1828 - 1865

The Growth of the Catholic Community in Wolverhampton (part 9)

The Catholic Friendly Society

Some progress in the provision of popular education had been made by the Catholics of Wolverhampton, though it had been achieved on a very limited budget. Throughout the period the Catholic Friendly Society in the town continued to flourish. It had been founded in 1803, and in 1861, when it was able to move its venue from a public house to the newly opened St Mary's Hall, the fees were reduced from 1/3d to 1/- per fortnight. [WC 17th July 1861] The Mayor, Mr C. Clarke, attended the anniversary celebrations on 17 July that year and was made an honorary Member. By 1863, the 110 members were contributing £245-17-11 1/2d, of which all but £38-12-11-1/2d was given out in the form of benefits. Figures for 1864 showed that 2 people had been receiving assistance for 30 years, 2 people for 25 years, and 3 people for 20 years. A death grant of £19 was paid for each member, while £55-10-0d was paid in the event of the death of a member's wife, [WC 13th July 1864] and smaller weekly sums were paid to sick members. At the sixty-third anniversary, Mr Pearson described the Society as being strong, "standing as it were like an oak in the forest, whilst other societies of a kindred character had been dropping around it". [WC 11th July 1866].

The Wolverhampton Catholic Friendly Society had a small and rather exclusive membership - still only 110 by 1867 [WC 17th July 1867]- and it did not regard itself as a comprehensive organization for the benefit of the town's Catholic community as a whole. The main reason for this lack of growth was that the Society did not attempt to recruit Irish immigrants, fearing that such members, with their low incomes and greater susceptibility to disease and infection, would claim more in benefits than they would contribute. Thus, although the Irish made a considerable impact on Catholicism in the town, the Wolverhampton.Catholic Friendly Society was one institution that remained untouched by their presence.

The period 1828-67 saw a dramatic increase in the size of the Catholic population in Wolverhampton, rising from approximately 600 to around 11,000 by the latter date. [WC 6th Mar 1867; a figure quoted by Rev George Duckett at a RC reunion on 4th March 1867] These figures would suggest that at the time of the opening of SS Peter & Paul's chapel only 3 per cent of these living in Wolverhampton were Catholics, while four decades later almost 17 per cent of Wulfrunians professed the faith. Such a rapid transformation was not achieved without manifestations of opposition on the part of some non-Catholics, and these will be considered in the following chapter.