Ellen Eliza Hill

Ellen Eliza Hill (1856, Welshpool, Montgomeryshire, Wales – 1929, Orsett district, Essex)

She was the fourth of the six daughters of the clergyman John Edward Hill (1825, Dartington, Devon – 1900, Welshpool) and his wife Maria Godfrey (2 December 1823, Madras, now Chennai, India – 1904, Welshpool). John Edward was the son of John Humphrey Edward Hill (1778-1838) and grandson of John Hill (1751-1828), Vicar of the Devon village of Hennock for fifty-three years. John Humphrey Edward fought in Spain and Portugal and had been wounded as a Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel with the 23rd Foot at Waterloo before finally retiring in 1829. John Humphrey Edward’s brother William (1783-1840) was a Lieutenant on the 74-gun HMS Achille in Admiral Collingwood’s column at Trafalgar. 1

A posthumous watercolour portrait of Nelson made by Lieutenant Hill whilst aboard HMS Achille, c.18062.

The eldest son, John Edward was the only one his brothers not to go into the armed forces. One of the other brothers was General James Turner Hill (1828-1896), whose widow Agnes Jane Pennell (1833-1906) converted to Roman Catholicism in 1903. Three of James and Agnes’ children also converted – one of the three became a nun and another joined the Society of the Resurrection at Mirfield, served as an army chaplain in Africa during the Boer War, lost an arm on the Western Front, converted in 1938 and became a Benedictine oblate a year later.3

John Edward studied at Christ Church Oxford, graduating in 1846 and marrying Maria at her parish church of St James’, Exeter on 25 April 1850, giving his residence on the marriage certificate as Ashburton, Devon. His father witnessed the marriage. Maria was the daughter of Jane Octavia Woodhouse (14 July 1797, Bath – 14 August 1871, Brighton) and her husband John Race Godfrey (1797, Bath or London – 1857), second son of Daniel Godfrey. Jane and John had been married on 15 April 1819 by John’s brother Rev Dr Daniel Godfrey (1788-1972) at his church, St James’s, Bath – John Race was then in the 1st Regiment of Madras Native Infantry of the East India Company. Maria was baptised in Bangalore, India on 19 March 1823.

Maria’s father finally retired on 10 February 1836 at the rank of Major. In the 1851 census he was living with two of his daughters but without Maria or his wife at Northernhay House, Exeter. Maria cannot yet be found in that census, but it seems unlikely she was left behind in India. Maria’s brothers included the Australian pioneers Henry (1824-1882) 4 and Frederick Race (1828-1910) and John Richard Race (born 1821), who married John Edward Hill’s sister Jane (born 1826). In 1871 Maria’s widowed mother was living at 5 Higher Terrace, Torquay, Devon in the household of her daughter Jane Emily (1826, India) and Jane Emily’s husband Charles F Wilton (1801, Brentford), a retired merchant.

Maria’s husband John Edward Hill became curate (1850-1865) and then Vicar (1865-1887) of Welshpool and went on to be vicar of Montford Bridge (1887-1900), dying in harness. It was he who baptised their daughter Ellen on 6 July 1855. Another of their children, John Edward Godfrey Hill (1859-1887), studied at Christ Church like his father and became curate of Lighthorne, Warwickshire. Ellen was living with her parents in Welshpool in 1861 and 1871, on Clive Place and in the Vicarage respectively. In 1861 six of Ellen’s sisters and one brother were all also resident, but this had dropped to five sisters and no brothers by 1871. They had three servants in 1861 and a governess and four servants in 1871.

Ellen (standing, left) with two of her sisters (left), her mother Maria, her paternal grandmother Jane and her father John Edward (all seated, right).

Ellen must have found her vocation sometime in the 1870s, since in 1881 she and Agnes Madeline Scott were both living at 14 Teviot Street, Poplar and both giving their occupation as “Sisters of Mercy” – the address also holds four scholars aged between thirteen and sixteen. Just down the road at 12 Teviot Street is Harriet Lloyd, dedicatee of our side-chapel altar. Miss Lloyd was the head of household and was also stated to be as a “Sister of Mercy” – one visitor and two female servants were also resident at that address. At one end of the street was another St Michael’s Church, formed as a new mission parish in 1861 and home to a string of mission priests such as George Reginald Preston Preston [sic]5 A Booth Notebook of 1897 noted “Alloa, Spey and Teviot Streets all respectable, Teviot Street being the best of them”, but nearby streets in the parish were classified on the Booth Map as “Poor”6.

Hill, Lloyd and Scott all remained nuns and had moved to 183 King’s Road (now St Pancras Way) by 1891, with Lloyd as Mother Superior of this three-strong religious community. Also resident at that address were two “Paid Ladies” from Wiltshire, a cook from London and eight women between 11 and 16 all “Training For Domestic Service”. The 1923 History of St Michael’s records Mother Harriet and Sisters Agnes and Ellen as “among those who have gone to their rest to whom St Michael’s owes much” and that they all “did wonderful work in the early days”.