2nd Duke of Buckingham, and Richard Plantagenet, Duke of Gloucester and later King Richard III, met the uncrowned 12-year-old ‘Boy King’, Edward V, at the Rose and Crown Inn in Stony Stratford on the night of 29 April 1483.
From Stony Stratford, the young King Edward was taken by the two dukes to the Tower of London, and it is there, it is believed, he and his younger brother, ten-year-old Prince Richard, Duke of York, were murdered. Their disappearance has given rise to many of the stories and legends about the ‘Princes in the Tower.’
In 1487, John Comberford bought out Thomas Stokley’s interest in the lands, tenements and rents in Newport Pagnell and Tickford, Buckinghamshire, that had been acquired by Stokley and John Comberford’s father in 1470-1471.
In 1504, after his wife had died, John Comberford, along with his son Thomas and daughter-in-law Dorothy (Beaumont), sold the former Parles estates in Stoke Bruerne, Shutlanger, Alderton (about 10 miles north of Milton Keynes), and Wappenham to Richard Empson of Easton Neston. The estate then consisted of eight messuages, six tofts, one mill, 200 acres of land, 24 acres of meadow, 100 acres of pasture, 40 acres of wood and 14 shillings rent.
John Comberford died in 1508, but the Comberford interest in lands in the Watford area continued for some decades later, as told by Murray Johnson in his recent book, Give a Manor, Take a Manor: the rise and decline of a medieval manor.
Humphrey Comberford (1496 -1555) of Comberford owned significant estates, including Watford Manor. He left most of his manors to Thomas Comberford (1530-1597), and he specified in his will that his Manor in Watford was to be held by his second son, Humphrey Comberford, from the elder son, Thomas, at an annual rent of one red rose for 60 years. In the event, Humphrey had died unmarried in 1545, before his father’s death.
Although the exact date is not known, this Thomas Comberford the probably sold the manor and lands of Watford shortly after 1555.
The name of Tykford or Tickford, which was part of the Comberford property interests in the Newport Pragnell area in the 15th century, is found in Tickford Priory, a mediaeval monastic house in Newport Pagnell.
Tickford Priory was established in 1140 by Fulconius Paganel, the lord of the Manor of Newport Pagnell. The priory belonged to the Cluniac Order, with their French headquarters at Marmoutier Abbey in Tours.
In 1524, Cardinal Wolsey annexed ‘the superfluous house of Tickford’ and its wealth to Christ Church College, Oxford . Later, King James I sold the abbey to his physician, Dr Henry Atkins, in 1621.
Some of the former buildings of Tickford Priory were still standing in the early 18th century, but they were in poor condition. The present building was built by the Hooton family in the 18th century, but much of its fabric is believed to have come from the Tickford Priory. Tickford Abbey is now a residential and dementia care home and a Grade II listed building.
Tickford Bridge, which was built over the River Ouzel in 1810, is one of the last 21 cast iron bridges in Britain that continue to carry modern road traffic. This is the oldest bridge in Milton Keynes.
A plaque near the footbridge recalls its history and construction, and this is Grade I listed by Historic England.
My great-grandfather, James Comerford (1817-1902), continued to use the Comberford coat-of-arms quartered with the arms of the Parles family on his bookplate.
I never found Tickford Priory, Tickford Abbey or Tickford Bridge during my all-too-brief to Newport Pragnell this week. But I hope to return and to also find Stoke Bruerne, Shutlanger and other places in the area once linked with the Comberford family almost 600 years ago.