Wolverhampton's Listed Buildings

St. Leonard's

Church Street, Bilston

Listing: 1825-6. By Francis Goodwin, restored 1882-3 by Ewan Christian. Neo-classical style, influenced by Soane.  Interior mostly by Christian.

Also listed are Beard's monument, Gallimore's monument and Smith's monument.

Pevsner: The very hub of the town. A medieval foundation rebuilt by Francis Goodwin in 1825-26 to a classical, not a Gothic, design. The present rendering is of 1882-3. ... set into the doorway are two cast iron objects which may remind one of bollards....

Literature: George Lawley's History of Bilston, 1893, contains information about the church, scattered throughout. He is a rather idiosyncratic observer.

Comment:  Lawley refers to "the present structure, with its hideous pepper-box tower ...". He argues, from the church records and his inspection of the building, that the lower part of the earliest tower was never fully demolished and the present tower therefore still incorporates part of the 14th century tower. (p.105 and p p.179).

Read Brian Lockley's history of the church
As to Goodwin's rebuilding, Lawley gives details from the church accounts and then records (p.178): 

"... the parishioners resolved to engage Mr. G. Goodwin, architect, of London, to prepare plans for the enlargement, and on Feb. 12, 1824, the plans were submitted, approved, and £30 paid to the architect for them. At a vestry meeting held June 20, 1825, it was resolved to accept the offer of the Society for the Promoting and the Enlargement and Building of Churches, to give £550 on condition that a certain number of seats were free. That an additional rate of 1s. in the pound for five years be levied to make up the deficiency between the above grant and the cost of alterations, estimated to be £2,600."

Francis Goodwin also did St. Mary's, in Oxford Street, which is Gothic, not classical.

In fact the cost of the building alone turned out to be £8263. 16s. 8d.. The Society was a voluntary body which distributed publicly raised funds and worked closely with the Church Commissioners who distributed government funds for the same purpose.  As to Christian's restoration work, Lawley records the fact that the curate of St. Leonard's was popularly elected and often this lead to rioting and other unseemly behaviour. Then:
"The excitement and undignified incidents of an election for so sacred an office were so painfully out of harmony with the spirit of the times, that many earnest persons, both churchmen and dissenters, felt the urgent desirability of putting an end to this anomaly. Steps were taken to vest the right of presentation in different hands, and Mr. Edward Pugh offered to purchase the advowson for £3000, on condition the church was restored out of the sum, and the balance invested, the interest thereof to be applied to a reduction of the rates, the sale to take place under the provisions of Sir Smith Child's Act. The sale was completed, with the consent of the town, in 1881, and the restoration commenced, the plans being prepared under the supervision of Mr. Ewan Christian, the eminent Ecclesiological Architect, and the builders, Messrs. Higham, of Wolverhampton. The living is now vested in the hands of five Trustees ...".
The interior contains these two ceramic memorials.  This type of memorial is rare in this area, despite its proximity to the Potteries.
Outside in the churchyard are many interesting memorials, in addition to those listed, including this one to the Hickman family.
And this one with black and white glazed bricks in a chequer pattern.  When new it must have looked quite startling. 

But the churchyard also contains grave markers in the form of great iron slabs with only a name and date stamped or cast into them, set in the church path and yard. They are very unusual. 

There are several more in the other Bilston C of E church, St Mary's.  Presumably they reflect Bilston as an iron town. Iron Mad Wilkinson operated in Bilston and these grave markers would accord with his principle of using iron for everything - he was buried in an iron coffin.

The top of the tower is most decorative and is a landmark for far around.