21 August 2023

Enjoying a variety of
public sculptures in
the gardens and on
the streets in Wolverhampton

Sir Charles Wheeler’s statue of Lady Wulfrun at Saint Peter’s Church, Wolverhampton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

Lichfield Street and the buildings along it are among the most important parts of central Wolverhampton. During my first and all-too-brief visit to Wolverhampton last week, I went in search of some of the churches and the former synagogue.

I also enjoyed walking Lichfield Street, with its wonderful Victorian architecture, stepped into the Posada to see an exquisite example of a late Victorian pub that has remained largely intact, and enjoyed some of the city’s public architecture.

One of the sculptures I admired in Wolverhampton during my visit was Sir Charles Wheeler’s statue of Lady Wulfrun at the west end of Saint Peter’s Collegiate Church.

The sculptor Sir Charles Thomas Wheeler (1892-1974) was educated in Wolverhampton, his father worked there as a journalist, and the statue was presented by the Express and Star to mark the newspaper’s centenary in 1974 – the year Charles Wheeler died.

Wheeler worked in bronze and stone and was the first sculptor to be elected president of the Royal Academy (1956-1966). He was born in Codsall, Staffordshire, five miles from Wolverhampton, the son of a journalist. He was raised in Wolverhampton, and from 1908 to 1912 he studied under the sculptor Robert Emerson at the Wolverhampton College of Art, now Wolverhampton University.

Wheeler went to the Royal College of Art on a scholarship in 1912, and studied under Édouard Lantéri until 1917. For the rest of World War I, he was classified as unfit for active service and instead modelled artificial limbs for war amputees.

As a sculptor, Wheeler specialised in portraits and architectural sculpture, and he worked closely with the architect Sir Herbert Baker. His major works with Baker include the 20-ft bronze doors at the Bank of England and a programme of sculptures, including the ‘Lothbury Ladies’ and the gilded finial figure of Ariel (1922-1945).

Wheeler exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy, was elected a fellow in 1940 and became its president in 1956. While he was president of the Royal Academy, a controversial decision was taken to sell the most valuable painting in the academy’s collection, Leonardo da Vinci’s cartoon of The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne and Saint John the Baptist. The possibility that the painting might leave Britain caused a public outcry and eventually it was sold to the National Gallery.

Wheeler was a trustee of the Tate Gallery from 1942 to 1949, and a member of the Royal Fine Art Commission in 1946. Wheeler married the sculptor and painter Muriel Bourne and they were parents of a son Robin and a daughter Carol. His autobiography, High Relief, was published in 1968.

Wheeler’s statue of Lady Wulfrun at Saint Peter’s Church was presented to the people and city of Wolverhampton by the Express and Star to mark the newspaper’s centenary in 1974. He died later that year on 22 August 1974, at the age of 82 and was buried in Codsall, where he was born.

Saint Peter’s Gardens, on the north side of Lichfield Street, were part of Saint Peter’s churchyard until the church gave it – and the task of maintaining it – to the town. The graves were cleared, some buildings were levelled and the gardens were created. Over time, the gardens have had many changes and rearrangements, and ‘interpretation panels’ were installed in 2004.

The Horsman Fountain … a Victorian fountain in Saint Peter’s Garden, facing onto Lichfield Street in Wolverhampton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The Horsman Fountain by Farmer and Brindley is in memory of Philip Horsman and was unveiled in 1896. Philip Horsman was a self-made man who became a successful building contractor. His major buildings in Wolverhampton include the town hall. He also built the art gallery and is named as its founder because it was built on his initiative. Although the council provided the site, Horsman contributed £8,000 towards the cost and his firm built it.

Horsman has been described him as ‘being of a modest and retiring nature … and was considered a quiet, unostentatious man, of a kindly disposition.’ His major philanthropic bequest to Wolverhampton was the Eye Infirmary. He was one of the founders and also contributed £5,000. He rescued the Blind School in Victoria Street, donating £800 and persuading others to give generously too.

The Horsman Fountain has a red granite lower bowl and the rest is in stone. Six dolphins support the central bowl and four putti support the upper bowl.

The inscription on the bowl of the fountain reads: ‘This fountain was erected by public subscription in grateful recognition of the generosity of the late Philip Horsman, JP, who presented the adjoining art gallery and other philanthropic gifts to the town.’

The 1920s War Memorial in Saint Peter’s Gardens, Wolverhampton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The War Memorial in the gardens was erected in 1920 and was Grade II listed in 1992. It is made of Portland stone ashlar, displays a crucifix on a base with walls curving forward and ending in piers with raised letters in sunk bands giving the of services.

The Harris Memorial is by Robert Jackson Emerson (1878-1944), a sculptor who taught sculpture and drawing at the Wolverhampton Municipal School of Art from 1910 to 1942. His students included Sir Charles Wheeler.

Douglas Morris Harris, a naval hero in World War I … the sculpture by RJ Emerson in Saint Peter’s Gardens, Wolverhampton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Douglas Morris Harris from Penn had worked in a bakery before signing up to the navy during World War I. He is shown life-size, with the cap of HMS Admirable, the ship to which he was first posted.

A plaque records his heroic death and a relief shows him slumped in the ship’s wireless room. Harris was on loan to the Floandi of the Italian navy when it came under heavy fire in the Adriatic. He remained at his post in the wireless room of the Floandi and continued sending messages and making entries in his log, until he was killed by a piece of shrapnel on 15 May 1917.

Although Harris was posthumously decorated by Italy, he does not seem to have received any award from the United Kingdom. However, the people of Wolverhampton did not forget him, and this memorial was paid for by public subscription.

Nevesaurus … a sculpture in Saint Peter’s Gardens, Wolverhampton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Daily prayers in Ordinary Time
with USPG: (85) 21 August 2023

Wade Street Church in Lichfield represents a tradition dating back to the 1670s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

We are in Ordinary Time in the Church Calendar, and this week began with the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity (Trinity XI, 20 August 2023).

Before this day begins (21 August 2023), I am taking some time this morning for prayer, reading and reflection.

In recent weeks, I have been reflecting on the churches in Tamworth. Throughout this week and last week, I am reflecting each morning in these ways:

1, Looking at a church in Lichfield;

2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

The interior of Wade Street Church, Lichfield, seen from the gallery (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Wade Street Church, Lichfield:

I spoke in Wade Street Church four years ago [17 September 2019] on the Comberford family of Comberford Hall and the Moat House, Tamworth, at the invitation of Lichfield Civic Trust, and about 60 or 65 people were present in the Wade Street Church Community Hall on Frog Lane.

Wade Street Church represents the continuity of a religious tradition that dates back to 1672, when five houses in Lichfield were licensed for Presbyterian worship. The Congregationalists met in Tunstall’s Yard in 1790, and grew into the United Reformed Church in Wade Street, which is now both a United Reformed church and a Baptist church.

Despite the evangelical revival in the late 18th century, Lichfield remained a staunchly Anglican city. A storeroom on Sandford Street was fitted for public worship by George Burder of Coventry and John Moody of Warwick in 1790, but by 1796 the congregation had declined and closed.

But the situation changed again in 1802, and the former chapel on Sandford Street reopened in 1802 as an ‘Independent’ or Congregational chapel. William Salt from Cannock was one of the first leaders of the new church, and the Christian Society, as it then called itself, was formally set up on 13 June 1808.

However, Salt wrote of how the new congregation faced considerable local opposition, and the numbers attending dwindled to 60. As a consequence of this strong local opposition, 19-year-old Henry Fairbrother, a tailor’s apprentice, poisoned himself. The jury at his inquest agreed his suicide was caused by ‘lunacy due to the effects produced by the doctrines he had heard at the meeting of the persons called “The Methodists”.’

The entry for his burial at Saint Chad’s Church reads: ‘buried Henry Fairbrother, an exemplary young man until driven to despair and suicide by the denunciation of the people called “Methodists”.’

Of course, the Congregationalists were not Methodists, but at the time the two groups were often confused by many people in Lichfield.

Meanwhile, Salt was attacked in pamphlets circulated throughout Lichfield. In response, he preached a sermon and distributed 1,000 copies to every house in Lichfield. The response was positive, and a fund was set up to build an ‘Independent’ or Congregational chapel by subscription.

Salem Chapel on Wade Street was registered for public worship on 17 September 1811, the church was officially opened on Wednesday 18 March 1812, and the Revd William Salt was ordained as its first full-time minister.

The church was designed as a simple ‘preaching box,’ with a central pulpit but with no stained glass or any other decoration. The style of a lecture hall emphasised the centrality of preaching the word of God.

To meet the needs of a growing congregation, the rear gallery was opened on Christmas Day 1815, and the side galleries were added by 1824. One of these side galleries still has the original numbered box pews that continued to be rented until the early 20th century.

Salt, who was the pastor of the Independent Church in Lichfield for 33 years, died on 1 June 1857.

The church was renovated in the 1870s, when new pews in light wood were installed downstairs and the interior was painted. The Lichfield Mercury reported that the once ‘dingy and uninviting interior now had a cheerful and inviting aspect.’

A celebratory party in the Corn Exchange – now McKenzie’s Restaurant – was attended by 350 people.

A new organ with 566 pipes was bought for £180 in 1884.

The Revd William Francis Dawson was appointed minister in 1895, with an annual stipend of £100. But the stipend was insufficient, and things began to decline in the church. The Sunday school closed in 1900, the trustees closed the chapel in 1902 and Dawson resigned.

The church remained closed for 15 months. But seven members met in 1903 to discuss reopening the chapel. Staffordshire Congregational Union made a grant of £70 towards a minister’s stipend, and in turn was given a voice in running the church and calling its ministers.

The church reopened in June 1903 along with the Sunday School, and things continued to improve. A new pulpit was erected in 1916, and a new hall was built on Frog Lane in 1932. In the decades that followed, the congregation grew and declined, following national trends.

The Congregational churches in Britain united with the Presbyterian Church in 1972 to form the United Reformed Church, and Wade Street Church was part of this new union.

An attempt was made to sell the church in 1980s. But Lichfield District Council listed the building, it was refurbished, a new floor was provided, the pews were ‘dipped’ and cleaned, new carpets were laid, and the old tortoise stove was removed.

The congregation grew steadily in the 1990s, and the church became an ecumenical partnership with the Baptists.

The organ was removed in 1997, creating more space, and new seating was installed throughout the building.

A £500,000 project was launched to redevelop the premises, and new multipurpose facilities opened in 2005, ahead of target and under budget.

The Revd Ian Hayter, the minister of Wade Street Church, an Ecumenical Canon of Lichfield Cathedral, and the Mayor’s Chaplain in Lichfield, retired in 2022. Sunday services are at 9 am and 11 am. The church and its halls are used today by a variety of community groups, including Lichfield Civic Trust, who hosted my lecture, as well as the Cathedral Chorus, the Wildlife Folk, Weightwatchers and the Food Bank.

The gallery in Wade Street Church in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 19: 16-21 (NRSVA):

16 Then someone came to him and said, ‘Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?’ 17 And he said to him, ‘Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.’ 18 He said to him, ‘Which ones?’ And Jesus said, ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; 19 Honour your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ 20 The young man said to him, ‘I have kept all these; what do I still lack?’ 21 Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ 22 When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

‘Pray to the Lord for the City’ … Lichfield Cathedral and the city on a banner in Wade Street Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayer:

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is ‘Modern-Day Slavery Reflection – The Clewer Initiative.’ This theme was introduced yesterday.

For more resources: www.theclewerinitiative.org

The USPG Prayer Diary today (21 August 2023, International Day of Remembrance and Tribute to the Victims of Terrorism) invites us to pray in these words:

Pray for comfort for all people who have been affected by acts of terrorism.

The Collect:

O God, you declare your almighty power
most chiefly in showing mercy and pity:
mercifully grant to us such a measure of your grace,
that we, running the way of your commandments,
may receive your gracious promises,
and be made partakers of your heavenly treasure;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post Communion Prayer:

Lord of all mercy,
we your faithful people have celebrated that one true sacrifice
which takes away our sins and brings pardon and peace:
by our communion
keep us firm on the foundation of the gospel
and preserve us from all sin;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

A surviving box pew in the gallery in Wade Street Church, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The Revd William Salt of Wade Street Church died in 1857 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

A tapestry with angels in Wade Street Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)