A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1970.
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38. THE COLLEGE OF ST. PETER, WOLVERHAMPTON
The foundation of the College of Wolverhampton has been attributed to the Lady Wulfrun since the discovery, about 1560, of a charter by which she endowed a minster at Hampton. (fn. 1) If this charter is authentic, (fn. 2) the date of the foundation (or refoundation) is 994. (fn. 3) Wulfrun's connexion with the minster is attested by the fact that it added her name to its own; by about 1080 it was called 'the church of Wolvrenehamptonia'. (fn. 4) From this the name Wolverhampton is derived. (fn. 5) In Wulfrun's time the church was dedicated to St. Mary. It was still St. Mary's in 1086, (fn. 6) but by the middle of the 12th century the change to St. Peter had occurred. (fn. 7)
According to the charter Wulfrun's endowment consisted of 30 hides of land, in Upper Arley (now in Worcs.), 'Eswich' (perhaps Ashwood in Kinver Forest), (fn. 8) Bilston, Willenhall, Wednesfield, Pelsall, 'Ocgintun' (probably Ogley Hay near Pelsall), (fn. 9) Hilton (near Ogley), (fn. 10) Hatherton, Kinvaston, 'the other Hilton' (near Featherstone), and Featherstone. The lands in Upper Arley were probably those granted by King Edgar to Wulfrun's kinsman, Wulfgeat, in 963; (fn. 11) other lands, which belonged to the community in 1086, were probably among those given by Ethelred to Wulfrun herself in 985. (fn. 12)
It is not clear from the charter whether Wulfrun's minster was to consist of monks or clerks. Presumably she decided in favour of clerks, if the phrase 'my priests at Hampton' used in a writ of Edward the Confessor can be accepted; the writ is spurious in its present form but may have an authentic basis. The phrase suggests a close royal connexion, a status recognized by the diocesan in the early 12th century as anciently belonging to Wulfrun's church. (fn. 13) Perhaps it even enjoyed the freedom from episcopal jurisdiction which later characterized royal chapels. (fn. 14)
William I gave the church of Wolverhampton and its possessions to his chaplain, Samson. (fn. 15) As Samson's tenants the priests of Wolverhampton at the time of the Domesday Survey held ten estates from him. (fn. 16) Seven remained of Wulfrun's grant: 2 hides in Upper Arley, together with a half hide in 'the other Arley' withheld from them by force; 5 hides in 'Haswic' (probably Ashwood), then waste on account of the king's forest; 5 hides in Wednesfield; 2 hides in Willenhall; a half hide in Pelsall, then waste; 3 virgates in Hilton (near Ogley); and a hide of waste in 'Hocintune' (probably Ogley). They also held from Samson a hide probably in Wolverhampton, a virgate in Bushbury, and a virgate in Trescott. In all, their estates were said to be worth £6 a year. (fn. 17) Of the rest of Wulfrun's endowment Bilston (2 hides) was in the king's hands, (fn. 18) while Hatherton (3 hides), Kinvaston (one hide), the other Hilton (2 hides), and Featherstone (one hide, then waste) were held from Samson by two priests, Edwin and Alric. It was, however, noted that Hatherton and Kinvaston had belonged to the church of Hampton in the Confessor's time. Domesday Book also recorded that the priests of Hampton claimed part of the wood of Sedgley manor (fn. 19) and still held 2 hides worth 15s. at Lutley (Worcs.) which they had held before the Conquest. (fn. 20) By 1300 the canons of Wolverhampton had regained Hatherton, Kinvaston, Featherstone, and Hilton. (fn. 21)
Early in Henry I's reign Samson, now Bishop of Worcester, granted the church of Wolverhampton to his cathedral priory; its privileges were still safeguarded even though it no longer enjoyed direct royal patronage. (fn. 22) In Stephen's reign the monks of Worcester lost possession of Wolverhampton. It was first seized by Roger, Bishop of Salisbury; after his death in 1139, in spite of his declared intent to restore it, (fn. 23) it was granted by Stephen to the bishop and cathedral church of Lichfield. (fn. 24) The canons of Wolverhampton (fn. 25) complained to Eugenius III, and by 1152 their church had been restored to the monks of Worcester. (fn. 26)
Shortly after the monks of Worcester recovered Wolverhampton they lost it to the heir to the Crown, and after a lapse of almost a century the church again became a royal chapel. Henry, Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, soon to become Henry II of England, in a charter (fn. 27) issued in 1153 or early 1154, (fn. 28) referred to it as 'my chapel', restored all privileges it had held in the time of Henry I, and recognized its freedom from secular taxation. (fn. 29) After Henry became king a second charter (fn. 30) specified the right of the canons to hold a court for their tenants. Although these charters did not mention freedom from episcopal jurisdiction, it is likely that Wolverhampton enjoyed it, for Peter of Blois, dean by 1191 (fn. 31) and probably appointed by Henry II whom he served for many years, described the church as subject only to the Archbishop of Canterbury and the king. (fn. 32)
It is not known for how long Wolverhampton had possessed a dean and prebendaries before the time of Peter of Blois. A dean was possibly introduced when the church was in the possession of Lichfield, as a dean is first found at Lichfield at that time. (fn. 33) Prebends were perhaps introduced at the same time, as part of the general reorganization of English chapters on the continental model. (fn. 34)
Peter of Blois found the canons vicious, intent on keeping their prebends in the possession of their families, and so linked by marriage as to present a united resistance to his attempts at reform. (fn. 35) He therefore resigned, probably in 1202, and persuaded Archbishop Hubert Walter, with King John's approval, to dissolve the college and replace it with a community of Cistercian monks. This project was confirmed by Innocent III. (fn. 36)
King John consented to the new foundation in January 1203 and at the same time granted the deanery and prebends of Wolverhampton to the archbishop for its use. (fn. 37) In January 1204 he freed these properties of all forest restrictions and dues (fn. 38) and as additional endowments granted the manors of Wolverhampton (July 1204) (fn. 39) and Tettenhall (May 1205) (fn. 40) and the wood of Kingsley in the forest of Kinver (June 1205). (fn. 41) He also prepared a comprehensive charter of liberties for the new monastery. (fn. 42) Meanwhile the archbishop had taken steps to secure the consent of the General Chapter of the Cistercian order (fn. 43) and, in anticipation of it, had already established some monks at Wolverhampton. (fn. 44) In July 1205, however, the archbishop died. King John cancelled his charter of privileges, (fn. 45) and the project was abandoned. Within a month the king appointed a new dean of Wolverhampton. (fn. 46)
Throughout the 13th century the royal chapels were struggling to establish their exemption from episcopal jurisdiction. The church of Wolverhampton secured this privilege with less difficulty than other royal chapels of the diocese. It owed its success principally to Giles of Erdington who first appears as Dean of Wolverhampton in 1224. (fn. 47) Erdington made his career in the royal service and became one of the most distinguished of Henry III's judges. (fn. 48) His legal skill is evident in the agreement he negotiated with the new Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, Alexander Stavensby, immediately after the bishop's consecration in 1224. (fn. 49) This formalized the traditional but unwritten privileges asserted earlier by Peter of Blois. It recognized the dean's right to appoint to the prebends in his church, institute his clergy, and correct them; it admitted the bishop's intervention only on neglect of correction and after an official admonition, and even then allowed him no right to procurations. On the other hand it recognized that the bishop was entitled to be received with honour, to celebrate, preach, and confirm in the church, and to hear difficult cases and appeals from the parish.
Under the protection of this agreement Wolverhampton enjoyed its privileges unchallenged during the episcopates of Stavensby and his successors until 1260 when Bishop Meuland attempted visitation. Erdington obtained a royal prohibition and in order to defend the agreement of 1224 involed a papal bull which Henry III had obtained in 1245, exempting royal chapels from episcopal jurisdiction. (fn. 50) The dispute ended finally in 1292 when the bishop recognized that all seven royal chapels of his diocese were exempt from ordinary jurisdiction and directly subject to Rome, and reserved only his right to be received with honour, to preach, ordain, consecrate, and confirm in them. (fn. 51)
Erdington also defended the financial interests of the college. He had boundaries perambulated, (fn. 52) transactions recorded, (fn. 53) and property rights defended in the courts. (fn. 54) In 1258 he obtained from the king the valuable grant of a weekly market and an annual fair to be held at Wolverhampton. (fn. 55) He secured the goodwill of local landowners by concessions of privilege and of land (fn. 56) and promoted good relations with the townsmen by granting his burgesses in 1263 the right to hold their burgages freely by hereditary title with the same privileges and liabilities as the burgesses of Stafford. (fn. 57) Perhaps the last benefit the college received from Erdington was an endowment for the maintenance of a chaplain at Wolverhampton. (fn. 58) He died probably at the end of 1268, after having held the deanery for at least 44 years. (fn. 59)
The next dean, Theodosius de Camilla, was, like Erdington, prominent in the royal service. (fn. 60) He seems rarely, if ever, to have been in Wolverhampton. (fn. 61) His financial interests, however, were well served by his bailiffs, notably Andrew of Genoa, one of the canons, who was also his proctor. (fn. 62) They used high-handed measures to collect his dues and plundered the deanery woods for his benefit. (fn. 63) They increased his revenues by allowing tenants to inclose the waste, (fn. 64) so that whereas the deanery had been valued in 1272 at 40 marks a year (fn. 65) Camilla was able in 1293 to farm it out (excluding the collation of prebends) at 50 marks a year. (fn. 66) His right of collation was used to endow at least three of his relatives, and like him they enjoyed their prebends largely in absentia. (fn. 67) Since other known canons of this period were royal clerks, it seems likely that few resided at Wolverhampton. (fn. 68)
The lease of 1293 illustrates the difference between the real revenues of benefices and the lenient assessment made by the clergy for the purposes of taxation. For the Taxation of 1291 the deanery was valued at 20 marks. The prebends, named for the first time, were assessed as follows (no doubt, like the deanery, at well below their true value): Featherstone at £6 13s. 4d.; Willenhall £6 13s. 4d.; Wobaston £4 13s. 4d.; Hilton £6; Monmore £4 13s. 4d.; Kinvaston £8. Besides these there was the chantry of St. Mary in Hatherton (which by 1294 had become a seventh prebend), (fn. 69) valued at £4 13s. 4d. The total value of the church was £54 13s. 4d. (fn. 70)
While Camilla was dean the college successfully defended its privileges against the claims of the Archbishop of Canterbury to visit it. Metropolitical visitation was an innovation, introduced into the province of Canterbury in 1250 by Boniface of Savoy; it had been applied to the diocese of Coventry and Lichfield in 1260, but of the royal chapels there it seems that Stafford alone was visited. (fn. 71) Archbishop Pecham, however, was intent on enforcing the decrees of the Council of Lyons (1274) against pluralism and non-residence, of which the canons of the royal free chapels were flagrantly guilty. He therefore determined to visit them all, even in defiance of the king's prohibition. (fn. 72) When on 27 July 1280 he tried to visit the church of Wolverhampton the doors were shut against him; and when he summoned the canons to meet him on 31 July to produce proof of their exemption they, like those of the other royal chapels of the diocese, ignored him and were publicly excommunicated. Canonical proceedings were launched against the seven chapels. This provoked the king to protest. Under royal pressure the archbishop made concessions; and at last, after conversations with the king at the Easter Parliament of 1281, he agreed to accept what the king, in consultation with the bishops and chapters concerned, should decide about the privileges of the royal chapels in the dioceses of Coventry and Lichfield and of London. (fn. 73) This conference presumably produced the agreement of June 1281 by which Bishop Meuland recognized that six of the royal chapels in his diocese, including Wolverhampton, were not to be visited by any ordinary. In return, however, he was to be honourably received when he came by invitation to preach, ordain, consecrate oil and chrism, and confirm. (fn. 74) Although the archbishop was not among the named parties to the agreement, he seems to have respected his promise to abide by it.
This agreement did not settle Pecham's difference with Camilla whose non-residence continued to give offence. In 1282 the archbishop excommunicated him, deprived him of two of his churches, and even maintained that he had no right to Wolverhampton, as it was properly in the patronage of Canterbury. (fn. 75) Camilla, who had influential friends, (fn. 76) was not easily defeated. In 1286 he secured a handsome money compensation for the two churches (fn. 77) and continued to hold the deanery until his death in 1295 without apparently changing his habits.
The college property suffered in the 14th and early 15th centuries from wastage by a number of deans. Philip of Everdon (1295-1303) and his successor John of Everdon inclosed plots of the deanery waste and alienated them. (fn. 78) Moreover both these deans displeased the king, Philip by accepting a papal provision to one of the prebends, (fn. 79) and John by making grants of the college's lands without licence. (fn. 80) Hugh Ellis, who died in 1339, not only alienated land (fn. 81) but made prodigal gifts of the stock and utensils of the deanery and left the dean's buildings in disrepair. (fn. 82) The next dean, Philip Weston, was ill served by his bailiff. (fn. 83) It is perhaps not surprising that after Weston's resignation in 1368 the king ordered a visitation of Wolverhampton, together with four other royal chapels of the diocese, to investigate alienation of property, loss of privileges, misappropriation of funds, disappearance of books, vestments and ornaments, neglect of services, and the conduct of the church's ministers. (fn. 84) Not all the charges applied to Wolverhampton, for instance the neglect of privileges; for John of Melbourne, though dean for only a few months, had secured royal confirmation of the college's ancient charters in 1328. (fn. 85)
The investigation of 1368 appears to have had little effect on subsequent deans. Richard Postell (1373-94) embezzled annually an income of £26 13s. 4d. said to have been intended for the maintenance of six priests celebrating divine service; (fn. 86) he was, however, careful of his church's privileges, securing confirmation of its charters from both Edward III and Richard II. (fn. 87) Inquiries into dilapidations followed the deaths of two successive deans, Lawrence Allerthorpe in 1406 and Thomas Stanley in 1410. (fn. 88) In Postell's and Allerthorpe's time there were conflicts with the local inhabitants arising from dissatisfaction with the way the dean's agents managed his business affairs and his spiritual jurisdiction. (fn. 89) The dean and all the canons were apparently absentees in 1366 and 1385; (fn. 90) probably this was usual. Between them the seven prebendaries maintained five vicars to serve St. Peter's in 1385; (fn. 91) in 1531 they maintained one each. (fn. 92)
Other priests were supported in St. Peter's and its dependent chapels by pious endowment. In St. Peter's there were two chantries, one founded in 1311 by Henry of Prestwood with lands and rents worth 23s. 10d. a year, (fn. 93) and the chantry of St. Mary, mentioned in 1398 and 1405, (fn. 94) which may be that founded by Giles of Erdington. The dependent chapel of Pelsall had a curate endowed by William le Keu in 1311, (fn. 95) and a priest was maintained in the prebendal chapel of Willenhall by the income from property given in 1328 by Richard Gervase of Wolverhampton. (fn. 96) In 1447 Sir Thomas Erdington gave lands and rent to support a curate in the dependent chapel of Bilston. (fn. 97) Two other benefactions were connected with the college. By 1385 a light in honour of St. Peter was maintained in the collegiate church by an income from land managed by a body called 'wardens of the light', (fn. 98) and in 1395 Clement Leveson, one of the vicars, and William Waterfall of Wolverhampton established a hospital which was placed under the dean's jurisdiction. (fn. 99)
Under Dean Allerthorpe Wolverhampton's immunity from archiepiscopal visitation was surrendered with only a token struggle. Archbishop Arundel sent his commissaries to the college in February 1401. Half-hearted legal objections were presented, but when they were dismissed the visitation was allowed to proceed. (fn. 100) As Allerthorpe enjoyed royal favour, being appointed that year Treasurer of England, (fn. 101) and could well have enlisted the king's support, this capitulation must be attributed to the political difficulties of Henry IV, who could not afford to oppose the archbishop at this point.
The importance to the college of its dean's interest was demonstrated after John Barningham was appointed in 1437. He twice went to law to put Wolverhampton's affairs in order; (fn. 102) and in his will of 1457 (fn. 103) he remembered both the church and its people, leaving £5 to the fabric of the nave, 40s. for his obit, and 66s. 8d. to be distributed among the poor. Under his successor, William Dudley, the college's charters were again confirmed, (fn. 104) and the rebuilding of the church, already under way in 1439, was continued. (fn. 105)
Dudley was the first dean of Wolverhampton to be also Dean of St. George's Chapel, Windsor Castle. Although he vacated both deaneries in 1476 their union was made permanent in 1480 by Edward IV. The Dean of Windsor was to be dean and prebendary of Wolverhampton and to possess all the rights of the deanery. These included an important emolument which he lacked at Windsor, the right to collate to prebends. (fn. 106) An attempt made by the chapter of Windsor in 1480 to limit that right by restricting the dean's choice to canons of Windsor (fn. 107) had little effect. For fifty years about half the known canons of Wolverhampton were already canons of Windsor; (fn. 108) by 1535 there was not a single canon in common, (fn. 109) and subsequently only three (fn. 110) are known, despite the reissue of the decree in 1637. (fn. 111) The two colleges, though having the same dean, remained distinct institutions, with separate statutes, seals, and revenues.
In the 16th century it was the practice for the dean to lease his Wolverhampton property to local men of substance. The first such lease to be recorded belongs to 1516-17; (fn. 112) like later leases (fn. 113) it probably did not include the profits of market, fair, and court. The rent then agreed of £38 may be compared with the £40 6s. 4¼d. clear which the dean's rents and rights produced in 1416-17, when the profits of the market and fair were £3 19s. 9d. and the court brought in £5 5s. 3d. less expenses. (fn. 114)
One of the two lessees of 1516-17, James Leveson, merchant of the Staple, retained the deanery lease at the same rent for at least 25 years, and his family continued to hold it after his death. (fn. 115) He also bought up deanery lands, acquiring more than twenty holdings, (fn. 116) and leased from the dean a prebend called Our Lady Prebend or the prebend of Wolverhampton, first mentioned in 1530 and probably to be identified with the chantry of Our Lady in Wolverhampton. (fn. 117) He also acquired property in the prebends of Willenhall, Hatherton, and Wobaston. (fn. 118) As the canons, following the dean's example, farmed out their prebends also, the Leveson family gradually increased the number of leases in its possession. By 1538 James Leveson was farming Wobaston prebend; (fn. 119) by 1544 Richard Leveson held Hatherton and Hilton; (fn. 120) and in 1550 members of the family held four of the prebends as well as the deanery. (fn. 121) A lease of Featherstone prebend in 1537 (fn. 122) provides an example of the conditions: while the lessee was entitled to all profits, he had to pay a vicar and meet all extraordinary charges. These were not easy terms, for the rent was £7 a year and the clear value of the prebend was estimated in 1535 at only £8 13s. 4d. (fn. 123)
In 1545 the college was threatened with dissolution under the first Chantries Act, (fn. 124) but this expired without effect at the death of Henry VIII. The threat was renewed in 1547 by the second Chantries Act, (fn. 125) and, in spite of the dean's argument that the exemption explicitly granted by the Act to St. George's, Windsor, ought also to protect Wolverhampton, (fn. 126) the college was dissolved and replaced by a vicarage endowed with £20 a year to support a preaching minister and curate. (fn. 127) The pensions paid to the dispossessed clergy were evidently calculated on the basis of their former net incomes, which were as follows: the dean £38 4s.; the prebendaries: Wobaston £8 11s. 4d.; Hilton £8 0s. 9¼d.; Monmore £8; Willenhall £4 17s. 9½d.; Featherstone £7; Kinvaston £6; Hatherton £2; the curates: Willenhall £4 12s. 3d.; Pelsall £4 10s. 8d.; Bilston £5 3s. 3d.; the vicars choral (only five were recorded): Willenhall and Wobaston £5 13s. 4d. each and Hatherton, Featherstone, and Kinvaston £5 each; the morrow-mass priest (who was probably the chaplain of St. Mary's Chantry) £2 8s. (fn. 128) The properties of the college, which had an annual value assessed variously at £113 4s. 7¼d., £111 7s. 11d., and £111 8s. 1¼d., (fn. 129) were first confiscated to the Crown, then in 1553 granted to the Duke of Northumberland. (fn. 130)
The accession of Mary led to the restoration of the college of Wolverhampton as an act of royal favour to St. George's, Windsor. Her letters patent of 1553 maintained that the dissolution was invalid on account of the exemption granted to St. George's, ordered the college to be reconstituted, nominated the dean, prebendaries, and sacrist (of whom all except two had previously been associated with St. Peter's), and took advantage of Northumberland's attainder to restore all its properties, now assessed at an annual value of £113 13s. 0¼d. (fn. 131) After a few years of uncertainty following Mary's death this restoration was finally confirmed by the grant of a royal charter in 1564. (fn. 132)
The establishment of the restored college remained much as it was before the dissolution. The chapter, which was supposed to meet once a quarter, consisted of the dean, seven prebendaries, and the sacrist; it possessed a chapter seal and employed a registrar to keep its records. The dean being inevitably an absentee, his jurisdiction was normally exercised by his substitute, the official, who was usually, but not invariably, one of the prebendaries. The prebendaries had the duty of attending morning and evening prayer on Sundays and festival days; and each had to deliver a sermon every quarter. In practice these duties, preaching excepted, were performed, as in the past, by the permanent, salaried substitutes, the vicars choral, who served each stall. The requirement that the vicars choral should all be at least in deacon's orders proved difficult to maintain on account of the low stipends offered; and by the end of the 17th century the seven vicars choral had evolved into an establishment of three curates or readers, who presumably had some ministerial qualifications, three lay 'singing men', and an organist. (fn. 133)
The parochial duties of St. Peter's fell on the sacrist. His office was not new, for there is evidence that it existed in the 13th century, (fn. 134) but its name and function seem to have been absorbed into that of the stipendiary or morrow-mass priest mentioned in the surveys of Edward VI's reign. (fn. 135) Mary's letters patent not only revived the title of sacrist but elevated his status by making him a member of the chapter, a dignity which he does not appear to have enjoyed before the restoration. The sacrist's estate, which probably included the endowments of the former morrow-mass priest, produced, in the middle of the 17th century, an annual income of £26. This sum did not include fees; and it would therefore seem that the sacrist had adequate provision. (fn. 136) It would seem too that the office was adequately served, for the critical Puritan survey of 1604 made no comment on it. (fn. 137) It was otherwise with the other pastoral clergy of the parish, the three curates who served the townships of Bilston, Pelsall, and Willenhall. Although their former chantry chapels had survived the dissolution with at least part of their endowments in the hands of trustees who nominated and paid the curates, the stipends amounted to no more than £4 or £5 each a year and could hardly have attracted an able preaching ministry. The Puritan survey of 1604 noted all three curates as nonpreachers and drunkards. It was not until later in the 17th century and in the early 18th century that the stipends and standards of these curates showed any real improvement. (fn. 138)
In the 17th century the college experienced in good measure the conflict between Puritans and Laudians. This came to a head under Matthew Wren, appointed dean in 1628, (fn. 139) and his brother Christopher, who succeeded him in 1635. (fn. 140) They attempted to silence the Puritan faction in the chapter, particularly Richard Lee, Prebendary of Willenhall since 1622, whose influence was the more odious to them because he actually resided in Wolverhampton and maintained an active preaching ministry in the parish. (fn. 141) In 1635, as the dean's disciplinary powers had proved insufficient, Christopher Wren invoked the authority of Laud himself; waiving the ancient immunities of the college, he welcomed the process of metropolitical visitation and by this potent means had Lee suspended and forbidden to preach. (fn. 142) Having followed up this success with measures against the Puritan laity of the parish, (fn. 143) Wren celebrated his triumph by a thanksgiving service in St. Peter's, where a new high altar was dedicated with incense, music, and a lavish ritual. (fn. 144)
The Puritans soon had their revenge. Lee's suspension provided one of the charges brought against Laud in 1644; and Lee's brother, Leonard, together with William Pinson, a Puritan layman of Wolverhampton, testified at Laud's trial. (fn. 145) Meanwhile the college had been doomed in principle by the decision, taken in 1643, to abolish all deans and chapters. (fn. 146) Accordingly, after Parliament had won the Civil War, the college was dissolved and its possessions sequestrated. (fn. 147)
The endowments of the college were now vested in trustees with the intention of making all its revenues available for evangelical purposes. In 1646 £100 a year was granted to support a minister at St. Peter's; and, by a symbolic act of restitution, the post was given to Richard Lee, the silenced prebendary. Another £50 a year, together with the £26 formerly belonging to the sacrist, was provided to maintain an assistant. (fn. 148) The surviving surveys of this time, those of the deanery and the prebend of Kinvaston, show that these two properties alone had an annual value of £270 2s. 4d. and £70 9s. respectively; (fn. 149) these grants therefore still left money to spare to augment other livings. Accordingly the minister of Wednesbury received £50 a year, and the income of Shareshill, near Hilton, was raised to £100 a year. (fn. 150) In practice, however, these grants were vitiated by the circumstance that six of the prebends had long been alienated into the hands of the Leveson family, and enjoyment of the other properties was limited by existing leases. For a while these obstructions were obscured by the fact that the Levesons and other lessees happened to be royalists, so that their estates had been sequestrated and their revenues temporarily freed for spiritual purposes; but the time came, after 1652, when the sequestrations were discharged and the owners claimed their rights. (fn. 151) Then it became apparent that the promised stipends could not be met from the collegiate revenues, (fn. 152) and other sources had to be found. (fn. 153)
The restoration of the college in 1660 did not require legislation, as the abolition of chapters was regarded as an invalid act. The former sacrist, Robert Dyott, claimed his old office, vacant prebends were filled, and the college tried to return to normal. (fn. 154) But it was not easy. The wars and troubles had done severe damage. What mattered was not the damage caused to the fabric of St. Peter's — though this was serious enough and was not made good until the reign of James II (fn. 155) — but the loss of most of the college's deeds, destroyed or stolen when the chapter-house was ransacked by a royalist garrison under the command of Col. Leveson. (fn. 156) This loss gravely compromised the future of the college. Without documents, it was ill equipped for the next round in the long legal battle which it had been fighting with the Leveson family to regain valuable properties lost in the 16th century.
The story of these lost properties had begun in 1550. By that time it was evident that, in spite of the dean's protests, the college could not escape dissolution. Accordingly the whole chapter, except the dean, sealed new leases, all on the same day, of their prebendal estates, reserving only their prebendal houses with the lands attached to them. These transactions are remarkable in several respects. They took place when the properties in question were about to be confiscated to the Crown and when the existing leases had not expired. Except for Kinvaston, where the new lease was taken by the holder of the old lease, the former lessees were ignored and all the properties leased to John Leveson and Robert Brooke, whose families were shortly to be united in marriage. The rents to be paid were set at half, and in some cases much less than half, the rents reported in the surveys made at the dissolution; but, as the tenants had to meet all charges, including payment of the vicars choral, their total obligation was probably not less than in the past. More important was the duration of the leases. The lease of Kinvaston was exceptional in being limited to 40 years; the six other prebends were all leased in perpetuity. Finally, this transaction was completed with a manifest irregularity, through a confirmation by the chapter of St. George's, Windsor, a body which had no standing in the matter, as only the deaneries, not the colleges, were united. (fn. 157)
In engaging in these dubious proceedings the prebendaries believed, or so they maintained later, that they were safeguarding the interests of the college as the leases were granted only on condition of being cancelled should the college be restored; (fn. 158) the lessees evidently intended to gain what advantage they could before the estates came into new hands. In the event it was the college and the prebendaries who suffered. For when the college's property was granted to the Duke of Northumberland it seems that the new leases remained in tactful abeyance; (fn. 159) but when the college was restored and the prebendaries regained their estates John Leveson and his fellow-lessees, disregarding any promises that might have been made, enforced their rights. By 1560 at the latest Leveson and his son Thomas, who had acquired Brooke's interest by marriage, were in possession of all the prebends except Kinvaston. (fn. 160) Thus the college was restored to a wasted inheritance, the greater part alienated to lay hands. From now on six of the seven prebends were diminishing assets: apart from the small revenues that could be raised from the prebendal houses with their adjoining lands, they produced only fixed rents which became worthless over the years and, because the leases were perpetual, lacked the compensation of renewal fines.
It was to be expected that when these effects began to make themselves felt attempts would be made to have the leases set aside. The first attempt was made in 1572, (fn. 161) a second in 1614-20, (fn. 162) a third by Dean Christopher Wren after his appointment in 1635, (fn. 163) and a fourth by Richard Lee in 1641. (fn. 164) The struggle was resumed after the Restoration, but the loss of the college's deeds during the Civil War and the Levesons' influence in Staffordshire brought failure once more. The case was dismissed from Chancery in 1667 and Robert Leveson awarded costs. (fn. 165) This failure virtually marked the end of any serious hope of regaining the alienated prebends. In 1705, when Robert Leveson sold his Wolverhampton estates to the Earl of Bradford, the chapter collectively started proceedings, but these broke down at the first hurdle. (fn. 166) The chapter abandoned a similar project in 1811 after the dean had taken counsel's opinion. (fn. 167)
As hopes of restoring the fortunes of the college faded, so the attractions it offered to men of distinction diminished. Only the deanery and the prebend of Kinvaston — at least when they had recovered from the depredations of the Interregnum and inconsiderate leases — offered a substantial income. (fn. 168) In the 17th century the low rents, between £2 and £7 a year, of the other prebends had at least been accompanied by hopes of improvement; and they had therefore been thought suitable rewards for clergy on the road to higher preferment, like Joseph Hall and Godfrey Goodman, (fn. 169) or for a foreign scholar like Cesar Callendrine. (fn. 170) In the next century the prebendaries were mostly local clergy who made their careers in Staffordshire and the neighbouring counties; the only one to attain distinction was John Cradock, who succeeded his father in Kinvaston and rose to become Archbishop of Dublin. (fn. 171) In these conditions the chapter enjoyed long tenures and stable membership.
Even in the harmonious circumstances of the 18th century some of the issues that played their part in the final dissolution of the college began to make themselves felt. The growth of population imposed new pressures on the organization of this extensive parish and raised doubts about the college's contribution — financial and spiritual — to its religious life. The chapels of Bilston, Pelsall, and Willenhall and the new district churches built in the course of the century tended to resent their dependence on the mother-church of St. Peter, which the deans continued to assert. Bilston, for example, which, like Willenhall, enjoyed the right to choose its curate by popular election, openly defied the dean's attempts to encroach on its privilege in 1730 and 1735. (fn. 172) The obligation imposed on the inhabitants of the dependent districts, under which they had to pay fees both to their own curate and to the sacrist of Wolverhampton and had to contribute to the repairs of St. Peter's as well as to those of their own church, provided a frequent source of dispute. (fn. 173)
The sacrist clung to his financial rights all the more tenaciously because fees from burials, marriages, and christenings provided a large part of his income. The difficult relationship with the dependent churches could therefore be resolved only if he could be provided with a satisfactory income from other sources. At one point it seemed that the development of the local coal industry would make this possible. In 1811 an Act was obtained for increasing the income of the sacrist — or perpetual curate as he was henceforth to be called. (fn. 174) It provided that a quarter of the royalties to be obtained from exploiting the coal under the dean's estate should be invested on the sacrist's behalf up to a total value of £8,000, which would yield an income rising eventually to £266 a year. The Act also abolished the three readerships and by transferring their stipends to the sacrist added a further £30 a year to his income. (fn. 175) The Act did not, however, fulfil expectations; it did too little too slowly. By 1835 the income from the invested royalties reached only £15, (fn. 176) and by 1843 it was no more than £60. (fn. 177) Consequently fees continued to supply a considerable part of the sacrist's income. In 1843, while rents and interest produced £270, fees produced about £200. (fn. 178) Therefore, as long as the college survived, the controversy about fees continued to embarrass relationships between St. Peter's and the other churches of the parish. (fn. 179)
Even before the end of the 18th century the traditional pre-eminence of the collegiate church, which the dean and sacrist were trying for financial reasons to preserve, was gradually being undermined. Ceremonies like the Rogationtide procession and the solemn perambulation of the parish bounds, which used to maintain the dignity of the motherchurch and assert its presence, had been abandoned. (fn. 180) The independence of the peculiar had been diminished by frequent episcopal intervention; (fn. 181) and even the peculiar court came to be held at Lichfield rather than at Wolverhampton. (fn. 182) Furthermore the Act of 1811, suppressing the readerships and establishing a perpetual curacy, in effect made St. Peter's virtually indistinguishable from its daughter-churches. These changes made the claims of the collegiate church even less palatable.
In an evangelical age the college was susceptible to criticism which drew attention to the contrast between the spiritual contribution which it made to the parish and the large revenues which it took out. It was not only that it imposed a double burden of fees, but that its other revenues had increased. This was not true of the six alienated prebends, and hardly of Kinvaston, which produced little more than £100 a year; (fn. 183) but the exploitation of mineral resources had greatly increased the value of the deanery, and the last dean must have drawn on average more than £600 a year from his Wolverhampton estates. (fn. 184) The dean of course was an absentee; but so also during the college's last fifty years were most of the chapter in contrast with the practice of the previous century. In 1835 only two of the prebendaries held livings in the county. (fn. 185) These absentees not only contributed little to the spiritual life of the parish; they also hampered its material development. Their estates, which in most cases consisted only of their prebendal houses and the lands attached to them, were laxly administered and their properties badly maintained. The clergy's preference for a system of long leases and occasional fines, together with their lack of capital and incentive, stood in the way of long-term improvements. Until after the middle of the 19th century the effective development of the centre of Wolverhampton was hindered by the slum dwellings and vacant lots of which the collegiate estates largely consisted. (fn. 186)
The last dean and the last perpetual curate did nothing to restore the standing of the college. Dean Hobart, who held his office from 1816 to 1846, (fn. 187) lacked the influence at court and in the Church that might be expected of a dean of Windsor and Wolverhampton. Dr. Oliver, who was appointed perpetual curate in 1834, engaged in a succession of rather sordid and very public disputes with the other clergy of the parish and ended by quarrelling, also publicly, with his own churchwardens. (fn. 188)
In these circumstances it is not surprising that after the establishment of the Ecclesiastical Commission in 1836 had prepared the way for reform no attempts were made to save the college, even in some modified form. The Cathedrals Act of 1840 provided that, on the dean's death, the deanery and peculiar were to be suppressed; (fn. 189) and after Hobart's death in 1846 the college was speedily wound up. (fn. 190) Already prebends had been kept vacant as their holders had died. (fn. 191) In October the jurisdiction of the peculiar was transferred to the bishop. (fn. 192) In 1847 Dr. Oliver resigned and the office of perpetual curate was suspended. (fn. 193) Finally in 1848 the Wolverhampton Church Act dissolved the college and transferred its possessions to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. St. Peter's was established as a rectory, with a living worth £750 a year. It lost its ancient pre-eminence, as the old parish was broken up and the daughter-churches acquired independent status. (fn. 194) From the revenues of the former college the commissioners were able to augment the stipends of all thirteen incumbents of the old parish and contribute to the repair of their churches. (fn. 195) By these means the aims of the Edwardian and Cromwellian reformers were at last achieved.
Peter of Blois, probably appointed by Henry II, occurs 1190-1, resigned probably 1202. (fn. 196)
Nicholas, occurs 1203. (fn. 197)
In January 1203 the deanery was granted to Hubert, Archbishop of Canterbury, who planned to dissolve the college. The grant was cancelled when the archbishop died in 1205. (fn. 198)
Henry, son of Geoffrey, Earl of Essex, appointed 1205. (fn. 199)
Giles of Erdington, occurs 1224, died 1268 or 1269. (fn. 200)
Master Theodosius de Camilla, appointed 1269, died 1295. (fn. 201)
Master Philip of Everdon, appointed 1295, resigned 1303. (fn. 202)
Master John of Everdon, appointed 1303, probably resigned 1323. (fn. 203)
Godfrey of Rudham, appointed 1322, perhaps held the deanery from 1323 to 1326. (fn. 204)
Robert of Silkstone, appointed 1326, resigned 1328. (fn. 205)
John of Melbourne, appointed April 1328. (fn. 206)
John of the Chamber, appointed October 1328, resigned November 1328. (fn. 207)
Master Hugh Ellis, appointed November 1328, died 1339. (fn. 208)
Philip Weston, appointed 1339, resigned 1368. (fn. 209)
John of Newnham, appointed 1368, died 1369. (fn. 210)
Amaury Shirland, appointed 1369, held the deanery until 1373. (fn. 211)
Richard Postell, appointed 1373, resigned 1394. (fn. 212)
Master Lawrence Allerthorpe, appointed 1394, died 1406. (fn. 213)
Thomas Stanley, appointed 1406, died 1410. (fn. 214)
Robert Wolveden, appointed 1410, presumably resigned 1426. (fn. 215)
William Felter, B.C.L., D.Cn.L., appointed 1426, resigned 1437. (fn. 216)
John Barningham, appointed 1437, died 1457. (fn. 217)
Master William Dudley, appointed probably 1457, provided to the bishopric of Durham 1476. (fn. 218)
Master Lionel Woodville, appointed 1477, probably resigned 1480. (fn. 219)
From 1480 the deanery of Wolverhampton was united with the deanery of Windsor. (fn. 220)
The chapter seal in use in the late 13th century (fn. 221) is a pointed oval, 2¾ by 1¼ in. It depicts St. Peter standing, with a pastoral staff in his right hand and two keys in his left; on his head is a close-fitting cap. Legend, lombardic:
The seal in use in the late 15th century (fn. 222) is a pointed oval, 2½ × 1½ in. It depicts St. Peter and St. Paul standing in a double niche with canopies; St. Peter holds a book and keys, St. Paul a sword and book. In the base under a round arch is the threequarter figure of a cleric praying, surrounded by five heads; this probably represents the dean and canons. Legend, black letter:
A chapter seal struck in the 17th century, (fn. 223) circular with a diameter of 13/8 in., depicts St. Peter standing; in his left hand he holds two keys, and his right rests on a shield bearing the royal arms; (fn. 224) round his head is a nimbus. Legend, roman: