Skip to content
You are here: Home » Story of Henry Hill » Chapter Two

Chapter Two

Hill: A Biography built from fragments

In introducing the central character in his biography of Gambart, Jeremy Maas paints his readers a picture. This is of a young man, the future ringmaster for the newly formed circus of the English School of painting, stepping ‘from the gangway of a steamboat at the Port of London’[37]. In this scene in 1840, a young man ‘leans over the side of a steam packet bound for the Port of London’… ‘The boat casts off, after a signal from the captain and a clanging of bells, a blast of steam enters the cylinders. The great paddles begin to turn and are soon churning away rhythmically. The tall stack blows out vast clouds of black smoke. Now they are out at sea.’ In this way, Maas introduces the dealer Ernest Gambart, leaving the coast of France and arriving in London at the start of social upheaval, the Industrial Revolution and the new patronage of the arts by the ‘new men’ of business.

Six years earlier another young man was undertaking a similar journey, also aboard a steam vessel. The picture will have been quite similar, although in this one, the coast would have been English shores. This steamboat departed from Topsham, a small town just three miles from Exeter, on the Exe estuary. Steamboat was the only option at this time other than stagecoach for travel, the railway only opening at Topsham twenty-seven years later, in 1861. On board, Henry Hill, a twenty-two year-old journeyman tailor from Cullompton, a small town in mid-Devon, thirteen miles north-east of Exeter.[38] On shore, a friend and Henry’s younger brother (Edward or Charles), little more than children, waved off their friend and companion.

He arrived at the Port of London after ‘a tedious voyage’ in 1834, just three years before Victoria ascended to the throne, and during the Industrial Revolution in England. Coming to make his way in London, he struggled in the early years. An ‘old friend’ writes in his obituary that Hill ‘landed in London […] with even less than the proverbial half-crown in his pocket. The first few years of his London life were full of anxieties, often of enforced idleness, for work was not always to be had; consequently food was sometimes scanty, but the anxieties never daunted him, nor privation led him to do anything which his father, though long dead, would have disapproved’.[39]

Hill had three brothers (Charles, William and Edward), one sister, and a father ‘long dead’. The responsibility for his family must have weighed heavily on the shoulders of this young man as he stepped ashore at the bustling port. It seems likely that he may also have left behind a sweetheart, a young Devonian named Charlotte Barratt. It seems that his head was not turned by the vagaries of city life, but that he focused on getting on to a stable financial footing and being a good family man. In time, as we will see, he became one of those ‘new men’ of business that provided a new patronage of the arts. As a responsible young man however, with a family to care for, his first priority was to establish himself in business.

Little is known about Hill generally, and even less about his early career. Indeed, most references to his work cite Hill’s later role in the Sussex Rifle Volunteers, after his semi-retirement to Brighton (from which he gained his title of Captain), as his main occupation. Pickvance refers to Hill settling at his Marine Parade address after serving as Quartermaster in the 1st Sussex Rifle Volunteers.[40] Closer to the mark, Gruetzner Robin and Thomson refer to Hill making his money in the clothing (and bedding) market for the army.[41] It is thought that the dealer Durand-Ruel himself referred to Hill as the ‘Tailleur de Brighton’, although without access to the Durand-Ruel Archives, it is not possible to confirm this.[42] In fact, Hill started out in London as a journeyman tailor, knocking door-to-door to find work. Seemingly, his work ethic and amiable manner soon established him with regular work.  To understand the means and motivations of our collector it is important to consider his location and profession. In the case of Hill, these factors are key contributors to the development of both his contacts and collection, and to his philosophy as philanthropist and activist in later life. Without being able to base his actions within a context, the man as collector floats loose from his social and historical moorings.         

Hill lived in London from his arrival in 1837, until his semi-retirement from business in 1865, when he moved to Brighton (although remaining director of Hill Bros. until his death in 1882).[43] He lived in an era of opportunity and change, both in London and across England. In 1837 Queen Victoria came to the throne and with her Prince Consort became an active patron of living artists. Prince Albert organized the Great Exhibition of 1851 with Henry Cole.[44] The rise of industry had changed the economy of the country and a sense of opportunity was in the air. This was accompanied by a revolution in the art market, where dealers, print makers and artists found new patrons in the merchants of this new industry. Henry Hill was one of those principal new players – those merchants, dealers and traders who were buying the work of living artists, becoming patrons to the academicians of the Royal Academy, and other artists. These patrons were changing the cultural landscape of their towns and cities.

The Tailoring Market in London

During Queen Victoria’s reign, Britain had a reputation for military tailoring which was significant in the development of Savile Row. Clothing the military was big business, and Hill, later Hill Bros. was a successful company, with a shop at 3 Old Bond Street, the heart of the tailoring industry in London.[45] It was also a period of great upheaval, increasing unionism and competition. Growing competition in the market came from the Jewish community established in the East end of London, and increasingly through imported clothing from the British Empire, predominantly India. Increasing industrialization and a growing general enthusiasm and taste for uniform as a fashion, combined to make a thriving but competitive market. It was during the industrial revolution in the 1860’s that the first sewing machine was produced. This improved the productivity of the clothing trade, and enabled greater consumer buying power for complex clothing and multiple outfits. Tailors were able to produce ready-to-wear outfits and business boomed, although it was not without controversy.

In 1843, Thomas Hood published the poem ‘The Song of the Shirt’ in Punch magazine and it became a sensation [46] . The image of the seamstress ‘in poverty hunger and dirt’, reduced to impoverished circumstances and working through the night, became an icon for the social reform movement. This figure appeared in literature and paintings, including one, The Seamstress, by Frank Holl, painted in 1875.

This was part of the Hill collection, and particularly a pertinent subject considering Hill’s trade as a merchant tailor. These were what Treuherz describes as the ‘hungry forties’, where those in poverty felt the impact of the Poor Law of 1834, and growing industry drew the poor into the towns and cities to find work. [47]

The account of Hill’s life and career by ‘an old friend’ provides some details about Hill’s early days setting up as a tailor in London.[48] This account can be corroborated by other evidence, at least in part, and forms a basis for understanding his earlier years. The date of his marriage matches the marriage register, and the dates for the business correspond with records in the city archives. His Will also includes a bequest to the fund supporting journeyman tailors. The account describes Hill leaving Topham and establishing himself in trade in London, giving details about his approach to business that describes an expanding network of customers through family associations. This was an approach not dissimilar to his later development of a network of artist friends.[49]

Friends who ‘thoroughly appreciated his character’ provided the funds for the new business. His ‘old friend’ describes Hill exhibiting the paperwork, which detailed the raising of the funds, as a ‘choice artistic treasure.’[50] This demonstrates his great pride in both his success and the faith that others had in him and his business. It is worth quoting the detailed account of his business at length, as it provides a picture of the man behind the collection, that of an upright, thrifty and fair man, and is one of the few occasions in the archival material where Hill himself is quoted:

The principles which guided him in his business were industry, thrift and punctuality, and these, supplemented with enormous energy, soon produced a great success, which increased year by year. In its young days early to rise and late to bed, and every hour occupied, was his custom. He would rise to catch the then first train to Oxford or Cambridge, for at both of these universities he had obtained favourable introduction, and the result of his journey in the morning was in the afternoon, on his return, set out and started at once. These University journeys led to big orders coming in, not only from residents in the various colleges, but from the heads of their families, for as he often said, “I first get the youngsters well dressed at moderate charges, then the governors were soon induced to follow suit.” [51]

The account states that the orders from Frenchmen and Russians resident in London were so valuable that a branch of Hill Bros. was established in Paris. This is confirmed by advertisements in Kelly’s, Post Office and Harrod & Co Directory (known as Kelly’s Directories) which was a trade directory for Victorian England.

A Hill Brothers label (Fig.2) substantiates the link with Oxford and Cambridge universities as well as evidence of a branch of Hill Brothers in Paris, at 35, Rue de Luxembourg, Paris.[52]

Hill was part of the tailoring trade establishment in London, which included being a member of the Tailors Benevolent Institution. This institution was founded in 1837 by John Shultz and the Asylum built at Haverstock Hill.[53] Hill was a member from as early on as 1844 when he himself was a journeyman tailor working for an employer.[54]  A record from 1844 shows that qualification as member of the Benevolent Institution includes an annual subscription by a journeyman-tailor of seven shillings or more, which entitles that member to a vote at General Meetings and Ballots. Under Donors to the Institution (Less than 10 Guineas), Hill is listed as an Annual Subscriber: Hill, Henry, at Mr W. L. Wrights, Conduit St. £1. s.1.[55] The ‘Old Friend’ cites Conduit Street as the location of the shop where Hill, ‘the journeyman who was always at his shop door waiting to be let in at six in the morning was offered a responsible position.’ He continues that ‘at the death of the proprietor, the manager and trusted friend, he [Hill] purchased and kept the business going for some years’. The Benevolent Institution’s records show Hill as a philanthropic and charitable man from early on in his career. Long before establishing himself as a successful businessman, he is supporting his tradesmen through his charitable donations. He also left a bequest to the Tailors Institution in his Will.[56]

Six years after arriving in London, Hill was in a position to marry. On the 13th July 1840, he married Charlotte Barratt (also of Devon) in the Parish church of St Martin-in-the-Fields. His marriage certificate records his profession in 1840 as Tailor, and his residence as 16, Broad Street, London.[57] The census of 1841 confirms the young married couple as living in Broad Street, St James.[58] It also lists a female, H Barratt (b.1824), at that address, possibly Charlotte’s younger sister.

Bond Street, London, in the mid-nineteenth century

The ‘Old Friend’ writes that Hill started the Business in Old Bond Street in about 1847 with a partner who died within two or three years of that date, and that his brothers at that point came to share in the business. This coincides with the arrival of Hill’s younger brother William in the family home in Marylebone in 1851.[59]

The West End was the heart of the tailoring business. Bond Street was a fashionable location for a high-quality tailor, but Bond Street in 1848 was also the centre of what Maas describes as ‘exhibition mania’.[60] This mania was for the work of living artists, with dealers and print merchants vying for business and providing alternative venues for the exhibition of paintings other than the Royal Academy. It was alive with the marketing of artworks and the buzz of the new and it was not only British artists who exhibited at this time. A year after Hill is recorded as setting up business in Bond Street, in August 1848 ‘the famous Anglo-French dealer Arrowsmith […] exiled himself momentarily from the turbulent Parisian scene[…] and mounted an exhibition of French painters at 106 New Bond Street which included works by Jules Dupré, Rousseau and Troyon […].’[61] The West End of London at this time was ‘united by one precious bond: quality’.[62]

As Maas says in the introduction to his book Victorian Painters, the Victorian era was a great age for English painting but also for foreign artists later in the century. However, although there was much written about painting at the time, due to the subsequent decline in fortunes of the Victorian painter, much of the information has been lost.[63] Hill’s collection is one such example, known now for Degas and Monet, but not considered important as a whole. Some of the painters represented in the collection have simply vanished with little trace, but were considered important in their day.

Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort were active patrons of living artists, commissioning and buying new work. This helped to raise the prestige of new art and living painters. The new patrons of the arts, the merchants and tradesmen of the exchange economy in England were interested in contemporary art. Some of these collections exist around the country in industrial cities. John Sheepshanks, a merchant from Leeds, bequeathed his collection to the V&A. Other merchants built municipal galleries in their cities and filled them with paintings, facilitated by the Public Libraries Act of 1850.[64] These new patrons of the arts were ‘encouraged by the example of the Queen and the Prince Consort who bought directly from young painters, the new tycoons followed suit.’[65] Lady Eastlake was scathing of the collectors of these pictures whom she referred to as the nouveaux riches that were, at least, aware of their own ‘ignorance upon matters of connoisseurship’.[66] However, these ‘Nouveaux Riches’ were supporting the British Art industry and the Royal Academy painters for whom her husband was President. The new industrialists used patronage and philanthropy as a way of social education and improvement. They formed the Henry Cole School of education, that of practical assistance. Hill was no exception as a merchant Maecenas, buying new art and investing in the economic and cultural development of Brighton where he moved on his retirement from London in 1865. However, at this moment, Hill remained in London, amidst the art scene.

The middle of the century was awash with a sense of change. In 1851, as Turner, the master of English painting, died, the Lichfield House exhibition opened where ‘the intention was to show the best foreign artists.’[67] On 2nd May 1853, the German Gallery run by Durand-Ruel, opened at 168 Bond Street.[68] By 1854, the Crimean War meant France and England were allies, softening momentarily the historical antagonism between the two countries. In the same year, Ernest Gambart held his first exhibition of foreign pictures at 121 Pall Mall.[69]

In 1851 Henry (occupation Tailor), his wife Charlotte Hill, and his younger brother William Hill (recorded as an Engineers Clerk) were listed as living in Charlotte St, Marylebone.[70] Ten years later in 1861, Hill is listed in the census as a military tailor. By then he and Charlotte were resident at 3 Upper Mall, Hammersmith, in the fashionable and up-and-coming area of Kensington.[71] Business was evidently good, despite the increasing unrest and unionization of the tailoring trade. In 1866, there was a Tailors’ Strike where the trade wanted to reduce the working day from 12 hours and to include breaks. Of these strikes the ‘old friend’ writes: ‘During the strikes, some years ago, his energy and judicious advice to both employers and the employed helped to lessen greatly the difficulties and asperities of the trade. Many of his old hands were loyal to him and he generously rewarded their loyalty, and by not refusing all demands, but by moderating them, and by inducing masters to look at the matter fairly and grant equitable terms, he contributed largely to a settlement.’[72]

This account shows Hill as a moderate man who understood (through his own experiences) the challenges of the trade, and to whom his staff were loyal. This ability to be kind and generous but business-minded in his approach seems to have carried forward into his philanthropic and civic work after his retirement from London. These are an indication of the social ideals that make sense of the sentimental socialist paintings that he bought from Holl and his circle, who produced black and white drawings for the Graphic magazine. The 1860’s saw the expansion of the print market, both art prints and black and white illustrations for the printed press. Maas says of later Victorian genre painting that ‘in the ‘sixties and early ‘seventies the prestige of the black and white illustrators, who turned to genre in oils and water-colours, lent it support; so also did the new element of social realism in the ‘seventies.’’[73] This social realism and the genre painters are a major part of the Hill collection. The subject may have chimed with his own political and social leanings. Buying social realist art and impressionist painting depicting the everyday was a conscious choice by Hill. As a comparison, John Jones was another collector who was the exact contemporary of Hill. He was also a self-made man who set up in the military tailoring business in 1850, and died two months before Hill in 1882. However, Jones was a different kind of collector. He collected 18th-century furniture with a royal provenance and Old Master paintings, having the opposite collecting objectives from those of Hill.  Whereas Jones was distancing himself from the everyday and connecting himself with a more privileged class through his collecting, Hill was connecting very specifically with social narratives.  Perhaps it is significant that Jones was a sleeping partner in his business and less connected with the nitty gritty aspects of life in the tailoring trade.[74]

By the end of the 1860’s Henry and Charlotte Hill moved to Brighton. The dealer Gambart was moving his business from Pall Mall to Albermarle Street, closer to the Royal Academy as it moved from Trafalgar Square to its new location at Burlington House. The Hill Bros. establishment was now a stone’s throw away from the new home of the Royal Academy.[75]  The young ‘Charles Deschamps, in his early twenties, continued his apprenticeship under Uncle Gambart […] he was known as a fashionable young man with good humour and good looks’.[76]  In 1870, on the 19th July, the Franco-Prussian war broke out.[77] This brought a whole community of artists from France to England and once more changed the landscape of English art. In the introduction to a catalogue of Henri Fantin-Latour’s work in the 1980s, Sutton writes: The view that the British took scant interest in modern French art during the past century is no longer accepted […]; increasing evidence substantiates the extent and range of Cross-Channel artistic traffic […].’[78] The internationalism of Henry Hill’s collection helps to demonstrate this view.

Footnotes for Chapter 2:

[37] Jeremy Maas, Gambart: Prince of the Victorian Art World (London: Barrie and Jenkins, 1975), p. 21. 

[38] Richard Beavis (1824 – 1896) painted two paintings of Hill’s hometown, Cullompton, out of seventeen of his works in the Hill collection (Feb 20th 1892, Lots 207 and 207a), both bought by Arthur Tooth according to the Christie’s sale records.

[39] The Western Times (Exeter, England) Thursday April 13 1882; p. 3; Issue 9973. It is not known who the ‘Old friend’ was, but this account provides most of the detail of Hill’s early life in London.  

[40] Pickvance, Henry Hill, p. 789.

[41] Gruetzner Robins and Richard Thomson Degas Sickert Lautrec, p. 25.  

[42] In an unpublished personal account of Hill. In a personal email 8th August 2018, Flavie Durand-Ruel confirmed that both she and her uncle Paul-Louis Durand-Ruel believe they have heard of such mention but were unable to confirm where this would have come from. I greatly appreciate her taking the time to respond with this information.

[43] On his death, there are two addresses listed for hill, 53 Marine parade, his Brighton address, and 3 Old Bond Street, London, suggesting that he was still actively involved in his London-based business in 1882.

[44] Henry ‘King’ Cole was later to become director of the South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum) and visited Brighton and the Brighton School of Science and Art, for which Hill was a member of the board.

[45] Modern auction sales list Hill Bros. as the retailers mark on swords. ‘A Victorian Court Sword […] etched with the royal cypher, crossed standards and foliage, by Hill Bros., Old Bond Street, London’ ( [accessed 2nd February, 2018]), for example, or a ‘Victorian Officer’s sword, by Hill Bros, London, etched for the York Hussars […]’ ( [accessed 2nd February, 2018]).

[46] This painting is now in the Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter. The Song of the Shirt, Punch magazine, c. 1843 [accessed 15th September 2018].

[47] As described by Treuherz, Hard Times, pp. 14 – 23.

[48] See Appendix for full transcript.

[49] A journey-man tailor stayed in the households of rich families making clothing for the household.

[50] Funeral of the late Mr. Henry Hill The Western Times (Exeter, England) Thursday April 13,1882; pg. 3; Issue 9973.

[51] Funeral of the late Mr. Henry Hill The Western Times (Exeter, England) Thursday April 13,1882; pg. 3; Issue 9973

[52] The dates and origin of this label are unknown, a family descendent of Hill provided it after their own research has confirmed by personal email 5.07.2018 that Hill Bros. also had a shop on the Rue de Cambon, Paris.

[53] A pamphlet from 1897 demonstrates the beneficial effects that sobriety and art should bestow on recipients of support from the fund. It presents a case study of Mr. Keogh who had been ‘an inmate for two years. “The missus and I live here in these rooms, I’ve got a little picture gallery, ye see,” and he pointed triumphantly to a Morland and other gems by artists of note.’ This suggests the philosophy of the time that art was morally improving.

[54] Henry Hill is listed as an annual subscriber at Mr. W. L. Wrights of £1. s.1. We know from the Anonymous friend that Hill started by working for others before setting up business himself. These details can be found in ACC/2655 at the London Metropolitan archives, although no details regarding the bequest could be found.

[55] Rules and Regulations of the Benevolent Institution for the relief of aged and infirm Journeyman-Tailors. Established 1837 (Printed London: Reynell and Weight, little Pultney Street 1844). Whose Patrons included Baron L. de Rothschild. London Metropolitan Archives, In Acc 2655 74/1 ‘Pamphlets’.

[56] The Illustrated London News, July 1, 1882, p. 28

[57] City of Westminster Archive, Westminster Marriages, Birth, Marriage, Death and Parish Records. [accessed May 23rd 2018].

[58] City of Westminster Archives HOI07 735 Book 7, Folio 31 p. 56.

[59] Please see appendix for full transcript.

[60] Maas, Gambart, p. 48.

[61] Maas, Gambart, p. 49.

[62] Maas, Gambart, p. 28.

[63] Jeremy Maas, Victorian Painters, (London: Barrie and Jenkins, 1988), p. 13. 

[64] An Act for enabling Town Councils to establish Public Libraries and Museums.

[65] Maas, Victorian Painters, 1988, p. 164.  

[66] Lady Eastlake, “Memoir,” in: Sir Charles Locke Eastlake, Contributions to the Literature of the Fine Arts with a Memoir Compiled by Lady Eastlake, 2nd ed. (London: 1870), 147. Lady Eastlake (1809 – 1893) was a writer, the wife of Sir Charles Eastlake (1793 – 1865), who became Director of the National Gallery. At the same time, he was President of the Royal Academy, and aimed to develop the National Collection as a tool for the Royal Academicians who at that time shared a building with the National Collection at Trafalgar Square.

[67] Maas, Gambart, p. 55.

[68] Maas, Gambart, p. 61.

[69] Maas, Gambart, p. 57.

[70] City of Westminster Archives HOI707 1486 Folio 40, p. 73. According to the census record William Hill was born in 1822, ten years younger than Henry Hill.

[71] City of Westminster Archives RG09 23 Folio 42, p. 25. GB Historical GIS / University of Portsmouth, Kensington and Chelsea District through time, Population Statistics, Population Change, A Vision of Britain through Time.

URL: [accessed 8th September 2018]

[72] Report: Funeral of the late Mr. Henry Hill The Western Times (Exeter, England) Thursday April 13 1882; p. 3; Issue 9973.

[73] Maas, Victorian Painters 1988, p. 232.

[74] Jones left his collection to the V&A by bequest in 1881. He had been a sleeping partner since 1850 in a firm of military tailors, Rogers, John Jones Ltd, at 33 Bruton Street, London. ( [Accessed 30th July 2018].

[75] City of Westminster Archives, Microfilm 140 Hill Brothers are listed in 1870 at 3, Old Bond Street W under Tailors in the Trades Directory for London.

[76] Maas, Gambart, p. 215.

[77] Maas, Gambart, p. 217.

[78] Henry Fantin-Latour: A Loan Exhibition in aid of the National Art-Collections Fund 10 Oct – 21 November 1984 (London: Wildenstein & Co. 1984) p. 5.