Religion and Churches

Willenhall was part of the Parish of Wolverhampton, as already mentioned. The parish extended across the whole of Wolverhampton, except for Penn, and the following areas: Bilston, Willenhall, Wednesfield, and part of Featherstone, Hatherton, Hilton, Ogley, and Pelsall.

In the 18th century, a long and bitter dispute arose between the inhabitants of Willenhall and Bilston, and the Parish hierarchy in Wolverhampton. Although daily services, holy communion, and baptisms were allowed to take place in the Willenhall and Bilston chapels, burials and marriages were not. As a result, people still had to travel to and from St. Peter’s in Wolverhampton for burials and marriages.

The chapels of ease in Willenhall and Bilston were originally built to cater for the growing population, which had grown to a significant size by the 18th century. The population of Willenhall at the end of the century was over 3,000. Locals were extremely dissatisfied with the arrangements. Funerals were becoming almost unaffordable. At the time it was customary for a funeral procession to stop at every hostelry along the route for rest and refreshment. There were many inns between Willenhall and Wolverhampton, and so it became a long drawn-out, and costly affair.


St. Giles’ Church.

In 1709 when Dr. Thomas Manningham became Dean of Wolverhampton, he received a petition from the people of Willenhall and Bilston, which stated that they were greatly inconvenienced by having to carry their dead to Wolverhampton for burial. They asked for their respective chapels and chapel yards to be consecrated for the proper burial of the dead.

The new Dean arranged a meeting with the prebendaries to discuss the matter. At the meeting they agreed to the parishioners’ demands, on the understanding that the standard burial fee should still be paid to St. Peter’s, along with a fee to the chapel for the funeral service and burial. The local population also had to agree to pay the consecration costs. This arrangement would also be of benefit to Wolverhampton, because it would extend the life of St. Peter’s cemetery, which even then would have been filling-up at an increasing rate.

Even after the agreement, it took a long time for any changes to take place. On 10th October, 1718 an agreement between the ministers and local inhabitants was signed, but the chapels were not consecrated until 14th August, 1727, a full 18 years after the process began.

Further unrest soon followed. Within a decade, the standard fees payable to the parish hierarchy in Wolverhampton greatly increased, and so the locals became angry. They finally refused to pay for burials, christenings, and standard church fees, which resulted in a great loss of income for the Wolverhampton church. The quarrel worsened when it was discovered that part of the increase in fees was for the repair and maintenance of St. Peter’s Church, even including the church clock.

The dispute continued for many years, by which time the opposing sides were firmly entrenched. It eventually came to trial in the High Court in 1755. During the trial an old parish book was produced which listed the proportion of rates that could be charged for the repair and maintenance of St. Peter’s Church. It showed that the exorbitant demands of Wolverhampton Parish were illegal.

The inhabitants of Willenhall and Bilston did not have it all their own way. In 1756 a writ of prohibition was filed to ensure that the cost of the trial, amounting to £282.1s.8d. would be divided equally between Willenhall and Bilston, and that any further proceedings would take place in the spiritual courts. The writ also prohibited the carrying out of marriages ceremonies in the Willenhall and Bilston chapels.

Marriages were not allowed to take place in the Willenhall chapel until 1841 when the Bishop of Lichfield granted a licence to the Vicar of Willenhall to perform marriages. Even so the banns still had to be read in St. Peter’s Church, and the couple had the right to be married there if they so wished.

Willenhall finally freed itself from Wolverhampton Parish around 1910 after the passing of a special Act of Parliament to allow the reading of the banns at Willenhall church, and the formation of the Parish of St. Giles.

On 4th December, 1845 two new ecclesiastical districts were approved at a meeting of the Willenhall Vestry and ratepayers, following a plan devised by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. They were St. Stephen’s, and Holy Trinity, and were formed on 17th March, 1846. The districts became parishes when suitable churches were built.

A third ecclesiastical district, St. Anne’s was approved a few years later. It became a parish in 1861.

St. Giles’ Church

The old chapel of ease was demolished in 1748 when the timber fabric of the building became unsafe. The old stone tower remained, and was incorporated into a new church.

The new building consisted of a nave, with six simple rectangular windows on each side, and a small projection at the far end that acted as a chancel. It was a plain rectangular structure, built of brick, with a slate roof. Externally it had little resemblance to a church other than the old tower, and its ancient weathercock. In 1788 another storey was added to the tower, to house a peal of 8 bells that were made at Abraham Rudhall’s bell foundry in Gloucester.

Although the church was not generally liked, nothing was done until the 1850s when plans were made to improve the building. It was soon realised however that the improvements that were envisaged, would be too costly, and so plans were made to build a new church. By the early 1860s £7,000 had been raised for the project by public subscription. Plans for the new church were drawn up by Wolverhampton architect Mr. W. D. Griffin, who had previously designed the nearby St. Stephen’s Church.

The new church, consisting of a substantial sandstone-built structure, has a nave, aisles, chancel, transept, and a new square tower, around 100ft. high. It was consecrated on 18th July, 1867 by the Bishop of Lichfield, Dr. John Lonsdale. Stained glass windows were soon added, thanks to donations from the Gough family, the leveson-Gowers, the Earl of Lichfield, the Clemsons, and others.


A rear view of St. Giles’ Church.

In 1897 the south chancel aisle, and the south transept were added, and a year later the fine organ built by Hill Norman and Beard was installed to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897. Other additions included the installation of choir stalls, the building of a church house, and the enlargement of the churchyard.

In the 1930s the 8 bells were recast and two others added to celebrate King George VI’s coronation in 1937. The 10 bells were cast at Gillett and Johnston’s bell foundry in Croydon.

St. Stephen’s Church

The first vicar of St. Stephen’s Parish, the Rev. Thomas Woodcock was appointed in June 1848. He initially had premises in Portobello, where he had a sizeable congregation. The main task in hand was to build a parish church. Sufficient money soon became available from grants and donations, and a suitable piece of land was acquired in Wolverhampton Street. The new church, which took 18 months to build, was designed by Wolverhampton architect W. D. Griffin, and consecrated on 31st October, 1854.

The church suffered greatly from dry rot, which resulted in its demolition in July, 1978. Building work on a new church soon got underway. While the work was in progress, services were held in the adjacent church hall. The new steel-framed building, with brick walls, was consecrated by Bishop Barry Rogerson on the 8th September, 1979. It seats 112 people and contains many items salvaged from the old church, including the altar, and the choir stalls.

Holy Trinity Church

The parish church of Holy Trinity stands in Church Road, Short Heath. Soon after the formation of the ecclesiastical district in 1846, the Rev. James Leckie became the first vicar, who initially held services in a room in the Jolly Collier Inn. Services soon moved to a suitable room in the area which could seat 300 people. Its location is unknown.

James Leckie died in 1853 and was replaced by the Rev. W. L. Rosedale. The new parish church was consecrated on 25th July, 1855. A vicarage, and a day school were soon added. The school closed in 1930. Much of the finance for the new church was given by ironmaster Daniel Bagnall, who owned the Coltham Iron and Coal Company; a Mr. Barnabas and Sons; and Joseph Samuel Junior. The church has a nave, aisles, a chancel, and is built of sandstone.

St. Anne’s Church

St. Anne’s Church opened in 1858 in Ann Street as a mission church. It was built by Henry Jevons in memory of his first wife, Ann Page, sister of Mrs G. B. Thorneycroft. George Benjamin Thorneycroft, an ironmaster at Shrubbery Iron Works in Wolverhampton, became Wolverhampton’s first mayor in 1848.


St. Anne's Church.

The church was enlarged and consecrated on St. George's Day, 23rd April, 1861 by Bishop Lonsdale. It then became the parish church of the new parish of St. Anne’s. The first vicar, the Rev. C. B. Twiss left in 1867 for St. Luke's Church in Bilston.

The church is a substantial stone building consisting of a nave, a north aisle, a north porch, a chancel, and a small tower with one bell.

It was extensively renovated in 1904, and includes an oak chancel screen commemorating Mrs. Lavinia Brown, and an alabaster font.

A lady chapel was added in 1920, with an altar dedicated to the men of the parish who died in action in the First World War.

 
The Rise of Non Conformity

The growth of non conformity in Willenhall was greatly assisted by the antics of one of the town’s most outrageous curates, the Rev. William Moreton.

His church life in Willenhall began as an assistant to the Rev. Titus Neve, curate of Willenhall from June 1745 until his death on 23rd December, 1788. He led a busy life because he was also Prebendary of Hilton from 1758, and was appointed Rector of Darlaston in 1766. As time progressed, and age began to take its toll, he relied upon assistants to help with his many duties, both at Darlaston and Willenhall. His first assistant was George Lewis who helped-out from December 1778 until July 1779. Lewis signed the church registers as the ‘clerk, curate’. Neve’s next assistant was William Moreton, who assisted him until his death.

On the 11th May, 1789 an election for a new curate was held. The candidates were the Rev. William Moreton, and the Rev. A. B. Haden. Moreton was the outright winner with a good 2 to 1 majority, receiving 67 votes. Hadon received only 29 votes. Although Moreton had been duly elected by the parishioners, his nomination had to be signed by the Lords of the Manor, which they refused to do. Presumably because of his reputation.

The saga continued for several years, first coming before the Court of the Kings Bench, and later the High Court of Chancery, where the Lord Chancellor ordered a second poll.

This took place on the 7th December, 1795 with the same outcome as the previous election.

The candidates were the Rev. William Moreton, the Rev. A. B. Haden, and the Rev. Charles Neve, son of Titus Neve, and Rector of Brierley Hill. Moreton received 55 votes, Haden received 22 votes, and Neve received no votes at all.

After the election, the Lord Chancellor decreed that Moreton would become the minister at Willenhall.


The Rev. William Moreton. From Hackwood's Annals of Willenhall.

The lawsuit to establish Moreton’s right to the curacy cost him dear. In about 1812 he was compelled to make a deed of arrangement with his creditors to cover the legal costs. The trustee under the deed was Thomas Hincks, a prosperous Willenhall maltster. Hincks was instructed to pay Moreton £2 per week from the revenues of the living, and use the remainder to pay off the £34 owed to the creditors. In reality this seems never to have happened because when Moreton died, the money had still not been paid.  

As previously mentioned, Moreton’s antics and his notoriety greatly harmed the reputation of St. Giles’ Church and resulted in many parishioners becoming Baptists or Methodists. He was a drunkard who upset local landowners by poaching on their estates. He also enjoyed the unsavoury activities of cock fighting, bull baiting, and dog baiting.

In his book ‘A History of Willenhall’ Norman Tildesley included the following report which appeared in the Wolverhampton Chronicle on Wednesday 2nd March, 1791:

On Monday the 21st ult. The Rev. W. Moreton, Curate of Willenhall was convicted before J. Marsh Esq. and fined in the penalty of £5 for sporting with a gun and two setting dogs, upon the Manor of H. Vernon Esq. of Hilton Park, in this county, not being duly qualified.

Moreton’s outrageous lifestyle continued until his death on the 16th July, 1834.

Little London Baptist Church

The first non conformists in the town were Baptists. In 1783 Mr. Thomas Jones preached in the streets of Little London, which resulted in a Mr. William Wootton opening his house for public worship. In 1784 Mr. Richard Bayliss, a Baptist minister from Coseley preached in Wootton’s house. As a result 10 people were baptised and became members of the church at Coseley.


The former Little London Baptist Church.

In 1787 a small meeting house was set up by Mr. Jonah Bratt, to become a branch of the Coseley Church.

By 1792 the numbers had greatly increased, and so the decision was taken to form a separate church; the Little London Baptist Church,  founded on 9th February, 1792. The first pastor was William Bayliss.

After his death in 1804, the meeting house, which only catered for 80 people, was considered to be too small, and so in 1810-11 a new church was built in Temple Bar. It opened in June 1811.

In 1837 the church opened its first school on a plot of land in Back Lane, now called Cemetery Road.

The congregation continued to grow, and yet again the church became too small. It was replaced by the existing building, which opened on  the 15th June, 1851.

In 1862 members of the congregation founded a second church in Gomer Street, and a third in Upper Lichfield Street. The Gomer Street church was under the ministry of Richard Turner of Netherton, and continued in use until 1884 when the building had to be vacated. On 7th February, 1884 a message was sent from Little London Baptist Church to invite the congregation at Gomer Street to move there, which they duly did. The first united service was held at Little London on Sunday 1st June, 1884.

In 1919, the course of the Calves Croft footpath at the rear of the church was altered to make space for a new school. The old school was sold in the same year, and the new two-storey school building opened in 1925.

In the mid 1930s a fire destroyed the lower floor of the school. At the time there were around 100 members of the congregation. In 1942 the church celebrated its 150th anniversary, and on 25th October, 1945 there was a thanksgiving for victory service which included an organ recital to celebrate the refurbishing of the organ.


A notice advertising the opening of the church.

On Tuesday 12th March, 1963 tragedy struck when a fire destroyed much of the school. It caused £3,500 worth of damage. The fire insurance only covered about 80% of the cost of the repairs and so a fund was set up to raise the outstanding money.

In February 1970 masonry fell from the chapel roof, which was quickly inspected by a local architect. The pediment on the gable end was found to be unsafe, after suffering frost damage, and had to be removed. In the same year the church decided to rent the house at number 29 Banks Street as a house for the pastor.

In recent times the size of the congregation fell. In 1988 the gas heaters were condemned, and so mobile gas heaters were purchased as the only affordable solution. On May 16th and 17th, 1992 the 200th anniversary of the church was celebrated, but the upkeep of the building was becoming unaffordable. In January 1993 Sunday services were held in the school room, due to the cold in the church.


The former Providence Baptist Chapel in New Road,
built in 1879.

The building began to deteriorate because of the high levels of moisture from the gas heaters. There were also holes in the roof, and under health and safety requirements an external store would have to be built for replacement gas cylinders.

The remaining members realised that the church could not continue in its present state, and a new venue had to be found. The congregation decided to move to Little London Community Centre which could be hired at a reasonable cost. They held their last service at the church on 27th February, 1994.

The building was then acquired by the Mount Olive General Assembly of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

The building was Grade II Listed on 24th June, 1994, and is described in the listing as being built of English bond red brick, with a stuccoed front, and slate roof. It has galleries on three sides with an entrance on the east front under the gallery, and an early 20th century Sunday school at the back. The galleries have panelled fronts and are supported on slender columns, with an almost complete set of panelled box pews. The organ dates from the late 19th century.


The former United Methodist Chapel in Froysell Street.

 


The former Baptist Chapel in Upper Lichfield Street.

 
Methodism

Frederick Hackwood includes a section on the growth of Methodism in his book “The Annals of Willenhall”. The following two paragraphs are from his book:

According to Mr. A. Camden Pratt, in his “Black Country Methodism”, the earliest Methodist services were open-air meetings held round a big boulder on the corner of Monmore Lane. Then the nucleus of a Willenhall congregation was formed at a cottage in Ten House Row; outgrowing its accommodation here, a removal was next made to a farmhouse with a commodious kitchen at Hill End.

The leaders and preachers came from Darlaston, and it was not till 1830 that Willenhall was favoured with a resident “travelling preacher”, and the provision of a Wesleyan Chapel – it was on the site of the present Wesleyan Day Schools. The cause flourished and grew mightily; chapels were established at High Street, Portobello; Walsall Road (1865), Monmer Lane, and Union Street.

The Wesleyan Church on the corner of Wesley Road and Coltham Road opened for worship on the 11th April, 1882. It was the 3rd Methodist Church built in Coltham Road after the arrival of Methodism around 1826.


Union Street Methodist Church.

The first church opened in 1826, but soon became too small, and so a second church was built next door. The 2nd church remained in use until 1882 when the current church was built. It then became a schoolroom, until 1908 when the pupils were transferred to New Invention School. It was demolished in 1971.

Many well-known local people became staunch Methodists, including James Carpenter, of Carpenter and Tildesley, Jonah Tildesley, and his sons and grandsons; James Tildesley who married Harriet Carpenter; and John Harper who founded Albion Works.

Primitive Methodism began in Monmer Lane, and then spread to Little London. Chapels were built at Lane Head, New Invention, Russell Street, and Spring Bank.

An early Primitive Methodist Chapel stood on Chapel Green, until it was replaced by a larger building in Russell Street, which opened on 23rd March, 1850. The chapel survived until the 1960s when the size of the congregation fell to 137 due to the large scale demolition of the old houses in the area, as part of Willenhall’s slum clearance scheme. The last service was held on 3rd January, 1965. The church joined forces with Walsall Street Methodist Church and Union Street Wesleyan Church to form the New Trinity Methodist Church, in Union Street.

A modern view of the former Union Street Methodist Church, which closed in 1996 after 191 years of worship.

It is now the Life and Light Christian Centre.

Another view of Union Street Methodist Church.

From an old postcard.

Another postcard showing views of Union Street Methodist Church.

The Church of St. Mary

The Roman Catholics established a small mission at the bottom of Union Street in the middle of the 19th century. In 1860 they built St. Mary’s Church in Hall Street, as a chapel of ease.

The Church of God, of Prophecy

The Church of God, of Prophecy, in St. Anne’s Road was built in 1873. It was formerly Spring Bank Methodist Church and belonged to one of the two Methodist circuits which operated in the Willenhall area during the 1940s and 1950s. Around 1861 St. Ann’s National School was built next to the church. It had 240 pupils, and in the 1880s was run by Charles Stockham and his wife Hannah.

By the 1950s there were 10 Methodist and 3 Baptist chapels in the town, and also the Salvation Army.

Another Interesting Election


 This poster was printed to refute the rumour that
 the Rev. White, curate of Darlaston was charging
 for preaching at local clubs.
After the death of the Rev. William Moreton, an election was held for his replacement as minister at St. Giles' Church.

The candidates were as follows:

The Rev. George Hutchinson Fisher who came to Willenhall in 1832 as William Moreton's assistant.
The Rev. Thomas Howells, curate of Tipton.
The Rev. George William White, curate of Darlaston.
The Rev. R. Robinson, lecturer at St. Peter's Church, Wolverhampton.
The Rev. Thomas Rogers, headmaster of Walsall Grammar School.
The Rev. John Gwyther, curate of Chilvers Coton.
The Rev. William Vernon of Willenhall.

Defamatory rumours about some of the candidates were spread amongst the electorate in an attempt to change the course of the election.

All of the candidates issued election addresses which were handed out to the electorate, and posters were displayed around the town.

Much paper was consumed in an attempt to refute the rumours.

The text on the poster above is as follows:

Refutation.

“Thine enemies shall be found Liars unto thee, and thou shalt tread upon their high places.”  Deuteronomy 33 - 29.

We the undersigned, being the Clerks, Stewards, &c. of the several Clubs in Darlaston, do hereby declare that The Rev. Mr. White, Curate of our Parish, has not on any occasion required payment of, or received, a sum of money, or any other remuneration, for preaching Club Sermons; but on the contrary, has gratuitously, and most willingly, performed that Duty; and we do not hesitate to declare that any assertion to the contrary is false and unfounded.

          Dated 29th July, 1834.

The Duke of York Club   The Colliers Club at the Waggon and Horses   The Nag’s Head Club   School Room Club
Simeon Robinson, Clerk
James Humpage, John Standley, and John Teece, Stewards
 

John Cooper, Clerk
Thomas Taylor, Barnabas Small, and Jonah Foster, Stewards

  Ralph Baddely, Clerk  

Joseph Baker, Clerk
Charles Butler, and John Foster, Stewards

 

The Nelson Tavern Club   The White Lion Club   The Bush Club   The Club at Butcroft

Joseph Harris, and John Harris, Stewards

 

Thomas Lingard, Clerk
Abel Bruerton, Francis Jones, and Joseph Martin, Stewards

 

John Aston, Clerk

 

William Partridge, Treasurer
Job Wilkes, John Simkin, and Thomas Walker, Stewards

The King’s Head (now the Castle) Club   The Miners Lodge at the White Lion   The Boat Club   The Duke of Wellington Club

Simeon Robinson, Clerk
Thomas Statham, William Tranter, and Job Perrins, Stewards

 

Joseph Baker, Clerk

 

J. Butler, Clerk
William Cotterill, and Benjamin Hill, Committee Members

 

William Knowles, Clerk
Joseph Knowles, and John Longmore, Stewards

The Stone Miners Club, at the Waggon and Horses   The Bell Club and the Well Miner’s Club   Society of Sisters at Mr. Woods    
John Cooper, Clerk
Thomas Evans, John Page, Humphrey Foster, and Edward Russell, Stewards
  Thomas Adams, Clerk to both.
James Lawton, and John Lunn, Stewarts
 

Sarah Dickins
Ann Sheldron

   
The following Members being present on Club Business, insisted upon giving their names to contradict the glaring falsehoods circulated against Mr. White.

Joseph Knowles
David Knowles
Jonathan Foster
James Wilkes
Joseph Griffiths

 

Thomas Shenton
Moses Harper
John Robinson
John Hampton
William Foster

 

John White
Thomas Burns
John Belcher
Edward Wilkes
Henry Humpage

 

William Yardley
William Burns
John Yardley

Society of Sisters at the Boat
The following are the names of all who were present.

Hannah Kimbley
Maria Simpson
Mary Butler
Elizabeth Harris

 

Mary Walker
Fanny Homer
Mary Corbett
Mary Hawkes

 

Hannah Jones
Elizabeth Stanaway
Elizabeth Lawton
Catherine Sivern

 

Sarah Butler
Lydia Taylor
Elizabeth Bird
Lydia Yates

After such a refutation as this, Mr. White’s Friends would ask, if the individual who signs himself A VOTER, is worthy to be believed!

Slater, Printer Darlaston


The text on the poster opposite is as follows:

The Rev. G. W. White, and his
“REFUTATION”
TO THE
ELECTORS
OF Willenhall

Gentlemen,
I am sure you must have read with feelings of disappointment, the “Refutation” (?) as it is called, of the Rev.

George William White

Truly, instead of its present title with a quotation from Deuteronomy, a more appropriate motto would have been, “The mountains were in labour and brought forth a Mouse! After 8 days were spent in its conception, (the obstetric assistance of his friends being called in) you are presented with a paltry equivocation, the mere abortion of a denial, as to one of the truths contained in the statement of “A Voter.”

I now ask Mr. White whether Money has not usually, if not invariably, been paid by clubs for their sermons? – Whether he has not himself received money?

Did he not on one occasion not very remote, when the clubs were about to enter the church, hold a debate with them at the door; and on none-compliance with his terms,


This poster was produced in response to the Rev. White's poster.

DID HE NOT TAKE OFF HIS GOWN
In the Presence of them all,

and, like the Assyrian of old, turn and go away in a rage? Was not the altercation renewed in his own yard subsequently? Was any service performed in the church on the day alluded to, although the clubs had assembled for that express purpose? And if not, why not? Do not several of the clubs now go to the Wesleyan and other chapels to hear their sermons? And why?

I have many more questions to ask Mr. White, when he has replied to these. In the mean time as he seems so fond of texts, let him read the chapter in Deuteronomy next to that from which his quotation was taken, and consider whether or not this is circumstanced as Moses was, when viewing the promised land from the top of Pisgah:- “I have caused thee to “see it with thine eyes, but thou shalt not go over thither.”

                                                                                                                      I am Gentlemen,
                                                                                                                            with much respect,
                                                                                                                                   Your sincere friend,
                                                                                                                                                     A VOTER
Willenhall, July 30, 1834.

I. Danks, Printer, Tipton



The Rev. George Hutchinson Fisher.
From Hackwood's Annals of Willenhall.

The poll took place on the 5th and 6th of August, 1834 and was won by George Hutchinson Fisher.

He had to wait another four years before he could take up the post because an appeal was lodged to make the election void, on the grounds that 'faggot voting' had been employed. This practice, once common, occurred when someone not legally entitled to vote, could do so by acquiring property in the area.

Although the appeal went through the courts, the result of the election was upheld. The Rev. Fisher remained in office until his death in 1894.


   
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