Wednesday 1 July 2009

Comerford Profiles 17: James Comerford, JP, FSA (1806-1881): antiquarian and book collector

17.1: A Latin and French prayer-book once owned by James Comerford and which he had bound shortly before his death in 1881

Patrick Comerford

James Comerford (1806-1881) was a Victorian book collector, antiquarian and notary living in London whose heraldic bookplates, with the motto So Ho Ho Dea Ne, are much sought-after collectors’ items.

James Comerford was born in Holborn on 7 November 1806, and baptised in Saint Andrew’s Church, Holborn, in March 1807. He was the son of James Comerford (1787-1833) of Change Alley in Cornhill, London, and his wife Sarah or Anne (Suffolk), then living in the parish of Saint Andrew by the Wardrobe, who were married in Saint Andrew, Holborn, on 6 March 1805.[1]

The elder James Comerford (1787-1833), was born in 1787. He was the son of Thomas Comerford and his wife Anne. They lived in Bartlett’s Buildings in Holborn, London, and 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 Comerford was related to the Comerford family who lived in Saint Michael’s Parish in Coventry in the first half of the 19th century. [2]

The elder James Comerford married Sarah or Anne (Suffolk), and here again family tradition says she may have had a Jewish mother. This James started the book collection that his son James continued.

James Comerford (1806-1881) was born in Holborn on 7 November 1806, and 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). [3]

In 1833, James Comerford was secretary to the Society of Public Notaries of London. In December 1840, he was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquarians (FSA). [4]

He married Sarah Anne (née Bissett) in Wilmington, Sussex, on 16 July 1828.[6] Her father was a sailor who lost his life in the American war in 1812. After their wedding, they took a honeymoon during the Belgian/Dutch civil war.

They were the parents of a son and a daughter:

1, James William Comerford (1829-1917), who shared many of his father’s antiquarian interests.
2, Emily Sarah (1842-1909). She was born in 1842, and was married twice: (1), Henry Burchett, married in 1848, and they were 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 (1863-1941), born at sea, educated Wadham College, Oxford, 2nd lieutenant, Royal Flying Corps.
● 3a, Rose (born (1870-1940), married three times.
Emily Sarah Comerford married (2) the Revd Hamilton Brand in 1873, and they were parents of three children.
● 4a, Digby Brand (1874-1961), went to Patagonia.
● 5a, Valentine Vivien Brand (1878-1926).
● 6a, Erle Burgo Brand (1885-1956), went to Australia and then to South Africa.

Between 1841 and 1851, James Comerford and his family were living at No 7 Saint Andrew’s Place, Regent’s Park, London. [5] 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. 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.

17.2: 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. [7]

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. [8]

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. [9]

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. [10]

James Comerford died on 8 March 1881. His son:

(Colonel) James William Comerford (1829-1917), was born in 1829. In 1881, he sold his father’s and his grandfather’s book collection, following his father's death, for more than £8,000.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., F.S.A.” [11]

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 Maria Alice Pyne and they had a family, including a son:

1, Beaumont Harry Comerford (1864-1947).

17.3: James Comerford’s bookplates have become collectors’ items … they perpetuated the claims of the Comerford family in Ireland to descent from the Comberford family of Staffordshire

In his bookplates, James Comerford of London also continued the tradition of the Comerford family of Ireland of claiming the Combeford arms. These claims were also advanced by James Comerford, who visited Comberford, Tamworth and Wednesbury ca 1900-1902, and described himself as a descendant of the Comberford family [see Comberford 2: Comerford and Comberford, ties of kinship and affection].

But who is the James Comerford who visited the ancestral homes of the Comberford family of Staffordshire at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries?

Identifying the other James Comerford

Around August 1900 or 1901, James Comerford, describing himself as “a descendant” of the Comberford family, set out to rediscover and own the Comberford roots of the Comerford family, visiting Comberford Hall, the Moat House, the Comberford Chapel and Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth, and Wednesbury. [12]

In Saint Editha’s, he took detailed notes of the Comberford plaque erected by Joseph Comerford in 1725, [13] and of the alabaster effigy, which he ascribed to William de Comberford (1349). [14]

In Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Wednesbury, he saw the figures of John Comberford in armour and his wife, the name of William Comberford among a list of charitable bequests over the south door, and the name of William Comberford (1623) inscribed on the sixth bell. [15] He also noted many of the references to the Comberford family in other records.[16]

At Comberford Hall, he visited the Peel family, [17] and he also visited the Moat House in Tamworth. [18] James Comerford collected his findings in a small, seven-page pamphlet, that was privately published in a small print run on 26 November 1902, and bound with it photographs of the Moat House and Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth – although, surprisingly, there are no photographs of the Comberford monuments he describes in Tamworth and Wednesbury, or of Comberford Hall.

Shortly after the account of his visit was printed and bound, James Comerford added his bookplate and additional handwritten notes to the slim volume, and these notes add further clues to his identity and the date of his visit.The surviving copy of this valuable publication is in the local history collection at Tamworth Library, Corporation Street, Tamworth (open shelves, T/COM), with a pencilled page of notes recording the details of his visit one August day.

In this rare publication, James Comerford notes that a member of the family “recently was made Bishop (Roman Catholic)” – and in his own hand he inserts and initials the words “of Carlow” after the word bishop. Michael Comerford was consecrated coadjutor Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin in Carlow on 1 January 1889, and died on 19 August 1895. The Peel family was living at Comberford Hall from about 1900 until about 1904, [see Comberford 8: Comberford Hall] placing James Comerford’s visit sometime in the early 1900s but before it was printed and bound in 1902, while the Peel family was living at Comberford Hall. Printing and binding followed soon after.

Although the bookplate is similar to that of James Comerford, the London book collector and antiquarian, that James Comerford died in 1881, before the Peel family moved into Comberford Hall, and almost eight years before Michael Comerford’s episcopal elevation. Therefore, the only two candidates for the authorship of this unique slim volume are his son, James W. Comerford, or a member of Bishop Michael Comerford’s extended family.

If the author is a James Comerford from Ireland who visited Comberford Hall and Tamworth some time around 1900 to 1902, the only other obvious candidate is the bishop’s second cousin, James Comerford (1817-1902) [see Comerford 8: Comerford of Bunclody and Dublin].

If the slim volume is not the work of James Comerford, son of the antiquarian, then the binding of the slim volume may be seen as a final tribute by his family to James Comerford, who died 18 days later at 11 Upper Beechwood Avenue in Ranelagh, Dublin, on 14 December 1902.

Footnotes and references:

[1] Parish registers, Saint Andrew’s, Holborn (checked by Patrick Comerford, 30.09.2018); John Ashworth-Hill, ‘The Bosworth Crucifix,’ pp 83-96 in Transactions of the Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society, 78 (2004), p. 88.
[2] Ashworth-Hill, pp 88-89.
[3] Ashworth-Hill, p. 88.
[4] Ashworth-Hill, p. 88.
[5] Ashworth-Hill, p. 88.
[6] Ashworth-Hill, pp 85-88.
[7] Society of Antiquaries accession no 446.
[8] Ashworth-Hill, p. 85.
[9] Ashworth-Hill, pp 88-89.
[10] Ashworth-Hill, pp 88-89.
[11] Ashworth-Hill, pp 85-88.
[12] See James Comerford, Some Records of the Comerford family collected by a descendant, privately published and dated 26 November 1902, Tamworth Library, Local History Collection, shelf T/COM.
[13] James Comerford (1902), pp 1-2, 6.
[14] James Comerford (1902), p. 2.
[15] James Comerford (1902), p. 3.
[16] James Comerford (1902), pp 3-5.
[17] James Comerford (1902), p. 4.
[18] James Comerford (1902), p. 4, and photograph facing p. 4.

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© Patrick Comerford 2009, 2010, 2013, 2020. Last updated 12 September 2009; 18 December 2010; 16 April 2013; 30 September 2018; 18 May 2020; 25 December 2020.


Thwaite said...

I see you have used my photos from Flickr of St Dunstan's church, Stepney without asking me, although it is copyright. Please acknowledge me as the photographer.

Birmingham historian researching John Bowen the Victorian builder. said...

I have William Hutton's Journey into London printed in 1785 with James Comerford's book plate.
Would anyone know if it was in the Sotheby's auction and what it sold for?

xxx said...

I have a letter from my great uncle Lionel Godfrey Burchett, whose mother was a Comerford. It outlines interesting things about the family - which do not agree with the various grees online in Ancestry - who should i send this file to?

Patrick Comerford said...

Good afternoon 'xxx' ... thank you for your inquiry. You can message me on Facebook, and I can send you my email address in a private message. Many thanks, Patrick