The term “Victorian” is one of the most widely used descriptive words and also one of the most imprecise. We speak of “Victorian values”, “Victorian Architecture” and the progress of the “Victorians”. However, if we take Victorian to mean anything appertaining to the reign of Queen Victoria, we are speaking in terms of a period that lasted from 1837 to 1901: over sixty years. When the young queen came to the throne, the horse was still the main form of transport, although it was rapidly being superseded by the railway locomotive, modern medicine was still in its infancy and the French Revolution was still very much within living memory. It has been noted that the British ruling class heard the thud of the guillotine whenever they heard the cry “reform”. When the queen died, the first tentative steps towards heavier than air flight had been made, the motorcar was making its presence felt, Roentgen had developed X-Ray photography and the aged queen was captured on moving film. It is perhaps fitting that a monarch who gave her name to a 19th century age of such vitality and forward thinking should have died in the 20th century.

In 1901, despite the magnificence of the Edwardian Age, when the world’s richest nation was at last unashamed to show its wealth, the massive self-confidence of the Victorians was beginning to crack. Doubts, some moral, about the empire, competition from other nations such as Germany and the United States and increasing industrial unrest, all served to warn the far-sighted that all was not well. Therefore it is inaccurate to speak of Victorian without some qualification, for nothing in these years was static, as was to be expected over such a long and rapidly developing period.

The purpose of this book is to look at the Victorian heritage of Wolverhampton, its buildings, artefacts and art; in the main those remaining, but also those that only exist in memory and photograph or diagram.

Wolverhampton Art Gallery, one of the City's finest Victorian buildings, amidst the hustle and bustle of a busy Saturday morning.
 Fortunately the former are more than, or at least as numerous as, the latter. These range from churches to factories, civic buildings to terraced houses and places of entertainment, for Wolverhampton has a rich Victorian legacy and a remarkably well-preserved one. We hope that this book will be more than simply a record of buildings, for they are nothing without the people who created them and used them. We therefore hope to set the buildings within the social context in which they were built. We also hope to show how changes in society and religion were reflected in the ways in which buildings were presented.

When we began to write this book, we originally intended to stay rigidly within the artificial constraints of the modern Ring Road with occasional excursions outside. We imposed this restriction on ourselves to prevent the book becoming too unwieldy as ever more places were drawn in. However during the course of our researches we realised that our “excursions” outside were becoming increasingly frequent as we found that the work of this or that architect could be compared with a building outside our self-prescribed brief, or that a particular building was of such interest that it could not be passed by. The final result is that the main body of the work is therefore confined to the centre of the town, but the looseness of this description will soon become apparent to readers, especially in the sections on villas and housing.

Although when we visit a town that is new to us, we may admire buildings and may even have a copy of Pevsner with which to identify certain features, we tend to take for granted the buildings in our own town; buildings that we use every day we may not notice. We have used Wolverhampton library for more years than we care to remember and although we have always considered it an attractive building, had never looked at it closely until we came to write this book. It was only then that we began to appreciate its wealth of detail in terracotta, fine shaped windows, remarkably beautiful interior and warm attractive woodwork.

This book then is an attempt to bring to more people’s attention the many fine Victorian buildings of Wolverhampton, set in the historical and social setting in which they were built. Buildings are far more than utilitarian; they tell us a great deal about the social scene at the time. What was their purpose? Is there a message in the building? What lies behind their construction? In what way do they reflect the development of the town? We hope that we have gone some way towards shedding light on these questions.

At the end of the book there are biographies of all the main architects, artists and craftsmen who either worked in or designed buildings in the town, together with a short glossary.

A long gone Victorian scene. On the left is St. Peter's School and on the right is the old Exchange, which dominated the western side of St. Peter's church. It was demolished in 1898. 
We have deliberately avoided over-burdening the text with architectural terms and although this may lay us open to the charge of imprecision, we feel that for the majority of readers the esoteric nature of much architectural vocabulary would make repeated visits to the dictionary or the glossary tedious.

The writing of this book gave us enormous pleasure and not a few surprises as we peeped behind familiar facades to discover unfamiliar and often delightful interiors. As we researched the buildings and statuary of our town, it soon became clear that Wolverhampton in the 19th century commissioned top architects and craftsmen, and that many of the town’s own architects went on to gain a national reputation. The civic pride so obvious in this process continues today. We hope that this work will encourage others to visit and see anew Wolverhampton’s 19th century architectural heritage.

We intended this book to be a sober appraisal of an age and buildings that we admire, therefore we have tried to confine our ire at modern philistinism and aggrandisement to the footnotes.

Michael Albutt and Anne Amison, Codsall 1991

Since we wrote this book it has remained dormant whilst other publications took precedence. At one point we assumed that the manuscript was lost and the computer information irretrievable. Recently however we found an extant copy of the manuscript, much to our surprise and decided to revisit it. The main body of the text remains the same except for a few additions and re-writings to take note of refurbishments, demolitions (thankfully few) that have taken place since the original manuscript was finished. One paragraph that mentions a particularly fine building, now demolished, we could not bear to rewrite but a poignant picture from the Express and Star tells its own story.

Of course, since this book was completed, the town of Wolverhampton has become a city. We have chosen to keep the designation town for the simple reason that it was a town during the period covered by the book. However when we refer to somewhere in its present context then city is used.

Many of the people mentioned in the original acknowledgements have moved on from the town in more senses than one but help given is help given and we would still like to express our gratitude.

Michael Albutt and Anne Amison, Codsall 2004

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