A place of common resort, and a school for inferior education


St. Matthews has looked out on Walsall for centuries, in one form or another. Changing, yet changeless. A gorgeous church in a fantastic position.

There was a surprising and good deal of interest shown recently when I scanned sections of a recently acquired book,  ‘Visitations of the Archdeaconry of Stafford 1829-1841′ published by the Historical Manuscripts Commission and Her Majesty’s Stationary Office (HMSO). This copy was published in 1980, and bears the ISBN of 0 11 440066 0. The work is edited by David Robinson MA, Ph D.

This book, as readers will recall, is a record of Archdeacon George Hodson’s visits to the churches in Staffordshire between 1829 and 1841. The cleric visited most of the churches in the Archdeaconry, and surveyed them for condition, contents, practice and management, and drew to attention any issues that needed attention.

I’ve previously featured Aldridge and Rushall churches at reader request.

Here, at the request of a reader Bilbo (I hope that’s their real name: There ain’t enough Bilbos in the world), I feature Walsall Saint Matthews, from 1830 onwards.

I’ve also just found a request from Alison Ball dating from last Christmas for Bloxwich, which I shall take a look at later in the week. My apologies to Alison for missing that one…

I had expected to find a report of a prosperous, well to do church, but what is recorded is actually a down at heel place with a good deal of neglect, architectural problems and plenty of ASB. The report is also highly indicative of the social divisions of the time.

This is understandable once you remember that in the Victorian era, the church was surrounded by a sprawling, filthy slum, and was decidedly in the poorer quarter of town.

I can only imaging the Archdeacon staring at the kids and ne’er do wells in the churchyard with utter distain. Some things never change…


Although the view is now verdant and shrouded in handsome trees, back in the Archdeacon’s day the whole hill was surrounded by a sprawling, filthy slum. Not all change is for the worst.

WALSALL 19.4.1830 (A/V/l/2,no.27;/3,no.31)

BENEFICE: Walsall [(St. Matthew’s – Parish Church)].

Nature: Vicarage. Ecton: King’s books £10 19s. 7d. Abb. Halesowen 7s. 8d. Abb. Halesowen Propr. Patron: Lord Bradford. Impropriator: Lord B and Col Walhouse.

CHURCH: A modern Pseudo-Gothic structure, with Nave and side aisles- the Chancel antient [sic]. The modern part, built about seven years ago, on a very faulty plan, by Mr Goodwin. Number it will contain: About 2,000 (stated in 1841 to be 2,500). Accommodation for Poor: (900 included in the 2,000). Roof: Timber covered with slate- part of the side aisles with thin sheets of copper – not in a good state. Walls: Brick faced with stone, and lined with cement[- upright]. Floor: Plaister – tolerably level. Windows: [Cast] Iron frames, with stone mullions- good order- Casements in all the gallery windows. Doors: Good. Pulpit and Desk: Oak- good condition. Velvet cushion to Pulpit. Books: Good order- except trifling repairs wanted in Bible. Seats: Oak- boarded floors- in good state. Galleries: All round the body of the Church. Organ: There is one. Font: A very handsome ancient one, at the entrance into the Chancel. Chapels: None. Benefaction Tables: There are some – said to be incomplete – not publicly exhibited. Vestry: Large and  commodious. Surplices: Four- two of them in tolerable order-one new one wanted. Linen: Two table cloths -one pretty good- a napkin ditto. Plate: Silver flagon- two Chalices- two Patens- one dish. Chest for Papers: At the Workhouse. Iron Chest for Register: A small one – a larger ordered. Register: Seven Vols in good preservation, and nearly entire – some interpolations, made by the last clerk – oldest date 1570. Porch: One – in good state. Vaults: None made recently.  Cleanliness: Attended to – but ceiling wants white-washing. Damp: Some on the walls and ceiling, from the imperfect state of the roof. Dimensions:89ft. by 62ft.

CHANCEL: 47ft. 10in. by 19ft. l in. Table: White marble slab, on iron frame. Ornaments: None. Repaired by whom: The lmpropriator; but the windows,  roof, and ancient stalls are much out of repair.

STEEPLE: Tower, surmounted with a spire – the former cased with cement. State of: Good. Bells: Eight good;  but not sufficiently  protected from weather.[1] Clock: An old one – out of repair.

CHURCHYARD: Fence: Some doubt as to the extent of the Churchyard[2]- there is a brick wall, or houses, or palisade, all round – and within a public walk­ the burying ground  much trespassed  upon. The doubt seems  to be whether the Churchyard extends to the wall, or only to the road. Gates: Iron-good. Drains: Insufficient,  much attention wanted  in this respect.  Graves: None lately made [too]  near the walls. Rubbish: A good deal, and sad nuisances [all] around the walls. Footpaths: Several – the children, and worst characters of the town, make it a place of common  resort. Cattle: None.

DIVINE SERVICES:  On Sundays: Two full services. On other Days: Prayers Wednesday, Friday and Saints days. Sacrament: Monthly, and at the Festivals. Communicants: 160 at Easter, from 50 to 60 other times. Catechism: Occasionally in the Church .

INCUMBENT:  Name and Residence: Revd John Baron – Vicarage. What Duty he performs: Takes part with his Curate.

CURATE: Name and Residence: Revd S Lowe -­ (Revd  W Bagnall, Assistant curate). In the Town.[3] If not resident: In the Town. Licensed: Yes. Salary: £70.[4] If serving another church: None.

PARSONAGE: Brick building, faced with Plaister­ new tiles – consists of three sitting rooms and kitchen on ground floor – eight rooms of different sizes above. State of: Good- the present  Vicar has laid out a good deal of money in repairs etc.[5] Outbuildings: Stable – Coach-house – Cart shed.

INCOME: Gross Value: £400 per annum. Tithes: Worth  about  £180. Glebe: £150. Surplice Fees: £80 to £100. Easter Dues and small Payments: £20. Queen Anne’s Bounty: None. Terrier: A copy in the possession of the Vicar.

SCHOOLS: Endowed Scbool: A free grammar school, endowed by Queen Mary in the first year of her reign – funds large. There are two schools – one classics; and the other  for inferior education.[6] Subscription Day School: A national school. Sunday School: Two – not very well attended­ about 170 all. Lancaster School: None.

DISSENTERS: Dissenters’ School: Independents, Methodists – on Sundays. Dissenting Chapels: Four  including a new Catholic Chapel.

POPULATION: 13,000[7]  in the Parish- about 8,000 in the Town.

MISCELLANEOUS: Monuments: Several.  Chandeliers, etc: None.  Parochial Library: –.

PARISH  CLERK: John Sheldon. Appointed by: The Vicar. Salary: Only £3 from the Parish.

CHURCHWARDENS: Mr. Thomas Franklin for the Vicar, Joseph Cotterill for the Parish.

ORDERS MADE: A complete table of benefactions to be made out, and fixed publicly in the Church. A new surplice  provided, and  new Table cloth for Communion Table. An Iron Chest, capable of holding all the Registers. Chancel  roof, windows, stalls to be repaired. Bells protected by weather­ boards. Churchyard fenced and protected from encroachment, Churchyard cleared of nuisances. Drains to carry off the wet from the Church walls.

State of fabric, examined by Architect and reported. Recommend increase of Clerk’s salary.

Revisited 13.10.1837

The support of the Galleries being in progress, and other improvements in contemplation, I found  particular directions unnecessary.

Revisited 21 .10.1841

‘Churchyard fence – qu?’

Great improvement since my last visit. The Galleries have been effectively  propped – no longer apprehension of danger in the Fabric. The Churchyard has been surrounded with a sub­stantial iron palisade; and there is a general appearance of neatness and order about  the Church, affording a satisfactory contrast to former times.

I had only to suggest (1) The prudence of insuring  the Church  against  fire. (2) The importance of having the water courses and pipes kept clear.  And to enjoin (3) The procuring of additional burial ground.

  • [1] A/V/ l /3: ‘Eight – good – weather-boards defective’.
  • [2] A/V/l/3: ‘viz whether it extends to the wall; or only to the walk’.
  • [3] A/V/l /3: ‘Revd S Lowe (since; Revd W Bagnall (1831))’.
  • [4] Eccles. Revs.: £30.
  • [5] Eccles. Revs.: ‘fit’.
  • [6] A/V/l/3: ‘… one classical,  the other commercial’.
  • [7] Eccles. Revs.:  15,066,  including Walsall Foreign and Bloxwich.
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5 Responses to A place of common resort, and a school for inferior education

  1. Clive says:

    I also have this book, the information contained with in it gives you a taste of the times. well worth a read.

  2. Pedro says:

    For anyone interested the Church of St Matthew, Walsall is now a Grade II* Listed Building and the description can bee seen here….
    The sad nuisances, and the worst characters in town, making it a place of common resort. Good to see the Parsonage was not affected!
    In 1834 from White’s Directory it informs that there were 4 Chapels…Particular Baptist Chapel (1833) in Goodall St, Methodist Chapel (1829) in Ablewell St, Independent Chapel (1790) in Bridge Street, a Unitarian Chapel (1827)in Stafford Street…Roman Catholic lately have Chapel at St Mary’s Mount.

  3. Pedro says:

    Hope this works…a N.E. View of Walsall Church in 1798…


    A view of Walsall in 1795…


  4. Pingback: No accommodation for the poor… | BrownhillsBob's Brownhills Blog

  5. Pingback: High on the hill – Go somewhere you’ve never been today! | BrownhillsBob's Brownhills Blog

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