Though it was a rapidly expanding industrial town, Wolverhampton had only one parish church, St Peter's, until St John's was built in 1760. A Whitefieldite preacher, William Allt, a London bookbinder and author, encountered a violent mob in 1745. George Whitefield himself followed on 26 October 1753. Earlier that month one of Wesley's assistants, Herbert Jenkins, had preached in the town. John Wesley formed a society of 20 at Bilbrook in April 1757, but did not visit the town itself until 1760, after a society had been formed by John Bennet at Penkridge.
The first WM chapel (1762) was destroyed by the mob, but rebuilt at the expense of the instigator of the rioting. It was replaced by 'Noah's Ark Chapel' (named after a nearby pub) in 1787, when a Wolverhampton Circuit was formed. The first Darlington Street chapel, built in 1825 and opened by Joseph Entwistle, was replaced by the present church in 1901. Devastated by an arson attack in 2014, this was reopened in July 2016, its premises redeveloped to accommodate a variety of activities, including a flourishing Fair Trade shop. Trinity, Compton Road (1863), whose trust deed provided for Morning Prayer to be used, was the spiritual home of the Fowler family. It became the head of a separate circuit in 1888, but closed in January 1975, being replaced by housing. An extension scheme launched in 1885 provided new chapels in the suburbs. In the twentieth century Beckminster (1926) became a flourishing suburban church.
The first MNC chapel (1813) was replaced by Mount Zion chapel in Horsley Fields (1829, rebuilt 1867). In 1819 Sampson Turner missioned the area for the PMs from the Darlaston circuit. Hugh Bourne passed through the town several times, though possibly without preaching. A chapel and school were built in 1833. Chapels proliferated later in the century.
See also Thorneycroft, G.B
John Wesley's Journal:
March 1760: 'I was surprised at coming into Wolverhampton, which is what Dudley was, to find the people so still, many gaping and staring, but none speaking an uncivil word. "Aye," said a well-meaning man, "we shall not find them so civil by and by." I wish these croakers would learn to hold their peace. I desire to hear no prophets of evil. What do they do but weaken the hands both of preachers and people, and transfuse their cowardice into others? 'But this prophet of evil was a false prophet too. For neither while I was preaching, nor after I had done, did anyone offer the least rudeness whatsoever; and we rode as quietly out of the town as we could have done out of London or Bristol.'
March 1761: 'None had yet preached abroad in this furious town; but I was resolved, with God's help, to make a trial and ordered a table to be set in the inn-yard. Such a number of wild men I have seldom seen; but they gave me no disturbance, either while I preached or when I afterwards walked through the midst of them.'
March 1768: 'Here … all was quiet: only those who could not get into the house made a little noise for a time. And some hundreds attended me to my lodging; but it was with no other intent than to stare.'
March 1770: 'Many here were wild and stupid enough; however, the greater part were deeply attentive.'
March 1774: 'Here I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Fletcher, and we took sweet counsel together.'
March 1787: 'In the evening I opened the new house at Wolverhampton, nearly as large as that at Newcastle-upon-Tyne. It would not nearly contain the people, though they were wedged together as close as possible. I believe such a congregation was never seen in Wolverhampton before; not only so serious, but so well behaved. I hope this is a token for good.'
March 1788: 'What a den of lions was this town for many years! But now, it seems, the last will be first.'
Martch 1790: 'The rain lessened a little our congregation, so that the house contained us tolerably well; and many, even of the genteel hearers, seemed almost persuaded not to halt bwtween two opinions.'
'The mob…had reigned here for a long time, inasmuch that it was difficult for a Methodist to pass the streets. And now one could hardly appear in them, but at hazard of his life. The rioters had broken most of their windowa, and swore they would pull down their houses and every preaching-house near… I rode over immediately [from Stroud] and found the whole country in terror… Wolver-hampton itself was still in a flame… A friend who was to accompany me to the town had procured a pair of pocket pistols, and offered me one. But I told him, "No, I am in God's work and trust to his protection. And you must return your pistols, or I cannot accept of your company." He did so. When I came to the end of the town, the alarm was quickly spread. So that before we came into the main street, we had company enough. But they were restrained, so that we received little abuse, further than bad language. I immediately went to the Justice, who granted a warrant, but the constable gave notice of it, so that none was taken: some fled, some hid themselves; the rest set the Justice at defiance. This occasioned everal neghbouritng Justices to fix a day for meeting in the town. When they met, several of the riotes were brought before them. Three were bound over to appear at Stafford, where all the Magistrates gave attendance. The proof against the rioters was full: yet the honourable jury acquitted them all!
Lives of the Early Methodist Preachers
' On Sunday July 11th 1813 a new chapel was opened for public worship at Wloverhampton by the Methodist New Connexion… The congregations are respectable, the pews are nearly all let, and the prospect of future success encouraging. Our friends, for some time laboured under the painful necessity of worshipping in a small and inconvenient room; this inconvenience is happily emoved, and they now realise what they so ardently desired, and frequently prayed for, " a Temple for the God of Jacob to dwell in." O Lord, send now prosperity.'
Thomas Waterhouse, Birmingham
It is with sentiments of peculiar pleasure, I inform you, that it has pleased the Great Head of the Church to bless the labours of the New Connexion Home Mission through every part of this staion; sinners are convinced of the necessity of a present Saviour, and believers are growing in grace, and in the knowledge of Jesus Christ, our Lord: hundreds attend the sound of the glorious gospel, who in former years never attended any place of religious worship.'
Letter from Wolverhampton, December 20th 1820
Entry written by: DHR and JAV
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