James Comerford’s bookplates have become collectors’ items … they perpetuate the claims of the Comerford family in Ireland to descent from the Comberford family of Staffordshire
An interesting branch of the Comerford family in London, has been involved in book collecting for three generations and in medicine for two generations. Although there are some traditions that this family originated in Coventry, the family tradition insists that this family originated in Ireland in the mid-18th century and moved to London.
THOMAS COMERFORD (1738-ca 1812), who may have been born in Ireland, is the first-known ancestor of this family.
Family tradition says Thomas Comerford came from Ireland. However, Ashworth-Hill, in his paper on the Bosworth Crucifix, which was in the possession of James Comerford’s family from around 1810, wonders whether this Comerford family was related to the Comerford family who lived in Saint Michael’s Parish in Coventry in the first half of the 19th century.
Thomas was a tobacconist in London. He married (1) Alice Davenport (1735–1769) on 26 October 1759 in Saint Mary’s Church, Whitechapel. They lived in Leman Street, Whitechapel (1759-1768). They were the parents of:
1, William Davenport Comerford (1763–1763), died in infancy.
2, James Comerford (1764–1833), of whom next.
3, Thomas Comerford (1769–1810).
Alice died in childbirth in 1769, and Thomas Comerford married (2) on 28 October 1770 in Saint Botolph’s Aldgate, Ann Underwood (1734–1807). Thomas and Anne Comerford were the parents of:
4, Mary (1775–1839)
5, Charles Comerford (1784–1849)
Thomas died on 29 Jun 1812 in the Parish of Saint Botolph, London. His son:
JAMES COMERFORD (1764-1833) of Change Alley in Cornhill, London. Tobacconist, Snuff Make. He married in Saint Andrew, Holborn, on 6 March 1805 Sarah or Anne (Suffolk), then living in the parish of Saint Andrew by the Wardrobe.
A family tradition says Anne (Suffolk) may have had a Jewish mother, and there was a tradition later dismissed in the family that her father was one of the many illegitimate sons of King George III.
This James Comerford started the book collection that his son, also James Comerford continued.
A Latin and French prayer-book once owned by James Comerford and which he had bound shortly before his death in 1881
JAMES COMERFORD (1806-1881) was a Victorian book collector, antiquarian and notary. He was born at Holborn on 7 November 1806, in Castle Street, Now Furnival Street, Holborn, and was baptised in Saint Andrew’s Church, Holborn, in March 1807.
He first practised as a notary public in partnership with TS Girdler as Comerford and Company at 27 Change Alley, Cornhill, London, from December 1827. Later, he practised from premises at 7 Tokenhouse Yard, Lothbury, London. He was also a magistrate or Justice of the Peace (JP). James Comerford was secretary to the Society of Public Notaries of London in 1833. He was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquarians (FSA) on 27 December 1840.
His heraldic bookplates, with the motto So Ho Ho Dea Ne, are much sought-after collectors’ items.
He married Sarah Anne (née Bissett), daughter of Captain James Bissett, in Wilmington, Sussex, on 16 July 1828. Her father was a sailor who lost his life in the American war in 1812. Her eldest sister, Anna Maria Bissett, married the Revd Robert Philip Blake (ca 1801-1841) MA, Pembroke College, Cambridge, curate of Wilmington, Sussex, and Stoke, near Guildford, who drowned at Niton, Isle of Wight, while swimming with his son; this son, the Revd Professor John Frederick Blake (1839-1906), MA, Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, was lecturer in Comparative Anatomy, Charing Cross Hospital, London (1878-1881) and Professor of Natural Science, University College Nottingham (1881-1888).
After their wedding, Sarah and James Comerford took a honeymoon during the Belgian/Dutch civil war.
Between 1829 and 1851, James Comerford and his family were living at No 7 Saint Andrew’s Place, Regent’s Park, London. By 1872, James Comerford was living in Framfield, Sussex.
Family tradition says James was something of a rake, took fencing lessons from a well-known fencing master named Angelo, and fought a duel with a man named Atwood over his future wife. James Comerford is best remembered as a book collector and antiquarian.
James Comerford built on his father’s earlier book collection, and amassed a library that included a large collection of county histories, local topographies and books of Catholic religious piety. James Comerford died on 8 March 1881 in the last cholera epidemic in London.
After his death, Sotheby’s sold his library at auction on 16-20 November 1881, realising a sale total of £8,372 13 s. His books occasionally come back on the market, but more often they are valued for his heraldic bookplates than as antique books.
The Bosworth Crucifix … the most notable antiquarian item in James Comerford’s private collection, is now in the collection of the Society of Antiquarians
The most notable object of antiquarian interest in Comerford’s private collection was the ‘Bosworth Crucifix.’ This 15th-century bronze processional crucifix, measuring 585 mm x 280 mm, is now in the collection of the Society of Antiquaries of London.
The Bosworth Crucifix is said to have been dug up on the Field of Bosworth in Leicestershire around the year 1778, and came into the possession of the Comerford family around the year 1810.
The crucifix was owned by the Carter family of Saint Michael’s Parish, Coventry, before it passed into the possession of the Comerford family – probably James Comerford’s father – ca 1810. However, it is still unclear how the crucifix passed from Joseph Carter, sexton of Saint Michael’s Church, Coventry, who died in June 1808, and whose will was granted administration in the Consistory Court of the Diocese of Lichfield on 7 October 1808.
The cross was in the possession of the Comerford family from about 1810, and may have been bought from Carter’s widow Mary between 1808 and 1810.
Sarah and James Comerford were the parents of a son and a daughter:
1, James William Comerford (1829-1917), who shared many of his father’s antiquarian interests, and of whom next.
2, Emily Sarah (1842-1909). She was born in 1842, and was married twice: (1), Henry Burchett, married in 1858, and the parents of three children:
● 1a, Jasper Benson Comerford Burchett (1859-1927), born London, educated New Inn Hall, Oxford. He married Emily, and they were the parents of one son, James John Burchett.
● 2a, Lionel Godfrey Benedict (‘Benson’) Burchett (1862-1941), born at sea on the Copenhagen off Cape Horn; educated Wadham College, Oxford; secretary to Sir W Bull, MP; of 38 Mortlake Road, Kew Gardems. He married Maria Alice Pyne (1855-1935), and they were the parents of James Benedict Godfrey (‘Jim’) Burchett (1886-1983), of Hungerford, Berkshire; 2nd lieutenant, Royal Flying Corps, Military Cross, mentioned in dispatches.
● 3a, Rose (born (1870-1940), married three times.
Emily Sarah (Comerford) married (2), the Revd Hamilton Brand in 1873, and died on 17 July 1909; they were parents of three children:
● 4a, Digby H Brand (1874-1961), went to Patagonia.
● 5a, Valentine Vivien Brand (1878-1926).
● 6a, (Major) Erle Burgo Brand (1885-1956), went to Australia and then to South Africa.
James Comerford died on 8 March 1881. His son:
(Colonel) JAMES WILLIAM COMERFORD (1829-1917), was born in 1829. He was a notary public, of 7 Tokenhouse Yard, London. In 1881, he sold his father’s and his grandfather’s book collection, following his father's death. At the end of that year, in December 1881, James William Comerford exhibited and presented the Bosworth Crucifix to the Society of Antiquaries ‘in the name of his late father, James Comerford, Esq., FSA.’
James William Comerford lived at 38 Cambridge Street, London, and Saint George’s Road, London. He was a lieutenant-colonel and honorary colonel in the 13th Middlesex (Queen's Westminster) Volunteer Rifle Corps. He married Marianne Rouse (1829-1900) and their children included four sons:
1, Allen Charles Comerford (1860-1951), notary public, of 7 Tokenhouse Yard, London. Born 1860, Saint George’s, Pimlico. He died 14 January 1951, 9 Avonmore Gardens, London.
2, Robert Homfray James Comerford (1861-1939), notary public, of 7 Tokenhouse Yard, London, Hanover Square, London, and 22 Mornington Avenue, London. He was born April 1861. He died on 27 April 1939 in Fulham, London. He was apprenticed to William Gribble of Abechurch Lane, London, Solicitor and Clerk to the Worshipful Company of Scriveners. He married Gertrude Kate Winnall (1869–1960) of Shipston on Stour, Worcestershire, on 26 September 1896 in Saint Luke’s Church, Battersea. They were the parents of:
● 1a, Arthur Comerford.
3, Hugh Comerford (1863-1943), solicitor, of High Ongar,Essex. He married Annie Emily … (born 1870) and they were the parents of two sons and two daughters:
● 1a, Florence Marianne Comerford (1891-1963).
● 2a, James Hugh Comerford (1894-1921).
● 3a, Bertha Evelyn (born 1896), married Fred Boyd.
● 4a, Thomas Frederick Rouse Comerford (1900-1980), married Ivy Baxter Smart (1903–1955).
4, Beaumont Harry Comerford (1864-1947), of whom next.
This fourth son:
(Dr) BEAUMONT HARRY COMERFORD (1887-1947), MRCS, LRCP, MD, DPH, was one of the older practitioners in the West End of London at the time of his death, and was made an honorary Governor of Saint George’s Hospital for his unstinting service throughout World War I.
The fourth son of Lieutenant-Colonel Comerford, he was born between July and September 1864, and was baptised in Saint George’s Church, Hanover Square, London. He was educated at Sherborne School, where he gained distinction as an athlete, winning the mile, half-mile and steeplechase and being captain of both cricket and football for two consecutive years.
He was a student at Saint George’s Hospital, qualifying MRCS and LRCP in 1887. Later, he obtained his MD and DPH degrees at Durham University in 1904. He was successively senior house surgeon, house physician and obstetric assistant at St George’s, and was later resident medical officer at the Chelsea Hospital for Women and for ten years clinical assistant at the Victoria Hospital for Children. Dr Comerford was also honorary medical officer for the National Children’s Adoption Society.
He conducted a considerable practice for over 25 years in Chester Square, and subsequently, until his retirement in 1939, in Ashley Gardens. It was said that ‘by his steady common sense, shrewd judgment, and great experience, he won the trust, confidence and affection of many patients and colleagues.’
During World War I, he returned to Saint George’s as surgeon to the out-patient department and worked for four years without a break. In recognition of this, he was appointed an honorary governor of the hospital.
In 1905, he married Elizabeth Frances Shaw Woodgate (1881-1970), of Steyning, Sussex, daughter of the Revd Reginald Stephen Shaw Woodgate (1849-1911), of Pembury Hall, Kent,and Vicar of Pembury (1878-1889), and grand-daughter of Revd George Stephen Woodgate (1813-1871) of Tonbridge, Kent. She was a keen dog breeder.
They were the parents of an only son:
1, (Dr) Richard Eric Woodgate Beaumont Comerford (1914-1980), see below.
Dr Comerford and his family lived at 3 Chester Terrace, Eaton Square, and later at 50 Cheyne Court, Chelsea, London. At the time of his death, he was one of the older practitioners in the West End. He died in London on 15 July 1947, and was buried at Saint Nicholas Church, Tolleshunt D’Arcy, Essex. He was survived by his widow Elizabeth and their son, Dr Richard Eric Woodgate Beaumont Comerford (see below). Elizabeth Comerford died in Fulham in 1970.
The Gate of Honour at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge … Richard Comerford studied medicine here in the 1930s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)
Their only son was:
(Dr) RICHARD ERIC WOODGATE BEAUMONT COMERFORD (1914-1980), MA, MB, BChir, FFARCS, DA, who for much of his career was the consultant anaesthetist to Charing Cross Hospital.
He was born in 1914, and like his father was educated at Sherborne School, Dorset (1928-1933). Later he studied medicine at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, in the 1930s, and at Saint George’s Hospital, London, where he was a scholar. He qualified in 1940, and received the degrees MB and BChir at the University of Cambridge in 1941.
Meanwhile, he was commissioned a lieutenant in the Royal Artillery on 27 May 1939. During World War II, he was a major in the Royal Army Medical Corps, serving as a specialist anaesthetist in India, Burma and French Indo-China.
After World War II, he returned to medicine and to Saint George’s Hospital as a registrar. He took the Diploma in Anaesthetics (DA) in 1946, and became a Fellow of the Faculty of Anaesthetics, the Royal College of Surgeons (FFARCS) in 1953.
He then became resident medical assistant at Fulham Hospital and with the inception of the National Health Service (NHS) he was appointed a consultant anaesthetist. In 1964 he became consultant anaesthetist to the Charing Cross group of hospitals, but continued to run the anaesthetic department at Fulham until the move to the new Charing Cross Hospital in 1974.
He was honorary treasurer of the South-West Metropolitan and Wessex Society of Anaesthetists for 12 years. Like his mother, he was a keen dog-breeder, and he was honorary secretary, then president, of the Schipperke Club. As a Freemason, he was a keen member of three lodges.
Dr Comerford died in 1980 at the age of 65, and was survived by his wife Ann and their son and daughter.
JEREMY JAMES WOODGATE COMERFORD, who was born in 1949, was the third successive generation in the family to be educated at Sherborne (1967).
Footnotes and references:
This family tree is still being edited, and hopefully at a later stage will include full footnotes and references.
Email correspondence with Nikolai Hamilton From, 19, 21, 22 and 23 May 2020.
Ts Letter ca 1929 from Lionel Godfrey ‘Benson’ Burtchett to Lilith ‘Babs’ Anderson (née Brand), courtesy Nikolai Hamilton From
London Gazette, 26 May 1939, p. 3555.
‘Universities and Colleges,’ The British Medical Journal, 27 December 1941, p 929.
Obituary, The British Medical Journal, 9 August 1947, p 231.
Obituary, The British Medical Journal, 17 May 1980, p 1232.
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Last updated: 21 May 2020; 22 May 2020; 23 May 2020; 28 July 2022.