Main Menu
18th Century
19th Century
20th Century
21th Century
  | Home   | Index   | Info   | This Week   | Games   | News   | Email

William Hill
b. in Birmingham 16 July 1903
d. 16 October 1971, Newmarket

William Hill was born the second son and fourth of the eleven children (there were also a twin son and daughter who died at birth) of William Hill, journeyman coach-painter, and his wife, Lavinia Knight, the daughter of a farmer who also kept an inn on the border of Warwickshire and Leicestershire.

William ran away from school at the age of 12 to work on an uncle's farm. During World War 1, Hill worked as an apprentice at the BSA works in Birmingham. He was still in his teens. Here he took up bookmaking in a small way, by collecting bets on his motor bicycle. In 1919, Hill joined the Black and Tans while underage and was stationed in Mallow, County Cork, Ireland. He spent a lot of his spare time in Moss Foley's pub in the town. Mrs. Foley took a liking to him. Hill was dispatched a few miles out the country to guard one of those big houses, owned by the gentry. Mr. and Mrs. Foley felt he was too young for that assignment and feared that somebody might take a potshot at him. Mrs. Foley appealed direct to the British Commanding officer to let Hill stay in town and the request was granted.

Returning from duty he tried bookmaking for real at the races but took on bigger punters than he could cope with and went bust pretty quickly. He re-started the business with smaller action and eventually got together the finance to move to London. In 1923 Hill married Ivy Burley, a ladies' hairdresser of Smallheath, Birmingham.

In London William started with pony racing at Northolt Park, Britains only track for trotting (opened in 1929, occupied during the war and never re-opened) but later switched to concentrate on dog racing and did well enough to rent an office in Jermyn Street. There he exploited a loophole which allowed credit or postal betting but not cash. Success came and he moved to much larger premises in Park Lane. More so he was also interested in breeding horses and in 1943 bought a stud at Whitsbury in Hampshire.

In 1944 Hill produced the first fixed-odds football coupon, and set up a separate football company.

Nimbus was foaled at Whitsbury stud in 1946, and, having been sold for 5000 guineas at the yearling sales, won the 1949 Two Thousand Guineas and Derby. In 1945 William Hill bought Sezincote stud in Gloucestershire, where he stood his stallion Chanteur II, sire of Pinza, winner of the 1953 Derby. He won his first and only Classic when Cantelo triumphed in the 1959 St. Leger. He won the Gimcrack Stake and Champagne Stake in 1958 with Be Careful.

At the 1955 Royal Ascot meeting, when his runner failed to get takers for a £4,000 bet Hill wanted to lay-off, he made the impulsive decision to quit on-course bookmaking. In 1960, Ladbrokes went into the football business, and Hill sued them for infringement of the copyright in his coupon. The case went to the House of Lords, where Hill won the £1 damages for which he had asked, with costs.

William Hill and Lionel Barber had bought 75% of Holder's Investment Trust, to which Hill sold his interests between 1955 and 1961 for over £5 million. This purchase of a ‘shell’ company was the first time that the manoeuvre had been executed and the first time that a bookmaking company had been floated on the stock exchange.

William Hill missed out on the betting shops. He didn t foresee the palatial palaces of today where the punter can see live racing. If he did, he was afraid of their impact on the working man. He was a socialist all his life and thought the betting office might lead the working man astray. Hill would have stuck to credit betting and fixed odds only for his friend Jack Swift persuading him to get on the bandwagon in the late sixties before it would be too late. He did that and acquired quite a number of shops. He had to play second fiddle to Ladbrokes and could no longer use the tag world's biggest bookmaker.

In his heyday at the big meetings like Ascot, Epsom and New-market, Hill would take £20,000 a race throughout the day and he was up against real bookmakers in the shape of Willie Preston, Percy Thompson, Jack Burns and Hector MacDonald. He would stand horses in the ante-post market to lose upwards of £100,000, which was a lot of money.

On one occasion he laid Raymoung Guest 100/1 to £500 each way about a foal that had just been born winning the Derby. The foal, named Sir Ivor, finally won the Derby at 5-4, causing considerable embarrassment to the William Hill organisation.

In the end he concentrated mainly on breeding and had a number of stud farms in England. It was while he was attending the October Sales at Newmarket in 1971 that the end came a heart attack and it was all over.

He died in the Rutland Hotel, Newmarket on October 16, 1971. He was 68 years old.

William Hill Timeline
1903 : b. in Birmingham 16 July
1934 : William Hill foundered the business which has become the second largest in the UK.
1961: Harold Macmillan's Conservative Government legalised betting shops
1964 : A 25% tax was levied on Fixed Odds betting. This severely hampered growth of the business.
1966 : William Hill finally bought into betting shops. In the same year betting duty was imposed for the first time at a rate of 2.5%, later raised to 5% in 1968 and to 6% in 1970.
1970 : William Hill retired.
1971 : William Hill died on October 16th. The William Hill Organization became part of the Sears Holdings Group.
1988 : Grand Metropolitan, owners of Mecca Bookmakers, acquired William Hill, merging the two companies under the William Hill name. Bob Green becomes Managing Director, but later resigned to be replaced by Mike Smith.
1989 : Brent Walker purchased William Hill. John Brown became Managing Director of the 1800 betting shop company. The company also has the largest Credit Betting operation in the world. In August William Hill were appointed Official Bookmakers to Golf's European PGA Tour and are represented on course at major events.
1995 : From January 1st it became legal to open betting shops on a Sunday. From May betting shop windows no longer had to be obscured and the windows were permitted to display lists of odds and details of bets available within. A wider ranger of refreshments, including sandwiches and snacks were permitted in the shops. There was no longer any limit imposed on the size of TVs displayed in the branches. November: Lucky Choice betting commenced, a side bet based on the outcome of the Irish Lottery - William Hill initiative.
1996 : Betting shop deductions were reduced by 1% from 10% to 9% following a concession in the Budget of the previous November. June 20th : Amusement with Prize Machines were permitted in betting shops, with cash prizes of up to £10 allowed. The shops were also allowed to sell racing related publications - books, newspapers, magazines etc. They were allowed to sell Scratchcards other than National Lottery Scratchcards; to accept Spot The Ball coupons and to pay out football pools winnings.
1997 : It became legal for the location of betting shops to be advertised in newspapers/telephone directories. October 1st: Nomura (Grand Bookmaking Companies) purchased William Hill for £700m.
1999 : William Hill's proposed stock market float was abandoned when the company was sold to Cinven and CVC Partners for a reported £825 million.
2000 : William Hill launch off-shore telephone betting service. A call centre in Athlone , Republic of Ireland takes calls from punters and passes them on for acceptance to the William Hill International bookmaking company in Antigua. Deductions of just 3% are levied. William Hill became the first major bookmakers to offer a completely tax and deduction free betting service to UK based clients via the Internet. Hill's domestic site, charged a 5% rate of deduction; the international site,, charged no deductions at all. Later, as a special offer, the domestic site also went deduction-free. Advertising of off-shore betting facilities on Teletext etc was banned.
2001 : Chancellor Gordon Brown announced in the Budget that betting duty was to be abolished before January 1st, 2002. Oct 10th, Betting duty was abolished and replaced by Gross Profits Tax on bookmakers.
2002 : On April 17th William Hill signed a five year deal with the British Horseracing Board for the commercial use of data in their fifteen hundred betting shops in England, Scotland and Wales, together with their telephone and internet betting operations. Each bookmaker signing up to the deal will pay an annual charge of 10% of gross profits from horserace betting on horse racing in Great Britain, other than in respect of over the counter bets transacted in betting offices where the charge payable will be calculated by reference to the gross profit in each year from each betting office. William Hill successfully floated the Company on 20th June 2002 on the UK Stock Exchange at an offer price of 225 pence per ordinary share. The offer was in excess of 10 times oversubscribed. William Hill purchased the Sunderland Greyhound Stadium in September 2002
2003 : William Hill purchased the Brough Park Greyhound Stadium in March 2003 2003 : John Brown retires as Chairman on 31st December 2003
2004 : Charles Scott is appointed Chairman with effect from 1st January 2004

In 2005 William Hill bought 624 betting offices in the UK, Republic of Ireland, Isle of Man and Jersey from Stanley Leisure for £504 million: the acquisition briefly took the company past Ladbrokes into first position in the UK betting market in terms of shops but not revenue. The Office of Fair Trading made William Hill sell 78 of the 624 Stanley shops due to concerns over anti-competitive practices.
Amidst fears that William Hill had overpaid for the Stanley shops, the company was relegated from the FTSE 100 index in December 2005.[16]
In November 2008 William Hill went into partnership with Israeli software company Playtech, to remedy its own failing online operation. The company wrote-off a reported £26m when scrapping their previous in-house system. In June 2009 William Hill backed Playtech despite their partner having a quarter of its stock market value wiped out following a profits warning.

2016: William Hill published their first app for Android and iOS platforms. The mobile app is a great way to stay up to date and place your bets wherever you happen to be. This app is not ony compatible with Android phones but also tablets and iOS devices.
Home | Index | Links | Information | Glossary | Film Review | This Week | News | Email
Lotteries | Casino | Games | Betting | Spread Bet | Spotlight | Book Review | Advice | Archive | Columns


This document maintained by GGGeditor.
Material Copyright © 2000 - 2019