James Hill bought the plot of leasehold land in Bath Street and the buildings thereon from the Surcombe estate in 1832, and built numbers 21 to 23 Bath Street. Hill also purchased Elizabeth Surcombe’s land at Newbold Comyn which had been mortgaged to Robert Campion.

James Hill's signature from the indenture of lease of number 21 between him and Elizabeth Surcombe and Hannah Heard 1834. John Russell was one of the trustees of the estate.

James Hill’s signature from the indenture of lease of number 21 between him and Elizabeth Surcombe and Hannah Heard 1834. John Russell was one of the trustees of the estate.

James Hill was born in about 1801 in Warwick, the son of Walter Hill. Walter came from Kidderminster and he baptised at the Old Meeting House Independent or Protestant Dissenters there on 24 January 1759. His parents were William and Elizabeth Hill.

James Hill appears in Pigot’s 1828/9 directories and in West’s directory of 1830 as a plumber, glazier and painter. In the 1841 census he was a plumber but by then he was no longer listed in the trade directories. With the development of Leamington and the resultant boom in the building trade, James Hill became very prosperous and became a successful property developer.

In about 1822 James married Amelia, who came from Alcester, and by 1831 they had had all of their 4 children, Walter, Anne, Amelia and Eliza. In 1841 they were living at Binswood Terrace West which no longer exists but which was in the new more fashionable part of town north of the river. They had a servant. 17 year old Walter was an attorney’s clerk.

1841 Census showing the Hill household and James Hill as a plumber.

1841 Census showing the Hill household and James Hill as a plumber.

Ten years later the family had moved to Clarendon Square, Walter is now a solicitor, and James is now a builder employing four men. There was obviously plenty of work for him both from other people and on his own part building on the land he continued to purchase. In 1851 his elderly widowed father, Walter, is living with the family. He is 92, described as a retired draper. Also shown is James’ younger brother, John, a controller of customs.

1851 Census. James is now a builder employing four men. His 92 year old father is also in the household.

1851 Census. James is now a builder employing four men. His 92 year old father is also in the household.

By 1861 the family had moved to Warwick Street where they remained for the next 30 years. James’s wife Amelia had died. James seems to have retired from building and he is now a proprietor of buildings, probably some he built himself but possibly he had also invested in buy to let properties, then as now a lucrative business. His name appears in various deeds and indentures of purchase and lease, which show that he sometimes took on the property of those declared bankrupt.

He lived with his children in Warwick Street until his death in 1886 at the age of 85, and was buried at the parish church.

James’ son, Walter, had become a solicitor, and was the only one of James’ children who worked. None of them married and they continued to live together. Whilst Walter was presumably able to support them all, after James’s death the daughters are described as living on their own means, so he had obviously left them well provided for, having worked hard and profited from the building boom in Leamington.

Anne, the eldest daughter, died in 1895 aged 69. The common perception is that women in the nineteenth century were obliged to marry in order to have someone to support them other than their parents. However, there seems to have been a fair number of women who didn’t marry and ran businesses. Many of them also ended up well away from the places they were born and brought up in.