Monuments in St Peter’s Collegiate Church, Wolverhampton

History of the Church

The Collegiate Church of St Peter, Wolverhampton is the main church of the city, and is the natural centre of the conurbation, a most beautiful Medieval creation made in the typical reddish stone of the area.

The history of the Church goes back far beyond that, to the 8th Century, when Wulfere, King of Mercia converted to Christianity and had various monasteries and churches built in his great territories, including, it is thought, in Wolverhampton. Later in the 10th Century Wulfruna, widow of Athelme, Earl of Northampton and relative of Ethelred II, re-endowed the Church, providing it with lands to maintain a monastery, dean and secular canons, hence a Collegiate Church (as opposed to a Cathedral or church under the control of a bishop). William the Conqueror gave it to his new Bishop of Worcester, and after many changes of ownership in later years, the canons again gained freedoms and privileges. By the 14th Century, the Church was somewhat dilapidated, and in the 15th Century it was converted into a chancel for a new, larger church which was built on the site: while the old chancel is long gone, it is the 15th-16th Century Church we largely see today. At that time too the still existing pulpit, much renowned, was erected.

The interior was rather damaged in the time of Henry VIII, and again during the Civil War, when Cromwell’s troops damaged and destroyed tombs, though a few excellent examples survive. Finally, the mid-19th Century saw a restoration of the interior, and rebuilding of the chancel and addition of an apse.

And now to the monuments. There are something over two dozen, plus a group of late 19th Century diamond-shaped epitaphs along one wall. The earliest is the large John Leveson Monument of 1575, with two recumbent effigies. Then a dozen from the 17th and 18th Centuries, with the balance from the 19th Century. While the earlier monuments are the most significant, the later ones are of interest too, with one figural piece and a couple with a Gothic tendency.

Monuments: 16th Century Chest Tombs

John Leveson, d.1575, and Joyce Leveson, d.1571, attributed to the sculptor Robert Royley of Burton on Trent. Two recumbent effigies on a great chest tomb, in a brownish alabaster. As with tombs from earlier times, their faces are rather rounded, with the projections of nose and brow, and the indentations for eyes and cheeks rather slight. John Leveson wears a cuirasse, a chain wrapped twice around his chest, and some sort of tunic above his armoured legs. His hair is cut straight round the sides, and he his head protrudes from the usual ruff of monuments of this age. The lower arms are missing, as are the feet. Joyce Leveson is elegantly slim at the waist and in the arms, and wears a jacket closed at the front and with tight arms. Below, long skirts cover the feet, with no effect of gravity shown in the horizontal lines of drapery. Both figures lie of high cushions.

Tomb of John and Joyce Leveson, 1570s, attrib. to Robert Royley.

The front of the tomb has a panel with six standing figures, three of which are damaged. It is not clear what they are doing: the two rightmost each have an outstretched arm above a shield. The faces are partially scratched out, but the figures remain an evocative Renaissance group. Thomas Lane, and Katherine Lane/, 1582, a second chest tomb, surely one of the sights of Wolverhampton, with recumbent figures of the deceased lying in stately pomp on top, and a line of carved figures in high relief on the long side, and three coats of arms on the exposed short side, all in brownish alabaster. The two principal figures lying on top are richly dressed, with large ruffs at their necks, smaller ones at their wrists, and wearing rings on their fingers. Thomas Lane is in armour, decorated with scrolls and repeating designs. As with the Leveson monument, the features are rather flattened. He has carefully carved, short wavy hair, and a rather plainer beard. Katherine Lane has a banded hairstyle, and an embroidered skirt. Each has their arms across their breasts and their hands in prayer. They lie on pillows, hers being the more rich with tassels at the corners. The monument has been moved, likely from where Colonel John Lane’s monument now stands, and at that time lost its surrounding iron railings.

Thomas Lane and Katherine Lane, d.1582, and some of their children.

The front panel contains a row of kneelers – small kneeling figures representing the offspring of the family. Unusually, these are facing forward rather than sideways. To the right are seven similar girls, the daughters. Then, centre left are two swaddled babes, of similar vertical size for compositional reasons, who may have died as infants. Then two sons, shown fairly youthful, and beardless. Then a shield, and on the other side a single standing male figure leaning upon it, a sword by his side; this might be a representation of Thomas Lane in life. Or not. Gerald Mander, the Wolverhampton antiquary, puts this figure, along with the two boys and the two infants, as the five sons of Thomas Lane, and reads the rather Gothic inscriptions above them rather better than I was able. He gives them as Robert Lane, Thomas, Mychaell, Edward, and George, the last of whom certainly died at a little over a year old. The girls are Margarett, Cassandra, Audrey, Martha (?), Sarah, an unknown one, and Alce [Alice]. The figures are rather disproportionately, but very spiritedly carved. A note in the Church states that the tomb was sculpted by the Royleys of Burton on Trent; other sources state specifically Robert Royley.

Statue of Vice Admiral Richard Leveson, by Hubert le Sueur

Le Sueur's statue of Richard Leveson, d.1605.

Vice Admiral Richard Leveson, d.1605, an excellent bronze statue by Hubert le Sueur, surviving from a large monument destroyed at the time of Cromwell, along with two reclining cherubs, a coat of arms, and an inscribed panel. This is a rare surviving statue by Hubert le Sueur, sculptor and bronze caster to Charles I, whose most well-known statue is the equestrian figure of that monarch in Trafalgar Square (see this page for pictures). The armoured figure is jauntily posed and with something of self-important grandeur. See this page for more on this statue.

Other 17th Century Monuments

19th Century Monuments

Obelisk monument to Anne Morris, d.1820.

There are also a number of plain Carrara marble square memorial panels set into the wall, each with a simple inscribed black border, and no other decoration bar the odd small crucifix. They date from the 1870s through to the 1900s (see picture below).

Various lozenges commemorating late 19th Century congregationers set into the wall, e.g. Sara Elsam, d.1875, with a quatrefoil in white and leaf patterns in the spandrels. And a number of modern brasses of the black-letter with red capitals type, with more or less ornament and similar date.

Late 19th Century panels.

Also in St Peter's Church

There are several war memorial panels which we may note:

Also to be seen are the following: