West Bromwich: Roman Catholicism

A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 17, Offlow Hundred (Part). Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1976.

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A P Baggs. G C Baugh. C R J Currie. Johnson D A, 'West Bromwich: Roman Catholicism', in A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 17, Offlow Hundred (Part), (London, 1976) pp. 60-61. British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/staffs/vol17/pp60-61 [accessed 25 May 2024].

A P Baggs. G C Baugh. C R J Currie. Johnson D A. "West Bromwich: Roman Catholicism", in A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 17, Offlow Hundred (Part), (London, 1976) 60-61. British History Online, accessed May 25, 2024, https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/staffs/vol17/pp60-61.

Baggs, A P. Baugh, G C. Currie, C R J. Johnson D A. "West Bromwich: Roman Catholicism", A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 17, Offlow Hundred (Part), (London, 1976). 60-61. British History Online. Web. 25 May 2024, https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/staffs/vol17/pp60-61.


A Puritan survey of Staffordshire in 1604 reported 'many popish' in West Bromwich. (fn. 1) It was stated in 1607 that the wife of Sir William Whorwood of Sandwell and her daughters were 'notable recusants' and that Sir William's association with recusants led to his 'neither caring for his credit nor conscience'. (fn. 2) Thomas Brome Whorwood, who lived at Sandwell in the late 17th century, was married to a Roman Catholic, and their son Thomas was brought up in his mother's religion. (fn. 3) The Riders, however, were the main Roman Catholic family. (fn. 4) Simon Rider, who settled in West Bromwich in 1580, occurs as a recusant in 1593-4. (fn. 5) When in 1598 officers came to seize his forfeited goods, they were forcibly resisted by a crowd of 30. (fn. 6) Riders recur as papists until the later 18th century. (fn. 7) There is a tradition that an upper room at the back of the Riders' house, later known as Dunkirk Hall, was used as a chapel; there is also said to have been a priest's hiding hole, but it seems likely that the space was in fact made for a stairway. (fn. 8)

Five papists were reported in 1630 (fn. 9) and 22 in 1657. (fn. 10) In 1705 the minister listed four families, all of them landless and 'of small ability'. (fn. 11) Only one papist registered an estate in 1715, a bridle-buckle maker with a freehold house. (fn. 12) The community reported by the minister in 1767 consisted of two carpenters, a nailer, and two labourers; one of the latter was an Irish immigrant. Most of them were married to Protestants, and in one case the children were Protestants too. Five men and a woman, formerly papists, had conformed to the Church of England. (fn. 13)

In the early 19th century the few Catholics in West Bromwich were served from the mission at Bloxwich and later from that at Walsall. (fn. 14) After the opening of the church at Walsall in 1827 Francis Martyn, the priest who ran the Bloxwich and Walsall missions, was able to devote more attention to West Bromwich. He began to visit a house there every week to instruct the children of the family, but non-Catholics too proved eager to attend. He therefore started a regular course of instruction. (fn. 15) The congregation worshipped for a time in a Protestant nonconformist chapel which they rented. (fn. 16) A site for a church was bought in 1830 (fn. 17) and the foundation-stone laid the same year. (fn. 18) The church was opened in 1832. (fn. 19) It was dedicated to St. Michael and the Holy Angels and stood in St. Michael Street. Designed by Joseph Ireland, it was in an Early English style with a turret at each corner. (fn. 20) Over a third of the cost was met by George Spencer, who became the first resident priest in 1832. (fn. 21) He was the youngest son of the 2nd Earl Spencer and was formerly in Anglican orders. (fn. 22)

The area for which Spencer was responsible included Oldbury, Tipton, and Dudley as well as West Bromwich, and numbers increased rapidly. In 1833 110 people were confirmed at St. Michael's, and 70 of them were converts. The number of communicants was given in 1834 as 120. (fn. 23) On Census Sunday 1851 500 people heard mass at St. Michael's. (fn. 24) There was a school in St. Michael Street by 1834. (fn. 25) From c. 1850 there was a convent of Sisters of Charity of St. Paul near the church. The nuns remained until c. 1853 and ran the church school and also a girls' boarding school. (fn. 26) In 1877 the mission was still large, extending 'from Handsworth to Dudley Port and from Spon Lane almost to Perry Barr'. The priest, J. J. Daly, reported a Roman Catholic population of 900, but attendance at mass was irregular, partly because of the size of the mission. Most of the congregation were poor and illiterate, and drunkenness was rife. Daly described 'the character of the place and the social tone of the whole district' as 'antagonistic to the Church'. (fn. 27)

Daly rebuilt the church in 1875-7 on the corner of High Street and St. Michael Street as a memorial to George Spencer. He raised a third of the cost in New York in 1873-4. Designed in an Early English style by Dunn & Hansom of Newcastle-uponTyne, the church is of Birmingham brick with Bath stone dressings. (fn. 28) It consists of sanctuary flanked by side chapels, aisled nave, and sacristy; there is an organ gallery at the west end. The south-west tower and spire, of Ruabon brick and Hollington stone, were added in 1911; the architect was Edmund Kirby. (fn. 29) The church was consecrated in 1917. (fn. 30) The presbytery, which seems to date from about the time of the rebuilding of the church, (fn. 31) adjoins it on the north.

The Roman Catholic population of St. Michael's parish in 1967 was 1,500, (fn. 32) but the parish no longer covered the whole of West Bromwich. A mass centre served from St. Michael's was started at the Stone Cross Hotel in 1948, and a church, used also as a hall, was opened in Hall Green Road in 1951. (fn. 33) A resident priest was appointed in 1953, and the parish of Holy Cross was formed the following year. The Roman Catholic population in 1967 was 1,740. The present church was opened in 1968. Designed by L. Brocki, it is a cruciform building of brick. The high altar is at the crossing, the sacristy in the eastern arm, and the seating for the congregation in the other three arms. There is an open-sided belfry over the crossing. The church stands in a large open space with the presbytery to the east.

A mass centre served from Stone Cross was started at the Delves Inn for the Delves and Yew Tree district in 1954. It was replaced in 1959 by the church of St. Joseph in Birchfield Way, a brick building designed by J. T. Lynch of Brierley Hill. (fn. 34)


  • 1. S.H.C. 1915, 309.
  • 2. C 2/Jas.I/A 5/37.
  • 3. V.C.H. Bucks. iii. 348; T. Fortescue, Lord Clermont, Sir John Fortescue, Knight, his Life, Works, and Family Hist. ii. (priv. print. 1869), 292-3; above p. 18. An early18th-century reference to the Sheltons, lords of the manor, as 'Romanists' (S.R.O., D.(W.)1778/V/701, J. Meres to Lord Dartmouth, n.d.) may result from a confusion with the Whorwoods.
  • 4. See pp. 21-2.
  • 5. Cath. Rec. Soc. lvii. 150.
  • 6. S.H.C. 1935, 41.
  • 7. Cath. Rec. Soc. liii. 333; S.R.O., D. 1287/9/10, return of Staffs. papists 12 Mar. 1629/30; L.J.R.O., B/V/1/55, p. 33; S.H.C. 4th ser. ii. 88-9; Staffs. Cath. Hist. v. 23; vii. 29; xiii. 47-8.
  • 8. Reeves, West Bromwich, 49-50; A. Fea, Secret Chambers and Hiding Places, 289; 'Old West Bromwich', 15 Sept. 1944.
  • 9. S.R.O., D. 1287/9/10, return of Staffs. papists 12 Mar. 1629/30.
  • 10. S.H.C. 4th ser. ii. 88-9.
  • 11. Staffs. Cath. Hist. xiii. 47-8.
  • 12. E. E. Estcourt and J. O. Payne, Eng. Catholic Nonjurors of 1715, 247.
  • 13. Staffs. Cath. Hist. vii. 29-30.
  • 14. B.A.A., R. 83 and 145, giving West Bromwich baptisms from 1822; Laity's Dir. (1832), 23.
  • 15. 'Catholic Chapels in Staffs.' Cath. Mag. v (1834; reprinted in Staffs. Cath. Hist. xiv), 312-13; Laity's Dir. (1832), 23.
  • 16. Hackwood, West Bromwich, 45; B. W. Kelly, Historical Notes on Eng. Catholic Missions, 422.
  • 17. Cath. Mag. v. 313; B.A.A. 12 July 1830, account book for West Bromwich Chapel 1830-3; Ed. 7/112/West Bromwich/19.
  • 18. B.A.A. 28 July 1830, copy of inscription on foundation stone.
  • 19. Cath. Mag. v. 313; Hackwood, West Bromwich, 45.
  • 20. Cath. Mag. v. 313; Hackwood, West Bromwich, 45; H. M. Colvin, Biog. Dict. of Eng. Architects, 1660-1840, 308; B.A.A. 12 July 1830, account book; White, Dir. Staffs. (1851). For the site of the church see 'Old West Bromwich', 12 Apr. 1946; Peacock & Cottrell, Map of West Bromwich (1857).
  • 21. B.A.A. 12 July 1830, account book; 7 Feb. 1831, statement of account; 9 Aug. 1832, accounts; Cath. Mag. v. 313; Staffs. Advertiser, 1 Dec. 1832.
  • 22. J. Gillow, Bibliographical Dict. of Eng. Catholics, v. 519; Hackwood, West Bromwich, 45.
  • 23. Cath. Mag. v. 313.
  • 24. H.O. 129/381/3/1. Dudley then had its own church, dating from 1835.
  • 25. See p. 76.
  • 26. White, Dir. Staffs. (1851); G. V. Hudson, Mother Geneviève Dupuis, 150; 'Old West Bromwich', 12 Apr. 1946. The convent occurs in Cath. Dir. from 1851 to 1853.
  • 27. B.A.A. 12 Aug. 1877, visitation schedule and statistics.
  • 28. Hackwood, West Bromwich, 45-6; Kelly's Dir. Staffs. (1880); Cath. Dir. of Province of Birm. (1915), 62; Staffs. Advertiser, 9 Oct. 1875, 24 Mar. 1877; B.A.A. 12 Aug. 1877, visitation schedule and statistics. The organ was bought from Christ Church: see above p. 55 n. 29.
  • 29. Kelly's Dir. Staffs. (1912); ex inf. Mr. E. H. Hubbard (1970).
  • 30. Cath. Dir. of Province of Birm. (1918), 251-2.
  • 31. 'Old West Bromwich', 12 Apr. 1946. Dr. Edw. Gerrard, the last occupant of the house which preceded the presbytery, seems to have left it between 1872 and 1876: ibid.; P.O. Dir. Staffs. (1872; 1876).
  • 32. Cath. Dir. of Archdioc. of Birm. (1968).
  • 33. The rest of this para. is based on ibid. (1949); (1951), 191; (1953); (1954), 208-9; West Bromwich News, 4 Jan. 1968; plans at Archbishop's House, St. Chad's Cathedral, Birmingham; inf. from Mr. G. C. W. Jones of West Bromwich (1969).
  • 34. Cath. Dir. of Archdioc. of Birm. (1954), 209; (1960), 194-5.