Born in Leigh, in Lancashire, England on 9 September 1900, he was the son of John Hilton, the headmaster of Chapel End School in Walthamstow. His father was one of the inspirations for the character of Mr. Chipping in Goodbye, Mr. Chips. (Hilton was born on Wilkinson Street in Leigh — there is a teacher in Goodbye, Mr. Chips called Mr Wilkinson.) The setting for Goodbye, Mr. Chips is believed to have been based on the Leys School, Cambridge, where James Hilton was a pupil. Chipping is also likely to have been based on W. H. Balgarnie, one of the masters of the school who was in charge of the Leys Fortnightly, where Hilton's first short stories and essays were published.
Hilton wrote his two most famous books, Lost Horizon and Goodbye, Mr Chips while living in a rather ordinary Semi-detached house on Oak Hill Gardens, Woodford Green. The house still stands, with a blue plaque marking Hilton's residence.
He was married and divorced twice, first to Alice Brown and later to Galina Kopineck. He died in Long Beach, California from liver cancer on December 20, 1954, aged 54.
The Redford rail smash was a bad business. On that cold November morning, glittering with sunshine and a thin layer of snow on the fields, the London- Manchester express hit a wagon that had strayed on to the main line from a siding. Engine and two first coaches were derailed; scattered cinders set fire to the wreckage; and fourteen persons in the first coach lost their lives. Some, unfortunately, were not killed outright. A curious thing was that even when all the names of persons who could possibly have been travelling on that particular train on that particular morning, had been collected and investigated, there were still two charred bodies completely unaccounted for, and both of women.
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