The history of the Hill family of Amblecote starts
in 1725, with the marriage of Elizabeth Hill of Oldnall to Humphrey
Batchelor, of Coalbournbrook. Humphrey was the youngest of the three
sons of Thomas Batchelor, a glassmaker. On the death of Thomas
Batchelor, his two glasshouses, land and other property passed to his
sons, Benjamin, Elijah and Humphrey, which included the Fimbrell
glasshouse, and the Coalbournhill glass works, together with an
estate called Dennis. Benjamin and Elijah died, leaving Humphrey
owning all the glass works, land and property. Humphrey died in
1741, leaving his wife Elizabeth, with a fourteen-year-old son called
Thomas, a nine-year-old daughter called Mary, two glassworks, land
and property at Lichfield, and thirty-five acres of land at Dennis.
Elizabeth successfully ran the glassworks, now known as Mrs. Batchelor’s glassworks, with the assistance of her brothers Waldron and Thomas Hill. Waldron was married to Sarah Badger and they lived at their home called ‘Tiled House’, at Pensnett. Thomas was unmarried and lived at Coalbournbrook. As time went by, Thomas her son, took more interest and more responsibility in the business, until he died in 1750, aged 23, her daughter Mary had died sometime previously. Elizabeth now turned to her brothers for help. Neither of them were experienced glass makers, but they were astute business men, both being brought up in scythe making and farming, at Oldnall, Lye, where they were born, the family originating from generations of scythesmiths, at Clent, and were inter-related to the scythe making family of Waldron of Fieldhouse, by successive marriages between the two families.
Elizabeth died at the age of 59 in 1762, rewarding her brothers Waldron and Thomas, by leaving most of her fortune and business to them, and also the 35-acre site at Dennis, which included a dilapidated house, that had previously been in the ownership and occupation of Captain Bradley. Waldron, now 56 continued to live at his large house called ‘Tiled House’, at Pensnett, where he raised his family including Mary, Joseph, Thomas, Waldron and Sarah, meanwhile, Thomas, his brother still unmarried, became the outright owner of the Dennis estate, and the dilapidated house, standing on the site, which he demolished and built himself a large mansion fitting to his station in life, which he called Dennis House, that would later become better known as Dennis Hall.
Business prospered and included scythesmith workshops at the Tiled House and also scythesmith shops at the Coalbournehill glass house site, where they had 4 hearths. Thomas died in 1782, aged 71, leaving most of his wealth, glass houses, a farm at Clent and Dennis House to his nephew, Thomas Hill, aged 46, who would become better known by the title of ‘Thomas Hill, Esquire of Dennis.’
Waldron and his son Thomas continued with the businesses and were joined in partnership by William Waldron of Field House, Clent, who married his daughter Mary in 1764. Her sister, Sarah, married Thomas Hopkins an Iron Master of Rugeley in 1761.
In 1766, Thomas Hill of Dennis married Ann Melsup at St. Andrews Church, Holborn, London. She was the only daughter of Henry Melsup of London and Mary Penn, who originated from Bromsgrove. Thomas and Ann lived at Dennis House, where they raised their family, consisting of Thomas, Eliza Ann, Waldron, Melsup, Mary, Henry William and Charles. The latter two went into the Church and were Rectors at Rock and Bromsberrow respectively. Throughout the history of the Hill family, dating back to 1275, they were known to be Anglicans, their names being associated with a number of Churches around Worcester, Hereford, Gloucester, Blaenavon and other places.
Dennis House the home of Thomas Hill and his wife Anne Melsop, who he married in 1766,
now known as Dennis Hall, built by his uncle Thomas Hill and left to his nephew.
The company continued to prosper as Hill, Waldron & Hill, and were involved in various enterprises including banking, and coal and clay mining. Waldron Hill died in 1789, leaving mainly to his son Thomas Hill of Dennis, who continued in partnership with his brother-in-law, William Waldron. One of their banks, known as the ‘Old Bank’, still stands on the corner of Coventry Street and High Street Stourbridge.
By 1785 Thomas Hill of Dennis had accumulated large sums of money and property by the deaths of his father Waldron, and Uncle Thomas. He owned Wollaston Mill and Wollaston Hall, Prestwood House, and Broome House, where his sons Thomas and Waldron were at one time living, together with a farm, an ironworks at Stourport plus a bank, land at Chaddesley, High Park, with mills at Brockmoor and Wombourne.
In 1787, Thomas Hill of Dennis, in partnership with Benjamin Pratt of Oldswinford, who owed the Gigmill, and his brother-in-law, Thomas Hopkins, who owned an ironworks at Rugeley, made a major investment of £40,000, to build an ironworks in South Wales at Blaenavon, where the raw materials required for the production of iron was plentiful and easily obtained, Thomas being the senior partner and major investor. The ironworks was one of the largest in the world and was an immediate success. It consisted of three blast furnaces for smelting iron ore, with the ‘blast’ being provided by a state-of-the-arts steam engine, built by Matthew Bolton and James Watt. They employed 350 workers from Wales and the Black Country, in two shifts of twelve hours per day, producing 3600 tons of cast iron per year. The addition of two further furnaces increased the production to 7800 tons per year.
Two of the original casting sheds built in 1787, by Thomas Hill and partners,
preserved as part of the World Heritage Site.
Thomas Hopkins died in 1793, leaving his share in the ironworks to his son Samuel Hopkins, who became managing partner. In 1794 Benjamin Pratt, died suddenly, at the age of 52, while dining, leaving his share to his ‘esteemed’ friend Thomas Hill of Dennis.
In 1796, Thomas Hill became High Sheriff of Worcester, a clear indication of wealth and status in the community.
Thomas Hill of Dennis built himself a large house, at Blaenavon, called Park House, which became the family home for three generations of the Hill family. In 1805, Thomas, together with his nephew, Samuel Hopkins, built a church at Blaenavon and called it St. Peter’s Church, it was said that he was so pleased with its design that he built a similar church at Lye in 1813, which was later called ‘Christ Church’, where he rented his own pew and was known affectionately as ‘Squire Hill’, many of the town’s people of Lye baptised their children Squire or Esquire, after him, as a mark of their esteem and affection.
Blaenavon Church of Saint Peter, built by Thomas Hill of Dennis and his nephew Samuel Hopkins in 1805,
son of Thomas Hopkins and managing partner, named after the church of that name at Broome, near Clent, Worcs.
Thomas Hill of Dennis built 14 schools around the district, including two at Lye and one at Amblecote, near the Gas Works called the Madras school, which was later used as an office by the gas board. One of the schools in Lye was built at Waste Bank, using bricks taken from the Fimbrell glasshouse, which had been derelict for many years.
Thomas Hill of Dennis died 18th of September 1824, aged 87, at his home called Dennis House, an extremely rich and successful gentleman, leaving to his family, and in particular to his two sons Thomas (2) and Waldron, and his grand son Thomas Hill (3). He is buried in Oldswinford Churchyard with his wife Anne, in the grave of his uncle Thomas, who died in 1782. It is a very plain and unassuming grave, not in keeping with his station in life.
There is a stone tablet dedicated to the memory of Thomas Hill of Dennis, and one to his wife Anne, who died in 1810, on the north wall of Oldswinford Church of St. Mary.
These stone tablets can be found on the north wall of Saint Mary’s Church, Oldswinford, Thomas died in 1824, aged 87, and Anne his wife, in 1810, aged 69.
Thomas Hill junior, born at Dennis House in 1767, was known as Thomas Hill (2), married Ann Lilley and lived at Broome House, a large stately building owned by his father, where five of their children were born, including Thomas Hill (3). The death of Anne, his wife, in 1804, at the age of 35, left him with five young children to care for. He continued to live at Broome up to about 1807, when he moved to Prestwood House, and finally to Blaenavon in 1816 to assist his aging father at the ironworks. After the death of his father he shared the works with his brother Waldron and his son Thomas (3). He died in 1827, at the age of 59, and is buried in Blaenavon churchyard and a stone tablet erected to his memory in the church. His son, Thomas (3) took full control of the ironworks and sold it in 1836 for £222,000 and retired to Ross. The Dennis Estate was in the occupation of W.S.Wheeley in 1832, and bought by him at auction, in 1838.
The Hill family were staunch Anglicans, and noted for their many memorials, that can be found in various churches, with which they were associated. Thomas Hill, Esquire of Dennis, has only two memorials dedicated to him, one is the stained glass window in his church at Lye, and the other is the stone tablet in Oldswinford Church. His church of St. Peter’s at Blaenavon, has no memorial dedicated to him, but he is briefly mentioned on a stone tablet dedicated to Samuel Hopkins, his nephew, which reads
‘SACRED TO THE MEMORY OF SAMUEL HOPKINS ESQUIRE OF BLAENAVON, WHERE IN CONJUCTION WITH HIS MUCH RESPECTED RELATIVE AND PARTNER, THOMAS HILL ESQUIRE OF DENNIS, STAFFORDSHIRE, HE FOUNDED THE IRON WORKS AND BUILDED AND ENDOWED THIS CHURCH.’
Thomas Hill, Esquire of Dennis was one of Stourbridge’s greatest industrialists, his achievements and generosity ranks with the highest, yet he is probably the least known. His greatest achievement was the building of the ironworks at Blaenavon, which, since its heyday in the late 18th Century, has became unused, neglected, and derelict and was considered for demolition, thankfully, the remains were taken over by the Welsh Historic Monuments, and given ‘World Heritage Site Status’, equal to that of the ‘Great Wall of China’ – ‘Hadrian’s Wall’ – ‘The Taj Mahal’ – and ‘Stonehenge’ etc., which is probably a greater honour than any other that could ever have been bestowed upon him.
Copyright 2009 Don Cochrane
Don has written an excellent book on the Hill family.
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© amblecote history society 2009