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Redfern, Lawrence (1888–1967), Unitarian minister, was born at Great Hucklow, Derbyshire, on 27 December 1888, the third son of Robert Stuart Redfern (1851–1922), Unitarian minister at Great Hucklow, and his wife, Emma, née Connell. Educated at the Unitarian College, Manchester, where he was Gaskell scholar, he graduated from Manchester University BA (1911), MA (1912), and BD (1914). A year as Hibbert scholar at Harvard University was followed by appointment as minister to the Unitarian Octagon Chapel in Norwich, where he served from 1914 to 1918. He married on 2 September 1915 Eleanor (1890–1983), daughter of John Rhodes, accountant, of Great Hucklow; they had three sons.

In 1918 Redfern was appointed minister of Ullet Road Unitarian Church in Liverpool, whose congregation included some of the city's most influential families. Tall and dignified—notable for wearing winged collars long after they were thought fashionable—he was a committed pastor, teacher, charismatic preacher, and active member of the local community in Liverpool, playing tennis for a local club. He became well known in the region, serving as chaplain to the high sheriffs of both Cheshire and Lancashire and, for a time, as chairman of the Royal Liverpool Children's Hospital. For more than twenty-five years he was on the committee of the Manchester Unitarian College, and served as college president in 1954.

Redfern's contribution to British Unitarianism included, in 1928, membership of the delegation that created the general assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian churches from the amalgamation of the British and Foreign Unitarian Association and the national conference. A member of the general assembly from its inception, he was associated with the compilation of Hymns of Worship (1927) and the Order of Worship (1932); he was elected president in 1947. International connections included membership of the visit by the Anglo-American commission to religious minorities in Transylvania and Romania (1922); of the British delegacy to the USA, to celebrate the centenary of the British and Foreign Unitarian Association and the American Unitarian Association (1925); and, representing the general assembly, membership of the official tour of Unitarian churches in South Africa, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand (1937).

Redfern made an impression outside north-western and Unitarian circles owing to the publicity accorded him during what became known as the ‘Liverpool controversy’. He became chaplain to Sir Sydney Jones when the latter was appointed high sheriff of Lancashire in 1929. That the high sheriff and his chaplain were both dissenters—Sir Sydney belonged to Ullet Road church—created a problem for the local Anglican church establishment. At the opening of the assizes it was customary for the justices to attend morning service at the local parish church or cathedral and for the high sheriff or his chaplain to preach. Between 1929 and 1933 the invitation to the pulpit was extended neither to Sir Sydney nor to Redfern in any of the Lancashire assize towns of Lancaster, Manchester, or Liverpool, although Redfern had sometimes been invited to read a lesson. But in 1933 the newly appointed dean of Liverpool, F. W. Dwelly, unhappy at this break with tradition which he saw as freighted with unnecessary rejection, invited Redfern to preach at the cathedral assize service on 22 October. Observing events from London, Lord Hugh Cecil demanded that Dwelly and the bishop of Liverpool, A. A. David (who had allowed the Unitarian scholar L. P. Jacks to address a Liverpool Cathedral congregation), be arraigned before the convocation of York for allowing a Unitarian to preach. In June 1934, following a resolution in the upper house proposed by the bishop of Durham, Hensley Henson, both bishop and dean were condemned by convocation, which had been asked whether Unitarians could be considered Christian (Henson thought not) and, therefore, whether they ought to be allowed to be preach at a regular Anglican service.

Dwelly and Charles Raven, canon of the cathedral, sent a letter of apology to Redfern for the decision of convocation. In response Redfern regretted that the cathedral was condemned for acting as an inclusive civic centre: he later published The Unitarian Church and Christian Unity (1935), outlining the Unitarian claim to be part of the Christian church. In spite of the controversy relationships locally appear to have remained good and Redfern appeared with other senior Liverpool clergy on some important occasions. After the May blitz of 1941 he represented the free churches at the mass burial of 559 bodies in Anfield cemetery, alongside the bishop of Liverpool and his Roman Catholic counterpart.

In 1947 Redfern was elected president of the general assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian churches. He left Ullet Road in 1950 to take up his final post as minster of Bournemouth Unitarian Church, a smaller and less demanding church than in Liverpool. He retired in 1960 and died at 38 Queens Park Avenue, Bournemouth, on 17 April 1967.

Pat Starkey


A. R. Ellis, ed., Lawrence Redfern: a memoir (1968) · A. Holt, Walking together: a study in Liverpool nonconformity, 1688–1938 (1938) · P. Kennerley, Frederick William Dwelly: first dean of Liverpool, 1888–1957 (2004) · H. McLachlan, The Unitarian Home Missionary College, 1854–1914 (1915) · L. Redfern, Charles Sydney Jones: memorial address, 19 February 1947 (1947) · The Times (18 April 1967) · Manchester Guardian (18 April 1967)


Liverpool Cathedral, FWD/1/C


E. Chambre Hardman, portrait, repro. in Ellis, ed., Lawrence Redfern

Wealth at death  

£22,915: probate, 17 July 1967, CGPLA Eng. & Wales