There has probably been a church at the centre of Walsall since Norman times, if not before. The oldest building in the town is the inner crypt of St. Matthew’s Church, which dates from the 13th century and contains a bricked-up Norman doorway. The church had a number of chapels of ease, many of which became parish churches.

There is a long tradition of non-conformism in the town. Religious persecution continued for many years, until things came to a head in the mid 17th century, after which Nonconformist congregations were allowed to worship legally.

In 1689 William and Mary came to the throne, and the Bill of Rights Act was passed, which prevented the monarch claiming that his or her power came from God, so removing the concept of divine right. It also made kings and queens subject to Acts of Parliament. In the same year the Toleration Act was passed to promote religious toleration. It gave all nonconformists except Roman Catholics the freedom of worship.

Catholics gained their freedom with the passing of the Catholic Relief Act of 1829 which removed many of the remaining restrictions on Roman Catholic worship.

Walsall Parish Church, as seen from the bottom end of High Street.
The long history of non-conformist worship in Walsall can be summarised as follows:

By 1651 Baptists were worshipping in the town, and in 1743 John Wesley’s visit marked the beginning of Walsall's Wesleyan Methodist community. Congregationalists were holding services in Walsall in 1763, and in 1819 Catholics were meeting at the assembly room in the Dragon Inn in High Street. In 1827 (2 years before the Catholic Relief Act) there was a Roman Catholic congregation in the newly opened St. Mary’s Chapel on The Mount. By 1830 a group of Primitive Methodists were meeting in a room in George Street, and in 1862 members of the Methodist Free Church opened a chapel in Whittimere Street.

The more detailed story is told in the following parts:

  St. Matthew's Church
  Parish Churches and Chapels of Ease
  Wesleyan Methodism
  Other Methodists
  Roman Catholics and the Salvation Army

A final view of St. Matthew's Church. From an old postcard.

St. Jude's Free Church of England and Church School. From the 1934 Walsall Red Book.

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