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Dwelly, Frederick William (1881–1957), Church of England clergyman, was born at East Street, Chard, Somerset, on 9 April 1881, the tenth child of Robert Dwelly (1842–1927), carriage builder and local councillor, and his wife, Caroline, née Cooper (1837/8–1928). They were a deeply Christian family. After Chard endowed grammar school, he went to London and worked in an Oxford Street store. His weekends were spent in social and religious work in the East End. Through the influence of an unknown businessman and the Revd F. S. Webster of All Souls, Langham Place, he proceeded to Queens' College, Cambridge, in 1903, where his examination results did not suggest that he was in any way outstanding academically. Dissatisfaction with what he felt as unreality and artificiality in college religious services turned his mind away from ordination until he attended a series of lectures entitled ‘Truth and Falsehood in Religion’, delivered by the Revd William Ralph Inge in Lent term 1906. The artistic, modernist, and mystical elements of Inge's teaching had a profound influence on him.

Dwelly was ordained deacon in Carlisle Cathedral in 1906, to serve his title at St Mary's, Windermere, and in June 1907 he married Mary Bradshaw Darwin (1880–1950), daughter of George Henry Darwin, medical practitioner. They had no children. He became immensely popular at Windermere and later as a result of the ill health of the vicar he undertook the leadership of the parish. In 1911 the parishioners' warden judged him to be a priest of power and ability. He combined organizational abilities, whether as active chaplain to boy scouts or running parish finances, with those of an eloquent preacher able to present Christian truths as ‘a living reality’. In 1911 he was appointed senior curate at St Mary's Church, Cheltenham, where Canon L'Estrange Fawcett charged him with the spiritual renewal of the old parish church. Again he proved popular and successful.

In February 1916 Dwelly was made vicar of Emmanuel Church, Southport. His influence spread through the National Mission of Repentance and Hope in which he was a bishop's messenger. He also became involved in the Life and Liberty Movement under William Temple and Dick Sheppard. He had an acknowledged flare for liturgy and played a positive role in prayer book revision. His hand is clear in A New Prayer Book, known as the Grey Book (1923), with a foreword by William Temple. The compilers (Percy Dearmer, Dwelly, R. G. Evans, F. R. Barry, Leslie Hunter, and Mervyn Haigh) believed ‘that there is need for more experiment and freedom in worship in the church, with special services for those who do not come to the usual offices’.

When Liverpool Cathedral was consecrated on 19 July 1924, no other cathedral had been consecrated on an unconsecrated site since Salisbury in 1225. On the advice of Charles Raven, Albert Augustus David, bishop of Liverpool, appointed Dwelly ceremoniarius with responsibility for researching, writing, rehearsing, and participating in the consecration service. The special service book is sixty-four pages long, the first of many Dwelly service papers unique to Liverpool Cathedral. He had researched past precedents but did so with the vision, imagination, originality and freshness of an artist. The immense success of the service made Dwelly widely known.

In May 1925 Dwelly was installed as a residentiary canon of Liverpool and began a fruitful ministry alongside Charles Raven. An 8.30 p.m. preaching service became popular across the diocese. Liverpool was the first diocese to establish formal continuing education for young priests and the weekly lectures were led by Dwelly and Raven. Dwelly was in demand nationally to assist in designing special services and was largely responsible for the enthronement service of Archbishop Cosmo Lang at Canterbury in 1928. Later in his career he devised the consecration services for Derby and Cairo cathedrals. He co-operated with his friend Percy Dearmer over the compilation of Songs of Praise, the cathedral's hymn book, and he commissioned new work for Liverpool Cathedral from Vaughan Williams, Gustav Holst, Martin Shaw, and John Masefield. He also established a faithful team to support his work, which included the Cross Guild, a team of former choristers essential for the effectiveness of choreography and processions.

Dwelly was appointed vice-dean in 1928 and at the foundation of the dean and chapter in 1931 he became the first dean of Liverpool, a position he held until 1955. He created special services of freshness, relevance, and originality which placed Liverpool in the vanguard of developments in cathedral worship across the country, as William Temple acknowledged in 1931 when he paid tribute to the distinctive place which Liverpool Cathedral had come to hold in the life of the church. Preaching at Liverpool in June 1945, Cyril Garbett declared, ‘your public worship has been made beautiful with music and symbolism. In the richness and colour and pageantry as well as variety and originality, your services hold a special place in the Anglican Communion’ (Kennerley, Dwelly, 211). The citation for his award of an honorary LLD from Liverpool University in 1954 declared, ‘He makes art the manifestation of religion not religion the manifestation of art’ (ibid., 217). Clifford Martin, David's successor as bishop of Liverpool, wrote: ‘You have to go to Liverpool Cathedral if you want to walk to the glory of God. Every procession is an act of worship’ (ibid., 270).

There was conflict during Dwelly's years as dean of Liverpool, including a breakdown of relations with the bishop, David. There was also national notoriety arising from his invitations to two Unitarian ministers, L. P. Jacks and Lawrence Redfern, to preach in the cathedral in 1933. Some thought him stern, autocratic, and unco-operative, but most appreciated his warmth and humanity, his brilliance with children, his ability to draw people ‘more than any person I have ever known’ (W. E. Harston Morris, quoted in Kennerley, Dwelly, 268), and his ‘genius for friendship’ (Charles Raven, ibid., 272). He was dedicated to his cathedral, taking up residence during the blitz. In 1947 he delivered a series of lectures on pastoral theology in Cambridge and preached the annual Hulsean sermon. There was a breakdown in his marriage and his wife died in 1950. His own physical and mental health began to deteriorate and, following his resignation as dean in 1955, he died at his home, 6 Grove Park, Liverpool, on 9 May 1957. He was cremated and his ashes placed temporarily in the sanctuary at Liverpool Cathedral until a memorial to him was unveiled in December 1960. His influence remains strong in the pattern and style of cathedral worship.

Peter Kennerley


P. Kennerley, Frederick William Dwelly: first dean of Liverpool, 1888–1957 (2004) · P. Kennerley, The building of Liverpool Cathedral, new edn (2008) · C. E. Raven, Liverpool Cathedral: an impression of its early years (1933) · The Times (10 May 1957) · Manchester Guardian (10 May 1957) · b. cert. · d. cert.


Liverpool Cathedral


photographs, repro. in Kennerley, Frederick William Dwelly

Wealth at death  

£793 7s. 7d.: probate, 12 July 1957, CGPLA Eng. & Wales