1828 - 1865

The Growth of the Catholic Community in Wolverhampton (part 2)

Bishop Milner and the building of Ss Peter and Paul's church

In 1804, Wolverhampton became the headquarters of the midland District of the Roman Catholic Church in England when the newly appointed Vicar Apostolic, John Milner, moved from Longbirch to take up residence in Giffard House. The Midland District stretched from the Welsh border to East Anglia, spanning some 15 counties, where the spiritual needs of 15,000 Catholics were administered by 100 priests. [ibid]

Brass memorial to Bishop Milner in Ss Peter and Paul's church. The Catholic population of Wolverhampton continued to grow steadily during the latter part of the eighteenth, and first quarter of the nineteenth centuries. In fact, from a group of 346 in 1767 [Staffordshire Papist Return for 1767 [1977], the number of recusants had almost doubled by the time of Milner's death in April 1826. [Rowlands op cit] The Bishop had been aware of the need to extend the Wolverhampton chapel, but it was not until 1828 that this aim was realized.

On Thursday 8 may 1828, the new Catholic chapel, dedicated to Saint Peter and Saint Paul, was officially opened by the celebration of High Mass, which was attended by approximately 60 priests and by a congregation "composed of many of the most respectable inhabitants of the town and neighbourhood, who though differing from them [the Catholics] on points of doctrinal faith could not fail to be deeply impressed with the solemnity of the ceremonies they witnessed .... [Wolverhampton Chronicle [hereafter WC] 14 May 1828] 

This was not a completely new church but a nave, measuring 92 feet by 24 feet, and two transepts, built on to the existing house. The erection of this chapel, however, with its 636 sittings - and the interest shown at its opening by non-Catholics in the locality, indicate that the Catholic community was experiencing both a steady growth in numbers and increasing general acceptance in the town at this time.

In its first full year of operation, the rented pews of the Wolverhampton chapel yielded an income of £78-16-4 1/2 d, a figure which increased by 22 per cent in the following year to £96-11-1 1/2 d. In addition, the weekly collections were averaging £7 by 1830, while the priest, Rev W. Benson, was drawing an annual salary of £120. [Accounts for Wolverhampton Chapel 29th Sept 1830] To help pay for the stipends of the ministers, foundations had been made, notably that of Henry Arundel for £600 towards the first priest, which gave an annual return of £24 interest. Bishop Giffard's endowment of £700 towards the second priest produced an annual yield of only £21. [Letter from Cannon Estcourt to Bishop Ullathorne 28th Oct 1864] The reliance on the clergy to provide finance for church building can be seen from an examination of the list of subscribers to the chapel. The largest donations from the laity had been made by Mr Marsh [£50], Mr. Bamish [£15], and Mr Gibbons [£15], while Rev Benson had subscribed £100 [List of Subscribers to the Wolverhampton Chapel 1830] and Bishop Milner £1,000. [WC 14th May 1828].