|St. John's Lane
In 1701 a substantial meeting
house was built in St. John's Lane, later called St.
John's Street. The Nonconformists formed the society of
"Protestant Dissenters" and elected Mr. John Stubbs, a
Trinitarian and a Calvinist as their first minister.
The meeting house is clearly drawn on Isaac Taylor's map
of 1750. It consisted of a square building with large
round-headed windows at the front; a dark interior with
a lofty pulpit standing on four pillars, accessed by a
rear door from the adjoining vestry; a clerk's desk from
which hymns were announced, and two galleries, one on
either side of the pulpit and supported by dark, massive
Mr. Stubbs remained as minister for 39 years, but
Nonconformists were unpopular at the time and these were
difficult years for the country. George I came to the
throne in 1714 at a time when the country was suffering
from the aftermath of the war against France that was
won by the Duke of Marlborough.
The St. John’s Street meeting house as shown
on Isaac Taylor’s map of 1750.
||Taxes were high, trade was depressed and the Whig
government was unpopular. Many people were unhappy with
the situation and a scapegoat was sought on which to
vent their anger. The religious dissenters were chosen
for the purpose and rioting broke out in the summer of
The disturbances were mainly confined to the
Midlands and Staffordshire in particular, and
Nonconformists suffered greatly from the violence of the
mob. Disorder spread like wildfire and many meeting
houses including the one in St. John's Lane,
Wolverhampton were seriously damaged or completely
|A vivid narrative of the Wolverhampton riot appeared
in the "Flying Post" a Whig journal that was making
capital against its political opponents. On the evening
after the annual fair, on Wednesday 29th June, 1715,
Squire Archibald Grosvenor and his friends were sat
enjoying themselves in a public house. From an adjacent
room they heard someone singing "an old seditious song".
The singer refused to be quiet and after shouting "Down
with the roundheads" he was confined to a back room. A
rescue attempt soon followed and Mr. Grosvenor drew his
sword to fend off the rescuers and in the process
injured one or two of them. This enraged the other
rescuers who would probably have killed him had he not
made his escape.
The rabble then ran down St. John's Lane and defaced the
meeting house. One of the ring leaders climbed onto the
roof and shouted "God damn King George and the Duke of
Marlborough and God bless King James. Fall on my boys".
They carried all of the pews and movable furniture to
the market place and set them on fire.
Meanwhile Mr. Stubbs fled from the town and a group of
20 to 30 men guarded his house. Meeting house stalwart
Mr. John Scott lived higher up the street and his house
was threatened, and next door neighbour Samuel Clemson's
house was badly damaged. Samuel was a member of the
congregation at the meeting house and the mob broke the
windows and threw stones and pieces of timber at the
house. They also threw down pewter from the shelves and
threatened Samuel's life. The damage was assessed at £20
by the government commission.
Only a few of the rioters were punished for their
night's work, the heaviest sentence being passed on John
Wild who received two years imprisonment and "to be
whipped twice around the Town Hall at Stafford for
rioting at Wolverhampton and West Bromwich". Although
badly damaged, the meeting house survived and in due
course was returned to its former glory at the expense
of the tax payer. The damage was assessed at
£254.16s.2d. by the government commission. The
congregation numbered about 400 and the meeting house
John Stubbs was eventually succeeded as minister by Mr.
John Cole, of whom little is known. In the mid 18th
century the Mander family lived at 48 St. John's Lane,
in the house that was previously occupied by Samuel
Clemson. They became interested in the movement and in
1772 the name of Benjamin Mander was added to the list
of trustees, he was 20 at the time.
|The Dispute From
Within the next few years great changes were to take
place because the congregation became divided on the
question of doctrine. Unitarianism was becoming popular
at the time. Followers were liberal thinkers who denied
the Trinity and believed in the oneness of God. The
religious movement is still well supported today and
encourages freedom of religious thought. Their religious
ideas are based on rational thought and their religious
principles are derived from conscience, thinking, and
life's experiences. The movement also tolerates a wide
range of religious ideas, including humanism. The most
important proponent of Unitarianism in the 18th century
was minister and scientist, Joseph Priestley. A series
of lawsuits followed at Wolverhampton over a period of
32 years, the fundamental issue being whether a
Unitarian Congregation could lawfully claim ownership of
a property that had been left by Trinitarians for the
maintenance of the Trinitarian form of faith.
The St. John’s Street meeting house. From “Congregational
Churches of Wolverhampton, 1662-1894” by
|In 1740 John Stubbs resigned and James Barr took
over. James remained at Wolverhampton for 10 years but
was eventually forced out by the filing of a bill in
chancery. At this time part of the congregation left the
meeting house and worshipped in a large rented room in
Mr. Turton's house.
James Barr was replaced by Philip Holland who had just
finished his college course at Doddridge's Academy in
Northampton. He only survived in St. John's Lane for 4
years because he was not acceptable to the predominantly
Mr John Cole, Holland's successor suffered a similar
fate. In September 1780 he received a letter signed by
John Mander (Benjamin's brother), his cousin John
Hanbury and Joseph Linney, three prominent members of
the congregation. The letter was basically an ultimatum
demanding Mr. Cole's resignation. It included the
"We have with concern for some time looked upon the
congregation as dwindling in numbers and destitute of
those Christian graces that were the beauty and
excellence of dissenting congregations in bygone days."
They reflected on Mr. Cole for not preaching "natural
depravity and salvation through Christ" and also for his
connection with ministers of the neighbourhood whom they
regarded as wanting in grace and sound doctrine. They
added that they had found difficulty in getting Mr. Cole
to allow Calvinist preachers to occupy the pulpit at the
meeting house, and that they had approached the
congregation at Barn Street and were helping them to
raise money for a new chapel where they might enjoy the
ministrations of their Calvinistic friends.
John Cole, being a peaceful man decided to leave rather
than fight the issue and resigned after finding another
post at Narborough in Leicestershire. Before leaving Mr.
Cole did his best to ensure that his successor would
have the same views as himself, and on his suggestion
William Jameson was appointed to succeed him on 24th
April, 1781 following a two thirds majority vote of the
trustees and subscribers. The majority of the
congregation were opposed to the succession as where the
six Unitarian members of the trustees.
When Mr. Jameson arrived with his wife, family and all
of his worldly possessions to take charge of the manse,
he found the doors locked and Mr. Peter Pearson, leader
of the Unitarian trustees waiting to inform him that he
would not be admitted. After being faced with this
unexpected turn of events, Mr. Jameson and his family
duly fled from the scene, giving up any idea of taking
up the promised post.
It seemed as though the Calvinist Trinitarians under the
Manders had lost their battle and the Unitarians under
Joseph Pearson and his son Peter had won the day.
Benjamin and John Mander's stepfather was Charles Hunter
a Scottish Presbyterian. He attempted to take over the
meeting house but found that Pearson's Unitarians were
firmly in control and he had to retire leaving them in
As a result of the row, part of the congregation
including Mr. Jameson moved to a converted barn in
Pountney's Fold off Dudley Street, where they worshipped
for some time. Meanwhile Charles Hunter, the Manders and
their friends founded a little chapel in Grey Pea Walk,
now Temple Street, where John and Benjamin Mander both
The legal proceedings following the arguments at the St.
John's Lane meeting house eventually led to its demise.
In 1849 under the title of St. Michael and All Angels it
became a chapel of ease to St. Peter's Church, and
remained so until 1890 when its religious life came to
an end and the building became part of Mander Brothers
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