Partner Sophia Jex-Blake, Harriot Yorke
Octavia Hill Birth Place Museum Trust, 8 S Brink, Wisbech PE13 1JB, UK
190 Marylebone Rd, Marylebone, London NW1, UK
Red Cross Garden, 50 Redcross Way, London SE1 1HA, UK
Larksfield Cottage, Kent Hatch Road, Edenbridge, Kent, TN8 6SX
Holy Trinity Church, The Vicarage, Oakdale Ln, Edenbridge TN8 6RL, UK
Octavia Hill (3 December 1838 – 13 August 1912) was an English social reformer, whose main concern was the welfare of the inhabitants of cities, especially London, in the second half of the nineteenth century. Octavia Hill lived with Harriot Yorke for 35 years. An early relationship with Emma Cons, in the 1851-1856 period, is described by Hill’s biographers, as one of those enthusiastic friendships which exercised so marked an influence in Hill’s life. She had a relationship with Sophia Jex-Blake, from 1860 to 1862; when they separated, Hill had a breakdown.
Born into a family with a strong commitment to alleviating poverty, Hill herself grew up in straitened circumstances owing to the financial failure of her father. With no formal schooling, she worked from the age of 14 for the welfare of working people.
Hill was a moving force behind the development of social housing, and her early friendship with John Ruskin enabled her to put her theories into practice with the aid of his initial investment. She believed in self-reliance, and made it a key part of her housing system that she and her assistants knew their tenants personally and encouraged them to better themselves. She was opposed to municipal provision of housing, believing it to be bureaucratic and impersonal.
Another of Hill's concerns was the availability of open spaces for poor people. She campaigned against development on existing suburban woodlands, and helped to save London's Hampstead Heath and Parliament Hill Fields from being built on. She was one of the three founders of the National Trust, set up to preserve places of historic interest or natural beauty for the enjoyment of the British public. She was a founder member of the Charity Organisation Society (now the charity Family Action) which organised charitable grants and pioneered a home-visiting service that formed the basis for modern social work. She was a member of the Royal Commission on the Poor Laws in 1905.
Hill's legacy includes the large holdings of the modern National Trust, several housing projects still run on her lines, a tradition of training for housing managers, and the museum established by the Octavia Hill Society at her birthplace.
An American admirer described her as "ruling over a little kingdom of three thousand loving subjects with an iron scepter twined with roses." Although Hill drove her associates hard, she drove herself harder. In 1877, she collapsed and had to take a break of several months from her work. Darley ascribes a number of contributory causes: "chronic overwork, a lack of delegation, the death of her close friend Jane Senior, the failure of a brief engagement",[n 2] as well as an attack on her by John Ruskin.[n 3] The Hill family found a companion for her, Harriot Yorke (1843–1930). Yorke took on a great amount of the everyday work that had caused Hill's collapse. She remained her companion until Hill's death. A further palliative was the building of a cottage, at Crockham Hill near Sevenoaks in Kent, where they could take breaks from their work in London.
Hill died from cancer on 13 August 1912 at her home in Marylebone, at the age of 73.
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