03 September 2022

Whittington Old Hall and
its links with the Babington
clerical family in Lichfield

Whittington Old Hall on the edge of Whittington was owned by the Babington family in the 17th and 18th centuries

Patrick Comerford

When I was back in Saint Chad’s Church in Lichfield last week, I paid particular attention to the monument to Catherine Allden (1615-1695) and her husband Zachary Babington (1611-1685) of Whittington and Curborough.

The couple were married in Saint Chad’s Church when she was 20 in 1636, and I was interested in the monument because of the intricate links between the Babington and Comberford families in the 16th and 17th centuries through intermarriage with the Fitzherbert and Beaumont families. But I was also interested to hear this week that part of Whittington Old Hall is still on the market – with an asking price of over £1 million.

Whittington Old Hall is on the edge of the pretty Staffordshire village of Whittington, close to Lichfield. It is a Grade II* listed property steeped in rich history and dating back to the 16th century.

The house is believed to have been built in the Tudor period, and the present owners believe the original timber-frame building would have been clad in handsome brickwork towards the end of the reign of Elizabeth I.

The Revd Stebbing Shaw (1762-1802), in The History and Antiquities of Staffordshire (1798), records that the Everard family owned a house and estate in Whittington during the reign of Henry VIII. They may have been descended from Ralph Everard (1499-1546), who married Maud (Matilda) Comberford (1503-1588), daughter of Thomas Comberford of Comberford Hall. Maud was a sister of Henry Comberford, Precentor of Lichfield, and Richard Comberford, a Lichfield lawyer once claimed as the ancestor of the Comerford family in Ireland.

Whittington Old Hall was probably first built by the Everard family in the mid-16th century

Whittington Hall was probably built or rebuilt in the Elizabethan age, with the early Tudor builders retaining possibly the foundations of an earlier house, but remodelling the south or garden front and a portion of the entrance front in the reign Edward VI and the early years of the reign of Elizabeth I. They left the old half-timber work and re-cased the exterior with brick and stone-work, and with striking bays and mullioned windows.

The Babington family of Whittington Hall was descended from Canon Zachary Babington (1549-1613), Chancellor of the Diocese of Lichfield. One genealogical site suggests he came originally from Comberford, although he was the son of Thomas Babington (d. 1567) of Rothley Temple and Cossington, Derbyshire, and his wife Eleanor, daughter and co-heir of John Beaumont.

He was a cousin of the Comberford family of Comberford Hall and the Moat House, Tamworth, and of Anthony Babington, who was hung, drawn and quartered on Tower Hill in 1586 for his role in the Babington Plot to put Mary Queen of Scots on the throne.

Canon Zachary Babington was Prebendary of Curborough (1584), Master of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield (1587), and Precentor of Lichfield and Prebendary of Bishop’s Itchington (1589-1608), two positions held earlier (1555-1559), by his aunt’s brother-in-law, Canon Henry Comberford (1499-1586). He was also Chancellor of the Diocese of Lichfield (1581-1613).

He created an estate centred on Curborough Hall Farm, and was living there when he died in 1613. His son, Canon William Babington (1582-1625), was also Precentor of Lichfield.

The monument Zachary Babington (1611-1685) and his wife Catherine Allden (1615-1695) in Saint Chad’s Church, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Canon William Babington was the father of both Canon Matthew Babington, a chaplain to Charles I, and Zachary Babington (1611-1685) of Whittington and Curborough, who is remembered with his wife Catherine Allden (1615-1695) in that monument in Saint Chad’s Church.

This Canon William Babington was also the father of Margaret Babington, who married John Birch, one of the trustees of the Comberford estates in the 1650s and 1660s, and Mary Babington who married Matthew Dyott of Stychbrook and Lichfield.

Zachary Babingnton died in 1685 and was buried at Saint Giles Church, Whittington. Zachary’s son, John Babington, was living at Curborough in 1684 and was High Sheriff of Staffordshire in 1702. John Babington died in 1706.

John Babington was the father of Zachary Babington (1690-1745) of Curborough Hall and Whittington Old Hall, a barrister and High Sheriff of Staffordshire in 1713 and 1724. Zachary Babington’s daughter Mary married Theophilus Levett (1693-1746), steward or town clerk of Lichfield (1721-1746) and a friend of Samuel Johnson’s family as well as part of the intellectual circle in Lichfield that included Erasmus Darwin, Anna Seward, David Garrick and Matthew Boulton.

The Babington estates were divided in 1780 and Curborough Hall went to John Levett, the son of Mary and Theophilus. John died in 1799, and Curborough Hall descended in his family.

Whittington Old Hall was divided into two houses in in 1959

Meanwhile, Whittington Hall was bought by Christopher Astley of Tamhorn. Mary Astley, the heiress of the Astley family, inherited Whittington Hall and married her cousin, Richard Dyott of Freeford, in 1783.

The Dyott family appears to have sold the house after Mary Dyott died in 1836. By 1840, the house belonged to John Baggaley of Fradley, but was occupied by Daniel Riley as a tenant until about 1850, when the Baggaley family moved in themselves.

John Baggaley was still living at the Hall in 1861 and 1870, but Lord Berkeley Charles Sydney Paget (1844-1913) was his tenant there in 1880. He was a younger son of Henry Paget (1797-1869), 2nd Marquess of Anglesey, and was related to the Paget family of Elford Hall. The ‘gentleman jockey’ George Alexander Baird also rented the house for a while.

Charles Edward Baggaley sold Whittington Old Hall in 1889 to Samuel Lipscomb Seckham (1827-1901), an architect and brewer. He was the original architect employed by Saint John’s College, Oxford, to develop parts of North Oxford, including Park Town, an early and prominent estate in North Oxford.

Such was the success of Park Town, Seckham also worked on plans for Walton Manor and Norham Manor. He developed Bletchley Park, which he bought in 1877 and sold in 1883 to Sir Herbert Samuel Leon (1850-1926). Bletchley Park later became known for the World War II codebreaking effort there.

Seckham was the High Sheriff of Staffordshire in 1890. He spent a small fortune renovating and enlarging Whittington Old Hall but did not live there for many years, continuing to live at Beacon Place in Lichfield. The architect was Matthew Henry Holding of Northampton.

Seckham died on 4 February 1901. His eldest son, Bassett Thorne Seckham, inherited the house and lived there with his wife Alice Dorothy Seckham (nee Moore) until his death in 1925.

Whittington Old Hall Estate was offered for sale at auction in 1926. It was a substantial property totalling 543 acres. But the main house with its 10-acre garden did not reach the reserve price and was withdrawn. It was then let to successive tenants, including Harold de Vahl Rubin and Captain Thomas Lawley.

The house and garden were sold in 1933 to Edmund Richard Corn, a wealthy manufacturer of sanitary earthenware and tiles from the Potteries. There was a large garden party at the Old Hall in July 1937 for 1,500 of Corn’s employees to celebrate the centenary of Richards Tiles Ltd, the Corn family firm.

Corn lived at Whittington Old Hall with his wife Susan Annie (nee Hammersley) until he died in 1945. After Mrs Corn died in 1959, the gardens were sold for housing development (Cloister Walk and Babington Close), the lodges and coach houses were sold as separate homes and the main house was divided into two substantial houses with separate entrances.

No 2 Whittington Hall is a six-bedroom property that combines period features with modern family living, and the accommodation is over three floors.

The features include is a Jacobean-style fireplace with heavily carved timber surround. The library has bookcases and a decorative corner fireplace. There is grand staircase and a second charming small staircase within the tower. The property also has a cellar.

The landscaped gardens are to the south of the house and include a central water feature and a sheltered, stone flagged area. The roof terrace has views of the village.

• No 2 Whittington Old Hall is on sale through Fine & Country Sutton Coldfield, at 322 Lichfield Road, Four Oaks, Sutton Coldfield, who are inviting offers of over £1 million.

The features in No 2 Whittington Old Hall include is a Jacobean-style fireplace with heavily carved timber surround

Praying with USPG and the music of
Vaughan Williams: Saturday 3 September 2022

‘There’s a home for little children / above the bright blue sky, / where Jesus reigns in glory’ … blue skies over the Crescent on the Quays in Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

The Calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship today [3 September] remembers Saint Gregory the Great (604), Bishop of Rome and Teacher of the Faith, with a Lesser Festival.

Before today gets busy, I am taking some time this morning for reading, prayer and reflection.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, whose music is celebrated throughout this year’s Proms season. In my prayer diary for these weeks I am reflecting in these ways:

1, One of the readings for the morning;

2, Reflecting on a hymn or another piece of music by Vaughan Williams, often drawing, admittedly, on previous postings on the composer;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

Saint Gregory the Great (centre) among Seven Fathers of the Church carved above the south porch of Lichfield Cathedral (from left): Saint Augustine, Saint Jerome, Saint Ambrose, Saint Gregory, Saint John Chrysostom, Saint Athanasius and Saint Basil (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Gregory was born in 540, the son of a Roman senator. As a young man he pursued a governmental career, and in 573 was made Prefect of the city of Rome. Following the death of his father, he resigned his office, sold his inheritance, and became a monk. In 579 he was sent by the Pope to Constantinople to be his representative to the Patriarch. He returned to Rome in 586, and was himself elected Pope in 590.

At a time of political turmoil, Gregory proved an astute administrator and diplomat, securing peace with the Lombards. He initiated the mission to England, sending Augustine and forty monks from his own monastery to refound the English Church. His writings were pastorally oriented. His spirituality was animated by a dynamic of love and desire for God. Indeed, he is sometimes called the ‘Doctor of Desire.’

For Gregory, desire was a metaphor for the journey into God. As Pope, he styled himself ‘Servant of the servants of God’ – a title that typified both his personality and ministry. He died in 604.

Mark 10: 42-45 (NRSVA):

42 So Jesus called them and said to them, ‘You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’

Today’s reflection: ‘There’s a Friend for Little Children’

For my reflections and devotions each day these few weeks, I am reflecting on and invite you to listen to a piece of music or a hymn set to a tune by the great English composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958).

For the last two days, I have been listening to the hymns by Bishop William Walsham How, ‘For All the Saints’ and ‘It is a thing most wonderful’ which were set by Vaughan Williams to the tunes Sine Nomine and Herongate.

This morning [21 March 2015], I invite you to continue in this mode, listening to another hymn that is associated with the decision by Vaughan Williams to use the title ‘Herongate’ for the second of these hymns. I am listening to ‘There’s a Friend for Little Children’ which he set to the tune ‘Ingrave’ in the English Hymnal (No 607) in 1906.

He transcribed the tune in 1903 when he heard a song after a visit to Ingrave Rectory, about three miles from Herongate and near Brentwood in Essex.

Early in 1903, Kate Bryan, the founder and headmistress of Montpelier House School in Brentwood, Essex, organised a series of extra-mural classes under the auspices of Oxford University. She set up an organising committee that included Georgiana Heatley, the daughter of the Revd Henry Davis Heatley, Vicar of Ingrave, a nearby village.

Vaughan Williams was one of the first lecturers. Over a six-week period that Spring, he gave a series of weekly lectures on folk songs, and Lucy Broadwood sang some songs as illustrations for some of his lectures.

Georgina Heatley was inspired by these lectures and took the initiative to collect folk songs among the older inhabitants of Ingrave. She passed these songs on to Vaughan Williams, and later she and one of her sisters invited him to a tea at their father’s vicarage organised by the Vicar for the old people of the village. Vaughan Williams was invited to hear some of the villagers sing, but on the day, Thursday 3 December 1903, they could not be persuaded to co-operate. Nevertheless, Vaughan Williams went to visit Charles Potiphar at his home in Ingrave the next day (Friday 4 December 1903).

The old man was standing in his smock against the door frame of his cottage, and launched into singing his favourite song, Bushes and Briars and several other traditional songs.

This moment has been described as Vaughan Williams’s ‘moment of epiphany,’ his visit to this humble labourer’s cottage sparked Vaughan Williams’s passion for folk songs, and the thought that these songs could be lost forever turned him instantly into one of the greatest folk song collectors of the 20th century.

The encounter led to the use of folk song tunes in the English Hymnal and as a source of inspiration for some of the most notable English classical music of the first half of the 20th century, including his three Norfolk Rhapsodies and In the Fen Country

He returned to Ingrave in January and in February 1904, and over the next few months he spent weeks collecting songs as he cycled around Ingrave, Willingale, Little Burstead, East Horndon and Billericay, jotted the folk songs down with pencil and paper.

Another villager in Ingrave, the singer Mary Ann Humphreys, also provided many tunes for Vaughan Williams, However, Vaughan Williams did not collect any songs from her until April 1904.

In January 1905, he collected songs around the King’s Lynn district of Norfolk and while he was on holiday in Sussex and Yorkshire later that year. In 1906, he visited Samuel Childs at the Bell, Willingale, noting down ‘Sweet Primroses.’

Charles Potiphar died in 1909. Shortly after his death, Vaughan Williams made a recording on wax cylinders of Mary Ann Humphreys singing, including a stately and lyrical performance of Bushes and Briars and a lively and rhythmic rendering of Tarry Trousers. Vaughan Williams collected 12 other songs from Charles Potiphar, and went on to collect some 810 songs in a 10-year period.

Meanwhile, in 1913, Essex County Council took over Montpelier House School as the nucleus of Brentwood county high school, and Kate Bryan died in 1917.

Three years before his death, in 1955, Vaughan Williams revisited Brentwood and recalled his first visit to the Essex town and the neighbouring villages that had such a profound effect on his music. In 2003, to mark the centenary of his visit to Ingrave, the Essex Record Office mounted an exhibition, ‘That precious legacy.’

Sue Cubbin of Brentwood, Essex Sound and Video Archive Assistant at the Essex Record Office, published her book That Precious Legacy – Ralph Vaughan Williams and Essex folksong, in 2006. In this book, she traces the composer’s early links with Essex and sketches his time in the Brentwood area. Her book is available from the Essex Record Office ISBN 978-1-898529-05 price £5.99.

This morning’s hymn was written in 1859 by Albert Midlane (1825-1909), a businessman and Sunday School teacher from Newport in the Isle of Wight, and it was first published that year in Good News for the Little Ones. It was set to the tune ‘In Memoriam (Stainer)’ by Sir John Stainer for Hymns Ancient and Modern (1875).

The hymn’s sentiments are so mawkish today and its theology so dated that it is no longer included in the major collections of hymns. But the tune remains an important part of the story of Vaughan Williams and how he collected folk tunes for the English Hymnal over 100 years ago.

There’s a Friend for little children
above the bright blue sky,
a Friend who never changes,
whose love will never die;
our earthly friends may fail us,
and change with changing years,
this Friend is always worthy
of that dear Name he bears.

There’s a rest for little children
above the bright blue sky,
who love the bless├Ęd Saviour,
and to the Father cry
a rest from every turmoil,
from sin and sorrow free,
where every little pilgrim
shall rest eternally.

There’s a home for little children
above the bright blue sky,
where Jesus reigns in glory,
a home of peace and joy
no home on earth is like it,
nor can with it compare;
for everyone is happy
nor could be happier there.

There’s a crown for little children
above the bright blue sky,
and all who look for Jesus
shall wear it by and by;
a crown of brightest glory,
which he will then bestow
on those who found his favour
and loved his Name below.

There’s a song for little children
above the bright blue sky,
a song that will not weary,
though sung continually;
a song which even angels
can never, never sing
they know not Christ as Saviour,
but worship him as King.

There’s a robe for little children
above the bright blue sky,
and a harp of sweetest music,
and palms of victory.
All, all above is treasured,
and found in Christ alone:
O come, dear little children
that all may be your own.

Hearing Charles Potiphar sing ‘Bushes and Briars’ at his cottage door in Ingrave was a ‘moment of epiphany’ for Vaughan Williams

Today’s Prayer, Saturday 3 September 2022 (Saint Gregory the Great):

The Collect:

Merciful Father,
who chose your bishop Gregory
to be a servant of the servants of God:
grant that, like him, we may ever long to serve you
by proclaiming your gospel to the nations,
and may ever rejoice to sing your praises;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post Communion Prayer:

God of truth,
whose Wisdom set her table
and invited us to eat the bread and drink the wine
of the kingdom:
help us to lay aside all foolishness
and to live and walk in the way of insight,
that we may come with your servant Gregory
to the eternal feast of heaven;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The theme in the USPG prayer diary all this week is ‘A New Province,’ inspired by the work of the Igreja Anglicana de Mocambique e Angola (IAMA), made up of dioceses in Mozambique and Angola, the second and third largest Portuguese-speaking countries in the world.

The Right Revd Vicente Msosa, Bishop of the Diocese of Niassa in the Igreja Anglicana de Mocambique e Angola, shares his prayer requests in the USPG Prayer Diary throughout this week.

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

We give thanks for the growth of the Church in Angola and Mozambique. May churches and clergy be supported to engage with and inspire their local communities.

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