Hill was born in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, in 1932. "If you stood at the top of the field opposite our house," he once recalled, "you looked right across the Severn Valley to the Clee Hills and the Welsh hills very faint and far off behind them." At the age of eight, he witnessed the Nazi bombing which destroyed Coventry. Hill's work is marked by memories of the war, and contemplations of European history. His father and grandfather were village policemen. Hill identifies himself as working-class - indeed is "glad and proud to have been born into the English working class". He commemorated his maternal grandmother, who had spent her life making nails, in poem XXV of Mercian Hymns : "I speak this in memory of my grandmother, whose childhood and prime womanhood were spent in the nailer's darg [a day's work]... It is one thing to celebrate the 'quick forge', another to cradle a face hare-lipped by the searing wire." Hill was educated at Bromsgrove High School. Despite deafness in his right ear from the age of 11 because of severe mastoiditis, he was an excellent student, and although "somewhat apart", in the words of Norman Rea, a contemporary, he played soccer, acted in school plays, and became a prefect. One of his roles was to introduce a piece of classical music in morning assembly, which, Rea recalled years later, was a task he performed "with enjoyment and aplomb".They still had the classical music before assembly when I was there, more then twenty years later. But by then the school had moved to the new concrete and glass structure off Alcester Road (Stratford Road to you young 'uns), and the old High School of Hibbins, Sailman et al was Parkside Secondary Modern. But as any educator will tell you, you can't teach children in old-fashioned buildings, and Geoffrey Hill's alma mater now lies derelict.
Photo by Bullymeister