1828 - 1865

The Growth of the Catholic Community in Wolverhampton (part 6)

The building of Ss Mary and John's church

As the number of Roman Catholics in Wolverhampton continued to expand throughout the 1830s and 1840s, the need for church extension became apparent. The 1851 Religious Census revealed that Ss Peter & Paul's with its 600 rented and 36 free sittings had to accommodate 1,000 at Sunday morning services and the same number at the evening services. [Report on the 1851 Religious Census of Religious Worship 1853] Thus, feeling somewhat over-worked, Father O'Sullivan wrote to Bishop Ullathorne suggesting "that it would be advantageous for us to have a third priest here". [Letter from Rev O’Sullivan to Bishop Ullathorne 5th Dec 1851].

A view of Snow Hill around the 1930s with the Presbytery and Ss Mary and John on the right beyond the Congregational church.

Within six months of the census, the foundation stone had been laid for the new Catholic chapel on Snowhill at a point next to the Congregational chapel and the Unitarian chapel. On Monday 6 October 1851, "a numerous and respectable body of persons collected to witness the ceremony, comprising most of the Roman Catholics in the town and neighbourhood, and a goodly number of Protestants who were attracted by the novelty of the proceedings". [WC 8th Oct 1851] The piece of land, measuring 3,956 square yards, had been purchased from the Duke of Cleveland's agent at a price of £2,550. 3[A.Nicholls "SS Mary and John 1855 – 1955" Wolverhampton 1955 p.8] The main subscribers for the purchase of this plot were Richard Wullon [£100], who later won the contract to build the church, the Gibbons family [£65], and Mr Whitgreave and Mr Brazier, who each gave £50. [Letter from Cannon Huddlestone and Rev Smith to Bishop Ullathorne Dec 1855].

For various reasons, which are discussed later, the building of the new chapel took much longer than the time estimated, and it was not until the first day of May 1855 that it was ready to be opened by Cardinal Wiseman and Bishop Ullathorne. The construction of Ss Mary & John's had taken almost four years to complete at a total cost of around £10,000. [WC 2nd May 1855] Unfortunately, the Cardinal appeared to be so overcome by the excitement of the occasion that his sermon "was pronounced so indistinctly as to be very imperfectly heard by many persons sitting at no great distance from the altar ... and must have been inaudible to the majority of the congregation." Later, however, at the luncheon which followed the service, Wiseman was in better voice as he told the 300 people present that "the church will not only increase in material dimensions, but also increase in moral and religious influences until I hope that it will be found insufficient for the great purposes far which it had been built". [ibid].