Hichens, William Lionel

William Lionel Hichens – known to his friends as ‘Nel’ – was the second son of John Ley Hichens MD, of St. Ives, Cornwall, and of Catherine Hichens (née Bacchus). He was the younger brother of John Ley Hichens (H 1885) and father of John Hichens (H1933-1939) (killed in action 11th July 1944 – see individual entry).     He came to Culver’s Close house at Winchester College in 1887, and in 1893 went on to New College, Oxford, where he rowed in a famous VIII which was Head of the River.

After a year as an Assistant Master at Sherborne, Hichens joined the City Imperial Volunteers and served in the Boer War.   In The Times, his service was described thus:  “Lionel Hichens served in the ranks during the South African War, whence he was called by Lord Milner to the Civil Service. Hichens, Lionel Curtis, and the late Maxwell Balfour joined the CIV from New College in January 1900, as members of the Inns of Court Cyclist Section – I believe the first cyclist unit that ever served overseas with a Regular infantry brigade. This unit served as dispatch riders to Lord Kitchener when, after the fall of Bloemfontein, he led a force against rebels in the north-west of Cape Colony. The cyclists were used for many strange duties, and Hichens was sent alone for some one hundred miles to arrest a certain Predikant Steincamp. He crossed the Orange River to Keimoes, found his man addressing a prayer meeting, arrested him, at their invitation gave the congregation a more accurate and lucid account of the British position in the campaign, and, placing his prisoner in a Cape cart, rode behind him into the British lines.” (The Times)

He spent a short time with the Egyptian Ministry of Finance, where his knowledge of French was a great advantage;  he then moved to South Africa to assist Lord Milner with the establishment of the Crown Colony of the Transvaal.   Hichens became successively Treasurer of Johannesburg, Colonial Treasurer of the Transvaal and Treasurer of the Inter-Colonial Council of the Transvaal and the Orange River Colony.

In 1910, three years after his return to England, Hichens and such figures as Robert Brand (later Lord Brand, a prominent merchant banker); John Dove; Richard Feetham (later Chief Justice of South Africa); Dougal Malcolm (later Chairman of the British South Africa Company); and Harry V. Hodson founded the Round Table magazine, a quarterly  review of the politics of the British Empire.  The group went on to found the Royal Institute of International Affairs in 1919, now better known as “Chatham House”, the name of its headquarters in St. James’ Square, London.

In 1910 Hichens became Chairman of the famous ship-building firm of Cammell Laird at Birkenhead, and he held that office until his death. He was a Member of the Carnegie Trust; on the Royal Commission on Indian Decentralization in 1907; a JP; a Fellow of Winchester College from 1933; a Governor of the Royal College of Music; Chairman of the Governors of Birkbeck College, London; a director of the Metropolitan-Cammell Railway Carriage Company; and a director of the London, Midland & Scottish Railway.

On March 1st 1919, in the chapel of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, he married Mary Hermione Lyttelton CBE, daughter of General the Right Honourable Sir Neville Lyttelton GCB, GCVO, Commandant of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea. From 1929 they lived at North Aston Hall, Oxfordshire.  He was the father of three Wykehamists: Captain John Hichens (H1933-1939) was killed in action in Normandy on July 11th 1944 (see individual entry); the others were Mark Lyttelton Hichens (H1939-1943) and Andrew Lionel Hichens (H1950-1954). The couple also had three daughters: Phoebe, Stella, and Rachel.

When the bombing of London began in 1940, Hichens remained in London, and was killed in an air raid at Church House, Great Smith Street, in the City of Westminster, at the age of sixty-six. Church House is the headquarters of the General Synod of the Church of England. Hichens’ association with it had begun when he had been persuaded to serve on the building committee by the building’s architect – Sir Herbert Baker, Hichens’ friend and the architect of War Cloister.   Hichens was one of the moving spirits behind the construction of War Cloister and was thrilled when Sir Herbert Baker was appointed designer.

At 1950 on October 14th 1940, a high explosive bomb fell upon Dean’s Yard facade of the building, which had only been officially opened in June. The bomb smashed through the fifth and fourth floors and exploded on the  third floor. Church House contains at its centre a circular Assembly Hall: the explosion blasted a gap thirty yards wide in its walls. Thanks to its sturdy construction – Church House had been built on a steel frame – there was little other damage, and the three hundred people who were sheltering in the basement were unhurt.    So impressed was the Prime Minister with the strength of the building that he requisitioned it for use by the two Houses of Parliament, and it was often used for that purpose during the war. It was not until January 1941 that the official censorship was lifted and the names of the six people who had been killed by falling masonry inside Church House were made public.  Hichens was one of them.

Hichens was cremated in London on the following Saturday, and his ashes buried in St. Mary’s churchyard, North Aston.  The choir of New College, Oxford, sang at a memorial service the following day.

War: World War 2

  • Surname: Hichens
  • Forenames or initials: William Lionel
  • House: H (Fellow 1933-1940)
  • Years in School: 1887-1893
  • Rank: Civilian
  • Regiment: NA
  • Date of Birth: 1st May 1874
  • Date of Death: 14th October 1940
  • How Died: Killed in Air Raid
  • Location in War Cloister: Not commemorated
  • Decoration: NA
  • Burial Site: St Mary's Churchyard, North Aston, Oxfordshire