The Church of S.s. Peter and Paul's, Newport, owes its existence to a generous benefactor, John Talbot, the Sixteenth Earl of Shrewsbury, a great patron of the Catholic Church in the Midlands District and, also, of the Architect A. W.N. Pugin whose church masterpiece of St. Giles, Cheadle, he also sponsored.
A new undreamed age of church building dawned in England with the advent of Catholic Emancipation in 1829 and the lifting of restrictions on the building and opening of Roman Catholic Churches. It is from this era that the construction of S.s. Peter and Paul's belongs.
John Talbot, Sixteenth Earl of Shrewsbury, was no stranger to Newport. The recusant forebears of the Talbot family had resided at Longford Hall on the outskirts of the town. From the 1640s they had retained a Priest to celebrate Mass and minister to the needs of local Catholics in a continuous succession through some dark and dangerous times in English history. The name of the first resident Priest at Longford in 1640 is given as William Whale, alias Robinson.
The longstanding historical association with Newport did not cease upon the departure of the Earl of Shrewsbury from Longford in 1789. Sensitive to the needs of the small remaining local Catholic community, provision was made for the Priest to continue to live at Salters Hall, just off Upper Bar, where Mass was celebrated for some 40 years until the opening of the new Chapel in 1832, to which is was adjoined.
The following is a description of the opening of the new Chapel on July 3rd, 1832, taken from the Catholic Magazine of the same year.
THE CATHOLIC MAGAZINE DOMESTIC NEWS
NEWPORT - On Tuesday, July the 3rd, the new Chapel erected by the Earl of Shrewsbury, on his estate at Salter's Hall, Newport, was opened by Dr. Walsh, Bishop of Cambysopolis, and Vicar Apostolic of the Midland District, who said Mass, and after the Gospel of the day had been read, delivered a sermon from Psalm cxxxix. 7, 8, which we are told made a deep impression on a numerous and respectable audience, that filled the chapel, gallery and sacristy to excess.
Many of the priests, who reside in Shropshire, Staffordshire and Warwickshire, attended in their cassocks, surplices and stoles, and added not a little to the solemnity. They were arranged within the sanctuary, on each side of the altar, and sang, alternately with the choir, the 84th Psalm.
Webb's Mass in A was well sung by the choir, as were also his motets, O Salutaris Hostia, and O Roma Felix, it being within the octave of St. Peter and St. Paul, in whose honour the Chapel is dedicated to Almighty God.
The Chapel, which was planned by Mr. Potter of Lichfield, and built under his direction, is of early Gothic character, having the simple but beautiful lancet window. The gable over the entrance is surmounted by a bell turret and the outer parts of the edifice decorated with buttresses. The house for the incumbent has been rebuilt in the Tudor style and the whole presents an appearance of one of our early monastic edifices, and both chapel and house were admired for their solidity and simplicity, and do great credit to the architect.
Though opened in 1832, the Church was not actually consecrated until July 11th, 1906. The Rites of Consecration commenced at 8.00am in the morning and lasted until 12 noon and necessitated the removal of the Church pews. The choir and congregation assembled in the Church Gallery. Subsequent alterations to the Church took the form of the addition of the porch and baptistery in 1913 and a find rose window with decorative tracery in 1920.
The Catholic community in Newport may lay claim to belong to an unbroken history and tradition of Catholicism in the locality, dating to the evangelisation of the Midlands region by St. Chads in the 7th century and traced through Bishop Driuma of Mercia, 656 AD, who was in communion with the Apostolic See of Rome, and from 699 AD onwards through the Bishops of Lichfield until the Reformation. From thence, Catholicism remained alive in the Newport and surrounding villages, despite the religious upheavals of the time and the changes in worship. This is attested by the record of the many local people who incurred the punishing recusancy fines for failure to attend the services of the established Church. The record of the fines and the name and places of those who incurred them is kept at the Church.
From 1640 onwards there is an unbroken succession of priests, who served first a Longford Hall, subsequently at Salters Hall, and then at the Church until the present day. Their names are displayed on the board in the Church porch.
After the Catholic Hierarchy was restored in 1850, the first Bishop of Shrewsbury, James Brown, resident at Salters Hall between 1851-1869.