Octavia Hill

A memorial to social reformer Octavia Hill was unveiled in the centre part of the nave of Westminster Abbey on 22nd October 2012 by Simon Jenkins, Chairman of the National Trust. Together with Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley and Sir Robert Hunter she founded the National Trust to secure and protect beautiful landscapes and historic places for perpetuity. The circular floor tablet is by sculptor Rory Young, The centre inscription reads:


And in a circle around this:

Social reformer and a founder of the National Trust

Octavia was born on 3rd December 1838, a daughter of James Hill, a corn merchant, and his wife Caroline (Southwood), writer, at Wisbech in Cambridgeshire. The children were educated by their mother and after their father's bankruptcy the family eventually settled in Finchley in north London. She assisted her mother in the Ladies Guild, set up to help the poor. Supported financially by the writer John Ruskin she was able to set up a network of tenanted housing and is credited with starting the social housing movement. She believed that people should have access to fresh air and open spaces and provided with playgrounds and parks near their houses. Eventually her campaigning to protect areas from development led to the founding of The National Trust in 1895. She died of cancer on 13th August 1912 and had a memorial service at Southwark Cathedral. She is buried at Crockham Hill near Westerham in Kent.

In the Abbey archives is a sonnet on Octavia written on 14th August 1912 by Canon Rawnsley:

Her name is graved on England's golden roll, for she was golden-hearted, ever strove to help with clear-eyed wisdom, strenuous love, the poor to feel that better far than dole was self-respect, self-help and self-control; Before her faith all mountains seem to move, all gulfs were filled, all paths made straight to prove God still was of this world the Over-Soul. Ah! never more in London's pitiless street, in London's heartless alley shall we see her flashing eye, her sympathetic face; But tho' the generous heart has ceased to beat, her spirit more effectual and free, calls us to fill the unwearied worker's place.

Further reading

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2004

"Octavia Hill, a life" by G. Darley, 1990

A memorial to John Ruskin is in Poets' Corner

Order of Service - A Service to dedicate a Memorial to Octavia Hill and to give thanks for the work of the National Trust (PDF, 92KB)


3rd December 1838


13th August 1912


22nd October 2012





Memorial Type


Octavia Hill
Octavia Hill by Reginald Grenville Eves

[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Octavia Hill
Octavia Hill tablet

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

Image © 2024 Dean and Chapter of Westminster