Papers of Robert Travers Herford

Scope and Content

Notebooks of R. Travers Herford.

Administrative / Biographical History

Robert Travers Herford was born on 13 March 1860 in Manchester to Charles James Herford, a wine merchant and local philanthropist, and his wife Mary Jane (née Robberds), the sixth of eight children. The family background was staunchly Unitarian. He was educated at Chorlton High School, where he was reputed to have begun teaching himself Hebrew (which was not on the school curriculum) from the age of thirteen. He entered Owen's College in 1877, graduating in 1880 with honours from London University (to which Owen's College was affiliated). Between 1880 and 1883 he attended Manchester College, London where he was particularly influenced by the teaching of James Martineau, who he described later as 'a chief influence in my life', who 'impressed me as the greatest man I ever met, great in intellect, and greater in spiritual power'. After London, he obtained a scholarship to study at Leyden in Holland.

In 1885, Herford became a minister at Stand Chapel. Stand was a small hamlet to the north west of Manchester; he remained there for the next thirty years. In 1914, he moved to London to take responsibility for the running of Dr Williams Library and Trust, which he ran until 1925. In this capacity he produced a historical sketch for the trust, published in 1917, and in 1925 compiled 'A Catalogue of the Hebraica and Judaica in Dr Williams Library'. Whilst living in London he also had charge of congregations in Peckham and Newington Green. Following retirement from the Library, he worked as a tutor in homiletics at the Unitarian College, Manchester in 1926 and 1927, and acted as a 'visitor' to the same institution between 1927 and 1937.

His record of publication was particularly impressive. His early publications included Prophecies of the Captivity (1890) and Memorial of Stand Chapel (1893). He produced doctrinal tracts, including Unitarian Affirmations (1901) andPresent Religion and Historical Theology (1903), as well as publishing copies of his sermons. He became an established scholar of Hebraic studies, doing much to correct the established Christian tradition regarding the character of the Pharisees. He was particularly interested in Talmudic, publishing a large volume, Christianity in Talmud and Midrash in 1903, and contributing to scholarly debates on the subject in later years. He also wrote on politics and current affairs, publishing Realities and Reconstruction in 1920, reflecting upon the Treaty of Versailles. In 1925 he published an article on 'The Old Testament' in a volume of essays edited by J. Estlin Carpenter: Freedom and Truth, and in 1928 the Linsey Press published his Judaism in the New Testament Period. He presented an Essex Hall Lecture in 1933, which was published asSome Safeguards of Civilisation. He contributed to a variety of reference works, including theDictionary of Christ and the Gospels, and theEncyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, and Chambers Encyclopaedia, as well as producing articles for the Christian Reformer and the Hibbert Journal. In 1933, the Soncino Press published hisTalmud and Apocrypha. In old age, he continued to publish scholarly articles on Biblical themes. In recognition of his academic achievements, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by Amsterdam University in 1932 and in 1941 an Hon D Litt by the Jewish Institute of Religion in New York.

Herford took an active part in a variety of Unitarian and secular bodies. Between 1891 and 1907, he was one of the secretaries to the North and East Lancashire Unitarian Mission. He was secretary to the Widows Fund Association, 1908-1914, and for twenty years secretary of the Ministers' Monthly Meeting (known as 'The Apostles'), as well as an officer of the 'Ministers Fraternal' an ecumenical gathering of clergymen and others meeting at the Memorial Hall in Manchester from 1878 onwards. Following retirement, he was appointed Honorary Professor of Semitics by the Presbyterian College, Carmarthen. He was also elected an honorary member of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches between 1926 and 1928 and was the secretary of their National Conference.

He and his wife Margaret had five children. He died on 10 November 1950 at Kelsall, Chester.


H. McLachlan, Robert Travers Herford, A Brief Sketch of his Life and Work, (n.d., Printed for Private Circulation).