Born into a family of the landed English gentry, Polhill attended Eton, where he won a place on the college cricket team, and Jesus College, Cambridge. Converted in 1884, he was encouraged by J. Hudson Taylor to pursue his calling as a missionary. With his brother, Arthur, and five fellow Cambridge graduates (the famous Cambridge Seven), he went to China in 1885 with the China Inland Mission (CIM). He returned to England in 1900 due to ill health, and inherited Howbury Hall near Bedford in 1903.
News of the Welsh Revival and similar awakening in other parts of the world prompted him in early 1908 to visit the Azusa Street revival in Los Angeles, California, led in part by William J. Seymour. Receiving the baptism in the Holy Spirit himself in February 1908, Polhill returned home. Along with Alexander A. Boddy, Anglican vicar of All Saints Church, Sunderland (whose Whitsuntide Conferences spawned the Pentecostal movement in England), he founded the Pentecostal Missionary Union for Great Britain and Ireland (PMU) in 1909. It was the first organized and successful Pentecostal missions agency; Polhill served as its president and directed its operation until 1925, when it was integrated into the newly established Assemblies of God of Great Britain and Ireland. He subsequently retired.
Poihill was the formative influence on the PMU and contributed substantially to its financial needs. It was modeled somewhat after the CIM. The first group of missionaries traveled to China in 1910, and others worked in Tibet and India. The activities of the agency were promoted through Polhill’s personal efforts, reports in Confidence (edited by Boddy), and Polhill’s publication Fragments of Flame (later titled Flames of Fire).
This article is reprinted from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, Macmillan Reference USA, copyright (c) 1998 Gerald H. Anderson, by permission of The Gale Group; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.
- Edith Blumhofer, “Alexander Boddy and the Rise of Pentecostalism in Great Britain,” Pneuma: The Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies 8 (Spring 1986): 31-40; Donald Gee, Wind and Flame (1980); Peter Hocken, “Cecil H. Polhill: Pentecostal Layman,” Pneuma: The Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies 10 (Fall 1988): 116-140; John Pollock, The Cambridge Seven (1955). Polhill’s memoirs are held in the Assemblies of God archives, Springfield, Mo.