Rowland Hill (1744-1833)
Rowland Hill was a son of Sir Rowland Hill of Hawkstone in Shropshire, and a brother of the evangelical Sir Richard Hill M.P.
He was educated at Eton and Cambridge where he led a Holy Club similar to the one at Oxford.
Following graduation, Hill spent four years preaching around England and Wales. After many refusals, he was ordained a deacon in the Church of England in 1773, but was denied Priest's orders because of his persistent itinerant preaching.
Hill served as a curate in Somerset but continued to itinerate for the Countess of Huntingdon, until she withdrew her support in 1781.
Hill settled with his wife Mary Tudway at Wotton-under-Edge in Gloucestershire and built his own chapel there, to which he welcomed evangelicals of any denomination. He also built Surrey Chapel in London in 1783 and acquired a third chapel in Leamington Spa in 1831. His custom was to divide his time between his chapels, employing assistant ministers to preach in his absence.
Surrey Chapel was the focus of Hill's ministry. It had seating for three thousand and at one time had thirteen Sunday Schools attached to it - Hill was the the pioneer of Sunday Schools in the capital. He also sponsored a Dorcas Society for the relief of poor married women, an almshouse and a school for poor girls. He was also an enthusiastic supporter of the London Missionary Society and served as the first chairman of the Religious Tract Society.
Hill's eloquent and eccentric preaching attracted large congregations and he was still preaching six or seven times a week until a short time before his death. While professing to be a loyal Anglican, he refused to admit any restrictions on his own ministry. An early ecumenist, Hill was particularly devoted to the cause of evangelical unity and refused to allow any doctrinal restrictions to be placed on the work of the British and Foreign Bible Society.
No stranger to persecution in his early days, Hill became a much loved and respected figure.
Source: Encyclopedia of World Methodism (1974), Dictionary of National Biography and Dictionary of Evangelical Biography, edited by Donald Lewis (1995)