1828 - 1865

Anti-Catholic agitation in Wolverhampton (part 1)

The National Background

Throughout the period 1828-67 there were sporadic outbursts of anti-Catholic agitation in Wolverhampton which were sometimes part of a national phenomenon and, on other occasions, due to particular local circumstances.

E.R. Norman describes Victorian "No Popery" agitations as "the last expressions of a long tradition". [E.R.Norman "Anti-Catholicism in Victorian England" 1968 p.21] It influenced the behaviour of all classes in English society in the nineteenth century. He argues that the anti-Catholic tradition was given new life as the mass immigration of poor Irish labourers in the famine years of the late 1840s brought about a depression in the labour market. "English workingmen did not discriminate between the unskilled Irishmen and their religion". [ibid p.16] The newly arrived Irish tended to settle in the inner urban areas of industrial centres such as Liverpool, Manchester, Swansea, and Wolverhampton, and in these towns their presence changed the size and character of the Catholic community. Norman also highlights the role of the itinerant preachers, like William Murphy and Alessandro Gavazzi, who were "the most powerful agency for the diffusion of anti-Catholicism among working-men". [ibid p.17] Nevertheless, most anti-Catholic agitations appeared to have been ad hoc; "the committees and societies blown into life by the public outrage over some particular concession to the Catholics, or some act of the Catholic body itself, faded away with the passing of the excitement". [ibid p.20] This chapter, examines the extent and nature of anti-Catholicism in Wolverhampton in an attempt to discover whether the agitation was typical of that described by Norman.