Robert HILLS (1821–1882)
His first wife Mrs Ann HILLS, née Lindsey (1815–1852)
Their daughter Mary HILLS (1845–1848)
Their son Robert HILLS junior (1849/50–1851)

His second wife Mrs Ann HILLS, née Bell (1832–1908)
Their son Henry James HILLS (1857–1899)
Their son Sydney Robert Alfred HILLS (1884–1891)
Sydney’s wife Mrs Charlotte Augusta HILLS, née Donagan (1857–1932)
St Michael section: Row 9, Grave C50/51

Hills gravestone

The three other sides of this large grave marker are also inscribed: see text on right.
Hills was the co-founder of one of the UK’s leading Victorian photographic firms

BORN MAY 14TH 1821


DIED OCT. 25TH 1908










DIED JAN. 1ST 1891

Robert Hills was born at Lambeth on 14 May 1821, the son of William Hills and his wife Elizabeth, and baptised at St Mary’s Church there on 10 June. At the time of the 1841 census, when he was nearly 20, he was living at Cornwall Road, Lambeth with his parents and siblings. Robert and his younger brother Alfred were hairdressers, while his father and his older brother William were shoemakers; and he also had a younger sister Hannah, aged 11. Robert Hills moved to Oxford between 1841 and 1844 and was employed at 28 High Street as a hairdresser by Richard Spiers (the father of Richard James Spiers).

Ann Lindsey, his first wife, was born in Yarnton in Oxfordshire on 25 July 1815 and baptised there on 13 August. She was the daughter of the butcher William Lindsey and his wife Mary. At the time of the 1841 census Ann was living with the butcher Mary Loder at Summertown.

On 25 July 1844 at St James's Church in Cowley, Robert Hills (23), described as a hairdresser of St Ebbe's, married Ann Lindsey (21) of Cowley, the daughter of the butcher William Lindsey. They had the following children:

  • Mary Hills (born at Pembroke Street, St Ebbe's, Oxford at the beginning of 1845 and baptised at St Ebbe’s Church on 5 June); died aged two
  • Elizabeth Hills (born in Oxford in 1846, reg. Headington district fourth quarter)
  • Mary Lindsey Hills (born at Oxford in 1848, reg. Oxford district third quarter)
  • Robert Hills (born in Oxford in 1849/50, reg. Oxford district first quarter of 1850; died aged one)
  • Robert Hills (born at 16 Cornmarket Street, Oxford in 1851, reg. Oxford district second quarter).

Robert Hills and his first wife were evidently living in Pembroke Street in early 1845, but had moved the next year, probably to the Walton Street area, which was in the Headington registration district. The first of their two daughters given the name Mary died there early in 1848:

† Mary Hills died in the St Paul’s district chapelry in the parish of St Thomas at the age of 2 years 10 months on 12 March 1848 and her funeral was at St Thomas’s church on 2 April (burial registered in the parish register of that church).

St Sepulchre’s Cemetery did not open until later in 1848, so Mary must have been buried in St Thomas's churchyard. Her name is inscribed here on her parents’ grave at St Sepulchre's, but it seems unlikely that she was reinterred with her mother in 1852, and it is more likely that she is just remembered with the rest of her family.

In 1850 Hills opened his own hairdressing business at 16 Cornmarket Street. This shop in St Michael’s parish was on the east side, just north of the junction with Market Street (in the group demolished to make way for the old Marks & Spencer block at Northgate House). He took out the following advertisement in Jackson’s Oxford Journal on 12 October 1850:


ROBERT HILLS (Many years Principal Assistant to Messrs. Spiers and Son,)
BEGS respectfully to inform the Members of the University, Inhabitants of Oxford and its vicinity, that he has opened the above premises, and hopes by strict attention to merit a share of their patronage and support.

Every variety of English and French Perfumery, Stationery, &c. Perukes, Fronts, Bandeaus, and Ornamental Hair, in all its devices. — Families and Schools attended.

The first of Hills’s two sons given the name Robert died early the following year, and was the first member of the family to be buried at St Sepulchre’s Cemetery:

† Robert Hills junior died at 16 Cornmarket Street at the age of one year in January 1851 (date recorded as 10 January on gravestone) and was buried at St Sepulchre’s Cemetery (date of funeral recorded as 5 January in the parish register of St Michael’s Church). One of these dates is obviously wrong.

At the time of the 1851 census Hills was described as a hairdresser & perfumer at 16 Cornmarket Street, and he and his first wife spent census night over the shop with their two surviving children Elizabeth (4) and Mary (2). His third child, the second son given the name Robert, was born soon after that census

On 24 May 1851 Hills advertised that he had extended his hair-cutting rooms, and was manufacturing invisible perukes on the premises; he was also selling Hills’ Medicated Quinine Balsam to impart a healthy gloss to the hair, and a restorative balm for “speedily stopping the hair from falling”. An annual subscription to his private hair-cutting rooms (where ladies could have their hair dyed in private with the latest Parisian hair dye) cost five shillings, and a single visit cost sixpence.

In the spring of 1852, Hills’s first wife died, leaving him with three children, the youngest not yet one year old:

The first Mrs Ann Hills, née Lindsey, died at 16 Cornmarket Street at the age of 36 on 4 April 1852 and was buried at St Sepulchre’s Cemetery on 7 April (burial recorded in the parish register of St Michael’s Church).

Hills advertisement in JOJ

In 1852 Hills described himself in Gardner’s Directory as an “artist in hair”, and advertisements such as the one on the right published in Jackson's Oxford Journal on 4 September that year show that he turned ladies’ and gentlemen’s own hair into watch-guards, bracelets, brooches and rings on the premises.

Also in 1852 he opened a branch in Eton that still survives today as Hills & Saunders.

Hills advert in 1854 directory

Left: This advertisement in Billing's Directory of 1854 adds that Hills was a perfumer as well as a hair cutter and peruke maker, and that he attended on schools. He also mentions that he ws formerly at Spiers & Sons.

On 5 April 1855 at St James's Church in Westminster, Robert Hills married his second wife Ann Bell (born in Hulland, Derbyshire in 1832/3). They had the following children:

  • Henry James Hills (born in Oxford on 2 May 1857, reg. Oxford district)
  • Annie Hills (born in 1858 and reg. Headington district third quarter; one census says she was born in Cowley)
  • Lillian Jessie Hills (born in Cambridge in 1871, reg. fourth quarter)

On 31 May 1856 Robert Hills took out his first advertisement for photography in Jackson’s Oxford Journal:

Portraits taken daily, from 9 to 5; colored, if desired. Terms moderate.
ROBERT HILL, 16, Cornmarket-street, Oxford, Opposite the Star Hotel.

In June 1856 he advertised that he would take “a really good portrait for 2s. 6d”, and in July he sold off his stock of brushes, combs, toilet requisites, and jewellery “previous to making alterations” to his shop. Then on 18 October 1856 he took out the first of a series of large advertisements for what he now called “The Oxford Photographic Gallery”, outlining the advantages of collodion portraits over daguerreotypes.

In 1858 Robert Hills was elected an Overseer for St Michael’s parish.

On 16 June 1860 Robert Hills announced in Jackson's Oxford Journal that he had taken his assistant John Henry Saunders into partnership, and moved the hairdressing side of the business across the road:

BEGS to thank his numerous friends and patrons for their liberal support during the last ten years, and takes this opportunity to inform them that, in consequence of the great increase in the Photographic department, he has removed the Hair-Cutting and Perfumery Branch to No. 49 CORN MARKET STREET, opposite the old Establishment. Having taken Mr. H. SAUNDERS, many years Assistant, into partnership, he begs to say, on behalf of himself and Partner, they will endeavour to merit a continuance of their esteemed patronage.

The business was henceforth called Hills & Saunders.

Additional information on the earlier life of John Henry Saunders (1836–1890)

John Henry Saunders was born in Cumnor in 1836 and baptised there on 10 April, the son of the baker Frederick Saunders and his wife Martha Inness. At the time of the 1851 census he was an apprentice hairdresser with William Best at 24 Queen Street.

He married his first wife, Catherine Hill, at St Michael's Church, Oxford on 7 July 1856. They were living a 31 George Street when their daughter Mary was baptised at St Mary Magdalen Church on 12 June 1857; at Blackfriars Road when their son Frederick was baptised at Holy Trinity Church, St Ebbe's on 16 January 1859; and at 49 Cornmarket when their daughter Eleanor was baptised at St Michael's Church on 23 September 1860: he was described in those three register entries as a hairdresser or perfumer.

At the time of the 1861 census Saunders, who was only 24, was living over his shop at 49 Cornmarket Street with his wife Catherine (30) and their first three children, plus two servants. He was living at St Giles' Fields when their fourth child Henry was baptised at St Giles' Church on 21 August 1862, and for the first time his occupation was given as photographer.

In early 1864 Saunders moved to Eton to manage the branch there, and his daughter Catherine was born there around the same time. He remained at Eton for the rest of his life (see below for his later history, including his second marriage to Hills’s daughter).

At the time of the 1861 census Robert (39) and Ann (28) were living over the shop at 16 Cornmarket Street with Robert (10), who was the youngest son from his first marriage, and two children from the second: Henry (3) and Annie (2). Robert Hills senior now described himself as a photographic artist. He was evidently very successful, and he was then employing ten men, two women, and three boys, and the family had two house servants. His daughters Elizabeth (14) and Mary (12) were at boarding school in Ludlow on census night.

On 1 June 1861 Hills & Saunders of 16 Cornmarket Street advertised portraits in the best style and “Gentlemen’s Mansions Photographs”.

On 15 March 1862 Jackson’s Oxford Journal reported that Robert Hills had relinquished the hair-cutting side of his business.

In 1863 Robert Hills and John Henry Saunders were appointed photographers to Edward, Prince of Wales while he was at the University of Oxford, and also photographed Queen Victoria’s visit to Oxford. The shop at 16 Cornmarket Street underwent extensive alterations in early 1864, and the following advertisement, reflecting the royal connection, appeared on 23 April:

Hills & Saunders 23 April 1864

On 19 April 1864 Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) recorded in his diary that he left negatives of the Shirley children at Hills & Saunders to be printed. He continued to take his negatives here until 1876, and on 18 October that year when his developer failed he got Mr Forshaw, the operator of Hills & Saunders, to come over to Christ Church, and with his developer got good results with the photographs he had taken of Lily Gray.

In 1867 Hills & Saunders were offering “photographic views of Oxford, Windsor, Eton, Rugby, Harrow, Winchester, Marlborough, Wellington, Rossall, Uppingham, Sherborne, Bradfield, &c., and the churches adjacent. — Attendance with Camera to any part of the Kingdom”.

Hills & SaundersAbove: the back of three small portrait cards from different periods

The Oxford Chronicle on 23 January 1869 reported that Robert Hills had moved to Cambridge, where he opened a separate branch of his business, and the advertisements in Jackson’s Oxford Journal cease.

At the time of the 1871 census Hills and his second wife were living at 15 King’s Parade, Cambridge, where he was working as a photographer. The three surviving children from his first marriage were with them on census night – Elizabeth (24), Mary (22), and Robert (19), who was now a photographer’s assistant – plus Henry (13) from his second marriage. Annie (12) was at a boarding school in Cambridge run by Mary & Elizabeth Thornton, the daughters of the Oxford bookseller Joseph Thornton. Meanwhile his partner Saunders, now a widower of 35, was still based at 109 Street, Eton and employed 15 men, four boys, and 15 girls in his photographic studio.

His daughter Mary was married in 1871:

  • On 20 April 1871 at St Mary’s Church, Cambridge, Mary Hills married Frederick Robert Underhill of Oxford (the son of Charles Underhill) , and the announcement in Jackson’s Oxford Journal of 29 April described Robert Hills as being “of Oxford and Cambridge”.

In 1872 Robert Hills became the first leaseholder of 114, 115, 116, 117, and 118 Kingston Road.

Oscar Wilde by Hills & Saunders
Right: Oscar Wilde, photographed
by Hills & Saunders on 3 April 1876

Robert Hills left his son Robert managing the Cambridge branch, and in 1874 returned to Oxford and took out the first lease on two houses in Canterbury Road, Oxford: Nos. 3 and 10.

His daughter Elizabeth was married in 1877:

  • On 12 April 1877 Elizabeth Hills of Deepdale, Canterbury Road married her father’s partner John Henry Saunders at the Congregational Chapel in George Street, Oxford.

In 1878 Hills was Vice-Chairman and one of the directors of the Oxford Building and Investment Company.

At the time of the 1881 census he and Elizabeth were living at 7 Hadleigh House, Sheet Street, Windsor with his three children from his first marriage: Eleanor (20); Henry (18), who was a medical student; and Catherine (17): the first two were born in Oxford, and the last in Eton.

Meanwhile in 1881 Robert Hills was at Deepdale, Canterbury Road with his son Henry (23), who was now his photographer manager, and his daughters Annie (22), who was described as a scholar, and Lillian (9). He was now employing 13 men and six boys in his photographic business. His wife was not at home.

In 1881 Robert Hills took out the first lease on 101 Kingston Road.

Robert Hills died in 1882:

† Robert Hills died at Deepdale, Canterbury Road at the age of 61 on 27 July 1882 and was buried at St Sepulchre’s Cemetery on 31 July (burial recorded in the parish register of St Michael’s Church).

His personal estate came to £29,907 19s. 6d. His executors included his two sons: Robert Hills, who was then still living at 15 Kings Parade, Cambridge and Henry James Hills, who was described as being of “Deepdale Artists”. The latter was married in Cambridge later in the same year (see below).

His widow may have stayed for a while with her married son Henry who lived in Warnborough Road, as her youngest son Sydney is recorded as dying there early in 1891:

† Sydney Robert Alfred Hills died at Warnborough Road at the age of six on 1 January 1891 and was buried at St Sepulchre’s Cemetery on 6 January (burial recorded in the parish register of St Michael’s Church).

Mrs Ann Hills continued to run the family photography business, and on 27 July 1889 the partnership between her and her own son Henry James Hills was dissolved.

By the time of the 1891 census Ann (58), who described herself as a photographer, was living at 3 Canterbury Road with her unmarried daughters Annie (32) and Lilian (19), plus a boarder (80-year-old Susanna Wilcher) and two servants.

John Henry Saunders died at Gerrards Cross at the age of 54 on 15 September 1890 and his widow Elizabeth (who was of course also Hills’s daughter) continued his interests. At the time of the 1891 census Elizabeth Saunders was living at Woodhill House, Iver with her stepdaughters Mary and Catherine and five children of her own, Daisy (11), John and Mabel (8), Leonard (5), and Philip (1), as well as her nephew Frederick P. Hills and niece Charlotte Ann Gladys Hills, the children of her brother Henry.

Over in Cambridge, Robert Hills junior was still trading as Hills & Saunders at 15 King’s Parade as Hill & Saunders, and at the time of the 1891 census was living over the shop with his wife Helena and children Robert (11), Charles (10), William (9), Helena (6), and George (five months). He was evidently not as successful as his father, as on 1 March 1892 the London Gazette announced his bankruptcy.

Robert Hills senior’s son Henry James Hills died in 1899 at the age of 42 and was buried in his father’s grave (see separate section about him and his family below).

By the time of the 1901 census Robert Hills’s second wife Ann (68) was living on her own means at 89 Chichele Road, Willesden with her daughter Annie (42) and one servant. She died in Cricklewood in 1908, and her body was brought to Oxford to be buried with her husband:

The second Mrs Ann Hills née Bell died at 89 Chichele Road, Cricklewood at the age of 76 on 25 October 1908 and was buried at St Sepulchre’s Cemetery on 30 October (burial recorded in the parish register of St Sepulchre’s Church).

Henry James Hills and his wife Charlotte Augusta Hills, née Donagan
(other side of the same grave)

Inscription to Henry & Augustus Hills

Henry James Hills (born in Oxford on 2 May 1857) was the son of the Oxford photographer Robert Hills’s second wife Ann (see above), and by 1881 was his father’s photographic manager at Deepdale, Canterbury Road. He was described as being of “Deepdale Artists” when he acted as his father’s executor in 1882.

He looked after the Oxford side of the business, while his older half-brother Robert looked after Cambridge.

Charlotte Augusta Donagan was born in Cambridge on 8 August 1857, the daughter of Alfred Frederick Donagan and his wife Louisa. At the time of the 1871 census she was aged 13 and living at 38 Trinity Street with her parents and younger brother. Her father was a hairdresser & perfumer, employing two men. In 1881 she was at the same address with her widowed mother Louisa and her brother Alfred Edward Donagan (16), who was described as a student. Her mother was a stationer & perfumer employing three men and one boy, and Charlotte assisted her in domestic duties, with the help of one servant.

In the fourth quarter of 1882 in Cambridge, Henry James Hills married Charlotte Augusta Donagan, and they had the following children:

  • Frederick J. Percival Hills (born at Oxford 1883/4)
  • Sydney Robert Alfred Hills (born at 32 Leckford Road on 10 October 1884 and baptised at Ss Philip & James Church on 21 December); died age six
  • Charlotte Ann Gladys Hills (born at Lowick, Leckford Road on 11 December 1885 and baptised at Ss Philip & James Church on 31 January 1886)
  • Jessie Maud Emily Hills (born at 27 Warnborough Road on 7 March 1887 and baptised at Ss Philip & James Church on 22 May)
  • Louis Eric Arthur Hills, known as Eric (born at 27 Warnborough Road on 10 April 1888 and baptised at Ss Philip & James Church on 20 May)
  • Lillian Elsie Norah Hills (born at 27 Warnborough Road on 12 June 1889 and baptised at Ss Philip & James Church on 4 September 1889)
  • Florence Elizabeth Mary Hills (born at 27 Warnborough Road in March 1891 and baptised at Ss Philip & James's Church on 31 May)

At the time of the 1891 census Henry and Charlotte Hills, both aged 33, were living at 27 Warnborough Road with their four youngest children Jessie (4), Louis (2), Lilian (1), and Florence (ten days). The family had one servant, and a monthly nurse was still in attendance following the birth of the youngest baby. Frederick (7) and Charlotte (5) were staying in Iver with their aunt, Mrs Elizabeth Saunders.

Henry James Hills’s home was still at 27 Warnborough Road at the time of his death in 1899, but he died in London:

† Henry James Hills died in London at Portland Place, Beaumont Street, Marylebone at the age of 42 on 31 July 1899 and was buried at St Sepulchre’s Cemetery on 3 August (burial recorded in the parish register of St Michael’s Church).

His effects came to £1,134 16s. (a fraction of the sum left by his father 17 years before).

At the time of the 1901 census his widow Charlotte (43) was living on her own means at 27 Warnborough Road with six of her children: Frederick (17), who was a printer’s apprentice; Charlotte (15), who was a school teacher; and Jessie (14), Louis (12), Lilian (11); and Florence (10). The family had a lodger and one servant.

By the time of the 1911 census Charlotte had moved to 86 Stanmore Road, Birmingham, where she was a boarding house keeper. Four of her children were still living with her: Frederick (27), who was now known as Percival and was a photographer; Charlotte (25), who was now known as Gladys; Lillian (21), who was now known as Elsie and was a dispenser; and Florence (20), who was a shorthand writer and typist. There were two boarders in the house, and they had one servant.

Charlotte died in 1932 and was the last to be buried in the grave of her father-in-law, Robert Hills:

† Mrs Charlotte Augusta Hills née Donagan died at 63 Stanmore Road, Edgbaston, Birmingham at the age of 75 on 25 December 1932 and was buried at St Sepulchre’s Cemetery (burial recorded in the parish register of St Michael’s Church, which states she was buried on 25 December: so either this or the inscription on the grave is wrong).

Her effects came to just £27 17s., and her executors were her son Eric and her daughter Florence.

Hills & Saunders remained at 16 Cornmarket Street until the business was sold to the rival studio of Gillman & Soame in February 1931. The branch at Eton still survives, and in 2013 boast that they have held “the tradition of excellence and customer service for 160 years”: that is from the day in 1853 when Robert Saunders and John Henry Saunders started photographing Oxford people as well as cutting their hair.

Wikipedia entry on Hills & Saunders
This has information on the Harrow, Eton, Rugby, Oxford, Cambridge, Aldershot, and Sandhurst studios



Please email
if you would like to add information

These biographies would not have been possible without the outstanding transcription services
provided by the Oxfordshire Family History Society

© Friends of St Sepulchre’s Cemetery 2012–2017