Walsall
Roman Catholicism

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Victoria County History

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M W Greenslade (Editor), A P Baggs, G C Baugh, D A Johnston

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1976

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239-241

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'Walsall: Roman Catholicism', A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 17: Offlow hundred (part) (1976), pp. 239-241. URL: http://british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=36198 Date accessed: 02 September 2014.


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ROMAN CATHOLICISM.

Among the numerous recusants who occur in Walsall from the early 1580s (fn. 92) were several prominent local families. Members of the Birch family of Goscote were presented as recusants until at least 1668; John Birch was sequestered for recusancy by 1648. (fn. 93) The wives of William Mountfort of Bescot Hall and of his son and heir Sir Edward were both stated to be recusants in 1605 and 1607, and Sir Edward was returned as a 'half recusant' in 1607. (fn. 94) Simon Mountfort had been sequestered for recusancy by 1648, and his son Edward was maintaining a priest at Bescot Hall in 1671. (fn. 95) Edward Purcell and his wife were returned as recusants in the foreign in 1630, and members of the family continued to appear among the recusants of the parish until at least 1668; by then the family lived at Yieldfields Hall. (fn. 96) Thirty-two recusants were returned in 1657, (fn. 97) and in 1676 there were stated to be 40 papists. (fn. 98) Thirty-two papists were listed in 1705. (fn. 99) In 1767 110, including children, were returned, all either farmers or 'common trading people and labourers'. (fn. 1) John Bradford, the Independent minister at Walsall in the later 1780s, claimed that he found there 'as much papists as those at Rome'. (fn. 2) In 1786, however, the constables returned only 19, of whom 16 were in the foreign. (fn. 3)

A priest named Timothy Hayes was apparently working in Walsall at the time of his arrest in 1605. (fn. 4) There was probably a mass-centre at Bescot Hall by 1671: in that year Edward Mountfort and his wife were maintaining a 'Romish priest' there named Francis Dormer alias Johnson. Dormer was executed at Worcester in 1678 and was stated to have left £1,500 out of the Bescot estate for superstitious uses, evidently as a trustee of Edward Mountfort. (fn. 5) The Purcells too seem to have maintained priests, (fn. 6) and in 1701 Thomas Purcell of Wolverhampton gave £160 to the Roman Catholic clergy to be used after his death to support a mass-centre at Yieldfields Hall. A priest was to spend two nights there every month and say a mass for Thomas's soul and another for his wife's; he was also to instruct 'all the poor Catholics . . . in the neighbourhood' and administer the sacraments to them. Thomas nominated a Philip Higgins as the first priest if he was available; otherwise the appointment was left to the vicar apostolic of the Midland District. (fn. 7) In 1773 a non-resident priest named Taylor was serving Yieldfields, (fn. 8) and from c. 1786 the centre was the responsibility of John Perry, the newly appointed out-priest at Wolverhampton, who said mass there one Sunday a month. The occupants of Yieldfields ceased to be Roman Catholics c. 1800, but mass continued to be said in a small room at the top of the house. (fn. 9) By the 18th century Walsall Roman Catholics also attended the centre at Oscott in Handsworth, where there was a resident priest. (fn. 10)

About 1800 a Revd. James Gordon left money to support a mission in the neighbourhood, and Perry bought a house and shop in Harden Lane (now Harden Road), Bloxwich. The shop was lengthened and converted into a chapel, and Perry appointed an émigré priest as his resident assistant. He was succeeded in 1804 by another émigré, who was followed in 1807 by Francis Martyn. By then the number of communicants, which c. 1800 never exceeded 20, had reached about 50, and in 1808 there were 90 Easter communicants. The chapel became too small for the growing congregation and was enlarged in 1808 to hold about 300. The dedication was to St. Thomas the Apostle. (fn. 11) By will proved in 1819 Perry left the property to the vicar apostolic of the Midland District. (fn. 12) The congregation exceeded 300 by 1819, and Martyn then opened a centre in Walsall itself. (fn. 13) In 1851 the average Sunday mass attendance at St. Thomas's was 145, but the congregation was very scattered, some living 6 miles away. (fn. 14) The church was replaced by St. Peter's in Bloxwich in 1869, but the building still stood in 1974 when it was known as Cromwell Cottage and was occupied by a women's hairdressing business.

In 1819 the assembly room at the Dragon in High Street, Walsall, having been leased and fitted up as a chapel, was opened by Martyn as a mass-centre. (fn. 15) It soon proved too small, and in 1825 Martyn began to build a chapel on the Mount. The site was given by Joseph Cox and his wife, who also sold the land to the north for use as a burial ground. Joseph Bagnall of Spring Hill, a Walsall tanner and a member of the congregation, was a notable contributor towards the cost of the chapel, and the 16th earl of Shrewsbury came to the rescue when the expense proved much greater than had been estimated. The chapel, dedicated to St. Mary and designed in a Grecian style by Joseph Ireland, was opened in 1827. (fn. 16) The presbytery to the south was built at the same time, and Martyn moved there from St. Thomas's, which had a separate priest from 1829. (fn. 17) St. Mary's was consecrated in 1891. (fn. 18) Communicants numbered some 400 in the earlier 1830s, (fn. 19) and Sunday mass attendance averaged 700 in 1850-1. Half of those attended a mass at 8 a.m. held 'for poor people who from want of proper clothes do not like to appear out of doors at a later period of the day'. (fn. 20) In 1967 mass was being said in the hall attached to St. Martin's Anglican church in Sutton Road; by 1974 it was being said in the church. (fn. 21) The Roman Catholic population of St. Mary's parish in 1973 was 2,100. (fn. 22) There was a community of Sisters of Charity of St. Paul in the parish c. 185363. (fn. 23)

St. Patrick's Church on the north side of Blue Lane East, a building of 1855-6 in a Gothic style, was founded from St. Mary's to serve the large Irish population in that part of the town. (fn. 24) A church was built on a site to the west on the corner of Green Lane and Blue Lane East in 1965-6; designed in a modern style on a basic V-shape by B. V. James of Harrison & Cox, Birmingham, it is of brown brick with dressings of blue brick and concrete. The earlier church was demolished and a new school built on the site. (fn. 25) The presbytery on the south side of Blue Lane East was built in 1909-10 with accommodation for five priests. (fn. 26) A chapel of ease dedicated to St. Catherine Labouré was built in 1961-3 on the Beechdale estate; since 1970 it has been shared with the Anglicans, whose former mission church of St. Chad has been shared for social functions. Designed by J. T. Lynch of Brierley Hill, St. Catherine's is an octagonal building of brown brick surmounted by a flèche. (fn. 27) The Roman Catholic population of St. Patrick's parish in 1973 was 2,250. (fn. 28) The Sisters of Charity of St. Paul opened St. Patrick's convent in Arboretum Road in 1927. (fn. 29)

St. Peter's Church in High Street, Bloxwich, was opened in 1869 on land given by Charles Beech. Of brick and Bath stone, it was designed by Bucknall & Donnelly of Birmingham in a Gothic style with apsidal sanctuary and aisled and clerestoried nave. It was extended and renovated between 1952 and 1954, with Jennings, Homer & Lynch of Brierley Hill as architects; the main addition was a westward extension to High Street with a façade of two towers. The presbytery, which was built at the same time as the church, adjoins it on the south-east. (fn. 30) The Roman Catholic population of St. Peter's parish in 1973 was 1,700. (fn. 31) In 1904 the Sisters of Charity of St. Paul of Chartres bought Wallington House and some 20 a.; they opened a secondary school at the convent in 1905 and erected school buildings in 1909. The school was closed in 1964 and the nuns left. (fn. 32)

In 1958 a priest was appointed to a newly formed parish for the Harden area, and at first he used Edgar Stammers school in Harden Road for Sunday mass. The church of St. Thomas of Canterbury in Dartmouth Avenue was built in 1959-60. Designed by Jennings, Homer & Lynch of Brierley Hill, it is of brick and is cruciform in plan with an apsidal east end and a south-west tower. A presbytery, completed in 1959, adjoins it. (fn. 33) The Roman Catholic population of St. Thomas's parish in 1973 was 834. (fn. 34)

Footnotes

92 See e.g. S.H.C. 1929, 37, 39, 42; C.R.S. xviii. 303-5, 307, 309; C.R.S. lx. 112; S.H.C. 1915, 298; Staffs. Cath. Hist. iv. 28-9; ibid. v. 28; L.J.R.O., B/V/1; Glew, Walsall, 117-18; S.H.C. 4th ser. ii. 88.
93 S.H.C. 1929, 37; C.R.S. xviii. 297, 299-300; liii. 176; lvii. 145, 151; lx. 112; lxi. 86, 218; Staffs. Cath. Hist. iv. 28; L.J.R.O., B/V/1/33 sqq. to /75; S.H.C. 4th ser. ii. 88; above p. 174. Dorothy Birch, widow, occurs among the Roman Catholics of Walsall in 1705 and 1706: Staffs. Cath. Hist. xiii. 46.
94 Hist. MSS. Com. 9, Cecil, xvii, pp. 623, 643; Staffs. Cath. Hist. iv. 28-9.
95 See p. 172 and below.
96 S.R.O., D. 1287/9/10, return of Staffs. papists by bp. of Coventry and Lichfield Mar. 1629/30; L.J.R.O., B/V/1/52, 55, 71, 75; S.H.C. 4th ser. ii. 88; W.T.C. II/13/49, dole acct.; S.H.C. v (2), 246-7; S.H.C. 1923, 126.
97 S.H.C. 4th ser. ii. 88.
98 See p. 145.
99 Staffs. Cath. Hist. xiii. 46. The following year 29 were returned: ibid. 46-7.
1 Ibid. vii. 25-9.
2 Willmore, Walsall, 381; A. Willis, Hist. of Bridge St. Chapel, Walsall (Walsall, 1893), 10; A. G. Matthews, Congregational Churches of Staffs. 139.
3 W.T.C. II/178/9.
4 Cal. S.P. Dom. 1603-10, 268. Two of the Gunpowder Plot conspirators were taken at Walsall in Nov. 1605: Hist. MSS. Com. 9, Cecil, xvii, p. 503.
5 C 5/164/12.
6 Homeshaw, Bloxwich, 102.
7 B.A.A., A. 416. The priest was also to say two monthly masses for Thomas's parents and for the souls in Purgatory at some other time.
8 Staffs. Cath. Hist. vii. 29.
9 'Catholic Chapels in Staffs.' Cath. Mag. v (1834; printed in Staffs. Cath. Hist. xiv), 307-8; Homeshaw, Bloxwich, 104; W.T.C. II/182, II/183/3. For the second priest at Wolverhampton, established under the will of Bp. Bonaventure Giffard (d. 1734) with the duty of serving the surrounding area, and also for Perry see Cath. Mag. v. 383-4; V.C.H. Staffs. iii. 110, 112 n. The tenants in the later 18th century were the Partridges, who were Roman Catholics: W.S.L., S. MS. 453; W.T.C. II/178/9 sqq.
10 Cath. Mag. v. 310; B. W. Kelly, Hist. Notes on Eng. Cath. Missions, 410; C.R.S. xiii. 290-1; V.C.H. Warws. vii. 399.
11 Cath. Mag. v. 308. This gives the 1804 priest as L. Bertrand, but he signs the register in 1805 as G. S. Bertrand (B.A.A., R. 83, p. 1). Before 1805 the Sedgley Roman Catholic register was used for the mission: ibid., note on title-page. For the situation of the chapel see W.S.L., S. MS. 417/Walsall, no. 843.
12 B.A.A., C. 370.
13 Cath. Mag. v. 308-9.
14 H.O. 129/380/3/2 (printed in Staffs. Cath. Hist. viii. 32).
15 Cath. Mag. v. 311; Laity's Dir. (1820); S.H.C. 4th ser. iii. 142.
16 Cath. Mag. v. 311-12. For Bagnall see White, Dir. Staffs. (1834), 430.
17 Laity's Dir. (1827), 26; Pigot, Com. Dir. Birm. (1829), 90; St. Peter's Cath. Church, Bloxwich, list of priests (Walsall, 1956; copy in W.C.L.).
18 Walsall Red Book (1892), 161.
19 Cath. Mag. v. 312.
20 Staffs. Cath. Hist. viii. 32.
21 Walsall Observer, 14 Apr. 1967; ex inf. the parish priest of St. Mary's (1974).
22 Cath. Dir. of Archdioc. of Birm. (1974).
23 Cath. Dir. (1854; 1863), showing them in charge of the girls' school; G. Hudson, Mother Geneviève Dupuis, 150.
24 Glew, Walsall, 30; Cath. Dir. of Province of Birm. (1915), 56; above p. 238.
25 Cath. Dir. of Archdioc. of Birm. (1969), 230; Express & Star, 10 June, 3 Oct. 1966; Walsall Observer, 3 June 1966; plate on facing page.
26 Cath. Dir. of Province of Birm. (1915), 57.
27 Cath. Dir. of Archdioc. of Birm. (1964), 204; Walsall Observer, 17 May 1963; G.R.O., Worship Reg. no. 69547; above p. 237.
28 Cath. Dir. of Archdioc. of Birm. (1974).
29 Ex inf. the sister superior (1974); above p. 152.
30 St. Peter's Catholic Church, Bloxwich (Walsall, 1956; copy in W.C.L.); Staffs. Advertiser, 18 Sept. 1869.
31 Cath. Dir. of Archdioc. of Birm. (1974).
32 Cath. Dir. of Province of Birm. (1913), 108; Homeshaw, Bloxwich, 154; D. E. Parry and K. F. Jones, Bloxwich in History (Bloxwich, 1941), 20 (copy in W.C.L.); Evening Mail, 29 Apr. 1964.
33 Cath. Dir. of Archdioc. of Birm. (1960), 198; (1961), 198-9.
34 Ibid. (1974).