He was born in Yorkshire on 3 October 1911, on an isolated farm south-west of Darlington, the youngest son of a farm-labourer. After training at Victoria Park, Manchester, he began a ministry characterized by strong evangelical convictions. He served as a part-time chaplain during World War II and played a leading part in the Christian Commando Campaigns. He had a powerful ministry at the Albert Hall, Manchester from 1948 to 1954. A pioneer of industrial chaplaincy, he founded and became Principal of the Luton Industrial College. He visited many countries, lecturing in Australia, Canada and the USA. He wrote many articles, but only one book, Militant and Triumphant (1954), a textbook on evangelism based on a series of articles for the British Weekly. He was President of the Conference in 1979. In retirement he launched the Christ and the Cosmos initiative to promote the study of the inter-relationship between science and religion. He died in Glasgow on 23 May 1991.
His son David Gowland (b.1942) lectures in modern history at the University of Dundee. He has specialized in the study of Britain and the European Union and of church and society since 1800. Apart from collaborating with Stuart Roebuck in a biography of his father, his work on the history of Methodism includes an important study of Methodist Secessions: the Origins of Free Methodism in Three Lancashire Towns (1979) and, with A.J. Hayes, Scottish Methodism in the Early Victorian Period: the Scottish Correspondence of the Rev. Jabez Bunting 1800-57 (1981).
'His early life, by no means easy, has given him a toughness, and a resiliousness, which some people misunderstand, but which has resulted in a sympathy for and an understanding of the disadvantaged which comes over very strongly….
'The influence of the Christian Commando Campaigns, in which he was an assistant to his hero [Colin Roberts] was absolutely decisive. Here lay the the beginning of his prophetic ministry to the whole church.It was then that his evangelism finally broke free from a narrow ecclesiastical straitjacket. ('You cannot redeem a world you don't understand.') From this point on the message of Chist was taken wherever the evangelist could get. Six years at the Albert Hall, Manchester (1948/54) continued the development. Militant and Triumphant, his first publication, tells the story. Pubs, clubs, cinemas, the streets - all were the locale of the energetic, almost feverish, evengelistic activity… But it was industry - the work-place - that was to be the scene of the new President's greatest contribution.'
Clifford J. Adams, in Methodist Recorder, 26 April 1979
'He was a hunter, but not a raider; he didn't make forays into a community as a freelance missioner and then move on elsewhere. His evangelism was anchored securely at the heart of the Church as a work of the whole people of God and informed by a theology in which word and sacrament, mission and worship were indissolubly joined…
'Like all hunters Bill was a frontiersman. While pastoral peoples tend their flocks and crops in the hinterland, hunters probe the boundaries. Bill lived always on the boundary, right to the end, his ministry looked upwards and outwards. In his eightieth year, when most of his contemporaries had withdrawn from the fray, Bill chose to stand on the lip of outer space, founding and inspiring the "Chrst and the Cosmos" initiative that brought together theolgians, scientists and any concerned Christians to learn more about God's universe through conference and study.'
Colin Morris, in Methodist Recorder, 14 October2016