1828 - 1865

Anti-Catholic agitation in Wolverhampton (part 3)

The restoration of the Catholic hierarchy

In fact, it was in some way the result of this mass immigration of the Irish into England that the Restoration of the Catholic hierarchy was implemented. As Bishop Ullathorne explained in a letter to The Times, "Now the increase in Catholics, not merely by conversions but far more by the vast influx of Irish subjects, necessarily demanded an increase of Bishops". [WC 30th Oct 1830] The Wolverhampton Chronicle saw, more sinister motives in the move. "The Church of Rome boldly and unequivocally asserts its right not even to co-ordinate ecclesiastical authority, not even to rival rule, but to absolute and unreserved authority over the Protestant Establishment of the realm." [WC 6th Oct 1830]. 

The interior of Ss Peter and Paul's Church.

This view brought cries of protest from the two Catholic priests, O'Sullivan and Longman, who accused the editor of "trying to excite religious prejudices and mislead those who do not understand the question". As Bishop Walsh had done in 1829, the priests explained that "in temporal matters, we, as Englishmen, acknowledge no allegiance but to our beloved sovereign, Queen Victoria; we hold her supreme; we pay homage to her alone ...." They also argued that the re-establishment of the hierarchy affected Catholics alone in a spiritual and ecclesiastical manner, and that it introduced a greater element of democracy into the Church since it gave the Roman Catholic clergy the opportunity of electing their own Bishops Ordinary. In this respect it reduced the power of the Pope, who had previously possessed the sole right of selecting the Vicars Apostolic in this country. Reflecting their wish to maintain good relations between Catholics and non-Catholics in the town, their letter ended:

" .... we deeply regret the false alarms and misconceptions which have excited an apparently unfriendly and uncharitable feeling towards Roman Catholics on this subject; the more so, as we ourselves have lived, and desire to continue, on terms of friendly intercourse and brotherly love with our fellow townsmen of every denomination". [WC 13th Nov 1830].

As the controversy over the Restoration of the Catholic hierarchy gathered momentum at the beginning of November 1850, it was not surprising that Guy Fawkes Night celebrations should have been used by some opponents to give vent to their feelings. Though there were no effigies burned in Wolverhampton, this was not the case in many other places including Salisbury, Peckham, and Ware. In Ware a stuffed donkey, representing both Cardinal Wiseman and the Pope, "was first hanged from a gallows before being burned to roars of execration from the crowd". [Gordon Albion "Restoration of the Hierarchy in 1850" The English Catholics 1850 – 1950, [1950] p.101].

On Friday 15 November 1850, a series of anti-Catholic lectures began in Wolverhampton when the Rev Dr Bryson, of the Scottish Presbyterian Church, addressed almost 800 people who were packed into the schoolroom of the Darlington Street chapel. His two hour lecture was enlivened by the inclusion of some clever and witty satire. He stated that, "to the Queen of England alone belonged the right to confer English titles. In short, if Britannia rules the waves, she has the right to 'rule the sees'." Bryson won loud applause from his audience as he recited his verse: [WC 20th Nov 1850].

"When Pius to this country sent
A Cardinal with powers full,
His Popeship in his rashness meant
To coin the nation by his bull -
But We've a Bull to match the Pope's,
A sturdy John, who'll not be slow
To crush the proud Archbishop's hopes.
Is he a Wiseman? Oh: no, no."

There were so many anti-Papal lectures being held in and around the town that the report of Bryson's talk was relatively brief, the editor of the Chronicle explaining that "the crowded state of our columns with reports of similar meetings will not permit us to give a fuller account of this lecture".

Within days a petition containing 200 signatures was received by the Mayor, Joseph Walker, requesting him to convene a meeting in the town to discuss the matter of the "Papal Aggression". This was duly held on Tuesday 26 November in the Assembly Rooms, Queen Street, in front of a large gathering which included three Catholic priests, Longman, O'Sullivan, and O'Donnell. Despite the arguments put forward by Father O'Sullivan, those present overwhelmingly agreed to address "her most gracious majesty on the present aggressions of the Pope of Rome in the promotion of a Papal hierarchy for the country, and further to take such steps as the present crisis may require ...." [WC 27th Nov 1850].

For the first time there mere signs of frustration displayed by the Irish Catholics in the town who were not as willing as their English co-religionists to react passively to these attacks upon their faith. When, on Monday 9 December 1850, a crowded meeting at the Assembly Rooms was addressed on the evils of Popery by Rev Teodor, who claimed to be a former Romish Archdeacon of the diocese of Poldachia in Silavonia, a young Irish labourer interrupted on several occasions, asking for the right of reply. His plea was denied, and he was eventually thrown out of the room by the Chief Coristable. [WC 27th Nov1850].