An insight into the lives of Sir Rowland Hill and Major John Cartwright

2 Burton Crescent taken in 1907
2 Burton Crescent c 1907 in 'Sir Rowland Hill - the story of a great reformer told by his daughter'

As students come to the end of their first term in the new Garden Halls, two extraordinary people are remembered.

Sir Rowland Hill (1795–1879) and Major John Cartwright (1740-1824), both social and political reformers, were two eminent people connected in some way to the Cartwright Gardens site, and reminders of their presence still stand to this day.

Sir Rowland once lived in a former Georgian house, during the mid-1830s, on the current site of the University’s new Garden Halls.

Sir Rowland came from a progressive education-focused family. He worked as a school teacher, campaigned for social reform and was a talented landscape painter. However Sir Rowland’s fame arose from his campaign to reform the inefficient and expensive postal structure. He is credited as the architect behind the modern postal system including the invention of the postage stamp, known then as the Penny Black. Amusingly, Sir Rowland described the stamp as “a bit of paper just large enough to bear the stamp, and covered at the back with a glutinous wash”.

The postal reforms that Sir Rowland fought for were a huge success. The creation of a system of low and uniformed postal rates changed the British postal service forever, and even swept across the world.

A plaque made to commemorate Sir Rowland was installed on the former Garden Halls of residence. It was removed during refurbishment and replaced by a new English Heritage blue plaque which can be seen on the Cartwright Gardens side of the halls.

A former resident at number seven Cartwright Gardens (formerly known as Burton Crescent) was the English naval officer and political reformer Major John Cartwright.

Cartwright grew up on the Lancashire/Yorkshire borders and at 18 he entered the Royal Navy and quickly rose through the ranks. After 13 years’ service he retired due to ill health. Subsequently his political campaigning intensified. Cartwright’s main concern was the attainment of universal manhood suffrage – allowing all males to vote regardless of their background. During this time he wrote his most recognised paper Take Your Choice (1776).

Cartwright worked tirelessly for the promotion of reform, but also had a keen interest in agricultural improvement. He also co-invested in a large mill, named Revolution Mill, in Nottinghamshire. The idea was to develop a textile industry in Retford. Unfortunately it was unsuccessful and the mill was advertised for sale a few years later.

A monument (built in 1831) of John Cartwright stands in the crescent shaped garden that overlooks the Garden Halls. The Grade II listed bronze statue, by George Clarke, that adorns the plinth has been cleaned, and the bronze refreshed, as part of the improvements to the gardens.

These respected and distinguished men stand out as pioneers of their time. Their determination to bring about change has had a significant positive impact from which we benefit today, and their legacies have now become part of our own heritage.

Perhaps their stories will resonate with the students at the Garden Halls and inspire them to work hard for what they believe in; and their achievements – whatever they may be – will one day be recognised for their positive contribution to society.