A New Genealogy for Lockey Hill

Violin image © Tim Toft Violins. Text © John Basford, 2024.

Most in the violin world are familiar with the company, W.E. Hill & Sons, but perhaps not everyone is quite so familiar with the family members who were its predecessors, so I will begin by presenting biographical summaries of those in a direct line of ancestry and then will go on to outline the evidence for a reassessment of the genealogy of the violin maker, Lockey Hill.

William Ebsworth Hill, for whom the company is named, was born on the 20th of October 1817 and died on the 2nd of April 1895, he was the son of Henry Lockey Hill and Sarah Ebsworth. According to Haweis in his, Old Violins and Violin Lore,William Ebsworth, after the death of his father, in 1835, went to study with Charles Harris junior who was then in Steeple Aston, Oxfordshire. Harris was falling into increasing amounts of debt and engaged in numerous property transactions in an unsuccessful effort to remain solvent, by 1843 he had  applied to the Court for the Relief of Insolvent Debtors. Haweis suggests William Ebsworth returned to London c.1838. It may be this was prompted by the death of his brother, Joseph, in July of that year.

The 1851 census has his address as 29 St George’s Road, Southwark, and shows him as married [his marriage document in 1857 states he is a bachelor] living with the unmarried 17 year old, Catherine Nation, who is listed as his cousin, her occupation given as servant. Catherine Hannah Nation was the daughter of William Nation and Sarah Ebsworth’s sister, Katherine Nation (née Ebsworth).

In January 1857 he married Eveline Tyrrell in Southwark, his residence now given as New Kent Road, and his profession as musical instrument maker. By December 1857 he had moved to 192 Waterloo [Bridge] Road, Lambeth.

By the late 1860s he was established at 58 Wardour Street, Soho. After the death of his first wife in 1873 he remarried, later that same year, to  Sarah Mortimer at St Anne’s, Soho, Westminster. Between 1878 and 1881 he also began to occupy 16 Meard’s Court, suggesting his business was expanding.

In 1880, 58 Wardour Street  was renumbered to 72 Wardour Street. The company, W.E. Hill & Sons, came into being in late 1880 or early 1881.

William Ebsworth had an outstanding reputation as a repairer and dealer. He also made instruments, though they are relatively rare. A viola of his was awarded a medal in the 1862 London International Exhibition.

William Ebsworth’s father, Henry Lockey Hill, was christened on the 20th of February 1774 and buried on the 2nd of September 1835. He was the son of Lockey Hill and Joanna Hill (née Wish).

Joseph Hill was charged with theft along with his brother, Henry Lockey Hill, on the 19th of March 1800 at Surrey Assizes and sentenced to seven years transportation. He sailed to New South Wales on the prison ship, ‘Nile, Canada and  Minorca’ leaving in June 1801 and arriving on the 4th of December that year.

Henry Lockey, however, was sent to the prison hulk, ‘Stanislaus’, moored on the Thames at Woolwich, and escaped from there on the 3rd of February 1801. He was subsequently recaptured and was tried at the Old Bailey, London, on the 16th of February 1803. He was ‘indicted for being at large before the expiration of seven years, for which term he had been ordered to be transported’. In The British Violin it is claimed that he added, ‘Henry’, in order to differentiate himself from his father, his baptismal name being the same as his father’s, and that, ‘Henry Lockey’, first appears on the record of his marriage in 1807. The criminal records indicate an earlier date and suggest a darker reason, namely an effort to hide his true identity from the authorities. The records note that he also uses the aliases, Henry Hill, and, Henry Reynolds.

At the Old Bailey, Henry Lockey offers his defence, ‘I had a master here, John Bates by whom I have been employed ever since I escaped.’ John Bates was called but did not appear. It seems likely that, ‘John Bates’, in the transcript, is actually the violin maker, ‘John Betts’. Henry Lockey was found guilty and sentenced to death. The sentence was respited on the 21st of April 1803 and then commuted to military service. He joined the  navy or army on the 13th of December 1803. Joining the army or navy was not an unusual alternative for convicted prisoners during the Napoleonic Wars (1793-1815).

The date by which he managed to extricate himself from military service is unclear, but he marries Sarah Ebsworth in June 1807 at St Brides Church, Fleet Street, London.

There are numerous addresses from documents, some overlapping in date, which suggest he may have had home and business premises. In 1810 he was at Hackney Road, then 70 Kent Street, in 1820 at Market Street, St George’s Fields and from c.1826-35 at Brandon Row. There are other addresses somewhat less certain which remain to be confirmed.

Henry Lockey Hill is primarily regarded as one of the finest English makers of the period. His trade card, illustrated in, The British Violin, shows he also offered repairs and, though to my knowledge none are known, claims that he made bows.

Lockey Hill was the father of Henry Lockey Hill and grandfather of William Ebsworth Hill. He was baptised on the 26th of June 1752 and was hanged on Wednesday 24th of February 1796 and buried on the 1st of March 1796 at Spa Fields, Clerkenwell. His religious denomination is given as, ‘Countess of Huntingdon’s Connexion’, a small society of evangelical churches founded in 1783 and associated with the Calvinist Methodist movement. His parents were Lockey Hill, carpenter of Alvechurch, and Anne Hill (née Johnson).

Exactly when Lockey Hill arrived in London is unclear, but he married Johannah Wish, by licence, at St Giles, Cripplegate, on the 12th of November 1772.

His children’s baptism records place him in the parish of St Martin, Ludgate in 1774, St Leonard, Shoreditch in 1778, St Mary, Islington in 1780, St Leonard, Shoreditch in 1782, St Martin, Ludgate in 1785, St Mary, Islington in 1788, and again, in 1790. There is a burial record for an unnamed child to Lockey and Mary Hill at St Mary, Islington, in February 1791.

Records indicate he spent from September 21st to October 10th 1782, in Tothill Fields, Bridewell, a prison in the Westminster area of London; the reason listed as, ‘felony’.

He appears again in the Newgate Prison Lists of Felons with a conviction date of 1790.He was also ‘detained on oath of Thomas Cole and another for stealing at the Parish of Bellbroughton in the County of Worcester a Dark Bay Gelding and a Bay Mare his property. Dated November 28th 1795’. Two more criminal cases concern Lockey Hill, this time identified as a ‘fiddle maker’. They both take place at the Old Bailey on December 2nd 1795.

He was ‘indicted for stealing, on the 10th September [1795], one mare, value 10 pounds, the property of John Weedon’.

Edward Bowtell testifies that he and the prisoner stole the horse, giving the time and place. He goes on to say to whom, and where, they sold it.

Lockey Hill offers in defence: ‘I have worked for Mr Longman, in Cheapside, twelve years, and can be supported in a creditable manner – I hope your lordship will have the goodness to interrogate the witness in his wickedness. Mr Longman was here yesterday, but is not here now.’

This gives us a clear indication of Lockey Hill’s time as a worker for Longman;    1783-95. I believe he is stating that he was actually employed by Longman at this time, this would give him a greater sense of respectability. There seems little doubt he had been used as an outworker for Longman for a considerable time before this. He is found not guilty.

There is a second charge, he is ‘indicted for feloniously stealing one gelding, value 10 pounds, the property of Richard Kirby, June 5th’.

The horse in question is traced back to Lockey Hill. The damning evidence is given once more by Bowtell, ‘I went down to Birmingham with the prisoner, with three horses; I have been there a great many times with the prisoner, with a great many horses that he has stole.’

This time he is found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. I’ll give more detail on this later.

The models he used are primarily based on Stainer or Amati, but he does manage to impart a distinctive English character to both. Many violins attributed to Lockey Hill are actually by his son, Henry Lockey, or by other English makers of the period. One international violin auction house has over a dozen instruments on its website listed as by Lockey Hill with dates as much as twenty years after his death.

For over a century Lockey Hill has been identified as the son of Joseph Hill, violin maker at the Haymarket, as I am proposing a radical change to this accepted genealogy we now need to look in detail at precisely why.

A New Genealogy for Lockey Hill: Primary and Secondary sources

Here is the current generally accepted genealogy and the suggested new genealogy:

If we consider the primary sources relating to birth, baptism, christening, and death records first, there is evidence to suggest that the long-accepted genealogy of the violin maker Lockey Hill IV is incorrect and that he was not the son of Joseph Hill I – born 1715 –  but the son of Lockey Hill II, carpenter, of Alvechurch in Worcestershire. One can imagine Henry Lockey Hill VI might not have been enthusiastic about passing on to his children any information concerning the criminality of his father, Lockey IV (hanged for horse stealing), or himself (sentenced to transportation for theft and later sentenced to death for absconding from prison), but even the most basic hereditary details seem to have been either unknown, or hidden, by later generations.

There are six Lockey Hills in the public record in the eighteenth century. For the purposes of this article they are numbered as follows, the details given are in accordance with the suggested new genealogy:

Lockey Hill I son of Sir Roger Hill

7 September 1671 – 6 February 1730

Lockey Hill II, carpenter, Alvechurch

bap. 6 January 1714 – bur. 17 May 1777

Lockey Hill III son of Lockey Hill II and Anne Hill (née Johnson)

bap. 7 February 1749 – c.1750

Lockey Hill IV, violin maker, son of Lockey Hill II and Anne Hill (née Johnson)

bap. 26 June 1752 – bur. 1 March1796

Lockey Hill V son of Joseph I and Mary Hill

bap. 1 February 1756 – bur. 31 October 1756

Henry Lockey Hill VI, violin maker, son of Lockey Hill IV and Joanna Hill (née Wish)

chr. 20 February 1774 – bur. 2 September 1835

Lockey Hill I, seems to have no connection with the violin making families. The name ‘Lockey Hill’ here being derived from the surname of his mother, Abigail Lockey and his father Sir Roger Hill.

Lockey Hill II was a carpenter in Alvechurch, son of William and Anne Hill. Local records show his marriage, ‘Anne Johnson of this parish [Alvechurch] and Lockey Hill of ye parish of Clent by banns Decr ye 3d 1738.’ In 1750 he takes on an indentured apprentice for carpentry. 

Then, excluding Henry Lockey Hill VI, we have three baptisms, two entries in Alvechurch for baptism of a son, Lockey Hill III, to Lockey Hill II and Ann, one ‘Feb ye 7th 1749’ and another, Lockey Hill IV, ‘June ye 26th 1752’, but no burial record for either—it was not unusual for parents to reuse the name of a child who had died in infancy and this seems the most likely explanation here for the first of the two—and another baptism in London, 1 February 1756 at St Andrews Holborn with the parents given as Joseph I and Mary Hill.  We have a burial in Alvechurch 17 May 1777 which is the carpenter. There are two burials of a Lockey Hill before that of Henry Lockey Hill VI; namely, on 1 March 1796 and on 31 October 1756 in St Giles-in-the-Fields, Holborn.

This gives us just two candidates for the Lockey Hill buried in 1756; the first, Lockey Hill IV, the son of Lockey Hill II and Anne in Alvechurch and the second, Lockey Hill V, the son of Joseph I and Mary in London. It seems implausible that the first would be brought to London to be buried so the strong likelihood is that the second—previously thought to be Lockey Hill the violinmaker—is the child buried, having died at less than a year old. The case is even stronger when we realise he was buried at St Giles-in-the-Fields, Holborn, the church where just two years before, Joseph and Mary’s son, Benjamin, had been christened.

Anne Hill is buried in Alvechurch 1 November 1756. Two other entries are recorded of marriages in the Alvechurch records – ‘Lockey Hill  and Mary Mills both of this parish by licence 14 Sept 1757’ but also ‘banns of marriage between Lockey Hill of this parish and Eleanor Court of the parish of Bromsgrove on 12,19, 26 Nov 1758’. What happened to Mary Mills is unclear but it seems Lockey II was eager to provide a new mother for his children, Lockey Hill IV, Anne, William and Esther.

It is worth noting a comment in The British Violin (84) concerning burials. With regard to Joseph I the authors state, ‘He was buried at St. George’s, Hanover Square, the parish church where Joseph’s sons and successive generations of Hills were to be interred in future years.’ Unlike many in this branch of the family neither Lockey Hill IV, nor his son, Henry Lockey Hill VI, was buried there.


Moving on to the evidence of age, Criminal Court documents give Lockey Hill IV’s date of birth as 1751 and the burial register of Spa Fields, St James’s, for Lockey Hill IV, buried 1 March 1796, gives his age as 45 years.

The dates between 1750 and 1752 are wrapped in confusion. The Calendar (New Style) Act 1750 reformed the calendar so that the legal New Year began on January 1 instead of March 25, and the Gregorian calendar was adopted. This meant in English records the legal year 1751 was a short year of 282 days, 25 March to 31 December. The year 1752 began on 1 January. To align England with much of the continent the calendar was advanced by 11 days: Wednesday 2 September 1752 was followed by Thursday 14 September 1752. The year 1752 was thus a short year (355 days) as well.

Given the circumstances, confusion around 1751/2 seems plausible, if not likely, but confusion between a birth date of 1751/2 and 1756 (the baptism date of Joseph I and Mary’s child) seems considerably less likely.


We now turn to the violin maker’s marriage. Lockey Hill IV married Joanna Wish by licence at St Giles, Cripplegate, 12 November 1772, ‘far from the usual Hill stamping grounds’ as it states in The British Violin (85). The witnesses at his wedding are Robert Thomas and William Ayecough not Joseph I or any other member of the Hill family. (Ayecough witnesses a number of marriages and may have been a church employee – sometimes these witnesses gave fictitious names as they did not want to take any responsibility for what was taking place, and I wonder if William Ayecough is just such a name, Will I cough.)

The average age for men to marry in the eighteenth century was in their mid to late twenties, if he had been born in 1756 he would have been only 16 at the time of his marriage, a marriage at age 16 would have been extremely unusual and parental consent, for which there is no evidence, would have been required.

Joanna (Johannah /Hannah) Wish was christened 26 May 1754 at St Botolph’s Aldgate. Generally women were a few years younger than the man they married; again this suggests Lockey Hill IV’s date of 1752 is more likely than 1756 working on the basis that her christening was, as was generally the case, close to the date of her birth.


Lockey Hill IV’s children’s names also support this new genealogy. His first son he names Lockey, after himself and his father; his daughter Anne, after his mother and his sister; and his son, William after his brother. His trips all the way from London to the Worcester area for horse stealing are also now more understandable if his father was in fact Lockey Hill II of Alvechurch, as he may have been maintaining contact with his siblings there.  He was detained in November 1795 for stealing two horses from the ‘Parish of Bellbroughton in the County of Worcester’, just 10 miles from Alvechurch.


Lockey Hill IV does not appear in the will of Joseph Hill I, but this would  entirely be expected if he was not his son, but the son of his cousin. The fact that he does not go into business with Joseph Hill I is also explained if he was not his son.


There is another potent piece of written evidence. At Lockey Hill IV’s trial, Edward Bowtell, an individual who had known the defendant for four or five years and taken part in the theft of horses with him as his ‘servant’, declares in his testimony that he and Lockey Hill IV had stolen two cart horses from a field near Worcester. He goes on to say under oath, ‘he came from that part of the country’. This clearly states Lockey Hill IV is from the Worcester area and not from London. Lockey Hill V, the son of Joseph I and Mary, was baptised at St Andrew’s, Holborn, London.


If we turn our attention to secondary sources we see the confusion around Lockey Hill IV and Henry Lockey Hill VI begins in the published literature, with the 1864, History of the Violin, by Sandys and Forster, which purports to draw on the manuscript collections of Henry Hill (the viola player) and the authority of William Ebsworth Hill. However the authors state, ‘Hill, [Henry Hill (the viola player)] left some manuscript collections towards the history of the violin; he does not in general give any authorities, and his dates and names are in several cases doubtful.’ (198)

Either the members of the Hill family providing these sources were obfuscating deliberately or they did not know the details of their forebears, or possibly, Sandys and Forster misinterpreted their comments very badly for the whole entry is a confusion of errors conflating Lockey IV and Henry Lockey VI into one person and giving the date of death of Lockey Hill as, ‘about 1845’, which applies to neither. (358)

Similar errors occur in Hart’s, The Violin its Famous Makers and their Imitators. Hart knew William Ebsworth and would surely have consulted him for his entry on the Hill family. At the time of the preparation of the revised and enlarged edition, between 1884 and 1887, Hart was at 28 Wardour Street and William Ebsworth based at number 72.

Hart’s first edition of 1875 has an entry under, ‘Lockey Hill’, showing him active 1800-1845. The 1887 edition has him active 1800-1835; these new dates are a reasonable fit for Henry Lockey Hill VI but there is no mention of his father, Lockey Hill IV. (317)

William Ebsworth was only seventeen when his father, Henry Lockey Hill VI, died and at this point his grandfather Lockey Hill IV had already been dead for over twenty years. What William Ebsworth knew of Lockey Hill IV is a moot point but it is worth noting that none of the published literature, to my knowledge, mentions both Lockey Hill IV and Henry Lockey Hill VI until after the death of William Ebsworth in 1895.

By the time we get to Haweis’s, Old Violins, in 1898, Lockey IV and Henry Lockey VI are both cited though no dates are given for the former and just the date of death, 1835, for the latter. (138)

Meredith Morris in British Violin Makers, 1904, lists Henry Lockey Hill VI with his dates (1774-1835) but Lockey Hill IV is only mentioned in passing as being his father. (160)

So we can see the early genealogical references to Lockey IV and Henry Lockey VI are, to say the least, unreliable and later publications have simply relied, to varying degrees, on this misinformation.

Various obituaries for William Ebsworth Hill (including the Liverpool Mercury 13 April 1895, and the Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser 13 April 1895) give his grandfather as Joseph Hill I, and his father as Henry Lockey Hill VI; Lockey IV not appearing at all.

A notice in the Islington Gazette, 23 March 1910, shows the Hill family still searching for information on their forebears: ‘Wanted the Baptismal Certificate Entry of the birth of Henry Lockey Hill the son of Lockey Hill probably born at Stoke Newington Green about the year 1774. Reply …140 Bond Street.’

Another in the Hornsey and Finsbury Park Journal Friday 25 March 1910 is similar. Both mistake Newington, which they have probably seen on labels, as Stoke Newington in North London, whereas Henry Lockey was around Newington Causeway, an area in Southwark, south of the river.

The Bromsgrove, Droitwich & Redditch Weekly Messenger Saturday October 9  1909 is interesting as it gives the specific date and place of the birth of Lockey as in the new genealogy. The same dates are in the Hill Archive at the Ashmolean Museum, 1752-96, for Lockey Hill. According to the archivist the papers date from approximately 1875-1939 (though Alfred Hill’s death in 1940 is included) when they were typed up is unclear, the collection was given to the Ashmolean in 1992 by David Hill.

If anyone can be charged with deliberate obfuscation it is Henry Lockey Hill VI who seems to have used various labels giving his name as Lockey Hill, or L. Hill,  and perhaps even Henry Hill. In the 1818 baptism record of William Ebsworth, Henry Lockey Hill VI’s name is given as just Henry Hill.  A label of about the same time cited in, The British Violin, gives the name Lockey Hill. (86)

This label also states he is, ‘nephew to the late Joseph Hill of the Haymarket’.  A document in the Middlesex Commitments dated 12 February 1803 shows he also went by the alias ‘Henry Reynolds’. Rather than adopting the name ‘Henry’ to avoid confusion with his father it seems it was more likely adopted to avoid identification by the authorities, indeed, on the contrary, his labels seem to court confusion. Later in life he does seem to have been prepared to sign instruments H.L. Hill.

I can make no judgement as to the authenticity of the aforementioned label not having seen it, but if we assume it to be genuine it is interesting for a number of reasons. It lays claim to a connection with a business in the Haymarket which had closed almost thirty years before; a long time to expect any residual kudos to last and it is not to my knowledge a claim any other extant label seems to have made.

The description, ‘nephew’, is also interesting. The authors of The British Violin, state that its use was ‘rather more elastic in the 19th century than it is today, and could signify either grandson or nephew’, they go on to suggest the term may have been used deliberately to disguise whether reference was being made to Joseph Hill I (born 1715) or Joseph Hill II, his son. (86)

Samuel Johnson in his, Dictionary of the English Language, of 1755 says that, ‘nephew’ in the sense of ‘grandson’ was ‘out of use’. Other sources indicate it was still in use in the nineteenth century. (English Dialect Dictionary)

However, the meaning of ‘nephew’ was even more elastic than simply nephew or grandson. According to, The Century Dictionary, first published 1889-91, ‘cousin’ could apply to ‘nephew’ and ‘nephew’ could apply to ‘cousin’. Eighteenth century novels confirm this. See for example, Clarissa, by Richardson. (154-8) [For these and more examples see Naomi Tadmor, Family and Friends in Eighteenth Century England: Household, Kinship and Patronage: 148-52.] 

Henry Lockey VI may have believed his term ‘nephew’ to be justified, or at least difficult to disprove, particularly as by 1818 all of Joseph Hill II’s forebears and most of his generation would be either retired or dead.


Finally, organology further strengthens the case for this new genealogy. The violin illustrated, which bears all the characteristics associated with Lockey Hill IV,  is branded, ‘Longman & Co. No.26 Cheapside London’.  We know from advertisements in, The Public Advertiser, that the firm, ‘Longman & Co.’ changed its name to, ‘Longman, Lukey & Co.’ between 20 July 1769 and 8 August 1769. If Lockey Hill the violin maker had been born in 1756 he would have been only 13 years old at the time, whereas, if he had been born in 1752 he would have been a much more credible 17 years of age.


The evidence, both direct and circumstantial, indicates that Lockey Hill the violin maker was not the son of Joseph Hill I. In this new genealogy Lockey Hill IV’s grandfather, William, and Joseph Hill I’s father (also Joseph) were brothers.


As a coda I’d like to present a few words by Lockey Hill IV himself. It is vanishingly rare to have such evidence from an 18th century violin maker. In his court testimony he makes a plea to the judge: ‘My Lord, I have no counsel to aid and assist me; I hope I shall have one in you: I am a musical instrument maker; Mr. Thompson, in St. Paul’s church-yard, and Mr. Longman, of Cheapside, were here yesterday, to give me a character, but they are in a great way of business, and they could not wait.’

Whether Thompson and Longman’s good character references would have made a difference is a moot point, the plea was unsuccessful, he was found guilty. His speech as he was about to be hanged on Wednesday 24 February 1796 was reported in the Ipswich Journal of Saturday 27 February. ‘He addressed the populace who attended on this melancholy occasion, in a very impressive manner, and though declaring his innocence for the crime for which he suffered, exhorted them to beware of evil company, which if followed, would in the end bring them to the same untimely fate of which he was a sad victim to its destructive and ruinous principles.’


This is a revised and expanded version of an article first published in the BVMA Newsletter, issue 99, September 2020. The genealogical tables were printed incorrectly in that issue, they are corrected here. This version is derived from a lecture based on that article given to the Entente Internationale des Maitres Luthiers et Archetiers d’Art at its study day in London, April 2024.

Baker, T., John Dilworth and Andrew Fairfax, (ed.) Milnes, J., The British Violin, Oxford, BVMA, 2000.
Hart, George, The Violin: its Famous Makers and their Imitators, London, Dulau and Co., Schott and Co., revised and enlarged edition, 1887.
Haweis, H.R., Old Violins and Violin Lore, London, George Redway, 1898.
Johnson, Samuel, Dictionary of the English Language, 1755
Morris, W. Meredith, British Violin Makers, London, Chatto & Windus, 1904
Sandys, William, and Simon Andrew Forster, The History of the Violin, London, John Russell Smith; Addison and Lucas, 1864.
Whitney, W.D., ed., The Century Dictionary, 1889-91
Wright, J., ed., English Dialect Dictionary, New York, 1930
The Public Advertiser, 20 July 1769, and 8 August 1769.

My thanks go to Philip Kass for reading an earlier draft of this article; also to Anne Humphries of the Alvechurch Historical Society for confirming the Alvechurch information by inspecting original documents in the local records, and to Tim Toft Violins for providing  the photograph.

Violin image © Tim Toft Violins. Text © John Basford, 2024.

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