Hugh Stowell (3 December 1799 – 8 October 1865) was a Church of England clergyman with a reputation as a vigorous firebrand of a preacher. He was an implacable opponent of Catholic emancipation whose supporters built Christ Church in Salford, Lancashire for him, where he remained from its consecration in 1831 until his death. He came to national attention when he was sued by a Roman Catholic priest for claiming that the latter had abused one of his parishioners.
Personal life and career
Stowell was born at Douglas, Isle of Man, on 3 December 1799, the eldest son of Hugh Stowell (1768–1836) and his wife Amelia. He was educated at home before attending St Edmund Hall, Oxford, from where he graduated with a BA in 1822; he was ordained the following year and became curate of the chapelry of Shepscombe in the parish of Painswick. Stowell moved to Trinity Church, Huddersfield, in 1824. By 1828 he had established a reputation as a “vigorous and inspiring” preacher, described by some as an “extemporaneous firebrand”, although his biographer describes his oratorical style as being “distinguished more by fervency than by intellectual depth”. He eventually settled in Salford, Lancashire as the rector of St Stephen’s Church, where in 1828 he married Anne Susannah. The couple had nine children, three sons and six daughters.
Stowell’s supporters built Christ Church, Acton Square, Salford for him; the building was consecrated in 1831.
An implacable opponent of secular education in schools and Roman Catholicism in particular, Stowell became a familiar figure at the meetings of evangelical societies throughout the country. He perceived Protestantism as a political as well as a religious movement, and accordingly campaigned vigorously in support of anti-Catholic candidates in elections.
A libel case brought against him in 1840 by Father Daniel Hearne, a Catholic priest, brought Stowell to national attention. He alleged that Hearne had forced one of his own parishioners, John O’Hara, to crawl on his hands and knees through a Manchester street as a penance. O’Hara was known to be insane and was not called as a witness, Stowell’s defence claiming that whatever a clergyman said in the performance of his duties was not libellous so long as the clergyman believed it to be true. Stowell was found guilty and ordered to pay damages of 40 shillings (equivalent to about £170 in 2017[a]), but that decision was reversed on appeal.
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