Leigh Woods People: Edward Burrow Hill
I was very interested to hear that the Church authorities are planning to mark the stone cross in St. Mary’s churchyard with some details about Edward Burrow Hill, the Victorian resident of Leigh Woods whose life and early death it commemorates. The land around the cross is to be consecrated, and ashes will be scattered.
It therefore seems appropriate to write a little about Edward Burrow Hill, and in particular about the circumstances of his death.
As readers who came to my autumn lecture will remember, Burrow Hill’s death was the first of the truly shocking events that affected the Leigh Woods community in 1897. Followed by the devastating typhoid outbreak which was to sweep through Clifton and Leigh Woods that autumn, the death of Edward Burrow Hill certainly contributed to the gloom pervading the journal kept by Emma Marshall, Leigh Woods’s famous novelist, and in particular her regular New Year’s Eve review of the year. In 1897 she wrote this in exile on Sion Hill, where she was renting a house while the drains at Woodside were overhauled in the aftermath of the typhoid outbreak.
Edward Burrow Hill was the second son of Charles Hill, the proprietor of the Albion Dockyard. At the time of his death he was only 37, and left a young wife and six young children, three of whom had been born since the family had moved from Clift9n to Oakhurst only a few months earlier. He was a rising star in both the City’s business and political life. He was active not just in the family firm, but in the Chamber of Commerce, and had been honoured as Master of the merchant Venturers. He was active in Conservative politics, had been elected a City Councillor for Clifton in 1892 and was re-elected in 1895. He brought business and political interests together in his de facto Chairmanship of the Docks Committee. From soon after his arrival in Leigh Woods he had become active in support of the efforts to found a church here, and from 1890 onwards had served as one of the joint secretaries of the Committee formed to raise funds to promote and negotiate the project.
For the Bristol press of 1897 the sudden death of so distinguished a citizen was a cause celebre. The account which follows is drawn mainly from the accounts provided by the (Conservative) Bristol Times and Mirror (formerly jointly owned by Joseph Leech, of Burwalls) and the (Liberal) Western Daily Press (formerly jointly owned by David Macliver, of Southwood).
On Thursday 29th June 1897, in the middle of the morning, Edward lift Oakhurst and bicycled to Temple Meads Station. His plan was to meet up with one of his sons, who was going through the station on a journey from his school to join his mother on a stay with the youngest children at her father’s rectory in Wokingham. He apparently left in good time, and was on the platform as his son’s train drew in. In the words of the Bristol Times and Mirror:
“As the train ran into the station, he was seen to turn round giddily on the platform and then to fall against the glass showcases. First aid was rendered by railway officials and a medical man from Timsbury. Dr. Wallace of York Road and Dr Randall, a house surgeon at the hospital, were summoned, but life was extinct on their arrival … it is thought probable that his son proceeded on his journey ignorant of what had occurred.”
The newspapers go on to tell what happened next. Charles Hill, and Edward’s brother Gathorne, arrived from the Albion Dockyard. Superintendent Croker got the Bristol Coroner to come to Temple Meads: Mr Doggett was a Leigh Woods neighbour, in Springhill. Finally “the deceased’s medical attendant” arrived, Dr. Edward Long Fox, a descendant of the famous physician. He certified heart disease, and said that he had repeatedly warned Edward of the dangers of undue exertion. Mr. Doggett decided not to hold an inquest.
Whatever Dr Loang Fox knew of Edward’s health, it is clear that neither his neighbourts nor the citizenry of Bristol kne3 it. As Emma Marshall wrote in her journal: “He was in the full prime of manhood, and led a happy and useful life. In one instant he was cut down as a flower at Bristol Station.” She describes the young teenage Norma Hill, the eldest of the six children, to whom she was asked to break the news of her father’s death, as “all unsuspecting, having watched him ride off that morning on his bicycle, full of life and spirits.” All the newspapers remarked on his active life, not least as a cricketer who had played for the Clifton Club very recently, and had just been picked to play in their touring team due to set off on 12 July. In the week prior to his death he was thought to have been in London for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee procession, and to have been at Spithead as recently as Saturday for the Jubilee review of the Fleet. To quote the Bristol Times and Mirror again, “News of his pathetically sudden death spread through the City with great rapidity, and was at first received with incredulity.”
What followed Edward’s death confirmed the high regard in which he was held. On the evening of his death, his body was taken to Oakhurst. Then “50 workpeople proceeded to Oakhurst on Thursday night, removed the coffin on a wheeled bier to St. Raphael’s and deposited it in the main aisle to await the funeral the next day”. The Western Daily Press also records that a private carriage removed the floral tributes from Oakhurst to St. Raphael’s.
St. Raphael’s has long since vanished, being the victim of war damage and postwar site clearance, like the College of St. Raphael – a home for decayed sailors” – which it was attached. Michael Marston and I think we have identified it close to what is left of the old Gaol Gateway at the city end of Cumberland Road. The licensing of St. Raphael’s had been the subject of lengthy dispute “in consequence of the high ritual of the Rev. A.H. Ward”, but St. Raphael’s had been close to Edward’s heart, it seems, before he moved to Leigh Woods.
It was a huge funeral: every seat was taken. All flags were at half-mast throughout the city, as were those of Charles Hill’s City Line Steamers – SS Kansas City, SS Llandaff City and SS Boston City – berthed near the Princes Street Bridge. The service was taken by Edward’s father-in-law, the Rector of Wokingham. !At the request of the working men of the shipyard”, the funeral was a “walking”one; and after the service at S. Raphael’s, the coffin was walked for the committal to Long Ashton Parish Church. The bearers were the Manager of the Albion Dockyard and five working men. All the newspapers commented on how “trying” it was for the men “because of the great heat”. All the working men who followed the coffin to Long Ashton carried a floral token. Despite the heat, they went the long way round, past the City Line Steamers, round over Bedminster Bridge and back along the south side of the Avon. The Times and Mirror summed up the citywide “sincere regret at the loss of so promising a public man, and sympathy for the family”.
I am grateful to Michael Marston for reminding me that although not yet commemorated by name on the cross in the churchyard, Edward Burrow Hill is indeed commemorate and associated with the churchyard cross, in an inscription on a bronze tablet on the wall in St. Mary the Virgin Church, situated to the right of the rood screen. Its Latin text appropriately recognises someone who was so instrumental in the foundation of the church, and notes the day of his sudden death as that dedicated to S. Peter.
© Derek Smith 2002