William Stephen Gilly

William Stephen Gilly: An exceptionally busy life

His energy, his sometimes eccentric convictions and his failure to consider others’ points of view perhaps hampered the career of W. S. Gilly (1789–1855) in the Church of England. But they contributed to a life which was remarkable in its depth and breadth of achievement – as preacher, writer, social reformer and philanthropist.

Gilly was born in Suffolk and spent his early years in south-east England, including a spell as a student at Christ’s Hospital. He later lambasted the public school system of his day. As a young clergyman in East London he preached to an inattentive Charles Dickens. But the main path of his life was set by two events: his second marriage to a connection of a Bishop of Durham, which brought him access to considerable funds, and his visit to the valleys in Piedmont where Waldensian Protestants had settled.

Gilly spearheaded English attempts to help the Waldensians, including the setting-up of a college to train their pastors. He also became a notable agitator for social reform in north-east England, where he was prebend of Durham Cathedral and vicar of Norham. He worked to relieve poverty in the city of Durham and championed the hinds, the travelling labourers of the Borders region. He published many books and articles, and a number of memorials to his work survive.

This thoughtful and wide-ranging review of Gilly’s life and work is illustrated with maps, genealogies, photographs and contemporary illustrations, including sketches by Gilly’s wife Jane.

Hugh Norwood studied economics and history at Bristol University, and worked as a hospital administrator and town planner. He is the author of a number of papers and articles. He became interested in Gilly following his own visit to the Waldensian valleys. His initial draft of this book was extended and completed after his death by Nicholas Groves, whose doctoral work on the nineteenth-century Church of England was undertaken at the University of Wales, Lampeter. Dr Groves’s previous publications include The Medieval Churches of the City of Norwich.


Reviewers said: 'Hugh Norwood's book fills a notorious gap ... enables such knowledge to be spread more widely.' - Anthony Earl


ISBN 978-0-9568758-8-4
Published October 2014.
272 pages, 234 x 156 mm.
With maps, illustrations, genealogical tables. notes, bibliography and index.