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Ask Joan
Joan Leach is a local historian, a volunteer at the Heritage Centre, a founder of The Gaskell Society, and much more besides.

Hi Joan. Greetings from Sydney, Australia.
My wife Carol's ancestor was Henry HILL, who practiced as a Veterinary Surgeon in King Street, Knutsford from the 1870's into the 1900's. He lived next to a pub apparently called the Crossed Keys in the 1880's and the Rose and Crown later on. The proprietor of the Rose and Crown was named William Hill and could possibly be a relative. Henry is listed there in the 1892 Kelly's directory and the 1901 census, but is not listed in the 1914 Kelly's directory. As he was there in King Street, practicing as a Veterinary Surgeon for about 30 years, he should have left quite a trail. If there was a local newspaper at the time, perhaps there was an obituary.

Any information most welcome. Regards Tony Smith

Joan answers:

Captain Hill: A Cranford character

Behind Cross Town Church there is a the grave of Captain Hill, a title so familiar to Knutsfordians of his day that his stone gives no christian name for him.

Captain HillLeft: Captain Hill, sadly not in his military or yeoman's uniform. If anyone knows where the original of this picture is to found I would be grateful for information.

He came to the town in 1834 as a veteran of Waterloo and was often to be seen around the town wearing his dragoon cloak in which he had bivouacked the night before the famous battle; I have in my safe keeping the ribbon to which his Waterloo medal was attached. His experience in the regular army was of great help to Wilbraham Egerton of Tatton who had been made Lieutenant-Colonel of the Cheshire Yeomanry a few years before Captain Hill arrived to take up a post as adjutant to the Yeomanry.

Imagine troops of mounted yeomen galloping over the turf of Tatton and Tabley parks on their training days and then retiring the The Royal George ,whose ample stables could accommodate their horses, before making their way home. They sometimes celebrated too well: it seemed an amusing idea to heat a penny in the fire then toss it out of the window to watch the reaction of a passer-by who picked up the hot coin but on one occasion a young lad lost the sight of one eye as a result of the prank.

Captain Hill lived with his wife, son and daughter at 15, King Street (now a chocolate shop), this was Egerton property which he had at a peppercorn rent. There are several entries in the Egerton accounts to show that he was not a wealthy man; 'Paid for Captain Hill's ball ticket', or' A pair of epaulettes . . ' and ' £5 to Captain Hill to bury his old servant'. This gentleman has a place in literature for he was Mrs Gaskell's model for Captain Brown in ' Cranford' who scandalised the ladies of the town when he 'openly spoke about his being poor - not in a whisper to an intimate friend, the doors and windows being previously closed; but in the public street! in a loud military voice.'

Behind the property outbuildings can still be seen which would have housed his horse and pigs. Beatrice Egerton later recalled how he would go to Tatton to choose a young piglet to fatten for bacon. She also notes that she never met Mrs Gaskell but certainly knew one of her characters and remembered Captain Hill/ Brown with affection. Margaret Leicester Warren, in her Tabley diary wrote of. . ' Captain Hill shouting, horses wheeling and galloping and brother at their head . . Captain Hill dines tonight - whist , I suppose like we had last evening'. Captain Brown in Cranford played cards with the ladies for 'threepenny points' , after they had come to terms with his masculine gender ! for a man was usually considered to be 'in the way about the house' but he had handled minor problems such as smoking chimneys with tact and good sense. Yeomanry balls at the George Assembly rooms were well conducted because Captain Hill was at hand to revive revellers with coffee after they had danced the night away.

The 1840's were troubled by Chartist agitation; when the mills went on strike workers roamed the countryside seeking food. The Macclesfield Courier reported that ,' . . a large body of marauders proceeded to Tatton Park where threats were used and the servants obliged to help them to all the provisions in the house and the party squatted themselves in the courtyard fronting the hall to eat it.' (I often visualise this scene when I am at Tatton.) Henry HillCaptain Hill was able to handle the crisis with a group of mounted yeomen gathered at the Rostherne entrance, he gave them orders to charge down to the Hall, 'When the clang of military accoutrements and the rattle of horses hoofs attracted the attention of the invaders they observed the approach of the yeomanry. The flight was instantaneous for in the twinkling of an eye the whole of the crowd fled in utmost confusion over the wall and fences . . and in a few minutes all was quiet and the dispersal complete'.

His son, Henry Hill, a veterinary surgeon, was an honorary major in the yeomanry and much respected as a magistrate in the town; there is a plaque to him in Crosstown Church. He may have lived at Rangemore, on the Chester Road, at one time : no doubt rented to him by the Egertons; later he lived at Middleton House, I think on Leycester Road or in the area

Right: Carte de visite showing Henry Hill as a major in the yeomanry with Ralph Leycester of Toft (?)

Joan Leach 18.3.02