WOLVERHAMPTON A TALE OF TWO CITIES
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 5, I was talking about Giffard House and the great appeal, but if you missed it, follow this link:
A brief look at the life and times of the Molineux family and the old house on the hill.
In the beginning
The Molineux family were of Huguenot origin and fled from France to this country in the 17th century in search of religious freedom, which was denied to them in their native land.
The first of that name to appear in our local records was Robert, an ironmonger of John Street, Wolverhampton. Like most of the Huguenot refugees, Robert was a man of substance, as is evident from his name appearing in the Hearth tax returns, (This was a tax levied between 1662 – 1669 of two shillings per annum on each hearth in a building.)
That Robert was the first of his family to settle here may be reasonably assumed from the fact that in St Peter’s Register of Births, Deaths, and Marriages from 1603 to 1660 the name of Molineux does not appear.
Over the next 200 years, most of the Molineux family flourished as ironmongers, general merchants, and ironmasters, and took a prominent part in the public affairs of the town.
Their eventual home an outstanding large house built in the Georgian style, in Tup Street (North Street) was built by John Molineux and his son Benjamin between 1740 and 1750.
It was built on land purchased from John Rotten and Richard Wilkes in 1744 for the sum of £700.
IN THE STAFFORDSHIRE GENERAL AND COMMERCIAL DIRECTORY FOR 1818
It was said Molineux House is a spacious mansion with excellent walled gardens, and George Molineux, Esq. an opulent merchant and banker, who was High-Sheriff for this county in 1791, is the present owner.
This house is admirably situated on the western slope of an eminence which at different times has been called “The Hill of Hantune” and “Waddam’s Hill,” from the crest of which, towers the beautiful Collegiate Church of St Peter.
The portion of the hill on which Molineux House is built slopes gently toward Chapel Ash and commands a fine view westward over a rich and variegated landscape extending for many miles in the direction of Shrewsbury.
The grounds were laid out at a time when there was a revolt against the primness and formality of the Dutch style with its trimmed hedges and its clipped yews cut in the grotesque shapes of peacocks, foxes, crowns, etc.
Under the influence of William Kent, the famous landscape gardener they were laid out in the natural style, of flowing lines, winding walks, and the blending of floral designs with lakes and fountains.
Smarts Directory of Wolverhampton (1827) and Bridgen’s 1833 Directory
These historical records show that during those years – John E. Molineux and Charles Molineux, wool staplers, were in residence at Molineux House.
William Molineux F.G.S., born, there in 1824. Later settled in Trentham and became chief estate agent to the Marquis of Anglesey. where he wrote, among other books, “Burton -on -Trent – Its history, its waters, and its Breweries.”
By the 1860s there seems to have been a general departure of Molineux’s from Wolverhampton and from a page in the Wolverhampton Almanack Advertiser of 1863 we see that the house is being used as an academy.
The second half of the 19th century saw massive leaps in technological and industrial knowledge. The British Empire was growing rapidly and so Britons wanted to show off their wealth and knowledge.
It was the age of exhibitions, and Wolverhampton’s version of the 1851 Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace, was held in the grounds of Molineux House, chosen as the venue by a committee of 101 members, headed by Sir Rupert Kettle of Merridale* mainly for the reason that there was at this time, vacant possession on the house and grounds.
* Sir Rupert Kettles former residence Compton Road has now been tastefully modernised, (do you know the one I mean?) opposite Merridale Lane and the grammar School.
In 1869 a temporary building was erected in the gardens adjoining the house, to hold what would be known as The South Staffordshire Industrial Fine Arts Exhibition, and filled with products of the many manufactures of the town.
The festivities were opened on the 11th May 1869 by Earl Granville, and in the true style of the period, the opening ceremony was accompanied by an orchestra on the balcony above the main hall.
The Exhibition ran for six months closing in November of the same year.
Now listed in Harrods directory from 1870 was a certain Oliver E. McGregor who was resident at Ye Old ale stores Inn. A Tudor building 50 & 51 Dudley Street, a dealer in cigars and tobacco.
In that same year, a notice appeared in the “Wolverhampton Chronicle dated June 4th, 1870 regarding Molineux House.
These grounds, which occupied the site of the Grand Exhibition in 1869, have been purchased by Mr. O. E. McGregor, of this town, who has extended and laid them out with great taste on a plan of the lower grounds at Aston.
Our first Public Park
He will be re-opening them as a public promenade and place of recreation for all classes. on Whit-Monday and Tuesday, June 6th and 7th, 1870, The pool has been considerably enlarged, and forms a nice sheet of water for boating.
A bowling green and quoit ground have been added, and a band is in attendance daily.
The article went on to say; “We hope that the enterprising proprietor will be amply rewarded for the pains and expense he has been at in thus catering for the healthy recreation and amusement of the inhabitants of the town”.
A billhead was also circulated that informed would be patrons that a Cricket Match will be played between the Wolverhampton and Bridgnorth Tradesmen’s Clubs, and there will also be Bicycle Contests for Cups and Medals,
With Quoits, Football, and many other sports on the field; not forgetting Boating on the Pool.
Fast forward now twenty-two years and in Hindes, Red Book directory of 1892; we see Mr. O. E. McGregor has now left the Molineux and is the proprietor of The Midland Cafe in Queen’s Square (Which of course many will recall later as Lyons).
By 1886, Oliver Steer, bacon factor had become the owner of the hotel, and Fred Smith manager of the grounds. It was about that time The Northampton Brewery bought the hotel and grounds.
The Northampton Brewery
Arrival of the “Wolves”
The use of Molineux Grounds for the Wolves was arranged in 1889 – by Fred Smith proprietor of the Molineux Hotel and grounds, which was then as I said, before now in the ownership of The Northampton Brewery.
Below is a copy of a letter sent from the Molineux Hotel – Wolverhampton – May 24/ 1889 to Councillor Hollingsworth, Chairman W.W.F.C. Committee.
I have written to the Northampton Brewery and they are prepared to let the Molineux Grounds to your Club for the sum of Fifty Pounds per annum, and also to grant your club a lease for a term of years subject to a satisfactory arrangement of the finer details. Should this meet with the approval of your committee, we shall be glad to meet you to discuss the matter with a view to an early arrangement.
Awaiting your reply, I am Dear Sir –
With its fine Georgian architecture, Molineux Hotel has been dear to the hearts of Wulfrunians for more than 250 years.
Many of those living today will recall its popularity across the region, for functions and social occasions, and especially through its close association with the “Wolves”.
But during the late 1970’s it fell into decline, closing altogether in 1979.
Then a succession of different owners neglected it, and when a fire struck in 2003 its future looked bleak.
I am pleased to say the building has now been saved and has been restored; perhaps not to its overall, former glory, that can never be due to the ever-changing area that surrounds it. But nevertheless, at least it will still stand again, as before, a symbol of pride in our city.
The demise of North Street continuing… The old Market Patch