Hill, Rowland


b Hawkstone Park, nr Market Drayton, Shrops 1744, d Southwark, Surrey (S London) 1833. Shrewsbury Sch, Eton Coll, and St John’s Coll Cambridge (BA, MA). Converted through his elder brother Richard reading aloud a sermon by John Berridge, as a student he began a small 18th-c precursor of a Christian Union (or the 20th-c CICCU). After Cambridge, to the consternation of his aristocratic parents, he spent 4 years as a travelling preacher, owing much to Berridge (Vicar of Everton, Beds) and George Whitefield. Said by Alan Munden to be ‘too Calvinistic for the Methodists, too much of an itinerant for the CofE, and too hot-tempered for the Countess of Huntingdon’, in 1773 he was made a deacon in the CofE by the Bp of Bath and Wells (Edward Willes) after 6 other prelates had refused. Serving a Somerset curacy at Kingston St Mary nr Taunton, he remained in the anomalous position of an Anglican deacon, like Howell Harris and Thos Kelly and for similar reasons. Using the Prayer Book but also itinerating, his untidy role helped to bridge the gap between CofE and Free Ch evangelicals. After his marriage he had a house and chapel (seating 700) built at Wotton-under-Edge, Glos, together with a schoolroom, almshouse and a woollen mill to provide local employment. Meanwhile for nearly 50 years he had a S London base for the winter months at Surrey Chapel (holding 3000) in Blackfriars, and using his inherited wealth he opened other centres at Cheltenham, Glos, and Leamington Spa, Warwicks. He typically described himself as ‘Rector of Surrey Chapel, Vicar of Wotton-under-Edge, and curate of all the fields, commons etc, throughout England and Wales’. At Toplady’s burial in 1778, at Whitefield’s Tabernacle in Tottenham Court Rd where AMT had loved to attend, somewhat against the wishes of the deceased but in affection for him and his gospel Hill delivered an impassioned impromptu address to the 2000 who had come to mourn. Like the earlier Methodists he endured much ridicule within the church and physical attack outside it. But Surrey Chapel was increasingly the hub of his ministry, where like Whitefield earlier north of the Thames he drew both rich and poor; unlike Whitefield, however, he once exclaimed ‘What miserable work it is to preach to the rich!’. The chapel had a large (3000) Sunday School, extensive social welfare activities, and a floating chapel on the Thames (anticipating St Peter’s Barge in Limehouse by 2 centuries). He gave support to the London Missionary Soc (Congregational in emphasis) and the interdenominational Religious Tract Soc and British and Foreign Bible Soc. Influenced by the advances in vaccination by Dr Edward Jenner in Gloucestershire, Hill also vaccinated crowds of children against smallpox.

Hill’s preaching was vivid and effective with touches of eccentric humour; he wrote copiously, including the fictional Village Dialogues and several hymns, some for children and others revised by the temperamentally opposite but evangelically likeminded Wm Cowper. In the many hymnbooks he edited between 1774 and 1832, all the texts are anonymous, which has made many attributions uncertain. He opposed John Wesley’s teaching on freewill in near-Toplady style, but like the Methodist founder he was still preaching several times a week into his mid-80s. In spite of what some would see as his extreme Protestantism, he is represented in books such as A&M and the up-market The Oxford Hymn Book (1908) by his hymn about the martyrs, variously beginning ‘Lo! round the throne a glorious band’ or ‘Exalted high at God’s right hand’. When Jesus first at heav’n’s command, with its chorus, ‘Hail Emmanuel! Emmanuel we’ll adore’, looks like a neat borrowing from Thomson’s Rule Britannia (1740: ‘When Britain first…’) rather as C Wesley’s Love divine uses the model of Fairest isle; but this time the metre is different. The most recent biography is Tim Shenton’s The Second Whitefield (2006). No.893.

Hymns and songs by Hill, Rowland

Number Hymn Name
893 Cast your burden on the Lord