Headington history: People

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Rosamond Davenport Hill (1825–1902)
and her sister Florence Margaret Davenport Hill (1828/9–1919)

The Davenport Hill sisters lived in Hillstow on the site of Dorset House from 1897 until their deaths. They were both involved in prison reform, especially of the treatment of juvenile delinquents and the children of the poor, and Rosamond was also involved in educational reform. They came from an illustrious three-generational family of reformers. See the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for more information about the work of Rosamond Davenport Hill, and also her Wikipedia entry

Rosamon Davenport Hill
Rosamond Davenport Hill in 1888

Rosamond Davenport Hill was born in Chelsea on 4 August 1825 and her sister Florence Margaret Davenport Hill in Holborn in 1828/9.

They were the daughters of Matthew Davenport Hill, who was the first Recorder of Birmingham, and Margaret Bucknall. Their uncle Sir Rowland Hill was the postal reformer famous for introducing the Penny Post, and another uncle was the prison inspector Frederic Hill. They had one other sister, Joanna Margaret Hill (baptised at Hampstead on 6 October 1837) and also two brothers: Alfred Hill (born 1821) and Matthew Berkeley Hill (born 1834).

At the time of the 1841 census Rosamond (15) and Florence (12) were living in the Vale of Heath in Hampstead with their parents and their older brother Alfred, who was a warehouse owner, and their younger siblings Matthew (7) and Joanna (4). Their father was described as a barrister, and they had three female servants, and their coachman and his family lived over the stables.

Rosamond (25) and Florence (21) were still living at Hampstead in 1851 (with the address given as Chacotts, Englands Lane) with their father Matthew (58), described as a Commissioner of Bankrupts at Bristol and a Queen's Counsel, and their mother Margaret (59). Also at home were their brothers Alfred (29), who was a barrister and Matthew (16), and their sister Joanna (14). The family had a cook, housemaid, and lady's maid. The family coachman lived in an adjoining cottage with his family.

In 1861 Rosamond (35) and Florence (32) were living with their parents and their younger sister Joanna (24) at Heath House, Stapleton, Gloucestershire.

Their mother Margaret Hill died in Stapleton in the 1860s. At the time of the 1871 census Rosamond (45) and Florence (42) were living with their widowed father, still at Heath House. He died at Heath House on 7 June 1872 at the age of 79. His effects came to under £40,000.

Rosamond and Florence then set up home together in London. At the time of the 1881 census Rosamund (55), who described herself as a member of the London School Board, was living at 25 Belsize Avenue, Hampstead with her sister Florence (52), and four female general servants.

In 1891 Rosamond (65) and her sisters Florence (62) and Joanna (54) spent census night in a boarding house at 12 Oxford Row, Walcot, Bath. All were described as living on their own means.

Life in Headington

In 1897 Rosamond retired from the London School Board and she and Florence moved to Headington, to the house on the London Road then called Ellerslie (below).


1898 map

Their friend, the Revd John Earle, Professor of Anglo-Saxon at the University, thought up the new name of Hillstow, presumably as a pun on their surname. (Their home was later renamed Dorset House, and it was demolished in 2009.)


The extract from the 1898 map of Headington (right) shows Hillstow as it was when the Misses Davenport Hill moved in. By 1901 there was another house, Hillstow Lodge, which they appear to have had built for their coachman. That too has been demolished.

Rosamond loved the garden here, and sent flowers from it to invalids and to teachers and children at her London Schools.

Hillstow in 1928

Soon after moving in the Misses Davenport Hill had Hillstow Lodge built for their coachman (shown on the 1921 map, right). This too has now been demolished.

Rosamond continued to take an interest in educational reform, and a letter sent from Headington and published in The Times of 22 October 1898 clarified sympathetically why one out of every five children under the London School Board was absent. She also travelled regularly from Headington to London for meetings, including that of the Joint Committee on Manual Training on 10 May 1899, and the State Children's Aid Association on 31 July 1899 and 16 May 1900.

When her former boys from the Brentwood Industrial School (now renamed the Davenport-Hill Home for Boys) were home on leave after fighting in India or South Africa, she often invited them to spend a few days here at her Headington home.

Jackson's Oxford Journal reported on a number of meetings in Oxford that were attended by either or both the Misses Davenport:

  • On 16 February 1899 Rosamond and Florence attended a meeting held in the Mayor's Parlour at the Town Hall for the purpose of taking steps to form a University Extension Society for the city.
  • On 25 June 1900 Rosamond attended a meeting of ladies, convened by the Mayoress Mrs D. P. Morrell, to meet the ladies' committee of the Oxford Lifeboat Saturday Fund for the purpose of forming an auxiliary of the National Lifeboat Institution in Oxford.
  • On 1 December 1900 Rosamond and Florence attended the annual meeting of the Oxford Charity Organization Society in Room 7 of the Examination Schools.

Rosamond also continued to write letters to The Times from Hillstow, including one on 16 August 1900 about the boarding out of orphan children and on 24 December 1900 about civilizing the “hooligan”.

Grace King stayed in the village of Old Headington at this time, and in her book Memories of a southern woman of letters wrote of Hillstow as follows:

On our way through the village we remarked a pretty little retired cottage surrounded by flowers. It turned out to be the home of Mrs. Davenport Hill, niece of Rowland Hill, the author of the penny-post system, and, more interesting to us, the cousin of Florence Nightingale. When Mrs. Hill heard of us in the village, she invited us to tea, a pretty and pleasant tea. She was past middle age, the best age for making friends of strangers.

On 7 February 1901 Rosamond attended a meeting of the Church of England Burial, Funeral, and Mourning Reform Association at the Westminster Palace Hotel.

At the time of the 1901 census Rosamond (75) and Florence (71) were living on their own means at Hillstow, looked after by a housekeeper, cook, parlour maid, housemaid, and a general maid. Their coachman, Joseph Mole, lived at Hillstow Lodge with his family.

On 12 June 1901 Rosamond again attended the annual meeting of the State Children's Association in London. According to Ethel Metcalfe's Memoir of Rosamond Davenport-Hill (1904) she was already aware that she was dying in June 1901, and decided to help the Headington villagers, and

occupied her waking thoughts with plans for the assistance of her poorer village neighbours, who were suffering from an epidemic aggravated if not caused by impure water. During the dark and lonely hours she had devised a simple arrangement, that was carried out next morning, that would have enabled them to take advnatrage of the pure water supply of Hillstow. But the cottagers did not understand the value of what was offered to them – and the sickness continued.

Joanna Margaret Hill, the younger sister of Rosamond and Florence died in Edgbaston, Birmingham at Davenport House on 28 October 1901 at the age of 64.

The following year, on 5 August 1902, Rosamond Davenport Hill herself died at Hillstow the day after her 77th birthday, and her obituary was published in The Times two days later.

Florence continued to live at Hillstow and seems to have become more active after the death of her sister. On 3 November 1904 she attended a conference on separate courts of justice for children held at the London County Council Education Offices at Victoria Embankment, and on 13 June 1906 she was at a meeting of the State Children's Association at Crewe House, Curzon Street. In Oxford, she spoke at the first public meeting of the Oxford Women's Suffrage Society, held in Somerville College in February 1905.

She also had letters on the following topics published in The Times:

  • 27 October 1903, recommending the way that children were dealt with under the justice system in South Africa
  • 15 December 1904, about the advantages of sending orphans to Canada to be adopted.
  • 20 June 1906, about children in police courts
  • 2 November 1906, about the late Lord Cranbrook
  • 3 August 1907, about the Boarding-out Society in Australia
  • 23 January 1908, about one-child homes in Australia
  • 14 August 1909, about children's courts in America.

Florence's photograph appeared in the Oxford Journal Illustrated of 20 July 1910 when she attended the Oxford Ladies' swimming competition.

At the time of the 1911 census Florence (82) was living at Hillstow with her companion, Miss Mary Celia Butts Howell (40) and four female servants. The house was described as having eighteen rooms (including the kitchen but not bathrooms). Her coachman Joseph Mole still lived at Hillstow Lodge.

Florence had been a suffragist since at least 1866, and on 16 March 1912 The Times published her letter about the need for women to be allowed to vote, stating:

Now that we are calling on women to undertake like positions from which till lately they have been jealously – I may add often even contemptuously – excluded, surely they should have the aid, as far as possible, of like conditions. Of these the Parliamentary vote, though little used or valued by many present possessors, would be, for reasons I have given, an asset of great importance.

In 1913 the Watling Street branch of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies Pilgrimage on its way to Hyde Park in London was specially routed through the gardens of Hillstow so that she could give them her support:

  • Oxford Journal Illustrated, 23 July 1913, p. 9: Photograph of Miss Davenport Hill at Hillstow with members of the procession of the Non-Militant Suffragettes’ Pilgrimage

In 1914 Florence donated an instrument to the Headington Brass Band.

She continued to write to The Times, including a letter published on 18 June 1914 about the need to teach children in schools to keep away from trees during lightning storms,

Florence Margaret Davenport Hill died at Hillstow, Headington on 2 November 1919 at the age of 90. Her effects came to £20,944 19s. 1d.

Her obituary appeared in The Times of 5 November 1919, and included the following about Hillstow:

The beautiful home at Headington was open to all – young and old, rich and poor – and after the death of her elder sister Miss Hill continued this course to the very last. Her hospitality was graced by sympathy, delicate courtesy, and the conversation of a full and gifted mind.

   It was written of Hillstow during the war:–

Here weary workers rest
And wounded heroes play;
Refreshed from strait or fray;
Each one an honoured guest.

Her obituary was also published in the Oxford Times of 7 November 1919 (p. 12).

See Michael Horsburgh, “Her Father's Daughter: Florence Davenport Hill 1929–1919”, International Social Work (1983), Vo. 26, issue 4, 1–13: online here

© Stephanie Jenkins

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