Most protestant churches in Europe and North America have developed liberal wings. In Hungary and north-western Romania, in North America and in the British Isles these wings have developed into Unitarian denominations.
In 1662, by the Act of Uniformity the Church of England lost from its ranks those who would not conform to the use of the Book of Common Prayer. By the end of the seventeenth century many non-conformist congregations were well established. A non-conformist meeting house in Castle Hey (now Harrington Street in the city) was licensed for use in 1689, for the congregation now worshipping in Ullet Road Church, by Samuel Angier, who with Christopher Richardson was one of the ministers at the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth, another Unitarian place of worship. These two preached alternately at Toxteth Park and in the city.
No-one knows the exact location of the Castle Hey meeting house but it was abandoned in 1727 for a new building in Bennms Garden. Nothing remains of this building but Chapel Walks is named after it. The minister at the time of the removal was the scholarly Henry Winder. The contents of his library (now at Manchester College, Oxford), which he left to the congregation, show that it was he who laid the foundations which later lead the congregation towards the Unitarian position. Winder is said to have found the Bennms Garden congregation "of very narrow sentiments". Dr. Winder took a good deal of pain to enlarge their minds. He showed them the injustice of impositions on the consciences of men and that human authority in matters of religion, is ridiculous. and absurd. The members of Benn's Garden Chapel were great supporters of the Glorious Revolution of 1689 which secured the throne for the protestant succession. Indeed, so enthusiastic was Henry Winder for the Revolution that in 1745 he loaned the corporation £200 to help protect the town from Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobite rebels.
Merchants and mariners were prominent in the congregation during the eighteenth century. Some of these it has to be admitted were involved in the slave trade and in privateering. On the other hand through the activities of William Roscoe (1753-1831) the congregation did become identified with the anti-slavery cause. Roscoe was intimately associated with the congregation and among other things edited its hymn book. An historian and collector of fine art he was elected M.P. for Liverpool on the minority Whig ticket in 1 806 only to lose his seat in 1811 for voting in the anti-slavery lobby.
Roscoe was buried in the graveyard of Renshaw Street Chapel to which the congregation moved in 1811. The Methodist Central Hall now stands on this Chapel site but the graveyard remains as a pleasant garden accessible from Mount Pleasant. A monument recalls the former chapel. During the eighteenth century the congregation had been quietly moving towards Unitarianism. Unitarianism was still illegal at law until 1813 and the ministers had tended to preach practical morality and religion rather than controversial theology. At the opening of the new Renshaw Street Chapel the visiting preacher much to the disconcertion of some of the congregation and the pleasure of others openly declared that it was a place for Unitarian worship.
The congregation remained at Renshaw Street for most of the century becoming one of the most influential in the city. Towards the end of the century, however, the congregation began to think in terms of a new building more worthy of the role nonconformists were now playing in the life of the city since the repeal of legislation which had kept them out of public office. Thomas Worthington and Son Ltd., the Manchester Unitarian architects, were commissioned to design the new buildings now known as Ullet Road Church. The new church was opened in 1899 and the hall in 1902. It was built at the end of the Gothic revival period and avoided many of the faults of earlier Gothic churches with their long narrow chancels and poor acoustics. The interior contains a wealth of art nouveau. The windows for the most part are from the William Morris workshop to designs by Sir Edward Burne-Jones. The metal work is mostly by Richard Rathbone and the vestry and library ceilings by Gerald Moira.
A walk around the premises will identify from the memorials and windows some of the people associated with the congregation during the last and present centuries: - Lawrence Redfern, minister 1917-1950: Sir Sydney Jones, Lord Mayor of Liverpool 1939-1943; various members of the Holt and Booth families, the Liverpool ship owners; Henry Tate, founder of the sugar firm; Sir John Brunner, M.P. who with Henry Tate gave the cloister and hall to the congregation William Rathbone M.P. the founder of District Nursing and who with Charles Beard minister 1867-1888 were the leading campaigners for the establishment of Liverpool University.