Wolverhampton's Listed Buildings

Church of St.Mary and St.John

Snow Hill

The west end, facing Snow Hill

Listing: Grade II*. 1851-5; enlarged east end, 1879-80. By Chares Hansom. A good example of a mid-Victorian Catholic church, notable particularly for its rich interior fittings and the excellent naturalistic carving of corbels and capitals.

Pevsner: 1851-5 by Charles Hansom, enlarged E end by the same 1879-80. Brick, tower-less. Geometrical tracery. Nave and aisles, transepts, polygonal apse. Stained glass: in the apse, probably by Hardman.


Homer nods - why does Pevsner say "brick"?  Surely he did not get confused with the RC school building next door or even the Presbytery on the other side?

The building is of historic importance because of the importance of Catholicism in the town and its surrounding area - though in this respect this church may be somewhat overshadowed by St.Peter and St.Paul and Giffard House.

The church was built to meet the needs of the great influx of Irish Catholics to what was already a centre of Catholicism. The land, known as the Duke's Gardens, was acquired from the Duke of Cumberland in February 1853. The deal was arranged through John Hawkesford, a local Catholic and the local agent of the Duke. 

The east end, showing chancel, added in 1879.

The sum paid, £2,550, was a very large one by the standards of the time but they got the site of the church and the presbytery and of the school and parish hall (which now stand on each side of the church).

The bell tower, as proposed but never built.
The architect was Charles Hansom from Clifton, Bristol, an exponent of the Gothic style, who designed a church with an open sanctuary, in accordance with Catholic preference of the time.  The entry for this church in the Wolverhampton Red Book for 1914 (and in other editions) refers to the style as "early decorated". 

Hansom also designed a large bell tower, almost detached, on the uphill side of the church.  Without this vertical feature the building is somewhat undramatic.  But the tower was never built.The reasons for this are unknown but may have been connected with the cost or with the conduct of the builder, Richard Wullon.  He certainly tried to skimp on materials and to increase the agreed price of £3,248. The stone used was inadequate for the purpose and in 1907 had to be treated (with something called Mettalic Cement) to prevent further decay.   In the end Wullon went bankrupt and skipped the country as soon as the church was finished. A chancel was not built at this time. 

The church was opened by His Eminence Cardinal Wiseman on lst May 1855.  The Cardinal preached a sermon which was inaudible to nearly everyone.  The service was followed by an elaborate luncheon in the Corn Market.  

Hansom submitted plans for the Chancel in 1879.  It has dramatic buttresses not present in the rest of the church.  The building work was carried out by Bradney & Co of Wolverhampton.  The chancel was, the Red Book says, "solemnly dedicated to God by His Eminence Cardinal Newman and the late Archbishop Ullathorne in 1880".  On this occasion luncheon was taken in the Agricultural Hall.  

The Red Book also refers to the embellishment of the church "since the completion of the east end" by nine stained glass windows by Hardman & Co of Birmingham; two altars in Caen stone and marbles by Wall of Cheltenham; and four carved oak screens by Boulton of Cheltenham.  (It is not clear why Pevsner queries whether the windows are by Hardman).  In 1917 the quarry tiles on the floor were removed and replaced with wood blocks.  In 1923 the Sanctuary floor was found to be badly affected by inadequate drainage and ventilation and was replaced.  In 1924 the old organ was removed and a new one installed, the choir gallery being extended to accommodate it.  

In 1992, under a new parish priest, Fr. Emmanuel Gill Hammett, and his assistant priest Fr. Bengt Ove Jacobsson, the whole complex was restored.  The old school was altered to provide a parish hall on the ground floor and student flats above.  The chancel of the church was redecorated and a new roof for the whole church was put in place.  The presbytery had a makeover and new gates and railings were installed.  The work was finished in 2001.  

For further details of the building and its historic context, see the article on Catholicism in Wolverhampton, by James Quirke.  The information on this page comes from that article, the Wolverhampton Red Books, and an article by John George and Gerald Hanrahan in the Wolverhampton AdNews on 25 August 2005.