29 June 2022

How the Marquis of Bath
came to own Comberford
Hall for almost 30 years

Comberford Hall, seen from the train between Tamworth and Lichfield … owned for almost 30 years by the Thynne family (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

When two of us were visiting Tamworth and Lichfield earlier this month, including former homes of the Comberford family in the area, I was reminded of the interesting links between Comberford and the Thynne family.

The Thynne family owned Comberford Hall for almost 30 years (1761-1789), but the family’s connections with the Lichfield and Tamworth area begin with Thomas Thynne (1640-1714), 1st Viscount Weymouth, and his marriage in 1671 to Lady Frances Finch, a granddaughter of the Dowager Duchess of Somerset, a close friend of William Comberford of Comberford Hall, and who also held properties in Comberford, Wigginton and Tamworth.

Thomas Thynne was a descendant of Sir John Thynne (1515-1580), who bought Longleat, a former Augustinian priory, after the dissolution of the monastic houses. Thynne owed his political success and social advancement to the patronage of Edward Seymour (1500-1552), Duke of Somerset and uncle of King Edward VI, and who later provided interesting family connections through intermarriage between their descendants.

After studying at Christ Church, Oxford, Thomas Thynne entered public life as the English envoy to Sweden (1666-1669). After his return to England, Thynne married Lady Frances Finch, daughter of Heneage Finch, 3rd Earl of Winchilsea. Through this marriage in 1671, Thynne inherited large estates and political interests in the Tamworth area, including Draycott Bassett, and extensive Irish estates in Co Monaghan.

Lady Frances Finch’s mother, Lady Mary Seymour (1637-1673), was a daughter of William Seymour, 2nd Duke of Somerset and Lady Frances Devereux (1599-1674) – and there lies another connection with the Comberford family. In 1616, Lady Frances Devereux married William Seymour (1587-1660), later Duke of Somerset. As the Dowager Duchess of Somerset, she also held properties in Comberford, Wigginton and Tamworth.

When she died on 24 April 1674, she left her collection of 1,000 books to Lichfield Cathedral, including the Saint Chad’s Gospels and a book of pedigrees given to her by her close friend, Colonel William Comberford of Comberford Hall.

William Comberford had been the Royalist High Sheriff of Staffordshire and took an active role in the siege of Lichfield. When he died in 1656, he left a book of pedigrees of the Nevilles, Earls of Warwick to his friend, Frances, Marchioness of Hertford, later the Duchess of Somerset, saying: ‘The book of pedigrees of the Earles of Warwick, I give and devise to the Right Honorable and trulie virtuous ladie, the Marchioness of Hertford, for whose sake … I bought the same.’

His affectionate words and the terms of the bequest reveal a close and intimate friendship with the woman who restored the Lichfield Gospels to Lichfield Cathedral. Her donation of books to the cathedral also included this book William Comberford had bought for her.

After her death in 1674, Thynne inherited more estates through a division of land that came out of an agreement between the heirs of the two daughters of Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex. Earl Ferrers, who lived at Tamworth Castle, inherited the share of his grandmother, Lady Dorothy Devereux, while Thomas Thynne succeeded to the inheritance of Lady Frances Devereux, the earl’s elder daughter, later Marchioness of Hertford and Duchess of Somerset. This division was uneven, and in Lord Weymouth’s favour, but Lord Weymouth behaved generously to rectify this injustice to Ferrers.

Lady Frances Devereux ... the ‘trulie virtuous ladie’ named in the will of William Comberford, and ancestor of the Thynne family who bought Comberford Hall

Before he inherited Longleat, Thomas Thynne lived at Draycott Bassett near Tamworth, Lichfield and Sutton Coldfield. He was a royalist during the English Civil War. He was MP for Oxford University (1674-1679), but he was judged to stand little chance of re-election for the university. But his marriage had brought him a strong interest political in Lichfield and Tamworth, and he was elected for Tamworth to the Exclusion Parliaments (1679-1681).

He was also High Steward of Sutton Coldfield from 1679, High Steward of Tamworth from 1681, and High Steward of Lichfield from 1712, holding all three offices until he died in 1714, and he was a Justice of the Peace for Staffordshire (1680-1696).

In the 1681 election, he was involved in an unresolved double return at Tamworth, and never sat for Oxford. Instead, John Swinfen (1613-1694) of Swinfen Hall, near Freeford, a former parliamentarian, regained the seat in Tamworth. Swinfen’s descendant, Samuel Swinfen of Swinfen Hall, would later sell Comberford Hall to the Thynne family in 1761.

Thynne, who had succeeded his father as a baronet in 1680, entered the House of Lords a year after losing the Tamworth seat with the titles of Viscount Weymouth and Baron Thynne of Warminster (1682). A special provision allowed the titles to pass to the male heirs of his two brothers.

As Lord Weymouth, he was one of the four peers sent in late 1688 to ask William of Orange to summon a free Parliament. Although he took the oaths to the new regime, he protected non-jurors, ‘who cried him up for a very religious man, which pleased him extremely.’

When Thomas Ken, the saintly Bishop of Bath and Wells, was deprived of his see as a non-juror, Lord Weymouth, a friend since their days in Oxford, brought him to at Longleat and provided him with an annuity of £80. For 20 years, Ken lived on the top floor at Longleat and part of the West Wing was transformed into a chapel for daily worship.

Ken exerted a profound influence on his host, becoming what some describe as his conscience. Lord Weymouth acquired a reputation for good deeds inspired by the devout bishop. Thynne was a founding member of the Anglican mission agency the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG, now USPG, United Society Partners in the Gospel), and together Thynne and Ken founded the Lord Weymouth School, now Warminster School, in 1707.

While living in Longleat, Bishop Ken wrote many of his famous hymns, including ‘Awake my soul.’ When he died in 1711, he bequeathed his extensive library to Lord Weymouth.

As a Tory and a Jacobite suspect under William III, Lord Weymouth was excluded from political office until the reign of Queen Anne. His government offices included First Lord of Trade (1702-1707), and his royal appointments included Warden of the Forest of Dean (1712).

Thynne and his wife Lady Frances Finch were parents of four sons, including son Henry Thynne (1675-1708), who was MP Tamworth in 1701-1702 with Thomas Guy. However, none of the children outlived their parents. Family lore says Weymouth was twice offered an earldom, but declined the honours because he had no immediate male heir.

When he died in 1714, there was no immediate male heir, and his titles and estates passed to his great nephew, Thomas Thynne, 2nd Viscount Weymouth (1710-1751).

Thomas Thynne’s father died a month before Thomas was born, and at the age of four, on the death of his great uncle Thomas Thynne, 1st Viscount Weymouth, in 1714, he inherited the family titles and estates.

This Thomas Thynne maintained the family links with Tamworth, and in 1733 he became High Steward of Tamworth. His other offices included Keeper of Hyde Park, Keeper of the Mall, and Ranger of Saint James’s Park (1739-1751).

When his second wife, Lady Louisa Carteret, died in childbirth in her early 20s, her friend Mrs Delany wrote: ‘Her husband’s ... loss is irreparable.’ During her illness, Mrs Delany had written that ‘my Lord Weymouth is like a madman.’

Thomas Thynne (1734-1796), 1st Marquess of Bath, owned Comberford Hall from 1761 to 1789

When Lord Weymouth died in January 1751, he was succeeded in his titles and his vast estates by his elder son, Thomas Thynne (1734-1796), who became 3rd Viscount Weymouth and was given the additional title of Marquess of Bath in 1789. This Thomas Thynne bought Comberford Hall and the Comberford estate from Samuel Swinfen in 1761, and continued to hold them for almost 30 years.

Some local historians say Comberford Hall was rebuilt in the 1790s, after it was owned by Lord Bath, although Mrs Valerie Coltman, whose family lived there until the late 1950s, believes Comberford Hall was rebuilt at a much earlier date in 1720.

This Thomas Thynne held a number of political offices during the reign of King George III. He was Southern Secretary and Northern Secretary, during the American War of Independence. He was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland for a brief time in 1765, although he never visited Ireland. He is possibly best known for his role in the Falklands Crisis, a dispute with Spain in 1770 over the possession of the Falkland Islands.

Later, he was High Steward of Sutton Coldfield (1781-1796). But he was often accused of idleness and regular drunkenness, which depleted his great fortune, and it was said ‘his house was often full of bailiffs.’

On 1 August 1789, Lord Weymouth – who was about to become the 1st Marquis of Bath – and his son, the Hon Thomas Thynne, sold the Manors of Comberford and Wigginton, including lands in Hopwas and Coton, to Arthur Chichester (1739-1799), 5th Earl of Donegall.

Perhaps the sale of Comberford Hall provided much of the funds the Thynne family needed to meet the costs of recovering the Bath title. Within three weeks of the sale of Comberford, Lord Weymouth was given the additional title of Marquis of Bath on 18 August 1789. By then, his only public office was High Steward of Sutton Coldfield.

Lord Bath died in London on 19 November 1796 at the age of 62. He and his wife Lady Elizabeth Bentinck were the parents of three sons and four daughters, including Thomas Thynne (1765-1837), who succeeded as 2nd Marquess of Bath.

Earlier, Sir Robert Peel (1750-1830) was elected MP for Tamworth in 1790, having bought the borough along with many of Lord Bath’s estate in the area, including Drayton Bassett. Peel was the father of the later Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel (1788-1850), and the Thynne family’s links with Comberford and with the Tamworth and Lichfield area had come to an end.

There was one later, though distant, connection between the Thynne family and Comberford Hall over a century later. Henry Allsopp (1811-1887), 1st Lord Hindlip, married Elizabeth Tongue in 1839. She was the second daughter and eventual heiress of William Tongue of Comberford Hall. Their grandson, Charles Allsopp (1877-1931), 3rd Lord Hindlip, married in 1904, Agatha Lillian Thynne, a great-granddaughter of the 2nd Marquess of Bath, who had sold Comberford Hall with his father.

The Town Hall and the statue of Sir Robert Peel on Market Street, Tamworth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Praying with the Psalms in Ordinary Time:
29 June 2022 (Psalm 126)

‘Then was our mouth filled with laughter and our tongue with songs of joy’ (Psalm 126: 2) … a sign in a café in Rathkeale, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

In the Calendar of the Church, today commemorates Saint Peter and Saint Paul Apostles. This time of the year is known in Anglican tradition as Petertide, one of the two traditional periods for the ordination of new priests and deacons – the other being Michaelmas, around 29 September.

The Cambridge poet-priest Malcolm Guite says on his blog that Saint Peter’s Day and this season is appropriate for ordinations because Saint Peter is ‘the disciple who, for all his many mistakes, knew how to recover and hold on, who, for all his waverings was called by Jesus “the rock,” who learned the threefold lesson that every betrayal can ultimately be restored by love.’

Before today begins, I am taking some time this morning to continue my reflections drawing on the Psalms.

In my blog, I am reflecting each morning in this Prayer Diary in these ways:

1, Short reflections on a psalm or psalms;

2, reading the psalm or psalms;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Psalm 126:

Psalm 126 is the seventh in a series of 15 short psalms (Psalm 120-134) known as the ‘Songs of Ascents.’ These psalms begin with the Hebrew words שיר המעלות‎ (Shir Hama’a lot). In the slightly different numbering system in the Greek Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate, this is counted as Psalm 125. It is sometimes known by its opening words in Latin, In convertendo Dominus.

Many scholars say these psalms were sung by worshippers as they ascended the road to Jerusalem to attend the three pilgrim festivals. Others say they were sung by the Levite singers as they ascended the 15 steps to minister at the Temple in Jerusalem.

The Mishnah notes the correspondence between the 15 songs and the 15 steps between the men’s court and the women’s courtyards in the Temple. A Talmudic legend says King David composed or sang the 15 songs to calm the rising waters at the foundation of the Temple.

One view says the Levites first sang the Songs of Ascent at the dedication of Solomon’s Temple during the night of 15 Tishri 959 BCE. Another study suggests they were composed for a celebration after Nehemiah’s rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem in 445 BCE. Others suggest they may originally have been songs sung by the exiles returning from Babylon, ascending to Jerusalem or individual poems later collected together and given the title linking them to pilgrimage after the Babylonian captivity.

These psalms are cheerful and hopeful, and they place an emphasis on Zion. They were suited for being sung because of their poetic style and the sentiments they express. They are brief, almost like epigrams, and they are marked by the use of a keyword or repeated phrase that serves as a rung on which the poem ascends to its final theme.

Jewish scholarship pairs Psalm 126 with Psalm 137, with Psalm 137 commemorating the beginning of the Babylonian exile, and Psalm 126 describing the end of that exile.

The grammatical structure of the psalm, however, suggests that it is talking both about a past redemption (from Babylonian captivity, in verse 1) and a future redemption (the permanent return of the exiles at the end of days, in verse 4).

Alternately, modern Jewish commentators suggest that the second half of the psalm refers to the redemption of the land of Israel from agricultural drought.

Psalm 126 is a short psalm of seven verses. The Psalm is a liturgical song for use in public worship.

When the people first returned from exile in Babylon, they hardly believed their good fortune, and they were ‘like those who dream.’ So great was their success that other nations recognised God’s mighty works on their behalf, and the people rejoiced.

But, after the initial euphoria, they realise that ordinary, daily life is difficult. They ask God to restore our fortunes, and that the land be refreshed and be made fruitful with the waters of free-flowing rivers.

They may be sorrowful as they sow, but they still hope to gather the harvest in joyfulness, as God once more acts on our behalf.

All creation gives praise to God, and good times and bad times should both remind us not just of each season, but of the needs of others:

Those who sowed with tears
will reap with songs of joy.
Those who went out weeping, carrying the seed,
will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves
(Psalm 126: 6).

‘Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed, will come back with shouts of joy, bearing their sheaves with them ’ (Psalm 126: 7) … harvest themes in windows by Johnny Murphy and Reiltín Murphy (1982) in the Bishop O’Brien Memorial Chapel in Saint Saviour’s Dominican Church, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Psalm 126 (NRSVA):

A Song of Ascents.

1 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then it was said among the nations,
‘The Lord has done great things for them.’
3 The Lord has done great things for us,
and we rejoiced.

4 Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like the watercourses in the Negeb.
5 May those who sow in tears
reap with shouts of joy.
6 Those who go out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
carrying their sheaves.

Today’s Prayer:

The theme this week in the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘Ethics and Leadership.’ It was introduced on Sunday by Andy Flannagan, Executive Director of Christians in Politics.

Wednesday 29 June 2022 (Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Apostles):

The USPG Prayer invites us to pray today in these words:

Lord, give us the courage to stand up for what is right. As the Church, may we let our voices be heard on political issues which affect us all.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Saint Peter and Saint Paul in a pair of stained glass windows in Saint John’s Church, Wall, near Lichfield (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