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Francis James Chavasse, (1846–1928)

Francis James Chavasse
Francis James Chavasse, (1846–1928), bishop of Liverpool, was born on 27 September 1846 at Sutton Coldfield, the eldest son of Thomas Chavasse FRCS, and his second wife, Miriam Sarah Wyld. As a child he was sent to Chesterfield grammar school, and following a long illness, and after private tuition entered Corpus Christi College, Oxford. He took his degree with a first class in the final school of law and modern history in 1869 and MA in 1872. He was ordained at Manchester in 1870 and, after holding a curacy (1870–73) at St Paul's, Preston, became vicar of St Paul's, Upper Holloway (1873–7) and rector of St Peter-le-Bailey, Oxford (1877–89). There the success of his Greek Testament readings for undergraduates and his widespread influence led to his being appointed principal of Wycliffe Hall in 1889. On the retirement of Bishop John Charles Ryle in 1900, Chavasse was nominated by Lord Salisbury to the see of Liverpool, and spent twenty-three years in that diocese.

Bishop of Liverpool, J C Ryle
In 1899, the octogenarian Bishop of Liverpool, J C Ryle, gave the Archbishop of York notice that he intended to retire on 1 March 1900. At that time, the appointment of Anglican bishops was decided by the British prime minister, who in 1899 was Lord Salisbury. He caused some surprise by offering the bishopric of Liverpool to Chavasse; the diocese was predominantly evangelical, but other eminent clerics from that wing of the church, such as Handley Moule, were better known. Chavasse, however, had gained the trust and affection of all wings of the church while in Oxford, and his appointment at Liverpool was widely welcomed. The Manchester Guardian commented "Whereas Dr. Ryle's Low Churchmanship, though mellowed by the years, was still combative; Dr. Chavasse was the least pugnacious of partisans. Liverpool welcomed him with acclamation and remained enthusiastically loyal to him."
One of the few people uncertain about Chavasse's appointment was Chavasse himself. While pondering Salisbury's offer, he had written to a friend, "A man with my feeble body, average ability and temperament can hardly be intended by God for such a diocese. God is blessing Wycliffe, and ought I to leave it at present? Can I not do more good by training bishops than becoming one?" He finally accepted the post, and was consecrated bishop at York Minster on 25 April 1900. He was enthroned as Bishop of Liverpool on 31 May 1900.

The Lady Chapel, Liverpool Cathedral.
completed 29th June 1910
Francis James Chavasse is remembered as the effective founder of Liverpool Cathedral for, although the project of a new cathedral had been mooted in his predecessor's time, the pressure of other work, the heated atmosphere of Liverpool churchmanship, and the controversy over the proposed site led Bishop Ryle to stay his hand. He left the way open, however, for Chavasse, a fellow evangelical, but a man of wider sympathies and therefore more fitted to such a difficult undertaking. After ten years the lady chapel of the new cathedral was opened for regular service (1910). Thirteen years later, when the first section of the main fabric, the choir and transepts, was nearing completion, Chavasse thought that the time had come for a younger man to replace him. He resigned and retired to Oxford, where he was elected an honorary fellow of Corpus Christi College. He interested himself once more in undergraduate life and meditated on the possibility of a new collegiate foundation in the university, which would make use of New Inn Hall with the adjacent buildings attached to his former parish church of St Peter-le-Bailey, as an institution for undergraduates of moderate means and evangelical views. His scheme matured, and in February 1929 St Peter's Hall, which had opened, in memory of him, in 1928 as a hostel for undergraduates, was granted the status of a permanent private hall within the university, with his eldest son, Christopher Maude Chavasse (1884–1962), as its first master. Later it became St Peter's College.

Captain Noel Chavasse
Chavasse was one of the finest among the hard-working evangelical clergy of his time. His earlier teaching, both at St Peter-le-Bailey and at Wycliffe Hall, was fruitful in the training of men who in their parochial work combined, after his example, evangelical conviction with commitment to the Church of England. In his prime he was an effective preacher; though not much interested in academic theology, his sermons compensated for their lack of intellectual distinction by their wide appeal. He combined cogency of thought, vigorous delivery, and obvious sincerity, but Chavasse's Christian life and example were his real message. His years in Liverpool included those of the First World War and he was indefatigable in pastoral work during that difficult period. Chavasse had married in 1881 Edith (d. 1927), younger daughter of Canon Joseph Maude, vicar of Chirk, Denbighshire; they had four sons and three daughters. All four of Chavasse's sons served with distinction in the First World War. The eldest, Christopher Chavasse, won the Military Cross and the Croix de Guerre. He later became rector of St Aldate's, Oxford and subsequently Bishop of Rochester. His twin brother, Noel, a surgeon, who won the Military Cross and the only double Victoria Cross awarded throughout the war, was killed in action in 1917. The third son, Francis Bernard, won the Military Cross and later became a leading ophthalmic surgeon. The youngest, Aidan, was killed in action in 1917. Chavasse's wife died in 1927. In 1986, the Chavasses' twin daughters May and Marjorie entered the British record books, celebrating their 100th birthdays. May Chavasse died before her 101st birthday but Marjorie lived to the age of 103.

Francis James Chavasse died at St Peter's House, New Inn Hall Street, Oxford, on 11 March 1928. He was buried in the founder's plot at Liverpool Cathedral on 17 March. A memorial church, Christ Church, was subsequently built in a suburb of Liverpool, Norris Green.


Liverpool Central Library
Liverpool Records Office
Oxford Reference
Liverpool Cathedral

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