Henry Oswald Hill was a native of Heywood, near Manchester and a talented young architect who had set himself up in the city. Tragically, he was killed in the First World War on Saturday, 21 October 1917.
He was known in military circles as the courageous Captain Henry Oswald William Hill MC, Flight Commander of No. 52 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps. He died on a dangerous night mission when his plane was shot down behind enemy lines on the Western Front. He was aged 29-years and is commemorated on the Arras Flying Services Memorial.
His death brings to mind the terrible loss of artistic talent in the war. How many of the 9,000,000 young soldiers, sailors and air crew killed in action might have gone on to create wonderful music, literature, art and architecture? Would the course of twentieth century architecture have been different had such young designers fulfilled their roles as architects?
Henry Oswald Hill’s name lived on in the succeeding architectural practices for almost 30 years after he was killed. In 1918, an architect called Henry Thomas Sandy acquired the remains of his practice and his office, 9, Albert Square, Manchester. He set up a partnership with Herbert Cecil Powell and called it Hill, Sandy and Powell. This was short-lived as was another called Hill, Sandy and Mangan which likewise retained Hill’s name. In 1920, Sandy took into partnership Ernest Bower Norris and the practice became Hill, Sandy and Norris. However, Sandy unexpectedly died in 1922, aged 53, and it was Norris who kept Henry Oswald Hill’s name alive. He took F. M. Reynolds into partnership in the mid 1930’s but retained the name Hill, Sandy and Norris for the Manchester office. In 1946, Reynolds continued with a William Scott under the name Reynolds and Scott thus bringing to an end Henry Oswald Hill’s connection to the practice.
There are a few of Hill’s designs still standing. In Heywood is the Roman Catholic Church of St Joseph on Mary Street (1913-16 listed grade II). It is a modern Romanesque style church built with white faced common bricks. The masonry is edged in smooth red bricks and it is the strong redness which prevails today. The church has a particularly harmonious internal space… an interior photograph is HERE
Henry Oswald Hill designed a grander Roman Catholic church at Rochdale, St John the Baptist opposite the railway station. It was built in 1925-7 by Ernest Bower Norris and is listed grade II*. It is a Byzantine cruciform church, again with simple modern forms but crisper detailing than St. Joseph’s church. A planned campanile was not built but one appeared on the Fire Station opposite, something which was not a coincidence. The two buildings form a noble entrance into Rochdale and a unified landmark from a distance. Both Heywood and Rochdale churches have beautiful 1930s mosaics by Eric Newton. The one at St. John’s is truly magnificent.
Last year, the residents of Heywood decided to honour Henry Hill with a new street, Henry Hill Close. The street unveiling service took place at the Guinness Partnership housing development, off Mary Street, Heywood on Saturday, 21 October 2017, exactly 100 years after Henry Hill was killed.