Lawrence Hills

Lawrence Hills was a British horticulturalist, journalist, writer and the driving force behind The Henry Doubleday Research Association (HDRA), which began in 1954.

Lawrence Hills, 1911-1991

As a horticulturalist he had a keen interest in organic methods, but he earned his living as a freelance journalist writing for The Observer, Punch and The Countryman.

He suffered from coeliac disease, which left him in a wheelchair, until introduced to a wheat-free diet by the woman who became his wife, Cherry Hilda Hills, a noted nutritionist.

Whilst researching a book called Russian Comfrey, he discovered that the plant grown widely in Britain today was introduced in the nineteenth century by a smallholder named Henry Doubleday.

When Doubleday came across comfrey he was so intrigued by its possibilities as a useful crop that he devoted the rest of his life to popularising it. Hills took up his crusade and before long requests were coming from far and wide for plants and additional information.

Eventually Hills was able to raise 300 pounds to rent an acre of land at Bocking, near Braintree in Essex, and he began to experiment with comfrey. By 1958 the enterprise had reached a point where it had to become official or be dropped altogether So he decided to set up a charitable research association to study the uses of comfrey and – more significantly – to improve ways of growing plants organically. He named the association after his pioneering Victorian mentor, Henry Doubleday

For ten years, Lawrence Hills received no pay whatsoever, funding the work from his Observer articles. The Association grew slowly through the ’60s, and by the end of the decade had a loyal band of around 17,000 members.

In December 1986, Lawrence Hills, who had charted the course of HDRA for more than thirty years, stepped down as Director and became its President.

Lawrence’s autobiography, Fighting Like the Flowers, was published in 1989.

Lawrence Hills died in 1990 and was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by Coventry University the same year.