01 February 2023
A bar, a restaurant and
a 200-year-old church
to revisit in Tamworth
I suppose I could have told the story about a priest who walked into a bar, a library and a church. But instead I stood outside those three last week during my return visit to Tamworth, and learned about their stories and legacies.
The Sheriff of Tamworth at No 10 Colehill is one of the pubs listed by Camra, the Campaign for Real Ale. But the building has also been identified by Tamworth Heritage Trust for its historical interest, and it is a Grade II building.
The façade of the house bears a blue plaque referring to the Willington family who lived there for 200 years.
The house was built ca 1690 by Susannah Willington and for almost 200 years it was occupied almost exclusively by members of her family, who included a town bailiff, a general and two town clerks.
The Willington family lived in the house for almost two centuries, and it was once the home of General Bailey Willington (1755-1822), an artillery commander at the siege of Gibraltar in 1782. Francis Willington of Tamworth married Jane Anne Pye of Clifton Camville, aunt of the hymnwriter Henry John Pye.
The Willington family was then followed by firms of solicitors, principally from the Dewes family, and Dewes Sketchley solicitors, for over 120 years.
This Grade II house was re-fronted in the early 19th century. It is built of pebble-dashed brick with ashlar dressings, and there are some internal timber frames, indicating the possible incorporation of a house of an even earlier date.
The entrance has a Tuscan porch with columns on plinths and with steps to a small-paned half-glazed door. The three-storey house has a symmetrical five-window range with a double-depth plan and a rear wing.
The windows have sills and horned sashes with margin lights, there are smaller windows on the second floor, and above there is a parapeted roof. The rear wing with large cross-axial stack.
Inside, the building has exposed timber-framing, especially on the upper floors. The attic has exposed 17th century brickwork and queen-strut trusses. The central open-well stair has column-on-vase balusters, square newels and ramped handrails.
The house was offices until it was recently converted into a pub. This pub is a small two-room bar occupying the ground floor of the imposing Grade II-listed building dating from around 1690.
The bar room features a thick wooden bar supported by hogshead casks, while the larger room has rough wooden tables with tractor-seat stools, as well as a number of hogshead tables. The floors above have been converted into apartments.
The name is a nod to a former resident of the house who was Sheriff of Warwickshire when the castle side of Tamworth was in Warwickshire, while the Moat House side was in Staffordshire.
The Camra guide notes that the pub has up to three changing ales, as well as around 25 Belgian bottled beers.
The former Carnegie Centre, beside the Assembly Rooms on Corporation Street, was originally built in 1905 as a library and reading room, through the generosity of Andrew Carnegie who helped establish libraries in many towns.
When it was still a library, I carried out much of my early research on the Comberford family there in the early 1970s. The library has since been superseded by the new library behind it.
For many years, the former library it was used by a number of voluntary organisations. More recently, the building has been leased by the town council and has been transformed into Paparazzi Restaurant.
Once again, I failed to get inside Saint John’s Roman Catholic Church in Tamworth. This church on the corner of Saint John Street and Orchard Street, was built in 1829. The building is more of historical interest as an ambitious town church at the time of Catholic Emancipation than for its heavily compromised architectural qualities.
This church was designed as a large neoclassical church by Joseph Potter (1756–1842) from Lichfield, who supervised the alterations to Lichfield Cathedral in 1788–1793 and who was also the architect of Holy Cross Church, Lichfield (1835) and Saint Mary’s College, Oscott (1835-1838).
Saint John’s Church was remodelled and extended and given a distinctly post-war character in 1954-1956, and its brick exterior makes it look like a 20th century church.
I am still interested in visiting the church, not only because of the earlier involvement of the Comberford family in Catholic and recusant life in Tamworth until the late 17th century, but because Saint John’s has recently received interesting icons by Ian Knowles and its partner Church of the Sacred Heart church has a new Cross in the sanctuary.
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