Sir Rowland Hill KCB, FRS (3 December 1795 – 27 August 1879)

Rowland was born on 3 December 1795 in Kidderminster, Worcestershire, England. He was a British administrator and educator. He was the originator of the penny postage system, a system in which normal letters could be sent for one penny. He had a wide range of interest which included printing, astronomy, mathematics, and transportation.

Sir Rowland
Sir Rowland

Sir Rowland’s early life

Rowland’s father Thomas Wright Hill was a school teacher. His father was an innovator in education and politics and his friends included Joseph Priestley, Tom Paine, and Richard Price.

Rowland became a student- teacher in his father’s school, at the age of 12. He earned extra money by teaching astronomy. This money helped him in fixing scientific instruments. He worked at the Assay Office in Birmingham. This office was for testing the quality of silver. During his spare time, he painted landscapes.

Sir Rowland’s work

  • Reform in the Postal System
    He was known for the development of the modern postal system. This system was later adopted throughout the world. Between 1835 and 1837 he formulated a proposal for postal reform. It was based on the notion that revenue was derived from taxes which would increase with the growth of the population and national prosperity. He suggested for a lower cost on letters, as high taxes reduced the amount of mail used.

    Sir Rowland Hill Postage Stamp
    Sir Rowland Hill Postage Stamp

    This reduced the revenue from mails. Hence his reforms included a uniform postage rate irrespective of the distance, as excessive rates for letters traveling different distances increased the expenses. He also suggested that mails should be prepaid. To bring prepaid mailing to effect, he suggested a device that later came to be known as the postage stamp. He succeeded to put these to effect in 1840, though he had to face a lot of bureaucratic hostility.

  • Reforms in EducationRowland was interested in the problems of teaching. He operated schools for 15 years. He emphasized on student democracy, rigid self- discipline and intensive teaching. He moved his father’s school “Hill Top” from central Birmingham and established the Hazelwood School at Edgbaston in 1819.


  • Hazelwood was a model for public education for the emerging middle class. It aimed for useful, student-centric education which gave sufficient knowledge, skills, and understanding for students for self-education through life, which would be very useful for the society and for the individual.


  • The school designed by Hill included innovations such as a science laboratory, a swimming pool, and forced-air heating. In 1822 he had written ‘Plans for the Government and Liberal Instruction of Boys in Large Numbers Drawn from Experience’ which was cited as Public Education.


  • Rowland argued that kindness would have moral influence rather than caning and fear. According to him, this would be a predominant force in school discipline. Science was a compulsory subject and students were to be self-governing.
    Birmingham Assay Office (1877)
    Birmingham Assay Office (1877)

    When French education leader Marc Antoine Jillian visited Hazelwood, it gained international attention. Antoine wrote about the school in his journal Revue Encyclope’dique in June 1823. He transferred his son to Hazelwood. Jerry Bentham was an English philosopher, social reformer and founder of modern utilitarianism. He was impressed with Hazelwood and so in 1827, he opened a branch of the school at Bruce Castle in Tottenham.

    The original Hazelwood School closed in 1833. And its educational system continued at the Bruce Castel School. There Rowland was the headmaster from 1827 up to 1839.

    Sir Rowland’s achievements

    Sir Rowland knighted in 1860. He was awarded the KCB- Knight Commander of the Bath. Order of Bath is a British order of chivalry. This was founded by George I on 18 May 1725.  He was also awarded FRS- Fellow of the Royal Society. It is an award granted to an individual for their contribution in the various field.

    Sir Rowland’s later life

    Rowland continued at the post office until the Conservative Party won in 1841. He was dismissed in July 1842, amid rancorous controversy. He along with Edwin Chadwick, John Stuart Mill, Lyon Playfair, Dr. Neil Arnott, and other friends formed a society called ‘Friends in Council’ in 1844. They met at each other’s house to discuss questions of political economy. Rowland also became a member of the influential Political Economy Club. This Club was founded by David Ricardo and other classic economists.

    In 1879, he died in Hampstead, London. He was buried in Westminster Abbey. On his family grave in Highgate Cemetery, his memorial is there. In Hampstead and Tottenham, there are streets named after him. In 1893 A Royal Society of Arts Blue Plaque was unveiled to commemorate Rowland.

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