All Saints Church and The Preaching Cross

The 13th century (or possibly even earlier) Preaching Cross is the oldest monument in Bloxwich and probably the oldest in Walsall Metropolitan Borough; even the graffiti carved on it is historic!

A Chapel of Ease was licensed for services at Bloxwich in 1413, by the 16th century it had a tower which was altered and the chapel rebuilt in 1790-4. In 1874 the chapel was again rebuilt completely in the fashionable Gothic revival style. The rebuilt church was designed by Davies and Middleton of Dudley and Birmingham, using brick with a stone dressing.
Originally St. Thomas of Canterbury, the church was re-dedicated to All Saints in 1875 when the foundation stone for the tower was laid. A re-opening service was held on 16th April 1877.

1832 Wesleyan Chapel

Methodism, founded in 1738 by preacher John Wesley, flourished here from the late 18th Century. The Short Heath or Bloxwich Green was traditionally home to locksmiths and light metalworkers, and in 1795, the Bloxwich Wesleyans turned a nearby flax oven in Bullock’ Fold in Chapel Field into a chapel for 100 worshippers. As the membership grew, the first building became a Sunday School. In 1832 a new structure was begun, on what is now Park Road, registered in 1837. The chapel was replaced in 1864 by the new Bloxwich Wesleyan Church on the corner of High Street and Victoria Avenue. This was not the end of the story for the 1832 chapel, however.

In 1913 the redundant 1832 chapel was heavily modified and extended into a 500 seat cinema by the Bloxwich Picture Company – ‘The Central Picture Palace’. In 1921, Pat Collins showed films here while The Grosvenor was being built. After the Grosvenor opened in December 1922, Collins used the old Chapel as a repair workshop and store for his fairground rides.

Later, the old chapel was used as a factory unit by Mid Air Equipment. In recent years, it has had various uses and is now used for retail. Certainly, it deserves to be better known as one of the most interesting and historic buildings in Bloxwich.

One story about the 1832 chapel is particularly interesting. The 1837 licence was issued to Benjamin Welch, whose two children died. See Myths and Ghosts.

St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church

St. Peter’s Catholic Church was opened in 1869 on land given by Charles Beech. It was designed by Bucknall & Donnelly of Birmingham in the Gothic revival style. It was renovated 1952-4, extending toward High Street with the addition of a facade with two towers flanking the present main entrance. Jennings, Homer & Lynch of Brierley Hill were the architects for the extension.

Roman Catholicism goes back a long way in Bloxwich, though nationally suppressed for many years after the dissolution of the monasteries and the foundation of the Church of England by Henry VIII in Tudor times. By 1604 however, Popery was rife through the whole Diocese of Lichfield. Yieldfields Hall, between Bloxwich and Great Wyrley, was used by Catholic Recusants for many years, and a priest’s hole was discovered there in the 1950’s. In 1791 Catholic worship and schools were recognised by law.

Samuel Wilks buried in All Saints Graveyard

This gravestone has an ancient story all its own, which is still told and retold by Bloxwich folk, who have always had an independent and rebellious streak.

A video still of female student stood by gravestone of Samuel Wilkes

Rhianne by Samuel Wilks grave

It involves the traditional rivalry between the people of Walsall Foreign and those of Walsall Borough, the separate identity of which goes back at least as far as 1225 when the Ruffus Charter mentions ‘forin woods’.  The Borough was the rough equivalent of modern Walsall’s town centre, and the Foreign was that area within the Parish of Walsall which was outside the Borough – primarily Bloxwich, Little Bloxwich, Blakenall, Shelfield and Walsall Wood, but also including smaller places such as Pleck, Caldmore, Chuckery and Palfrey. Bloxwich was always the heart of the Foreign, its people proud to be ‘Forreners’ rather than ‘Burrowemen’. But it was not until the 17th century and after that the main bone of contention between Borough and Foreign – the collection of a rate to ‘provide for the poor’ – brought the feuding to a peak. Over many years, the complex way in which the poor rate was assessed and divided was declared unfair on one side or another by feuding ‘Forreners’ and ‘Burrowemen’. The fact that the inhabitants of the Foreign were mainly Cavaliers or Presbyterians and those of the Borough, Roundheads or Cromwellians, did not help matters during times of Civil War and after. Later, arguments about the distribution of funds from various charities caused more bad feeling to ferment.

A further crisis occurred in 1752, when Samuel Wilks and John Whitehouse, Overseers for the Poor for the Foreign, retired, and the Justices of the Peace for Walsall refused to appoint others for the Foreign alone, and proceeded to make ‘one General and intire Rate through the whole Parish’. Since at this time the poor in the Borough greatly outnumbered those in the Foreign and the rate was three times as much in the pound, there were vigorous protests from the people of Great Bloxwich and the liberties of the Foreign.
As a result of the controversy Samuel Wilks refused to give up his books to the Justices and went to prison for contempt of court, determined to resist the rate and declare the separateness of the Foreign which although technically incorrect was historically right, from previous practice and the desires of the people of the Foreign. He served his sentence with fortitude, and all the wealth and power of Bloxwich backed him in his fight for the independence of the Foreign.

In November 1753, the King’s Bench decided in favour of Bloxwich, and Samuel Wilks was the hero of the hour, but it was not until 1756 that the Walsall Justices finally gave in and appointed separate overseers for the Foreign.

Today, Samuel Wilks is buried in a place of honour with one of the few tombstones still standing in Bloxwich churchyard, his grave a place of pilgrimage for those who continue to stand up for the independent spirit of Bloxwich, and although the ‘Foreign’ disappeared as a poor law township in 1835, and as a ward in 1888, those of us who were born and bred there are still proud to call ourselves true ‘Forreners’.