Reginald Radcliffe was born in Great George Square, Liverpool on 10th January 1825. He was the sixth son of Richard Radcliffe, an eminent lawyer. His family later moved to Haymanís Green, in a lovely old house near West Derby Village, and after being privately educated for a while with his brothers he attended the Royal Institution in Liverpool, at that time a large public school. After leaving school, being destined by his father for a legal career he was articled as a law clerk in the office of a Mr George Duncan. It was in this profession that he remained for the rest of his life, a career that was also followed by his son Reginald Heber Radcliffe.
The date of his conversion is not clear, but he does seem to have been a Christian from a very early age, and to have been eagerly involved in Christian work from being a youth. One of the activities in which he became involved was the commencement of a ragged school together with a friend of his, Alfred Jones. Somebody who knew him in those early years, once visited this school, in Old Swan, which he said was being carried on in the face of great opposition and difficulties. He remarked how impressed he was with Radcliffeís prayer in the workerís meeting, which he said was so earnest and real, with such evident faith and expectation in his approach to God that this made a lasting impression upon him.
Open air meetings
Fierce opposition was one of the things that Radcliffe was familiar with from an early age and this was particularly so at the open-air meetings that he took in Liverpool together with a curate by the name of Rev Wolsey. On a number of occasions he was driven out of Scotland Road with stones for preaching that Jesus was the only Saviour. On one of these occasions Rev Wolsey said to Radcliffe that he would show him a pulpit and the two young preachers, accompanied by the police as they were driven with stones before the crowd to St Johnís Church-yard when Wolsey pointed to a raised grave-stone which Radcliffe soon mounted to preach.
On one occasion while Radcliffe was still a youth he made a special trip on his own to London with the sole object of preaching there in the open-air. Looking around for a suitable pulpit he wandered to Primrose Hill. Standing there on a seat he began with his wonderfully clear voice to read the 53rd Chapter of Isaiah. This unusual sound soon brought him to the attention of a constable, who ordered him to stop speaking. Radcliffe immediately asked him where the bounds of his land were. Being shown the limit, he simply crossed the hedge and began to preach the Gospel within sound of the people on both sides of the hedge.
So eager was the young Radcliffe to spread the Gospel in those days (as indeed he was throughout his life) that one of his many plans for doing so was, many years before the Gideons came on the scene, to place a Bible in the bedrooms of the lodging-houses and hotels of Southport as well as in some of the railway waiting rooms.
His marriage to Jane Hunter
Jane Radcliffe in later life
In the autumn of 1849 Radcliffe borrowed a guide book of Wales from a friend, and bag in hand, proceeded to the Pier Head in order to catch a Welsh boat for a holiday trip. Without knowing why, he stood and watched the boat leave without him. Turning round, he gave the guidebook back to his friend, and took a train to Edinburgh. He was at that time much in prayer that if it were for Godís glory he should be married, and trusted Him to point him to the right person. The diverted holiday arrangement indeed proved to be Godís leading because it was in Edinburgh that he met the girl who was to be his wife and they were married the following year in August 1850, in Liverpool. Ļ
Early married life
Their first home was at 15 Percy Street in Liverpool, close to where the Anglican Cathedral is now situated. One of their first engagements was the commencement of a prayer meeting on Saturday evenings and this was kept up for many years wherever they happened to be living. This time of prayer was looked upon as a wellspring of blessing by both the Radcliffes and also a band of co-workers who joined with them, which resulted in many answers to prayer in the years that followed.
Ministry amongst the colliers of Prescot
About a year after they were married they moved to Rainhill, about 10 miles from Liverpool where they stayed for about 9 months and the country around was soon scoured for opportunities of telling people of Godís love. The colliers of Prescot were particularly visited and brought to their cottage. So black were they, that once the dining-room carpet had to be lifted and almost washed after a Saturday night prayer meeting. The colliers came from their work hungry and unwashed, but God moved amongst them in a most wonderful way. One night, instead of going away when the time was over, several remained on their knees until a late hour, crying for mercy and three came to the Lord that night with another one left in a state of great anxiety. This young manís wife was ill and he pleaded with the Lord to not let her die until she had come to know the Saviour. After a severe illness she recovered and with joy her husband brought her to the Saturday night prayer meeting with twelve pennies to be given to the Lord as a thank offering. One by one God led many of these colliers from Snig Lane, Prescot to salvation.
Visit of Queen Victoria to Rainhill
Reginald Radcliffe throughout his life often sought to maximise every opportunity of preaching the gospel. One such occasion was in 1851 when Queen Victoria, accompanied by Prince Albert and the young Prince of Wales, was visiting the neighbourhood of Liverpool. She left the train at Rainhill Station to stay with the Earl of Sefton at Croxteth Hall. Obtaining permission for some of the town missionaries to come to Rainhill for the occasion they distributed tracts to the vast crowds of people who had come to see the Queen. When the work was over they met up together in the cottage for a time of prayer and singing.
This was to be the first step towards a great movement which Radcliffe afterwards instituted in sending the Gospel to many of the crowds at racecourses, executions and fairs throughout the UK, which we will see in an outstanding way in the following chapters.
Ļ Jane was also born in Liverpool.