Chris Hill.

We were very sad to hear that Chris Hill died on 16 January.

Chris’s funeral is on 13th Feb,  2.15pm at City of London Cemetery followed by a wake/celebration of his life at the Hornbeam.

Chris Hill was a wonderful friend of the Hornbeam over 30 year years.
Chris Hill was a wonderful friend of the Hornbeam for over 30 year years

Chris was more than just a regular, he was a complete stalwart.He was involved in the coordinating team across all 3 decades of its existence. He provided an invaluable contribution to the local community over the years making the Hornbeam accessible for so many organisations and activities by opening and closing the building at all hours week in, week out.

Chris Hill Sep 2012 at a Hornbeam Open Mic session.
Chris Hill Sep 2012 at a Hornbeam Open Mic session.
Chris was on the Hornbeam’s co-ordinating team for a number of years. He was a supporter both financially and in person, attending so many events, often entertaining us with his wonderful piano playing. He was also a frequenter of the regular Italian classes and of course a great customer of the cafe.

Always a man to order the full three courses, he was especially happy when fresh chillies were on the menu and was a firm believer that a stew needs a gravy.

It is already seeming very strange without him.

We will plan something appropriate to remember him here at the Hornbeam soon.

Here is a lovely obituary from Chris’s close friend, Jonathan Brind:

Christopher Hill, born September 7, 1940, spent his childhood in Calne and never lost his soft Wiltshire accent. He was not a man to let go of things. In 2010 he still had the Basque beret he bought in Bayonne, France, when he was at  school there in 1957.

A talented keyboard player and gifted linguist, he actually studied history at university. He did not complete the course.

In the 1960s, he moved to London and like many got involved in student politics and the anti Vietnam war movement. He attended some of the big Vietnam demos and got arrested at one, serving several months in prison.

As a result of his activism, he got to know quite a few of the leading luminaries of ultra Left politics including Bill Rose,who in the 1960s was calling himself Bill Turner.

For a while Chris worked as a librarian, a job that probably suited him better than any other, though he did spells in a number of other fairly low grade clerical occupations. These jobs included an extended spell working for the youth service in Waltham Forest. Most of the time, however, he was unemployed or very slightly employed, much to his delight.

Slight employment included working as a pub piano player, especially at the Prince of Wales in Lea Bridge Road, Hackney. This was a plum job since the pub was well known for its piano player (as well as its Young’s beer). The PoW was only one of several pubs he was hired to play at.

In the 1970s he became a regular at the Walthamstow Liberal Club, a place that rivalled the bar in Star Wars for its collection of exotic characters. Here he also played the piano.

Later on he found a similar scene at the Hornbeam in Hoe Street, Walthamstow, an environmental centre and vegetarian eating house. Here he became the voluntary assistant librarian, subsequently taking on the roles of janitor and treasurer.

Pubs were important to him, though at least in his later years he was not much of a drinker. It is reported that ‘pub’ was one of his last words despite the fact that he had given up alcohol months earlier.

One pub he was a regular at was the Drum, a Wetherspoon’s house in Lea Bridge Road, Leyton. He briefly worked as the piano player at Nancy’s, a curious bar that opened and then shut before most people got the chance to visit it. Nancy’s was located in the building that became the Drum.

At the Drum he was a regular in a group that became known (at least to outsiders) as the Morning Star readers.

Although by that time, the 1980s and 1990s, Chris was certainly not actually a Morning Star reader, newspapers were very important to him and he kept a collection of old Guardians and Observers  that mounted up precipitously in various piles.

Today with an archive of newspapers being available online at the click of a mouse, it’s quite hard to understand the motivation for this but there was a time when to check what had happened you really needed to consult the paper version.

In addition to newspapers, Chris had an enormous collection of books. These were one of his greatest passions, though his principal interest was acquiring and storing them rather than actually reading them. He once said that there was a value in just looking at the titles on the spines even if you didn’t read them.

Which is not to say he was unread. He was extremely widely read and very knowledgeable, particularly when it came to linguistics and the English language.

He enjoyed learning new languages, much in the way that some collect new specimens of stamps or coins. He dabbled in a dozen or more languages and there were a few, notably French, that he  spoke well, despite the fact that for much of his life he did not go abroad at all.

Chris seemed to be a confirmed batchelor but late in life he came across Lily Childress (1935-1996)  and whilst they never got married and Lily drew the line at living with him, they were a loving couple for years and enjoyed going on holiday together. She actually managed to get him out of the country to France, where he was less than happy about the fact that she would try to use her French even though his was superior.

He was a bedrock member of the New Lammas Lands Defence Committee, a group dedicated to preserving the Lea marsh lands.  Perhaps this led him to become increasingly green in his politics, but for whatever reason he was extremely concerned about global warming and the despoilation of the environment.

For most of his life Chris was passionate about traditional music played on conventional instruments and it was a long, bumpy journey that took him to the electronic keyboards he became known for playing at events like pub quiz nights, where he would peform the tunes for the musical round.

This passion for tradition and the past led him to become a prominent member of the Leyton and Leytonstone Historical Society for many years.

Chris was a gentle soul who was generous to a fault when it came to donating to beggars, street people and the like. He was often in the company of the eccentric, the disturbed, the damaged and the idealistic. If you were one of his many friends you may decide yourself which category you fall into.

Video of Chris playing keyboard at a Forest Recycling Give or Take Event