Richard L. Hills

Richard Leslie Hills MBE (1 September 1936 10 May 2019) was an English historian and clergyman who wrote extensively on the history of technology, particularly steam power.[1][2] He founded Manchester's Museum of Science and Industry.

He was born on 1 September 1936 at Lee Green, Middlesex, the second son of Leslie Hills and Margaret Magdalen Miller (the youngest daughter of John Ontario Miller).

He lived near Hyde in Cheshire.

Hills was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2015 New Year Honours for services to industrial heritage.[3][4]

When he was 72 he met and married Bernice Pickford (m.2008) and they had 8 years together before she died from cancer in 2016. After her death as therapy he was encouraged to write his autobiography. Thus 'The Seven ages of One Man' was published in 2018 his last book. The book takes you on his journey from his childhood right through to the death of Bernice and the start of writing the book.

He was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 2011 and died on 10 May 2019, at the age of 82.[5][6]



  • National Service; Second Lieutenant, 26 Regiment, Royal Artillery; 1955–57.
  • Teaching at Earmley School, Sussex and Worcester College for the Blind
  • Founding Curator/Director of the North Western Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester; 1965–85
  • Curate at St. Clements, Urmston, Greater, Manchester; St. Pauls, Great Yarmouth, Suffolk and St. Michael and All Angels, Mottram in Longdendale, Cheshire.
  • Honorary Reader in History of Science and Technology, UMIST


From an early age, he was fascinated with mechanical toys, whether making model aircraft on the nursery window sill, arranging layouts for model trains or taking clocks to pieces. At school, he started making a 3½ inch gauge live steam model of the 1830 Invicta or Canterbury Lamb which he was now trying to finish. In National Service, he obtained a commission as 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Artillery, ending up with the 26 Field Regiment at Folkestone during the Suez Crisis. He was sent to Lydd-on-Sea to supervise the accommodation for Territorial units practising shooting on the Dungeness ranges. Mechanical interests at this time covered as well as the guns a small 2-stroke Excelsior motor bike and a small Standard car which needed a great deal of restoration.

Then followed the History Tripos at Cambridge and the acquisition of a 1924 Lancia Lambda. Through the need to restore this, he was introduced to Mr. and Mrs. Kenny who were prepared to allow impecunious students use of their workshop facilities near Long Melford. They were trying to preserve the steam engine at Stretham that once drained the Waterbeach Level. Recovery from a climbing accident gave me the opportunity to research the history of this engine and the Fen area. After completing the Dip. Ed. at Cambridge followed by a brief teaching spell, a years research into fen drainage at the Imperial College, London, led to the award of its Diploma and the publication of his first book, Machines, Mills and Uncountable Costly Necessities.

Through the support of Prof. Rupert Hall at Imperial, Donald Cardwell offered him a post of Research Assistant in his History of Science Department at the UMIST to study the History of Textile Technology as well as assisting in launching a science museum for Manchester. The proposed museum was supported by the City of Manchester, the University of Manchester and UMIST. In 1967, UMIST purchased 97 Grosvenor Street for demolition but agreed to allow one part of it to be used temporarily to start the museum. In 1968, the three authorities found between them £12,670 p.a. to fund a lecturer in charge, two technicians and a secretary was well as all the other running costs. Because he had been collecting exhibits such as the Beyer, Peacock archives of their locomotive production and many more, He was offered the post of lecturer in charge. The first stage of the museum was opened on 20 October 1969 by Hervey Rhodes, Baron Rhodes of Saddleworth, Lord Lieutenant of Lancashire. It contained displays of steam and internal combustion engines, papermaking, printing, spinning and weaving, scientific instruments, clocks, electrical exhibits such as wireless sets, archives and much more.

His Chief Technician was Frank Wightman, an experienced millwright, with a passion for the steam engines that drove the textile mills. Manchester had been a centre for mechanical engineering with many internationally famous firms. He realised that it would be possible to find small examples of machine tools like lathes or planing machines to show the basic principles. Also many textile machines might be shortened to just a few spindles. These would be easier to demonstrate. So he decided to concentrate on mill engines of medium size that would still be impressive. These could be demonstrated under steam from a modern package boiler.

But this placed him in a dilemma even before the official opening. Should they concentrate our efforts on that or collecting exhibits they could not display immediately but would be necessary in a permanent museum? When they were offered a steam beam engine of around 1830 like those that would have driven the first cotton spinning mills, he decided to use Frank's expertise and dismantle it for storage. Likewise he decided to accept the offer of one of the last steam mill engines ever built, the 1925 Galloway engine from Elm Street Mill, Burnley which required all of Frank's skills to remove it. This had to go into three different stores before the time came to re-erect it in 1983. In 1972, the museum was able to expand into the whole of 97 Grosvenor Street so as many as possible of the exhibits were put into working order and demonstrated especially on Working Saturdays which attracted many visitors. Between the opening in 1969 and closure of Grosvenor Street in 1983, over half a million visitors passed through its doors.

The celebration of the 150th anniversary of the opening in 1830 of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway saw the acquisition of the original terminus at Liverpool Road, Manchester, by the Greater Manchester Council, and the decision to move the museum into that historic site. At last it became possible to take the mill engines out of store. Frank Wightman had passed on, leaving him as the only person who had seen them in their original situations. He had to supervise first the preparation of plans for the construction of foundations then the actual erection of the mass of separate parts. The total weight must have been around 400 tons. For these engines to run again, there had to be installed services such as steam, water, condensing apparatus, drains as well as overhead cranes. It is probably the most complex display attempted for a museum. The Power Hall has been a major draw for visitors ever since, still being the most popular part of the museum.

At Liverpool Road, the opportunity was taken to expand into railway related exhibits. He saw that they could complement the National Railway Museum by displaying locomotives that had been exported overseas by the many local locomotive building firms. A cousin, Elspeth Quayle, who was a member of the Manx House of Keys, introduced him to their Minister of Transport and so was arranged the return to Manchester of the Beyer, Peacock built Pender. The sectioning of this locomotive has proved to be another big draw. The British Overseas Railways Historical Society helped with the return of the Vulcan Foundry 4-4-0 locomotive from Pakistan. The Netherlands State Railways presented the high-speed electric EM2 Class Ariadne built at Gorton with Metropolitan-Vickers electrics. It was designed originally to work between Manchester and Sheffield and then on to London when that part of the line might be electrified. Perhaps his greatest achievement was securing and organising the return of the mighty Beyer, Peacock 'GL' Class Garratt articulated locomotive from South Africa. The logistics of moving this 120 ton monster from Johannesburg to Manchester were considerable, involving a visit by him to that country.

By this time in 1983, he was feeling the stress of many years overworking. So he took early retirement on ill-health grounds which gave two opportunities. One was to be trained to serve in the Church of England as an ordained priest and he have continued to help in local churches in the Mottram deanery. The other was to contribute more books and articles on the history of technology. These are listed in the bibliography. In the meantime, the museum has continued to expand and develop, becoming Manchester's chief visitor attraction. Since the opening at Liverpool Road in 1983, there have been around two and a half million visitors and in 2013 alone there were 643,000 visitors, drawn by the many working exhibits, the tradition started at Grosvenor Street

Richard married Bernice Pickford (née Parkinson) in August 2008 at the Church where they met and where he was curate, St Michael & all Angels, Mottram in Longdendale. She died in 2016.


  • Hills, Richard L. (1967). Machines, Mills and Uncountable Costly Necessities: A Short History of Drainage of the Fens.
  • (1970). Power in the Industrial revolution. Manchester University Press. ISBN 0719003776.
  • (1973). Richard Arkwright and Cotton Spinning.
  • (1982). Beyer-Peacock, Locomotive Builders to the World.
  • (1988). Paper Making in Britain, 1488–1988: A Short History.
  • (1989). Power from Steam. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-45834-X.[7]
  • (1993). Power from Wind: A History of Windmill Technology.
  • (2000). The Origins of the Garratt Locomotive. Plateway Press. ISBN 1871980437.
  • (2000). Windmills, A Pictorial History of Their Technology.
  • (2002). James Watt: Volume 1: His time in Scotland, 1736–1774.
  • (2002). Life and Inventions of Richard Roberts.
  • (2003). The Drainage of the Fens.
  • (2005). James Watt: Volume 2: His time in England, 1774–1815.
  • (2006). James Watt: Volume 3: Triumph through Adversity, 1785–1819.

Dr Hills has written well over one hundred articles in journals such as Newcomen Society Transactions, Manchester Memoirs, Railway Magazine, Railway World, Notes and Records of the Royal Society, Journal of the Textile Institute, Industrial Archaeology, The Quarterly (Journal of the British Association of Paper Historians), International Association of Paper Historians Year Book, Technology and Culture, History of Technology, Museum Association Journal, Snowdon Ranger (Welsh Highland Railway Society), Textile History and the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.

He has made contributions to the following and other encyclopaedias, etc. Biographical Dictionary of Scientists, Biographical Dictionary of the History of Technology, Encyclopedia of the History of Technology, New Dictionary of the National Biography, Oxford Companion to the Book and Reader's Guide to the History of Science.

Offices, awards and honours

Dr Hills has held the following positions in the listed societies at various times:

  • Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society – Member of Council
  • Manchester Region Industrial Archeology Society – Chairman, Secretary, now an Honorary Member
  • International Association of Paper Historians – President, now an Honorary Member
  • British Association of Paper Historians – Founding President, now an Honorary Member
  • Newcomen Society for the History of Engineering – Member of Council, Chairman of the North West Branch
  • Manchester Association of Engineers – Member of Council, Editor, President –
  • Society of Ordained Scientists – Secretary

He has been given the following awards and honours:

  • Award of Merit, Cambridge Education Diploma
  • Abbot Payson Usher Prize, 1973 (R. L. Mills and A. J. Pacey, "The Measurement of Power in the Early Steam-driven Textile Mills," Technology and Culture 13 (1972): 25–43)
  • Companion of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers
  • Honorary Life Vice-President, Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester
  • Honorary Member of M/C Literary and Philosophical Society (2014)
  • Awarded M/C University Medal of Honour (2014)
  • Awarded MBE in the 2015 New Years Honours List (2015)


  1. "The British Journal for the History of Science". Cambridge Journals. Retrieved 1 December 2010.
  2. Boyle, Godfrey (8 March 1996). "A plug for the future". Times Higher Education. Retrieved 1 December 2010.
  3. "No. 61092". The London Gazette (Supplement). 31 December 2014. p. N20.
  4. 2015 New Year Honours List
  5. Hills
  6. Wainwright, Martin (5 June 2019). "Richard Hills obituary". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 6 June 2019.
  7. Herbert, Roy (6 November 1993). "Review: Roy Herbert discovers the attraction of steam power and marvels of underground London". New Scientist. Retrieved 1 December 2010.
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