Non-conformity at the beginning of the 19th century was beginning to be well established. By 1813 “Protestant Dissenters” called “Independents” (later to be called Congregationalists) worshipped at Queen Street Chapel in Wolverhampton; certain members of the congregation were Wombourne residents. These included Mr and Mrs Stephens, who lived in a cottage on High Street in front of our Church. This meant long journeys on foot or by pony and trap so they decided to hold a meeting in their own home. Friends joined them and other homes too were used for their meetings. Preachers frequently came from Queen Street Chapel to lead their meetings.
A retired exciseman named Thomas Brain joined their group and he and others in the group arranged with a Mr Hill, who ran a boys day school, to hire the barn there for worship on Sundays. It accommodated about 140. This school was located at the bottom of Gravel Hill opposite Common Road and is still there today, now a dwelling place. Sadly the school eventually closed and the group took the building over on lease for 21 years. It was plastered, a ceiling put in and a pulpit and forms installed and the group used it for their services and to run a Sunday School. Mr Samuel Cartwright ran this and there were over 100 children in attendance.
In 1849 property belonging to Mr Clark of Wolverhampton was offered for sale. One of the lots was in Mill Lane and the members purchased it as it was suitable for building a chapel. Mr Cartwright, a longstanding member of the group consulted with Reverend Watson Smith, the minister of the Parent Church at Queen Street, Wolverhampton, to gain his approval in buying the land and building a Church. A meeting was called and Mr George Bidlake, a young architect who was just entering into practice offered to prepare the plans at no charge. The offer was gratefully accepted and the building of the Church was completed in 1851.
In this year, Wombourne was described by William White as a large village, “occupied chiefly by nailers, who work for the neighbouring manufacturers”. (History, Gazetteer and Directory of Staffordshire, Sheffield, 1851). Nail-making remained important into the 20th century. As White implies, it was mainly the preserve of outworkers who operated small-scale machinery in, or attached to, their own homes, fetching iron sheet or rod from the foundries and returning the finished product.
As late as 1889 it was reported to the House of Commons that there used to be “a thousand nail shops in Wombourne, a village near Wolverhampton, and there is not one left there now.”
The new Church opened for worship on May 6 1851. There are plaques in the Church to commemorate the founder and several Superintendents as follows:
Mr Samuel Cartwright – Founder who died in 1856
Mr Thomas Stephens (1856 – 1869)
Mr Henry Thomas (1910 – 1934)
To be continued…