The Hill Special
On the 31st August 2014, on the afternoon that Eastbourne’s pier burnt, I had the bizarre stroke of fortune to meet the Hill family in my back garden – the day after I just bought a 1982 Hill Special locally on Gumtree. How likely is that? Here is a letter I wrote to the Hill Special Website Owner, Charles Jepson, to explain my strange tale.
I thought I’d write to you with a story regarding the Hill family which happened very recently. I found your website dedicated to a Hill Special frames and I’m grateful for your excellent work, finding the site was a key event in my story and helped me acquire a beautiful frame.
I was reading the classifieds and came across an ad for a Hill Special bike for sale nearby. I had never heard of the marque so began some research, coming across your website and enthusiastically poring over the gallery of bikes and history of these frame builders. The next day I went and bought the bike, I was both excited and curious to see what condition the frame would be in and it’s craftsmanship. I loved it at first sight, and spent a good half hour speaking with the seller, a lady who had bought the frame from a bike shop in London for $75 in 1982.
The Penny Drops
I returned to your site a number of times and felt my interest growing even more as I tried to find as much information about Hill Specials as I could. But here is where the story takes a strange turn: my sister asked me, this week, if I could try helping her friend Avril, whose bike needed work. I had no idea what bike Avril had, so when she arrived at the house with her bike in the back of her car, I didn’t expect anything interesting. She had brought her mother with her, and as we sat in the garden with my parents, Avril’s mother noticed my old 1978 Raleigh Competition, and said that Avril’s bike, still in the car, had been made for her by her late husband, who once built frames in Padiham.
“Padiham?” I asked.
You can imagine how this piqued my interest. I asked her if it was an established family frame builder, and she answered that it was. In awe, I asked her with disbelief:
“It is not, by chance, a Hill Special bike, is it??”.
Her face lit up, and she she exclaimed “Yes it is!!”.
I couldn’t believe that it was the Hill family sitting in my back garden, whose bike history had so fascinated me recently. From that moment we spent a good 2 hours talking about the Hill family of frame builders, and Joyce, Avril’s mother, patiently answered my many questions.
The Family Business
Avril’s father was Dennis Hill, and Adam Hill was Joyce’s brother in law. Joyce herself used to paint the lugs of some Hill Special frames, perhaps even the lugs of the 1982 frame I bought just a few day ago. Joyce is now 83, but still has great stories and memories of those great days of frame building, as well as a passion for cycling. It was also very poignant when Avril saw my frameset, as she felt she would never see another Hill Special built by her father’s hands. She spent a long time gazing at the bike, often touching the lugs and tubing as she spoke about her father’s passion for frame building, and her memories of him. I was amazed at the coincidence of having the Hill family at the house, telling me stories of the business, of other frame building legends, just weeks after I had for the first time discovered the Hill Special marque.
Avril’s bike was given to her by her mother Joyce, but Dennis had built the whole bike for her a few years after the business closed in 1982. I can send you pictures if you like, of both my bike and Avril’s specially made frame with no serial number but with the Hill Special decals and head badge. It was a fascinating afternoon, and I thought I’d share the story with you which has a strange amount of coincidence but also good fortune on my behalf to meet the members of a family that contributed to the great traditions of cycling in Britain in the decades past.
Charles Jepson kindly wrote back to me with and included a couple of pictures of his superb Adam Hill bike. He stated:
Whilst I personally did not meet either Adam or Dennis Hill, I have a very good friend Ken Hartley who was a crack racing cyclist to whom Adam would supply a new bike each season for the sum of one shilling in order that Ken could retain his amateur status. Ken, inspired by Adam, became a frame builder, and at the age of 81 has just built me a ‘Hart’ Special using rear stays he obtained from Adam.
The Hill Special website is here