Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Comerford Profiles 17: James Comerford, JP, FSA (1807-1881): 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 (1807-1881) 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 in 1807. He may have been the son of J. Comerford of Change Alley in Cornhill, London, who died on 11 August 1833. [1] He appears to have been of Irish descent, although 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]

James Comerford first practised as a notary public in partnership with T.S. 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 (J.P.). [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 (F.S.A.). [4]

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, he was living in Framfield, Sussex.

Comerford died on 8 March 1881. He had a daughter, and a son, James W. Comerford, who shared many of his antiquarian interests. [6]

James Comerford is best remembered as a book collector and antiquarian. He 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]

In December 1881, James Comerford’s son, James W. 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]

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] 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. Last updated 12 September 2009; 18 December 2010; 16 April 2013.

1 comment:

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.