Madeley: Roman Catholicism

Pages 66-67

A History of the County of Shropshire: Volume 11, Telford. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1985.

This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.



Madeley was prominent among the centres of Shropshire recusancy (fn. 1) because the lords of the manor from the 16th to the 18th centuries (fn. 2) persisted in the old faith. Other names which figure in the parish's history, however, are encountered: a Charlton in the late 16th century, (fn. 3) Glazebrooks, Webbs, and Wolfes in the later 17th century. (fn. 4) Mass may have been celebrated at Upper House, home of the Wolfes, in the 17th century, (fn. 5) and Madeley Court was used as a mass centre c. 1695 (fn. 6) and presumably at least until Basil Brooke's death in 1699. (fn. 7) In 1676 there were 51 adult papists in Madeley, the largest Catholic population in Shropshire and perhaps an indication that an eighth or more of the population was Catholic. (fn. 8) In 1664 and 1681 John Beddoe kept an unlicensed school, evidently for Catholic children. There were twelve Catholic families in the parish in 1716. (fn. 9)

The numerous families in Madeley suspected of disaffection to the Crown in 1691 and 1715 included Catholic families of some standing. Several Catholics registered their ownership of landed property in 1717. Most substantial were the Purcells, armigerous minor gentry, six of whom had refused the oath of allegiance in 1715. (fn. 10) Others were John Heatherley or Hatherley, son-in-law of Francis Wolfe (II); (fn. 11) Richard Blest and the Goodmans, modestly endowed yeomen; and two owners of cottages. (fn. 12) The Purcells' estates were sold in 1755, (fn. 13) the Heatherleys' in 1765, (fn. 14) and by 1767 few of the 72 Catholics recorded seem to have been of substance: many heads of families were colliers or blacksmiths. Nevertheless they included Thomas Slaughter, evidently steward of the manor and related to the lords, an innkeeper, and an engineer. A priest officiated every third Sunday. (fn. 15)

The Madeley Catholics remained numerous and evidently self-confident. A Catholic, one Haughton, led a demonstration against the vicar, J. W. Fletcher, in 1762. Fletcher tried to present him at the visitation but was thwarted by his churchwardens. (fn. 16) In 1769 Fletcher, provoked by the conversion of two parishioners, opposed the opening of a mass house (fn. 17) incorporated in the rear part of a newly built presbytery in High Street. Apparently replacing an earlier one, the mass house opened in 1770; it was built on land given by the Giffards, (fn. 18) presumably Rose Giffard's daughters who owned shares of the manor. (fn. 19) Fletcher's widow Mary maintained friendly relations with the Catholic priest John Reeve (occ. 1804-12) and he attempted her conversion. (fn. 20)

Catholics were said to be few c. 1804 (fn. 21) but were perhaps under-estimated. The chapel is said to have accommodated c. 200, though by 1851 there were 400 sittings. (fn. 22) In 1824 the priest also served Middleton Priors (fn. 23) and in the earlier 19th century other Shropshire missions, such as Wellington occasionally from 1834-5. (fn. 24)

In 1851 Sunday morning attendances at Madeley were said to average 300 adults and 100 children; evening services were attended by 100. (fn. 25) In 1852-3 a new church was built, (fn. 26) and a graveyard provided, next to the old chapel and presbytery. St. Mary's, with accommodation for c. 500, is in the Early English style to a design of J. A. Hansom. (fn. 27) The church, renovated in 1961- 2, was served from Shifnal by 1891, when the former chapel and presbytery, known as Arundel House, housed a boarding school. Madeley, separated from a large parish extending from Wigwig to Sheriffhales, acquired a resident priest again in 1970. From 1978, when Much Wenlock and Broseley were separated, St. Mary's parish approximated to the ancient parish and had a Catholic population of some 900.


  • 1. S.P.R. Rom. Cath. p. xv.
  • 2. Above, Man. and Other Est.
  • 3. Recusant R. 1592-3 (Cath. Rec. Soc. xviii), p. 270.
  • 4. H.W.R.O.(H.), Heref. dioc. visit. rec., chwdns.' presentments 1664, 1669, 1672, 1680, 1681; Salop. N. & Q. i & ii. 31; iii. 10.
  • 5. Randall, Madeley, 166; S.P.L., Deeds 15437.
  • 6. W.S.L., H.M. 36 s.v. Dawley (shorthand transcribed by Mr. N. W. Tildesley).
  • 7. Above, Man. and Other Est.
  • 8. W.S.L., S. MS. 33; Skinner, Nonconf. in Salop. pl. III. There were 400 conformists and no prot. nonconformists.
  • 9. H.W.R.O.(H.), Heref. dioc. rec., chwdns.' presentments 1664, 1681; reply to visit. arts. 1716.
  • 10. Randall, Madeley, 56; T.S.A.S. vii. 181; 2nd ser. i. 90; S.R.O., q. sess. rec. parcel 281, reg. of papist deeds 1717-88, pp. 6-7, 11, 33-4, 46-7.
  • 11. S.R.O., q. sess. rec. parcel 281, reg. of papist deeds 1717-88, pp. 66-7; G. Allen-Woolfe and R. Rathbone, The Story of a Royal Tankard (1661-1702) (1975), 23-4. The Wolfes too were armigerous: T.S.A.S. vii. 232.
  • 12. S.R.O., q. sess. rec. parcel 281, reg. of papist deeds 1717-88, pp. 33, 68-70. Some papist owners of Madeley property lived elsewhere: ibid. pp. 67-8, 147.
  • 13. S.R.O. 749/4-8; deed of 1755 conveying Webb's tenement, etc., in possession of Mr. A. M. Jeffrey, Madeley.
  • 14. S.R.O., q. sess. rec. parcel 282, reg. of papist deeds 1717-90, pp. 131-4.
  • 15. H.W.R.O.(H.), Heref. dioc. rec., return of papists 1767. For Slaughter cf. S.R.O. 2280/MRg/2, p. 50 (no. 37); above, Man. and Other Est.
  • 16. Tyerman, Wesley's Designated Successor, 77-8; Trinder, Ind. Rev. Salop. 269.
  • 17. Tyerman, op. cit. 156-8.
  • 18. Ibid. 59, 168; Jackson, 'Madeley', bk. 1A, p. 212; Shrews. Chron. 14 Jan. 1955; Randall, Madeley, 166.
  • 19. Above, Man. and Other Est. Cf. S.R.O., q. sess. rec. parcel 282, reg. of papist deeds 1717-90, pp. 161-2.
  • 20. Trinder, Ind. Rev. Salop. 304; H. Moore, Life of Mrs. Mary Fletcher (14th edn. 1856), 419-20, 423-6; S.R.O. 2266/1.
  • 21. J. Benson, Life of Rev. J. W. de la Flechere (1805), 140.
  • 22. Jackson, 'Madeley', bk. 1A, p. 212; P.R.O., HO 129/358/ 47.
  • 23. T. Gregory, Salop. Gaz. (1824), 284-5.
  • 24. S.P.R. Rom. Cath. p. xv; Jackson, 'Madeley', bk. 1A, p. 213; Trinder, Ind. Rev. Salop. 304.
  • 25. P.R.O., HO 129/358/47.
  • 26. What follows is based on S.P.R. Rom. Cath. p. xv; Jackson, 'Madeley', bk. 1A, pp. 212-13; P.O. Dir. Salop. (1870), 85; inf. from the Revd. A. J. Nicholson, par. priest.
  • 27. D.N.B.