Wolverhampton collegiate church: history and description

Document Contents

The collegiate church of St Peter in Wolverhampton had its origins in the late Anglo-Saxon period. Wulfrun was a member of the Mercian royal dynasty, believed to have been the grand-daughter of King Aethelred I and Queen Aethelflaed (daughter of King Alfred the Great), who we know to have been captured and by vikings in 943 at Tamworth, and who was a substantial power in her own right, being in addition possibly the mother of Wulfric Spot. In 985 Wulfrun received a grant of 10 hides from King Aethelred II of lands at a place referred to as ‘a Heantune’ (‘high town’), and which became known as ‘Wulfrun’s Heanton’ (Wolverhampton) (Charter no. 860 in Peter Sawyer’s catalogue of Anglo-Saxon charters). Wulfrun established a manor house in the Gorsebrook area of what later became Wolverhampton, which developed as a market centre. Her name is now remembered in many local Wolverhampton institutions in the form ‘Wulfruna’. In 994, if a charter discovered in c. 1560 is accepted as authentic, Wulfrun herself granted land at Upper Arley in Worcestershire, and ‘Eswich’ (? Ashwood), Bilston, Willenhall, Wednesfield, Pelsall, Ogley, Hilton near Wall, Hatherton, Kinvaston, Hilton near Wolverhampton, and Featherstone in Staffordshire to a monastery founded at ‘Wulfruna’s Heanton’ (Sawyer charter no. 1380), and may herself have ended her days there as a female religious. The monastery may already have been exempted from episcopal jurisdiction, and seems to have enjoyed a close royal connection by the time of Edward the Confessor; by the Conquest was dedicated to Mary.

After the Conquest the foundation suffered various vicissitudes, and was for a time attached in turn to Worcester cathedral, the bishop of Salisbury and then Lichfield cathedral, and then Worcester once more. Under Henry II it resumed the character of a royal chapel, and by the end of his reign its exemption from episcopal authority seems to have been firmly established. It was possibly during the church’s association with Lichfield that the office of dean and system of prebends were established. A charter of 1338 issued under Edward III described the collegiate body established as it was to be until the end of the period covered by the CCEd: the chapter consisted of a dean, eight prebendaries – of Wolverhampton (a position held by the dean), Kinvaston, Featherstone, Hilton, Willenhall, Monmore, Wobaston and Hatherton –and a sacrist. An important development occurred under Edward IV, when in 1480 the deanery of Wolverhampton was permanently united with that of St George’s Chapel, Windsor, although in other respects the two establishments remained distinct – a decree issued in 1637 attempting to restrict the choice of prebendaries at Wolverhampton to persons already canons of Windsor proved abortive. Also associated with the church were a series of chantry chapels, at Bilston (founded 1447), Pelsall (1311), and Willenhall (1328): after the dissolution these continued to be served by curates paid from endowments in the hands of trustees, and at Bilston and Willenhall the curates were chosen by popular election.

The collegiate church survived the Reformation until in 1547 it was dissolved and replaced with a vicarage endowed with £20 per annum. The estates of the church were confiscated and then granted away by the crown. The dissolution was reversed under Mary I in 1553 (and the sacrist for the first time made a member of chapter), and the estates restored. However, the college was to suffer another reversal when it was once more dissolved after the civil war during which troops were quartered in the church and the roof was removed, the chancel only being restored by Dean Turner in 1682. After the restoration, the college finances too proved in a sorry state. One casualty of the war was the college’s collection of title deeds, and this complicated still further a parlous situation which had originated in new leases sealed on the eve of dissolution in 1550 which had granted the estates of six prebends in perpetuity to lay lessees, leaving a legacy of fixed rents and no renewal fines. One consequence of impoverishment was a change among the minor clergy of the church. By 1531 the seven prebendaries were served by seven vicars choral who performed all their Sunday duties save their preaching turns, but it proved difficult to ensure that all appointed were in deacons’ orders. As a result, by the early seventeenth century these posts developed into three curates known as readers, three lay singing men and the organist (the CCEd also reveals the existence of lecturers, who may or may not be the readers under another title). In 1811, an act of parliament designated the sacrist (responsible for the bulk of the services save for the Sunday preaching turns of the prebendaries) as the ‘perpetual curate’ of the church, and decreed that as they fell vacant the three readerships should be abolished and their duties transferred to the new office.

Two schools were closely associated with the church: Wolverhampton Grammar School, founded in 1515 by Sir Stephen Jenyns for which a gallery was built in the church in 1610; and the Blue Coat School founded under Edward VI.


The dean and prebendaries had no corporate patronage; but the seven prebends were in the gift of the dean, and the prebendary of Kinvaston could appoint to the rectory of Walton-le-Wold in Leicestershire and the diocese of Lincoln.

Peculiar jurisdiction

The peculiar jurisdiction of Wolverhampton embraced the ancient parish of Wolverhampton and its daughter parishes of Bilston (1723), Wednesfield (1755), and Pelsall (1766). The records also contain material relating to the parish of Shareshill.

The Cathedral and Education

Two schools were closely associated with the church: Wolverhampton Grammar School, founded in 1515 by Sir Stephen Jenyns for which a gallery was built in the church in 1610; and the Blue Coat School founded under Edward VI.


VCH Staffs, iii (1970), pp. 321-31; Hall (1865); Oliver (1836).