1828 - 1865

Anti-Catholic agitation in Wolverhampton (part 4)

1851:  more anti-Catholic meetings

For at least twelve months after the Restoration of the hierarchy, the subject dominated all topics of conversation in the town. When the rural dean, Rev W. Dalton, gave an anti-Papal talk in St George's church on Monday 3 February 1851, he found himself facing a capacity audience of 2,300 seated and 700 standing. He warned his listeners of the potential dangers that Catholic influence could inflict upon Anglicanism, and he urged that they must "cast out both real Popery and the Romanising Popery in the Church of England". [Wolverhampton Herald [hereafter WH] 5th Nov 1851] The subject also affected the lives of Wulfrunians on a more personal level. The Stipendiary Magistrate, Mr Leigh, fined Benjamin Williams and William Tyler for being found at one o'clock in the morning in Salop Street, drunk and disorderly, and fighting over the question of the "Papal Aggression". [ibid].

With its high proportion of Catholics, Wolverhampton attracted a number of Anglican and Nonconformist clergymen from a considerable distance to give talks on topics connected with the Roman Catholic Church. The Rev Birks, of Kelishall in Hertfordshire, warned of the effects that Catholicism could have upon the intellect and conscience of man; [WH 19th Feb 1851] the Rev Owen from Bilston saw a remarkable similarity between Popery and paganism; [WH 26th Feb 1851] and the Rev Miller, of St Martin's in Birmingham, showed his audience pamphlets that were used in the training of priests at Maynooth College, and while he confessed that he could not understand what they contained because of his inability to read Latin, he was sure it was obscene. [WH 6th Mar 1851].

Wolverhampton's role as a standard-bearer in the debate over the "Papal Aggression" was recognized by "T.D." of London who wrote to the Wolverhampton Chronicle saying that he "was very much gratified at the recent lectures .... in your town; and am sorry to think that other towns have not followed in the train". [WH 2nd Apr 1851] In an attempt to present the other side of the argument, a short series of anti-Protestant lectures by Rev Flanagan of Sedgley Park, was held in February 1851. Protestants formed the largest part of the audience for these talks, which were held in the Catholic chapel, and they "paid the utmost attention to the Rev gentleman's remarks". [WH 19th Feb 1851].

By the autumn of 1851, the number of anti-Papal meetings had dwindled and it seemed that soon relations between Catholics and Protestants in Wolverhamoton would be more amicable again. This was not to be, however, because in October news reached the town of the intended visit of Father Gavazzi. This native of Bologna had been made Professor of Rhetoric and Belles Lettres at Naples University at the age of twenty years, had been ordained a Barnabite monk but had later resigned from the order because of his disillusionment with Popery. Over 3,000 people were crowded into the Wesleyan chapel when he gave his first talk on Wednesday 22 October 1851. It is an interesting comment on the strength of anti-Catholic feeling in the town that "the largest and most respectable audience we ever saw assembled in any building in Wolverhampton" [WH 29th Oct 1851] should be prepared not only to listen to "the burning eloquence, the unrivalled declamation, the withering denunciation of this second Luther", but to applaud for several minutes an address which had been delivered entirely in Italian!