The Wyatt Family of Weeford

Patrick Comerford, well known to many for his historical articles on Lichfield, visited us for this month's talk on the Wyatts of Weeford. Yet again, we found ourselves immersed in the complex history of a local family, which perhaps deserves greater national acknowledgement than it has hitherto received.

The Wyatt family, whose many gravestones can be seen in St Mary's Church graveyard at Weeford, can be traced back at Weeford to at least the sixteenth century but Patrick's story first introduced us to John Wyatt, who perhaps could be truthfully called the founder of the architectural dynasty for which the family gained fame. Born in 1675, John married Jane Jackson and they brought up a family of nine children at Weeford, nine sons and one daughter. Their eldest son, John, was a carpenter who moved to Birmingham, where he also was an inventor, notably designing a spinning machine. The second son, William, was a land surveyor who lived at Sinai Park House, Burton. He was a steward on the Paget Estates, involved in the agricultural enclosures. He moved briefly to Ireland where he studied law and became a police commissioner. He returned to England where his son, Thomas, also became an architect under the patronage of the Duke of Beaufort. Meanwhile, John and Jane's third son Benjamin is described in the records as "a farmer, timber merchant, building contractor and sometime architect". His architectural triumph was to design Swinfen Hall (1757). In addition, in 1769, he designed Soho House in Handsworth for Matthew Boulton, although the house was subsequently extended by his son, James Wyatt.

Benjamin's eldest son William (1734), was a land surveyor and enclosure commissioner; his next son, John, a London surgeon and third son Samuel a carpenter; but also designer of Trinty House on Tower Hill, London. He also designed extensions to Shugborough Hall. However, Benjamin's famous son is James (1746-1813). Born at Blackbrook Farm, Weeford, he became a nationally acclaimed architect. He designed the Radcliffe Observatory in Oxford, Fonthill Abbey (Wiltshire), Broadway Tower and the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich (Sir Nickolaus Pevsner described it as "one of the most important pieces of military architecture in Britain"). Locally, he rebuilt St Mary's Church at Weeford. In 1788, he was commissioned to rebuild Lichfield Cathedral, work which would take him seven years to complete. Later, twenty years after his death, his work would be highly criticised by A.W.N. Pugin, who branded him as "this monster of architectural depravity". However, his works were almost totally eradicated by the further rebuilding of George Gilbert Scott. During his time at Lichfield, with his pupil Joseph Potter remaining in charge of the Cathedral works, he was also travelling to Ireland where he undertook commissions for new churches, halls and larger domestic properties. This connection with Ireland led to his eldest son, William, spending a number of years there. His second son, Benjamin, designed The Theatre Royal in Drury Lane and was responsible for a number of church commissions.

This whistle-stop tour of the Wyatts cannot do justice to the complex history of the family, but merely give a flavour of the scale of their influence on architectural design in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, examples of which can be viewed extensively around Lichfield. Joseph Potter, his pupil, designed Christchurch, Burntwood (1819), St John the Baptist's Catholic Church at Tamworth (1829) and Freeford Hall (1826). His son, another Joseph, designed the Lichfield Guildhall (1846) and, in 1863, the Friary Clock Tower.

The Wyatts are still very much in evidence at Weeford, for in the graveyard at St Mary's Church can be found many gravestones marking their last resting places. Amongst the many Wyatt graves, one can identify that of the twentieth century politician, Woodrow Wyatt. One feels that they are still being drawn back to their family roots. This can certainly be said of Patrick, who has family connections with nearby Comerford, which keep drawing him back to Lichfield.

Those of our members who can access facebook will find that he has posted his talk, and more, on the Wyatts.

Roger Hockney
April, 2018