1828 - 1865

The Growth of the Catholic Community in Wolverhampton (part 7)

The building of St. Patrick's church

The Cardinal's hope was realized when, twelve years later, the third Catholic chapel in the town, St Patrick's was opened. In the summer of 1865, plans were laid for the building of this church in Little's Lane, which lay in the heart of the notorious Caribee Island. Perhaps reflecting the unattractiveness of its location, the plot of land cost a mere £80 [WC 14th June 1865] and within five months £800 had been raised towards the total building cost of £2,700. The structure was intended to be "of a plain but spacious and substantial character ... to afford accommodation for the Irish Catholics who live in large numbers in the district". [WC 15th Nov 1865] A decade earlier, a mission had been established there, centred on the Catholic schools in Little's Lane, but according to John Hawkesford it had been broken up because of "unforeseen circumstances over which the laity had no control". [ibid] On Thursday 14 June 1866, Bishop Ullathorne laid the foundation stone, and in less than twelve months he was back in Wolverhampton to celebrate Pontifical High Mass at the opening of St Patrick's Church. Though designed in the Gothic style, the new church was "not in any way an elaborate or highly ornamented structure. It is a thoroughly nineteenth-century town church." [WC 22nd May 1867] Admission to the opening ceremony was by ticket only, five shillings for reserved seats and 2/6d for unreserved, with the proceeds going to the building fund.

It is most unlikely that this third church would have been opened in 1867 had it not been for the influx of the Irish. As Bishop Ward of Brentford noted in 1909, the Irish immigration after the great famine "affected the future of Catholicism in this country more than even the Oxford Movement". Up to the 1840s "the English Catholics relied for the building of their churches almost solely on the donations of the few hereditary Catholics and others of the upper class; after the great Irish immigration it became possible to build from the pennies of the poor. Many missions owe their existence, including serviceable churches and schools, to the large Irish congregations." [D.Gwynn op cit p.270].

Events in Wolverhampton bear out this view. In November 1865, John Hawkesford praised those members of the Irish working-class who had subscribed from their hard earned wages between £5 and £6 every week towards the building fund of the new church. [WC 15th Nov 1865] Again, twelve months later, at a Roman Catholic soiree in the town, Father Kelly, of SS Mary & John's, quoted the example of a poor Irish labourer in his parish who had donated £1 towards the building of St Patrick's even though he only earned 10/- per week with which he had to support his mother and himself. [WC 14th Nov 1866].

The building of St Patrick's church was obviously seen as away of combating the problem of "leakage" amongst the Irish Catholics in the town. It was felt that many of the less affluent immigrants had been too embarrassed to attend the elegant new church on Snow Hill, but as St Patrick's neared completion, Father O'Sullivan reassured the Irish that "they would soon have no excuse for remaining away from Holy Mass, however destitute they might-be of those articles of clothing which they usually considered necessary to their appearance at such a service". [ibid].