1828 - 1865

Anti-Catholic agitation in Wolverhampton (part 5)

1852 & 1853:  anti-Catholic meetings continue

When Gavazzi returned to Wolverhampton in January 1852, special steps were taken to improve the acoustics in the New Exchange, including the in-filling of the wall panels to reduce echo. [WC 28th Jan 1852] Again, so popular was his attack upon Catholicism that the language barrier was easily overcome.

"Although, from his address being delivered entirely in Italian, he was not of course understood by the majority of those present, yet from the extraordinary power of his voice, and the clearness of his enunciation, his words [even those delivered in the lowest key], were distinctly audible, we believe, in every part of the room and .... [he] was loudly cheered at various portions, especially in those parts when he referred to Cardinal Wiseman and Father Newman." . [WC 4th Feb1852].

In the summer of 1852 a serious claim of anti-Catholic discrimination was made by Richard Wullon, who had recently won the contract to build the church of SS Mary & John on Snowhill. When, in June, Wullon had been invited, along with half a dozen other builders, to tender for the repair of St Peter's Collegiate Church, he had submitted the lowest figure. He was dismayed to hear later that his offer had been rejected because he was a Roman Catholic. [WC 4th Aug1852] Wullon's solicitor, Thomas Walker, wrote to William Parke, secretary of the Committee for the repair of Collegiate Church, claiming £45 compensation for the trouble that his client had been put to in providing an estimate that was subsequently turned down only because of his creed. [WC 11th Aug 1852] In his reply, Parke refuted Wullon’s alleged reason for the rejection of his tender, "the foundation of which exists only in his imagination". [ibid] He did not deny, however, that Richard Wullon’s tender was the lowest, nor did he explain why the contract had been awarded instead to Messrs Higham.

By mid-1853 it was evident that the Wolverhampton Irish were not only dominating the Catholic community in number, but that their influence was beginning to prevail. It became clear that anti-Catholic lectures would not be allowed to pass off without a protest being registered. The strength of Irish feeling became apparent at the public meeting, held in the Assembly Rooms on Wednesday 15 June, 1853, to deliver a petition to Parliament in support of the Bill for the Inspection of Nunneries. The room was packed, "crowded with a dense mass of the lowest order of Irish labourers, whilst numbers of the same class were assembled in the street in front of the building. In the gardens at the back of the Assembly Rooms were four Roman Catholic priests, Davies, Duckett, O'Donnell, and Montgomery." [WC 22nd June1853] Many believed that the opposition had been premeditated and organized, and that "there was not the slightest prospect of the Protestant party obtaining a fair discussion, whilst it was extremely probable that a riot would ensue if a meeting were held". Fearing trouble, the Rev T. Bromley announced that he was not prepared to chair the meeting, and when this news was communicated to Father Montgomery, the latter addressed the Catholics present, observing that "the promoters of this meeting had found that 'the friends of freedom' were more numerous than they had anticipated". He appealed to the crowd to go home quietly "and not to enter any public house, lest they should be drawn into acts of impropriety".

When the meeting was reconvened three days later, admission was by ticket only and this proved effective in excluding the Irish. Rev Owen stated that six tickets had been offered to the Catholic clergy but that they had declined the invitation, probably because they could not bring their mob with them. A scorching attack on the aggressive behaviour of the Irish was delivered by Rev Bryson:

"Driven elsewhere from the exercise of our constitutional privileges by a tiger mobocracy of priestly creation .... I state openly that threats of violence were uttered .... [and] that the street in Queen Street up to the very door of the Assembly Rooms was a crammed mass of Papists, whose appearance bore unmistakable characteristics of the inhabitants of Caribee Island, and the bad, black lanes in the vicinity of Stafford Street .... I contend that the free citizenship of the people of this town has been unnecessarily, unprovokedly, and unjustly, flagarantly violated." [ibid].