Shropshire History

Roland Hill

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Rowland Hill was the second son of John Hill of Hawkstone. He was born at Prees Hall on 11th August 1772 and at the age of seven he was sent to school at Ightfield and then to King’s School in Chester. He was described as a big, good-natured boy who loved gardening and pet animals. In 1970, when he left school in Chester, he joined the army and was appointed as an ensign in the 38th (Staffordshire) Regiment of Foot. Although the regiment was in Ireland at that time, he obtained leave to study at the military school in Strasburg until the end of the year. He was promoted to lieutenant in 1791 in the independent company of foot commanded by Captain Broughton at Wrotham in Kent. The following year he was transferred to the 53rd (Shropshire) Regiment of Foot, with leave to resume his studies at Strasburg. However, the threat of war on the continent made him return home and he joined his regiment at Edinburgh.

 

He was promoted to captain in 1793 and accompanied a Mr Drake, a minister plenipotentiary to the republic of Genoa, in the capacity of assistant secretary. While in Genoa, he obtained leave to accompany an expedition to Toulon, where he served as aide-de-camp to Generals Lord Mulgrave, O'Hara and David Dundas. He then returned home via Ghent and was promoted to major in a new corps of Perthshire volunteers, which became the 90th Regiment of Foot. He was promoted to lieutenant-colonel of the regiment in 1794. He served with that regiment in the garrison of Malta between 1796-8 and was at the Battle of Minorca in 1798. Hill returned home in 1799 but re-joined his regiment for an action against Cadiz in 1800 and an expedition to Egypt in 1801. While there, the regiment took part in Abercromby's advance from Aboukir towards Alexandria and Hill was wounded early in the fight by a musket ball. He re-joined the regiment at El Hamed and commanded them at the surrender of Cairo and at the siege and capitulation of Alexandria.

 

The regiment returned home in 1802 and was ordered to Fort George, Inverness-shire in 1803 to be disbanded. The threat of war with France saved it from that fate and it was sent to Belfast, where Hill was made a brigadier-general. He held commands at Loughrea and Galway until his promotion to major-general in 1805. He commanded a brigade in the Hanover expedition in 1805 and then returned to Shorncliffe. In 1808, Hill commanded a brigade in the force sent to Portugal under Lieutenant-General Sir Arthur Wellesley, with which he fought at Rolica and Vimeiro. When Wellesley returned home, Hill remained in Portugal and commanded a brigade in General John Hope’s division during General Moore's ill-fated campaign in Spain. His brigade was the last to embark at Corunna. In 1809, Hill was sent back to Portugal to serve under Sir John Cradock and, when Sir Arthur Wellesley returned, Hill took over Cradock's command. Hill commanded a brigade in the operations against Oporto, which drove the French Marshal Soult out of Portugal.

 

When General Edward Paget was wounded, Hill took over the Second Division and commanded it at the Battle of Talavera. In 1810, Hill commanded a detached corps (including his own division) and was entrusted with the defence of the Portuguese frontier between the Guadiana and Tagus. He co-operated with Lord Wellington in the campaign of that year and rendered important service, although not actually engaged, at the battle of Busaco. In December 1810, a severe attack of malarial fever sent him to Lisbon and eventually back to England. After a few months at home, Hill recovered his health and resumed his command. When Wellington invested Ciudad Rodrigo, Hill was left in the Alemtejo with the Second and Fourth Divisions and a brigade of cavalry. He received instructions to fall on the French General Gerard and, in Wellington's words, Hill “did the work handsomely”. Hill was promoted to lieutenant-general in 1812 and remained with his corps in the neighbourhood of Badajoz. Hill, with 6,000 men, gallantly stormed the works of Almaraz and was wounded. On Wellington's retreat from Burgos, Hill retired towards the frontier of Portugal and eventually stopped at Coria, where his division passed the winter of 1812-13.

 

At the dissolution of parliament in 1812, the Hon William Hill decided to retire as the MP for Shrewsbury. Sir Rowland Hill's family procured his return for the borough at the general election which followed and he retained his seat until elevated to the peerage. During Wellington final advance in the spring of 1813, Hill's corps formed the right of the allied army and had a prominent share in the subsequent successes which led the allies victorious from the Tagus to the Garonne. Hill commanded the right of the army at the Battle of Vittoria and blockaded Pampeluna. When the allied army was reorganised on French soil, the right corps was assigned to Hill, with the Second and Fourth British and a Portuguese Division, with Mina's and Murillo's Corps of Spaniards attached. Hill took part in the Battle of Nivelle and in the operations on the Nive in the following month. He captured the town of Aire in 1814 and, at the final battle in April 1814 before Toulouse, he was left in command after Wellington went to Paris. After the end of the war, Hill was created Baron Hill of Almaraz and Hardwicke (Hardwicke Grange being a small property near Shrewsbury left him by his uncle). He was awarded a pension of £2,000 a year and Wellington recommended him for the governorship of Gibraltar, which Beresford had refused.

 

A memorial, known as Lord Hill's column, 133ft high surmounted by a statue, was erected beside the London Road in Shrewsbury by public subscription at a cost of £6,000. When the news came of Napoleon’s return from Elba, Hill was in London and was despatched by the cabinet to urge the Prince of Orange to keep his troops (which included a British contingent) out of harm's way until larger forces could be massed on the frontier. Hill arrived in Brussels in April 1815 and was followed by Wellington three days afterwards. The troops in the Netherlands were rapidly formed in two large army corps, the command of one being given to the Prince of Orange and the other to Lord Hill. Hill's command included the 2nd and 4th British Divisions with artillery attached, a cavalry brigade of the King's German Legion, the Dutch-Indian contingent and a Dutch-Belgian division of all arms under Prince Frederick of the Netherlands. Some Hanoverian Landwehr Brigades were added.

 

At the Battle of Waterloo, Hill's corps was posted on the right of the Nivelle road. Hill placed himself at the head of the brigade, which was lying down on the ridge exchanging volleys with the French imperial guard, but had his horse shot under him and was knocked over and badly contused. For more than half an hour he was lost in the confusion and believed by his staff to be killed. Hill passed the night with his staff in a small house beside the Brussels road, where they had spent the night before the battle. He advanced with the army to Paris and commanded the troops which took over the defences. When Hill had to go home from Paris on family affairs, the Duke of Wellington wrote a sympathetic letter acknowledging how much he owed to his aid. Hill returned to France and was second in command of the army of occupation under Wellington, until the final withdrawal of the troops in 1818. He then retired to his estate at Hardwicke Grange, where he resided for some years, occupying himself with farming, hunting, fishing and shooting. In 1821, George IV chose him to bear the royal standard at the coronation. When the Duke of Wellington became prime minister in 1828, Hill was appointed to the command of the army, with the title of General Commanding-in-Chief. He held this post for over fourteen years until ill health forced him to resign. He was made a Viscount and retired to his home at Hardwicke Grange, where he died unmarried in December 1842. He is buried in Hadnall Church.

 

 

Lord Hill’s column gives its name to a borough ward, which is simply called "Column" ward. It is possible to climb up the inside using steps to reach the top.  The column has been listed by English Heritage as a Grade II* structure. In 2013 it became unsafe due to falling masonry and was repaired.