Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Hill, Alsager Hay

HILL, ALSAGER HAY (1839–1906), social reformer, born on 1 Oct. 1839 at Gressonhall Hall, Norfolk, was second son in a family of five sons and six daughters of John David Hay Hill, lord of the manor of Gressonhall, by his wife Margaret, second daughter of Ebenezer John Collett, of Hemel Hempsted, M.P. from 1814 to 1830. He was educated at Brighton College (1850–4) and at Cheltenham College (1854–7), and while a schoolboy published at Cheltenham a small volume of poems, 'Footprints of Life,' in 1857. Two years later he competed unsuccessfully for the prize for the Burns centenary poem. In 1857 he obtained an exhibition at Caius College, Cambridge, migrating as scholar to Trinity Hall, where he graduated LL.B. in 1862. At Cambridge he started the 'Chit Chat' debating club, which still exists, and was treasurer of the Union. Becoming a student of the Inner Temple on 3 Oct. 1860, he was called to the bar on 26 Jan. 1864. He joined the south-eastern circuit, but soon devoted his energies to journalism and to literature, interesting himself especially in poor law and labour questions, and doing active work as almoner to the Society for the Relief of Distress in the East of London. In letters to the press during 1868 Hill called attention to weaknesses in the poor law, and urged a more scientific classification of paupers (The Times, 9 Jan. 1868). His pamphlet on 'Our Unemployed,' prepared as a competition essay for the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science, and published in 1867, was one of the first to call public attention to the problem of unemployment, and to suggest a national system of labour registration. Other pamphlets followed: 'Lancashire Labour and the London Poor' in 1871; 'Impediments to the Circulation of Labour, with a Few Suggestions for their Removal,' in 1873; 'The Unemployed in Great Cities, with Suggestions for the Better Organisation of Labourers,' in 1877, and 'Vagrancy' in 1881. Hill was a pioneer of the system of labour exchanges in England, and in 1871 established in Greek Street, Soho, 'The Employment Inquiry Office and Labour Registry,' which was subsequently transferred to 15 Russell Street, Covent Garden, as the 'Central Labour Exchange, Employment, Emigration, and Industrial Intelligence Office.' There as director Hill gave advice to applicants for assistance. In connection with the exchange and at the same offices he founded and edited in 1871 the 'Labour News,' which became an organ of communication between masters and men seeking work in all parts of the kingdom. Hill had agents and correspondents in the chief industrial centres, who sent notes on the condition of the local labour markets. Hill's venture, which was not profitable, diminished his strength and resources; on his retirement a committee of working men managed the paper, and contributed from the profits to Hill's maintenance. From 1877 onwards he also edited 'The Industrial Handbook' and superintended the publication in 1881 of 'The Industrial Index to London,' by H. Llewelyn Williams, as well as 'Business Aspects of Ladies' Work.' These pamphlets were handy guides to employment, for both men and women. He also edited in 1870-1 a series of penny 'Statutes for the People,' which aimed at giving the labouring class cheap legal advice. Hill likewise took a prominent part, from its foundation in 1869, in the work of the Charity Organisation Society, acting as honorary secretary of the council until July 1870, and as an active member of the council until 1880 (see Charity Organisation Review, 1892). Through life Hill continued to write verse, collecting his poems in 'Rhymes with Good Reason' (1870-1), in 'A Scholar's Day Dream' (1870; 2nd edit. 1881), and in 'A Household Queen' (1881). His lyrics are somewhat rough in style, but show earnest sympathy with the labouring classes, with whose interest he identified himself. One of his poems, 'Mrs. Grundy's Sunday,' was widely circulated to further the aims of the National Sunday League for rational Sunday recreation. He was a vice-president of the league from 1876 to 1890, and lectured at its Sunday Evenings for the People. The Working Men's Club and Institute Union also found in Hill a zealous supporter. Hill fell in his last years into ill-health and poverty, living in retirement at Boston, Lincolnshire. He died there unmarried on 2 August 1906, and was buried at Gressonhall. He was elected a member of the Athenæum Club in 1877, and was president of the Cheltonian [Old Boys'] Society (1877-8).

[Burke's Landed Gentry; Foster's Men at the Bar; The Times, 4 Feb. 1910 (letter from Lionel G. Robinson on Hill's work in regard to Labour Exchanges); Cheltenham Coll. Reg. 1911, p, 171; notes from Hill's brother, the Rev. Reginald Hay Hill, Wethersfield Vicarage, Braintree.]

W. B. O.