The Two Great Survivors Molineux House & Giffard House, Wolverhampton

Billy’s Picture Book #4: Giffard House and Molineux House


My pictures and stories I hope will illustrate the many changes which have taken place in Wolverhampton at various times particularly in relation to the street scene and general landscape.

If you recall in part 3, I was talking about The Deanery, but if you missed it, follow this link:

Billy’s Picture Book #3: The Deanery The Impossible Dream

North Street in Wolverhampton – As it was…


Pictured here in 1968 are North Streets two great survivors. Giffard House adjoining the Chapel of St Peter & Paul and Molineux House (Hotel).

The date is late 1960’s – Looking down from the old church roof of St Peter’s you see immediately the temporary car-park laid out on the site of the recently removed market patch – soon to become the site for the Civic Centre, then across Wulfruna Street on the right stands the striking red brick and terracotta building of the Wholesale Fruit and Vegetable Market.

The Brewood bus is about to pass Paternoster Row and the Catholic church of St. Peter and Paul and Giffard House.

At the side of the trees in the garden of Giffard House the removal van is parked at the top of Wadham’s Hill and Molineux Alley, this alley ran down the side of Molineux grounds across Waterloo road down to Whitmore Reans.

Now looking over the top of the roof of The Wholesale Market in Wulfruna Street and Walters Lock Factory North Street, you see the once magnificent Molineux House – Hotel, steeped in history.

Beyond the hotel, across the South Bank and the Molineux Grounds,  reaching for the sky just beyond the many rooftops of Whitmore Reans, are the four large chimney stacks of Courtaulds, Dunstall Textile Works shortly to become redundant – as will the Wholesale Market – in the early ’70s.

Finally to the left of Whitmore Reans, across the top of the Municipal Grammar School and Newhampton Road is the West Park.

Giffard House has many claims to fame

The story of Giffard House, and the adjoining chapel of St Peter and Paul, sitting quietly today in a little backwater opposite the Civic centre in North Street, is a fascinating one and has many claims to fame.

The first is that Giffard House was built between 1726 and 1733 as a public Mass House and priest’s residence. It is, therefore, the oldest Catholic church (as opposed to a private chapel) in the country and has been, and still is, in constant use for the purpose in which it was built.

A second is that it was from 1804 till his death in 1826 the residence and administrative centre of Bishop John Milner a key figure in the history of the Catholic Church in England.

The House

The Giffard family of Chillington were the leading recusants of the area and in the 1720s Peter Giffard had the present house built by Smith of Warwick.

This was to become the headquarters of Roman Catholicism in the West Midlands at a time when Wolverhampton was known as “Little Rome”. Its handsome staircase visible from the from entrance rising through all three storeys is a masterpiece of its kind.

This Georgian gem now occupies a position of national importance, in its association with the Giffard family and the sometimes treacherous story of religious tolerance – particularly at the time of the protestant backlash during the reign of Elizabeth I.

In England, Catholics were urged to ignore the authority of Elizabeth, and she understandably took measures to crack down on supporters of the Pope, in much the same way as her predecessor “Bloody Mary” had victimised Protestants.

As the 18th century progressed public feeling against the Roman Catholic faith became less hostile, and in this atmosphere of greater tranquillity the Catholics of Wolverhampton desired a more worthy place in which to worship, and the Giffard family took the responsibility of providing it.

The Giffards for some generations, had two houses in Wolverhampton, one in Cock Street (Victoria Street- the site note (the Giffard Arms Pub) and another in Tup Street (present site). The latter and the larger of the two houses, which in the 17th century had proved itself spacious enough to accommodate a Chapel and a resident priest.

Elizabeth Giffard occupied the Cock street house until her death, in 1727, when it reverted to Peter Giffard Squire of Chillington, who at this time decided to have his old townhouse pulled down in Tup Street and replace it with a much larger building incorporating an extended more grandiose Chapel.

Although Peter Giffard himself took a leading part in the building; of what would eventually become Giffard House and the chapel of St Peter and St Paul, there is good reason to think his kinsman, the ninety-year-old Bishop Bonaventure Giffard, was the main force behind the project, producing five hundred pounds toward the total cost of nine hundred and seventeen pounds, eighteen shillings, and three pence.

Almost immediately after its completion, the house and chapel were handed over to the Roman Catholic authorities who still use them up to this day.


Out of sight out of mind

It is perhaps important to realize that for a greater part of its history Giffard House was virtually hidden from view. Originally part of a row of shops and businesses, opposite the entrance from Horsefair into North Street.

The row of houses are to be seen here across the old Market Patch in the 1920’s shortly before they came down.

Of course, after the removal of those shops it opened up the view of the House and Chapel after 200 years of concealment, and this came about at the time of the 1st Centenary anniversary of the Catholic Emancipation Act in 1928. An act, which gave a final acceptance to the Catholic Faith. Now Catholics were able to hold certain positions such as members of parliament etc, posts which had been forbidden to them before.


1st Centenary anniversary of the Catholic Emancipation Act in 1928.

Now, with the removal of the outbuildings from North Street, we are left with an uninterrupted view of the forecourt of the Church and Paternoster Row.  Where in June 1928, a large-scale event took part to commemorate the first Centenary Anniversary of the Catholic Relief Act.

The two young girls pictured – my two aunts Betty and Francis Howe, 10 years and 12 yrs old, were both pupils at the Church and Schools in Paternoster Row and both took part in the celebration that day.

This view shows the Bishop and his servers in this scene, during the mass outside the church in Paternoster Row with the entrance to the schools, and passage to the burial grounds the middle background.

The event would eventually spill out to cover the Market patch and area in front of St Peter’s Church.

Catastrophe Looms!


Fast forward fifty years.

Looking today at the architectural gem that is Giffard house and its adjoining chapel of St. Peter and Paul situated across from today’s Civic Centre in North Street, It’s hard to imagine anyone would wish for either of these historic buildings to be demolished.

But it’s a fact though they did; as this was stated in the Express and Star newspaper on the 28th of August 1978, and I quote:

The Town Council has received an application from the agents of this Roman Catholic Archdiocese, who want to replace it with a four story office block

The Parish Priest FR. Malloy said.

He hoped to then build a new parish church in Whitmore Reans.

Thank goodness this didn’t come off!

Again many local people were outraged at the suggestion of this Historic building should be destroyed and there was a huge outcry.

The demise of North Street continuing…

An Appeal Committee was formed.

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  1. does anyone have a picture of the staircase that appeared in Britain’s Towne & Country magazine over 50 years ago? It’s a good black and white picture and the caption describes the staircase as a four-way staircase. At the time as a child learning English I didn’t quite understand what the writer meant by a four-way staircase. To me it was just a fascinating staircase unlike anything I saw here in the United States.

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