Giffard House


Giffard House was built' as a Mass House and priest's residence between 1727 and 1733. There was already a house on the site which had been used, 'time out of mind' by Catholics as a meeting house. This was the home of Elizabeth Giffard in Tup street, no known as North Street. In 1723 this house was bought by the clergy who appointed Peter Giffard, an influential Catholic Layman, to act as their agent. He was to arrange for this house to be pulled down in order for the present Giffard House to be built. This new building was to be the home for two priests; one an 'in' or 'town' priest, who would administer to Catholics in Wolverhampton, the other an 'out' priest, who would administer to the Catholics of Bilston, Dudley, Gornal and Sedgley. Provision was to be made inside the house for a chapel, where Catholics could attend 'Prayers' or 'Mass', which at this time was illegal. Francis Smith of Warwick is believed to have designed the building as it is in. a similar style to his work at Chillington Hall. Work began on the house in January 1728 and was complete in 1733 at a cost of 1069 pounds 2s 2d.

By 1777, the house was being used, not as a priest's residence, but as a lodging house for elderly Catholic gentlewomen. The chapel inside the house was still being used to say Mass, although it was still against the law. The Catholic Relief Act of 1778 removed this restriction and allowed Catholics to worship in public again, and a further act in 1791 meant that the chapel could be registered for public worship.

Between 1791 and 1804, Giffard House appears to have been unoccupied. However, in 1804, the influential Bishop John Milner, Vicar Apostolic of the Midland District made it his home. In 1813 he had the chapel extended, but he hoped eventually to build a separate chapel adjoining the house and he set aside 1000 pounds to do this. The chapel was to be called St. Peter and St. Paul's. Milner died in 1826, just before work on the building began and was buried behind the chapel at Giffard House.

During the Cholera epidemic which struck Wolverhampton and Bilston in the 1830's, Giffard House was inhabited by the Sisters of Mercy and later in 1854, by the Reverend George Duckett (later Canon). He stayed at Giffard House until his death in 1898.

Since the beginning of the 20th Century alterations have been made to the house and chapel. The Sacred Heart Chapel was built in 1901 as a memorial to Canon Duckett and the Lady Chapel was added in 1930 to commemorate the centenary of Bishop Milner's death.

In recent years Church authorities have applied for permission to build an office block on the site of St. Peter and St. Paul's, which they could then sell to provide funds to build a new church elsewhere. This has been refused. Also, the house, classed as a Grade II* Listed Building cannot be demolished.


Giffard House is two-and-a-half storeys high and is built of red brick. The bricks were made by Thomas Birch of Walsall who made them in a kiln on the site, using clay which he dug from the foundations. It has a cornice tipped tile roof and has moulded plaster eaves and quoins at the sides. The door case and central windows are featured inside moulded architraves flanked by a pair of drainpipes whose heads are engraved with the year 1728.

Inside the house is a beautiful staircase. The banisters cost 4 pounds 15s in 1731 and were admired and imitated in other houses locally.

Outside, in the centre of the courtyard, a pair of wrought iron gates can be seen. At one time they were probably quite attractive but, like the house they have deteriorated over the last few years.

The future of Giffard House is by no means certain. It has been proposed that an alternative use could be found for it, possibly as an Arts or Heritage Centre and this is being looked into. Hopefully, this plan will materialise, as Giffard House is one of the few remaining Georgian buildings in the town and is of great historical importance.

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