‘Essays exploring the lives and contributions to society of notable figures in Liverpool Unitarian history’
The Grade 1 Listed Ullet Road Unitarian Church, opened in 1899. © copyright photo: Ron Jones.
The Grade 1 Listed Ullet Road Unitarian Church, opened in 1899. © copyright photo: Ron Jones.

Edited by Daphne Roberts and David Steers. 2014. The Merseyside and District Missionary Association. 128 pages. 52 black and white photographs. Paperback. ISBN 978-0-9929031-0-7. Cover price is £10 although not available in retail outlets. Concessionary price to LHS members £8: contact Philip Waldron, Minister of Ullet Road Unitarian Church on 07828 883484 or philipunitarian@gmail.com. Postage is £2.20.

‘The Unitarian churches on Merseyside have an unbroken history that stretches back over four hundred years. In that time they have included in their number many people who have made remarkable contributions to the life of Liverpool….whether in industry and commerce, in education and the arts or in responding to the needs of society, particularly the poor and marginalised.’

So the cover of this recent book proclaims about the mark left on history by some notable Liverpool Unitarians. The evidence for this becomes clear when one reads the personal backgrounds and achievements of the subjects featured. Of the 17 essays, 13 are brief biographies of dissenters with Liverpool connections, from the truly local William Roscoe, Charles Pierre Melly, Sir Henry Tate, and Sir John Brunner, to the transient but still influential Noah Jones, John Johns, and William Channing. Two families who contributed commercially and philanthropically on a dynastic scale are also discussed: the Rathbones and the Holts. The role of the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth in the foundation and growth of local Unitarianism is highlighted by Bernard Cliffe, its caretaker. He also concludes the collection with some interesting examples from its Visitors’ Book.
The legitimacy of this collection derives from the fact that all nine contributors are active Unitarians; several of whom are, or have been ministers and pastoral activists. They describe these outstanding achievers from an informed perspective of religious faith and moral values. For example, the Unitarian emphasis on universal education and its support for liberalism and political radicalism derive from spiritual principle. David Steers in his essay on William Roscoe, quotes from his subject’s House of Commons speech condemning slavery to a very hostile reception: “…and I consider it the greatest happiness of my life to lift up my voice on this occasion against it, with the friends of justice and humanity.”

This collection does not attempt to chart the history of Liverpool Unitarianism, nor to analyse it as a movement. What it faithfully reveals is the historic debt that Liverpool owes to individuals inspired by their faith to improve the conditions and prospects of its poorest inhabitants. Unitarians were placed apart from the religious and political establishment of the Liverpool of their day. Despite this disadvantage, they set a moral example to these elites, often anonymously, in ‘making a difference’ to its communities’ lives.’
Tony Melling  Chair: Liverpool History Society