William Rowley, a Draper by trade, came from the area around Bridgenorth. His family, however, had been recorded as merchants in Shrewsbury as early as 1252. It is not clear at what point William moved to Shrewsbury, but he certainly had interests in the town and was named the Burgess in 1594. His business ventures were successful as records show that he employed his brother as his London agent.
The date of the original timber framed house that is known today as Rowley’s house is unclear. One argument is that it was actually built by his business partner, Richard Cherwill, whilst others date it to the period after Rowley owned this site. The first record of Rowley owning the land in the town comes in 1605 when he inherited a plot of land from his now deceased partner. By 1612 he had purchased further land from the Cherwill family and in 1614 he purchased land from the Bugle Inn. In 1616, Rowley set about extending the timber framed house with a brick mansion which became known as Rowley’s Mansion. This was the first such house in Shrewsbury.
In addition to drapery, Rowley also owned a large brewhouse (Richard Cherwill had also been in the brewing industry and so this may have been something he took over from his partner following Cherwill’s death). He became a major brewer and in 1635 Sir William Bereton described it as ‘a vast great brewhouse’. Rowley became a leading person in the town serving as town bailiff from 1628-9 and as Alderman from 1638.
When he died in 1645, the house passed to his brother, Roger and in 1670 to John Hill, husband of Roger’s daughter Priscilla. Following his death in 1680 the house passed to his son, also John, who was a notable person in Shrewsbury serving on the town council and as mayor from 1688-9. Nearby John Hill Street was named after him. When John jr died in 1731 the house passed to Dr Thomas Adams, rector of nearby St Chad’s, who was married to Hill’s daughter. He lived in the house until he left Shrewsbury in 1755 and it is recorded that Dr Samuel Johnson visited on at least one occasion. Little is known about the history of the house after this period, though there are notes that from the early 19th century it had begun to decay. In 1930 many of the mediaeval buildings in this area of the town were demolished, but Rowley’s house was purchased by the corporation, refurbished and opened as the Roman Museum in 1938. In the early 1980s, it underwent another refurbishment in order to become a more general museum about the history of the town. In 2013, the decision was taken to move the museum to a new site in the old music Hall building on the Market Square. Rowley’s House Museum closed in September 2013 and is now used as University Centre Shrewsbury, part of the University of Chester.