Happy Birthday, Octavia Hill

Today, December 3rd, is the birthday of Octavia Hill, one of the founders of the National Trust.


Octavia was born in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire in 1838, the eighth daughter of James Hill, a prosperous corn merchant and former banker. The family experienced financial reverses, and Caroline Hill, Octavia’s mother, brought up her children alone in Finchley, London. Octavia learned her lifelong love of the countryside from these childhood days, “leaping ditches and climbing trees.”

While growing up, Octavia was influenced by her maternal grandfather, Dr. Thomas Southwood Smith, a leading social reformer. Another early influence was prominent art critic John Ruskin, who was disenchanted with the existing social order.


In 1864, Octavia persuaded Ruskin to  purchase three houses in a notorious London slum known as “Little Hell”  for her to manage.  Her aim was to make “lives noble, homes happy, and family life good.”

Octavia’s determination, personality and skill transformed the poverty-stricken houses into tolerably harmonious communities. Communal facilities such as meeting halls, savings clubs and dramatic productions were established, enhancing the lives of tenants. She is viewed as the founder of modern social casework.

Octavia believed in the life-enhancing virtues of “pure earth, clean air and blue sky”.  In 1895, Octavia, Robert Hunter and Hardwicke Rawnsley worked together to raise public awareness of the railway developments threatening the Lake District. This collaboration led to the foundation of The National Trust for the Preservation of Historic Buildings and Natural Beauty, to hold land and buildings in perpetuity “for ever, for everyone”.

In 1995, to mark the centenary of the National Trust, a new variety of rose, “Octavia Hill”, was named in her honor.


4 thoughts on “Happy Birthday, Octavia Hill

  1. […] Happy Birthday, Octavia Hill (romancingthebee.com) […]

  2. […] tributes series to Queen Bees on her blog. (scroll down for her Girl History posts).  Her post on Octavia Hill preceded the current series a bit, but I am sure Deborah will agree that she belongs right up there […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s