Herbert Augustus Hills (1837-1909)

Written by Kevin Grice

Occupation: Judge
Location: Grasmere

Family Background & Early Life of Herbert Augustus Hills

The Hills family had extensive connection with Italy as well as with Cumbria. Herbert Augustus Hills was born in Rome on 24th February 1837. His father was John Hills, a seafarer born in Walmer in Kent on 18th December 1804. He made his family home in Italy and although he died on 10th December 1848 back in Kent he was returned to Rome for burial at the Campo Cestio Cemetery in Lazio. Herbert’s mother was Anna Hills nee Reynolds born in the Quaker hamlet of Wallington near Carshalton in Surrey on 2nd January 1797, the daughter of William Foster Reynolds and Esther Reynolds who had married at Wandsworth Meeting House in London in 1794. John and Anna Hills married at St James Westminster on 9th May 1834 by a special licence, required because they were domiciled abroad at the time. They then returned to Italy and Herbert had an elder sister Beatrice Cervinia Hills born in Florence in 1835 who died in 1876. In 1862 she married Alfred Frances Curwen in Grasmere prior to which in 1861 the family (including the by then widowed Anna Hills as head) lived for a time at Rydal Mount after the death of Mrs Wordsworth. Anna Hills however had returned to Wallington before her death on 30th April 1869, perhaps when Alfred Curwen became Rector of Harrington in Cumberland where the remaining family lived in 1871.

Herbert Hills was educated at Eton between 1851-1856 then at Balliol College, Oxford where he took a BA in 1860 and where he became a Freemason in December 1856. He rowed for the College Eight and the University Fours. He entered Inner Temple in 1861 and was called to the Bar there in 1864. Thereafter he practised as a barrister at 3, Essex Court (1870) then 5, Essex Court (1875), living at 3, Belgrave Road then 68, Belgrave Road in Pimlico in London. He also practised on the Northern Circuit in Liverpool, Westmorland and Cumberland. On 3rd August 1863 at St Georges Church, Hanover Square in London he married Anna Grove, born 31st August 1841 in Hampstead in London. She was the daughter of Sir William Robert Grove QC FRS (1811-1896) a barrister and High Court Judge from a prosperous South Wales family who (led by Sergeant Shee) unsuccessfully defended William Palmer ‘the Prince of Poisoners’ at the Old Bailey in 1856. The 12 day trial was then the longest in English criminal history and Grove’s scientific background was essential to understanding the complex medical and chemical evidence. This was because he was also a renowned physicist, being a pioneer of fuel cell technology and the incandescent light and the author of a famous book ‘On the Correlation of Physical Forces’ (1846). It was through the Grove connections that much of the Hills family wealth was derived. Anna Grove’s elder brother Florence Cranford Grove (1838-1902) and named after the Italian city of his birth, for example left over £148,000 upon his death. Herbert and Anna had 3 sons, all of whom achieved a degree of fame as below.

Judicial Career of Herbert Augustus Hills

Egypt before 1875 was a battleground of powerful forces. The completion of the Suez Canal in 1869 and the development of the cotton trade had attracted many foreign interests and many foreign nationals. The country and its citizens were also notoriously litigious. The Egyptian legal system was a chaotic result of this with Consular Courts (run by foreign powers such as Britain through their Consulates with jurisdiction over their respective nationals and their businesses) competing with Government tribunals and religious courts for jurisdiction. The Mixed Courts of Egypt were thus founded in 1875 to end this and led to radical reform. They had Codes, based on a civil law format inspired by the French Civil Code and British common law but with significant Islamic and local principles. Without suppressing the Consular Courts (which would have been diplomatically impossible), the Mixed Courts were intended to streamline legal issues between foreign nationals and between foreigners and Egyptians. Three first instance Courts were established in Cairo, Alexandria and Mansoura with judges appointed from leading Egyptian and foreign candidates including from France, Belgium, the Netherlands, the United States of America and Britain. The proceedings were held in French with interpreters where necessary. An International Court of Appeal sitting in Alexandria and Cairo dealt with all appellate work from the Mixed Courts. The system was, perhaps surprisingly, extremely successful and survived until 1949 when new Egyptian National Courts took over their work.

Herbert Hills was appointed a judge of first instance of Mixed Tribunals in Egypt upon their inception in 1875 and sat in both Cairo & Alexandria. He dealt with legal cases reflecting the human and commercial history of the area, often involving complicated issues of law. They included sovereign immunity, sequestration of enemy property, international banking and maritime commerce as well as the recognition and enforcement of divorces, legitimacy and marriage contracts affecting people of different religions and nationalities. There were also industrial injury claims and general commercial disputes. All of this had to be adjudicated upon without any fully developed theories of jurisprudence which could be trawled for inspiration either from inside or outside the country. It would have represented a significant intellectual challenge for which Herbert Hills seems to have been well equipped, not least from the scientific as well as legal experience in his family. In 1882 he was elevated to become a Judge of the International Court of Appeal where he continued the wide range of work undertaken previously but with additional emphasis upon legal issues and principles, including conflict of laws.

Retirement & Later Life of Herbert Augustus Hills

Herbert Hills retired in 1893 and upon his return to England he initially rented Corby Castle near Wetheral from 1894-1901. He then turned his attentions to High Head (also known as Highhead) Castle. High Head Castle at Ivegill between Carlisle and Penrith was a large fortified manor house of 14th century origins with a pele tower of about 1559 and extensive mid-18th century additions in the Renaissance style by Baron Richmond Brougham which reportedly cost over £10,000. He however died prematurely and childless and although the Castle remained in the ownership of his descendants, it fell into severe disrepair and was described as having ‘no remains of strength or grandeur’ tenanted only by ‘swallows and jackdaws’. Part of it was intermittently used as a farmhouse for tenant farmers but by 1902 it was barely habitable. Herbert Hills however bought it from Lord Brougham & Vaux that year and despite its condition, he and Anna occupied it full time whilst they restored and improved it considerably with the assistance of the well-known local builder J.H. Martindale. They also revitalised the walled pleasure garden with its steep terraces and re-built the lodge and gates. Herbert Hills became a JP for Cumberland but after only five years died at High Head Castle on 11th November 1907 aged 69. His Probate was granted in London on 20th December 1907 and he left £5,039 net. His widow had taken a keen interest in philanthropic work in Cumberland throughout her residence there until her own sudden death of heart failure aged 67 on 26th May 1909, again at High Head Castle. After their death the Castle passed to their second son John Waller Hills (see below) who for a time resided there as well as at his London home but as his political career accelerated, he rented it out including to Colonel Alan Gandar-Dower, MP for Penrith & Cockermouth 1935-1950. In 1939 it passed out of the Hills family and severe fire damaged it extensively in 1956. It is now a shell although ambitious restoration plans are in existence.

The Elder Children of Herbert & Anna Hills

The eldest son of Herbert and Anna Hills was Edmond Herbert Grove-Hills CMG CBE FRS (born 1st August 1864 in London, died 26th September 1922) who was a British soldier, military cartographer and astronomer. He was educated at Winchester and Royal Military Academy Woolwich before being commissioned in the Royal Engineers. He then transferred to surveying duties as a member of the General Staff during which time he began the 1/1,000,000 map of Africa. He left the Army in 1905, observed eclipses of the sun in Japan and India and his distinction as an astronomer and geodesist led to his election as a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1911. He was President of the Royal Astronomical Society from 1913-1915, was awarded the CBE in 1918 and is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery in London. His wife was Juliet Spencer-Ball, daughter of James Spencer-Ball MP.

Their middle son was Right Honourable John Waller Hills PC DCL MP (born 20th January 1867 in London, died 24th December 1938) who was also a British soldier rising to Major (Acting Lieutenant-Colonel) in the Durham Light Infantry in 1916 and a Liberal Unionist then Conservative politician as well as a solicitor. He was a JP in Cumberland in 1910, MP for Durham 1906-1923 then Ripon 1925-1938 and held ministerial office as Financial Secretary to the Treasury from 1922-1923, being known as a Tariff Reformer. In 1923 he was appointed by the government to the Board of what would become Imperial Airways and he was appointed a Privy Counsellor in 1929. He was due to be conferred a baronetcy in the 1939 New Year’s Honours List but tragically died in London before he could receive it, his five year old son being created baronet in his stead.

Eustace Gilbert Hills

Their youngest son was His Honour Judge Eustace Gilbert Hills KC (born 26th July 1868 in Kirkby Fleetham in Yorkshire, died 17th October 1934) who was a barrister and then a County Court Judge. Like his father and elder brother John, he was educated at Eton then Balliol College, Oxford where he obtained a BA in 1891. He was called to the Bar at Inner Temple on 19th November 1894, becoming a Bencher there in 1924. He was elected to the Northern Circuit on 15th February 1897 and practised there extensively but had Chambers in London at 2, Pump Court (1896), Library Chambers (1897-1920) and 2, Garden Court (1921-1929). He was appointed as Kings Counsel in 1919, a Member of the Council of Legal Education 1926-1929 and during the same period a Member of the Rating Appeal Committee and a Referee under the Contributory Pensions Act. In January 1929 he was made a County Court Judge on Circuit 3 (comprising 15 circuit towns in Cumberland, Westmorland and North Lancashire together with Haltwhistle in Northumberland), a post he held until ill-health caused his resignation on 1st January 1934. His abilities had perhaps earmarked him for the High Court but upon his appointment he said that after 31 years strenuous practise at the Bar, he felt that a post in Cumbria would provide him with the opportunity he so desired of coming to live amongst north country people and at the same time discharging a useful duty. He remembered with great fondness his times with his parents at Corby and High Head and admitted that he was looking forward to fishing in local rivers in his spare time. He was also Chairman of Cumberland Quarter Sessions 1930-1933 and a JP. He married twice, firstly in 1899 to Louisa, daughter of 1st Baron Phillimore, who tragically died in a cycling accident in London in 1904 then secondly in 1910 to Nina, second daughter of 1st Baron Shuttleworth of Barbon and Gawsthorpe Hall near Burnley. After initially renting temporary accommodation, Eustace and Nina Hills lived from 1930 at Tolson Hall in Burneside near Kendal, a mansion built in 1638 by a Kendal tobacco grinder and merchant with later extensions including an ornate gatehouse built in about 1750. There Eustace Hills died in 1934 whereafter the house was bought by the Cropper family who own it still. He had five children in total; his elder daughter married the Bishop of Zululand and his youngest daughter the Russian Prince Ourousoff. Upon his passing, his successor His Honour Judge Allsebrook said: ‘He was able, learned, practical, kindly, patient and courteous’. The words apply equally to his father and no judge could ask to be better remembered.


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