30 June 2022

The Castle Hotel in Tamworth,
a tragic fire, and its links with
the Moat House and Comberford

The Castle Hotel in Tamworth dates from the early 18th century, with additions from the mid-19th century and the early 20th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

During our recent visit to Lichfield and Tamworth, two of us stayed in the Hedgehog Vintage Inn on Stafford Road, Lichfield, and in the Castle Hotel on the corner of Holloway Street and Ladybank with Market Street in Tamworth.

The Hedgehog has been a favourite place in Lichfield to stay in for many years, but this was my first time to stay in the Castle Hotel in Tamworth. While staying there, I was reminded there were connections between the owners of the Castle Hotel in the early 19th century and the owners of the Moat House, the former Comberford family home on Lichfield Street, which I had visited once again that afternoon.

The Holloway leads down from the town centre, past Tamworth Castle and over Lady Bridge. It is lined with some fine and interesting buildings, including the Castle Hotel, once owned by William Tempest, once Mayor of Tamworth.

The hotel building dates from the early 18th century, with additions from the mid-19th century and the early 20th century. The hotel itself dates back to at least 1814, when George Townshend (1778-1855), 3rd Marquis Townshend and the proprietor of Tamworth Castle, sold Tamworth Castle, the Castle Inn (now the Castle Hotel) and the castle gardens to John Robins.

Lord Townshend’s father had enthusiastically restored Tamworth Castle, and the Moat House had been the residence of his steward, John Willington and then of Lord Townshend until he died in 1811.

The family titles were inherited in 1811 by his son, George Townshend, who became the 3rd Marquis Townshend. The tenants at the Moat House included Sir John Sheal, from 1811 to 1815.

George Townshend had been disinherited by his father, and he lived in exile in Italy instead of living at Tamworth Castle, partly due to public scandal created by his wife, the former Sarah Dunn Gardner, her extramarital affairs and bigamous marriage and her children born outside the marriage.

As part of the efforts to clear the debts of the Townshend family, the Moat House and the Castle Inn were sold as part of the Tamworth Castle estate to John Robins, a London auctioneer, John Robins, a London auctioneer. He lived in the castle after seven years delay in legal proceedings to complete the purchase, after claiming the castle to settle debts owed him by the 2nd Marquis 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. He died in 1823 and his widow Alice died in 1863.

Visiting the Moat House on Lichfield Street last week … when John Robins died in 1833, Tamworth Castle, the Castle Inn and the Moat House were sold at public auction (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

George Townshend’s younger brother, Lord Charles Vere Ferrers Townshend, twice sat as MP for Tamworth, in 1812-1818 and 1830-1835. He was watching Tamworth Castle, the family estates and the Townshend titles slipping from his grasp and passing out of the family to his sister-in-law’s illegitimate children.

When John Robins died in 1833, a family dispute ended up in the Court of Chancery. The court decided that his estates should be sold by public auction, including Tamworth Castle, the Castle Inn, the Moat House and his property near the river, described as ‘a garden with a terrace walk along the bank of the River Tame, a summer house and bowling green.’

Lord Charles Townshend was successful in buying back Tamworth Castle, and the estates came into the ownership of the Townshend family once again. He then petitioned the House of Lords in 1842 to have Sarah’s children declared illegitimate.

George Townshend died in Genoa on 31 December 1855; he was 77. His only brother, Lord Charles Townshend, who had succeeded in having Sarah’s children declared illegitimate, had died two years earlier, on 5 November 1853. He had no sons either, and the Townshend title passed to a cousin, John Townshend (1798-1863), who was MP for Tamworth (1847-1855).

Meanwhile, the Castle Hotel was the scene of a tragic fire in 1838, when the building was severely damaged and six maidservants were trapped in upper rooms and died. A monument was erected in Saint Editha’s churchyard to record the incident, and because of the fire, the town’s first fire brigade was formed.

Tamworth Castle and the Castle Hotel, including the Castle Bowling Green, were put up for sale again in 1897. The castle was bought by Tamworth Borough Council for £3,000, while the Castle Hotel was bought privately.

William Tempest (1830-1911), proprietor of the Castle Hotel, was born in Burley near Duffield, Derbyshire, and became a wealthy businessman, hotelier and wine merchant. He moved to the Lodge Farm in Drayton, Staffordshire, in 1858, before moving to Tamworth.

Tempest was involved public life in Tamworth. He was elected an alderman in 1874 and was elected Mayor in 1878. He served as Mayor of Tamworth three times, being re-elected in 1880 and again in 1900.

He was a Governor of the Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School and a trustee of the Municipal Charities, Tamworth’s Permanent Benefit Building Society and Tamworth’s Friendly Institution. He was a director of Tamworth’s Savings Bank and Tamworth Gas Company, and a director of the Tamworth Herald from its formation in 1877.

He died on 8 August 1911 and was buried in Aldergate Cemetery.

The Castle Hotel at No 39 Holloway, the night club and the ‘Bow Street Runner’ on Market Street, form an interesting set of buildings on a prominent street corner.

The hotel is built of brick with ashlar dressings, with tile roofs with brick stacks. It is in an L-plan, with three storeys and a four-window range. The entrance to the right end has a Tuscan porch with a scrolled wrought-iron balcony, and a blind overlight to the paired half-glazed doors. Some of the windows have interesting stained glass, decorated with the fleur-de-lys, once the heraldic symbol of Tamworth.
The left return to Market Street has a five-window range with four Ionic pilasters, a frieze and a cornice at the entrance with paired doors and flanking four-pane horned tripartite sash windows.

The mid-19th century additions at the right, including the Holloway façade, have additions dating from ca 1900. It is worth noting one large and two small shaped gables, and two elliptical-headed carriage entrances with banded arches and hoods, two elliptical-headed windows with keystones and hoods, and a large oriel window.

Inside, the hotel has chamfered beams and staircase with column-on-vase balusters. Two of us stayed above the Market Street façade, which dates from the 19th century, and could see the Town Hall and the statue of Sir Robert Peel on Market Street.

The Market Street frontage, with the hotel’s ‘Vodka Bar’, was once used as a grocer’s shop, and before that housed Ford and Rowley’s Castle Garage, with a petrol pump outside, an important early facility for motorists.

The Brewery House, at the end of Lady Bank opposite Holloway Lodge, is now an annex of the Caste Hotel. The Old Brewery House was donated to the town as a workhouse in 1750 by Thomas Thynne (1710–1751), 2nd Viscount Weymouth, High Steward of Tamworth, and by Francis Willoughby (1692-1758), Lord Middleton, a former MP for Tamworth (1722-1727).

There was another Comberford connection here, for Lord Weymouth’s geat-uncle had bought Comberford Hall from Cumberford Brooke in 1710. His son, Thomas Thynne (1734–1796), 1st Marquess of Bath, later sold Comberford Hall and the estate in 1790 to Arthur Chichester, Earl of Donegall.

The Brewery House gained its later name when it was later bought by a businessman, Edward Morgan, who owned a brewery behind the property. The house became his home and the brewery offices.

Facing the Castle Hotel, Bank House dates from 1845, and was used as the Tamworth Savings Bank, founded by Sir Robert Peel in 1823.

At the end of Lady Bank and opposite the Brewery House, Holloway Lodge was built as a gatehouse and is the most recent addition to the castle. The lodge was built by the 2nd Marquis Townshend in 1810 as an entrance to his castle. Originally it was a single-storey building, but a second storey was added ca 1897.

Lady Bridge, at the end of Lady Bank, crosses the point where the River Tame and the River Anker meet. The Lady Bridge was built in 1796, replacing an earlier, mediaeval bridge that was destroyed over time by ice and floods.

Documents dating back to 1294 name Lady Bridge as the Bridge of Saint Mary. It was probably given this name because it once had a pedestal supporting a figure of the Virgin Mary on a cross. The pedestal survives and has been placed on the approach to the Castle’s square tower.

When Thomas Comberford died in 1532, his estates included the Manor of Wigginton, the Manor of Comberford, the right to hold a fair in Tamworth twice a year, the rights of fishery for a 2½-mile stretch along the River Tame from Lady Bridge, marking the boundary between the Staffordshire and Warwickshire parts of Tamworth, to Hopwas Bridge, and the right to keep six swans in the river.

Lady Bridge was widened at each end in 1840. For many years, the bridge carried the main Birmingham to Nottingham trunk road, but it was closed to traffic in 1984. Today there are beautiful views from the bridge of the castle and west along the river towards the Moat House.

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:
30 June 2022 (Psalm 127)

‘Nisi Dominus’ … the inscription over the door of Rothenburg House on High Street, Stony Stratford, designed by Edward Swinfen Harris, quotes the opening words of Psalm 127 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

In the Calendar of the Church, we are in Ordinary Time. 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 127:

Psalm 127 is the eighth 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 126. It is sometimes known by its opening words in Latin, Nisi 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.

This the only one among the 15 ‘Songs of Ascents’ attributed to Solomon rather than David: ‘A Song of Ascents. Of Solomon.’

Psalm 127 says a safe home and a large family are the Lord’s gifts.

The text is divided into five verses, with two wise sayings (verses 1-2 and 3-5). The first two verses (verses 1-2) express the notion that ‘without God, all is in vain’, popularly summarised in Latin in the motto Nisi Dominus Frustra. They say anxiety has no place in the life of the faithful.

The second part (verses 3-5) describe children as God’s blessing, and say the gift of many stalwart sons makes a father feel secure.

In Jewish tradition, Psalm 127 is recited as a prayer for protection of a new-born infant. According to Jewish tradition, Psalm 127 was written by David and dedicated to his son Solomon, who would build the First Temple. According to the French mediaeval rabbi, David Kimhi (Radak), verses 3-5 express David’s feelings about his son Solomon. Another French mediaeval rabbi, Shlomo Yitzchaki, said these verses refer to the students of a Torah scholar, who are called his ‘sons.’

The Midrash Tehillim interprets the opening verses of the psalm as referring to teachers and students of Torah. On the watchmen of the city mentioned in verse 1, Rabbi Hiyya, Rabbi Yosi, and Rabbi Ammi said, ‘The [true] watchmen of the city are the teachers of Scripture and instructors of Oral Law.’

On ‘the Lord gives’ in verse 2, the Midrash explains that God ‘gives’ life in the world to come to the wives of Torah scholars because they deprive themselves of sleep to support their husbands.

The translation of the psalm presents some difficulties, especially in verses 2 and 4. Jerome, in a letter to Marcella in the year 384, laments that Origen’s notes on this psalm no longer exist, and discusses the various possible translations of לֶחֶם הָעֲצָבִים‎ (‘bread of sorrows’ (KJV), ‘bread of anxious toil’ (NRSVA), after the panem doloris of Vulgata Clementina).

Jerome’s own translation is panem idolorum, ‘bread of idols,’ following the Septugiant (LXX). The phrase בְּנֵי הַנְּעוּרִֽים‎ (‘children of the youth’ (KJV), ‘sons of one’s youth (NRSVA)), is translated in the Septuagint (LXX) as υἱοὶ τῶν ἐκτετιναγμένων, (‘children of the outcast’).

There are two possible interpretations of the phrase כֵּן יִתֵּן לִֽידִידֹו שֵׁנָֽא‎ ‘for he gives sleep to his beloved’ (verse 2, NRSVA). The word ‘sleep’ may either be the direct object (LXX, Vulgate, KJV, NRSVA), or an accusative used adverbially, ‘in sleep,’ meaning ‘while they are asleep.’ The latter interpretation fits the context of the verse much better, contrasting the ‘beloved of the Lord’ who receive success without effort, as it were ‘while they sleep’ with the sorrowful and fruitless toil of those not so blessed.

This sentiment is paralleled in Proverbs 10: 22, ‘The blessing of the Lord makes rich, and he adds no sorrow with it’ (NRSVA).

English translations have been reluctant to emend the traditional translation, due to the long-standing association of this verse with sleep being the gift of God. And so it is that Elizabeth Barrett Browning uses the phrase ‘He giveth his beloved Sleep’ as the last line of each stanza in her poem ‘The Sleep.’

Psalm 127 is sometimes called ‘the builders’ psalm,’ because of the opening verse and because of the similarity between the Hebrew words for sons (banim) and builders (bonim).

The phrase Nisi Dominus Frustra (‘Without God, it is in vain’) is a popular motto often inscribed on buildings. It has been the motto of Edinburgh since 1647, it was the motto of the former Borough of Chelsea, and it is the motto of several schools, including Mount Temple School, Dublin.

The Vulgate text, Nisi Dominus, has been set to music by many Renaissance and Baroque composers, often as part of vespers, including Monteverdi, Charpentier, Handel and Vivaldi.

‘Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain’ (Psalm 127: 1) … scaffolding against the west wall inside the Basilica in Torcello, Venice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Psalm 127 (NRSVA):

A Song of Ascents. Of Solomon.

1 Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labour in vain.
Unless the Lord guards the city,
the guard keeps watch in vain.
2 It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives sleep to his beloved.

3 Sons are indeed a heritage from the Lord,
the fruit of the womb a reward.
4 Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the sons of one’s youth.
5 Happy is the man who has
his quiver full of them.
He shall not be put to shame
when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.

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.

Thursday 30 June 2022:

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

We pray for greater accountability and transparency in the political sphere, with trust and dignity at the heart of political processes.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

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