Author & Composer
b Tregynon, nr Newtown, Powys (Montgomeryshire), N Wales 1725, d London 1799. Orphaned at the age of 4, he grew up as a ‘wild and reckless youth’ with what might today be called anti-social or challenging behaviour. Bad debts cut short a shoemaking apprenticeship in his home town, but after staying at Shrewsbury and Wrexham he heard George Whitefield preach at Bristol. This, with Zech 3:2, was the turning point; he settled as a shoemaker in Bradford-on-Avon, meticulously paid his debts, and joined the Methodist society (as it was then) at Tregynon. ‘The love I had for Mr Whitefield’, he said, ‘was inexpressible’; but in 1753 John Wesley appointed him an itinerant lay preacher, a position he held for some 46 years, travelling on horseback and sharing the hardships, persecution and blessings of the revival years. He also became for some years a sub-editor of Wesley’s Arminian Magazine, attracting some of Toplady’s more contemptuous fire, until in 1789 his mistakes became too much for his mentor and chief, who also objected to articles added by Olivers without permission. But he also had some hand in preparing the movement’s early hymn-books for the press, including the classic 1780 Collection, and wrote an admiring elegy on the death of John Wesley. The tune HELMSLEY has sometimes been ascribed to him, but see notes to 511. He retired in 1790, remained mostly in London, outlived Wesley by some 8 years and was buried beside him at the City Road Chapel. A belated memoir by J Kirk appeared in 1868, in a volume of his hymns and other verse edited by D Sedgwick. No.199.