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Octavia Hill
(December 3, 1838 - August 13, 1912) U.K.

Octavia Hill

Social reformer


Octavia Hill was born in Wisbech the eighth daughter of James Hill, corn-merchant and banker, who was noted locally for his good work in municipal and educational reform. Her mother was Caroline Southwood Smith, daughter of Dr. Thomas Southwood Smith, well known as an authority on fever epidemics and sanitation.

Octavia, who was an energetic, determined, and affectionate child with much artistic talent, began work in London about 1852 at the Ladies' Guild, a co-operative association promoted by the Christian Socialists, of which her mother became manager. She was soon put in charge of a branch engaged in teaching ragged school-children to make toys, and thus gained her first experience of the lives of the very poor.

During her teens, she came under the influence of the Christian Socialists, and more especially of Frederick Denison Maurice. Another decisive influence in determining her future life and work was that of John Ruskin, whom she first met in 1853, and by whom she was greatly helped in her artistic training.

It was Ruskin also who advised Miss Hill that if she could place the work upon a business footing, paying 5 per cent. upon capital invested in it, it would be taken up and extended by other people. This advice proved to be fully justified, and her successful management led to a steadily increasing number of houses being placed under her charge. Not only did owners of house property turn to her for help, but many who came to know and believe in her work placed large sums of money in her hands for the purchase or building of houses for the very poor.

Meanwhile the increase of work and responsibility left little time for teaching or for art, and in 1874 a group of friends raised a fund which freed Miss Hill for the future from the necessity of earning money, and left her at liberty to devote herself to housing reform. But, even with this assistance, the burden upon her was so great that more than once her health gave way and she was compelled to take a complete holiday. Especially was this so in 1877, when she was taken for a prolonged tour on the Continent by her friend, Miss Yorke, who from this time was closely associated with her life and work.

Her interest in protecting open space for the enjoyment of all led her to be one of the three founders of the National Trust. Strongly motivated by her faith, she never allowed her growing fame to undermine her personal humility. She continued her work until she died in her house, 190 Marylebone Road, having made very complete arrangements for her work to be carried on. She was buried, according to her own instructions, at Crockhain Hill, Kent.


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