And what was the attraction, what was the magnet in this character that so touched all who knew her and made her disciples loyally enthusiastic to the end?  It was not only a wish to serve, but it was the absolute sincerity of her life and purpose, and the humility with which she served her time.  She avoided notoriety; she disliked fuss; she sought no applause; she cared neither for riches nor honour.  Whenever she spoke of the work, or wrote of it, as she did in her annual letter, she put herself absolutely in the background, and gave all thanks and all praise to her fellow-workers.  And yet she ruled by right divine.  If ever there was a Queen’s garden, wherein with lily for sceptre she moved amongst loving subjects to command as well as to dispense blessing, it was the garden of her life’s work, the kingdom of high spiritual purpose, of which she was the great-hearted Queen.  It was a fortunate thing she found in early life a King who could inspire the queenliness of her purpose, a King who believed in service, believed not only in hearing the word of God, but in doing it.  “The greatest of all the miseries of life,” wrote John Ruskin, “the most terrible is the corruption of even the sincerest religion which is not daily founded on rational, effective, humble, and helpful action.”  And it was a happy chance that led the Master to pour out his heart to his pupil on that day in Denmark Hill in 1867, when Ruskin lamented the dreariness of life without an object other than the usual daily round.  I paint, take my mother for a drive, dine with friends, or answer these correspondents,” said he, drawing a heap of letters from his pocket with rueful face, “but one longs to be doing something more satisfying.”  “Most of us feel like that at times,” said his pupil.  “Well, what would you like to be doing?” asked Ruskin.  “Something to provide better homes for the poor,” said Octavia Hill, and turning sharp round in his chair, Ruskin asked her how it could be done—“Have you a business plan?” (pp. 7-8)

The friend in whose memory we are met to-day, with long family traditions of help to the poor in London, whose mind from early childhood had been called to think upon social reform, had a plan which appealed to her master; and the wisest and most practical way of helping the poor of our great cities to a sense of decent surroundings and the happiness of home, and the worth of friendship and sympathy between class was born for London that day. (p. 9)

But the whole secret of the success of the housing schemes, identified not only here but in other cities and in foreign lands with the name of Miss Octavia Hill and her helpers, lay in its simplicity.  There was no vast clearance of ground, and the building up of palatial blocks of tenements; but instead of it there was a determination to see that the best that could be made of what existed should be made, and that not only the houses should be repaired and cleaned, but that the broken hearts of the tenants should be repaired, and that the moral life and daily happiness of the lodger should be cleaned and purified; but all this could only be done by the constant personal pressure of a higher life upon the lower life with which it came in contact. (p. 9)

Those who dwelt in these tenements soon found that behind the inflexible will there was a heart of love.  When she spoke to them, she spoke “with authority and not as the scribes,” and the common people heard  her gladly. (p. 9)

She was a many-gifted woman, a woman of far sight and just judgment.  A woman of tender heart with the courage of a man, a woman with a woman’s power of sentiment with the practical wisdom and business capacity of a man, and this combination helped no doubt to give her her strong personality; but I always think that, side by side with this, her sense of humour helped her throughout life; but most of all what helped her was a belief in the immortality of good work.  She often spoke to me of her faith in the future as helping her in the present; and nothing was a surer part of her creed, than that all that is of God and goodness in this world shall endure for a thousand generations. (pp. 9-10)

It was my fortune to know her for nearly forty years—from the time whan as a young layman in a London slum, I helped her colleague, Miss Cons, as a rent-collector, until the last day when I saw her in the Committee Room of the National Trust—and I found this undying hopefulness of her creed a help in much of the public work that I myself have endeavoured to do; very often, after the hard labour necessary in the collecting of funds for one or other of our National Trust properties, she would write a cheery letter, the keynote of which was joy in the thought that when we were all dead and gone, the people whom she loved to far-off generations would feel the joy of it. Doomed to live in the great city, the countryside “haunted her like a passion;” she saw and felt its restful and inspiring beauty with the eye and heart of an artist. (p. 10)

Her love of the work of the National Trust, of which she was one of the founders, as of the Kyrle Society, whose beginning she inspired, her interest in the Commons Preservation Society, were all dictated by one thought—the need of bringing the people out of unlovely surroundings into the presence of healthy and helpful nature.  She saw the King in His beauty in the land that is very far off, revealed in field and flower, on misty moorland or blue-grey fell, in gleaming purple plain, and her last dying moments were made happy to her by the thought that to Mariner’s Hill, for all time, the people in unlovely London pent, might from time to time escape to the Kentish height, and be brought nearer unto the Giver of all the beauty that is there revealed. (p. 10)

(The Power of Personal Service: A Sermon in Memory of Octavia Hill (Keswick, 1912))