Hesse was born in Sealcote, Punjab, British India (now Sialkot, Pakistan) on 5 December 1872. His father, John Valentine Hesse was an officer in the 58th (Rutlandshire) Foot (which later became 2nd Battalion, Northamptonshire Regiment). His mother, Ellen McGhie Bridges was originally from London, though her father subsequently had a substantial farm in Devon. They married in Jersey on 8 January 1863. Hesse had two older sisters, Rose Ethelind, born 6 April 1866, Azimgarh (Uttar Pradesh) and Ellen Margaret, born 13 July 1868, Benares (now Varanasi).
His father’s regiment returned to the UK in 1874, until it was posted to South Africa in 1879 due to the Zulu War. It seems that Ellen and the children at least settled in Teignmouth, or at least that’s where they were for the 1881 census. Hesse’s paternal grandfather was Vicar of Rowberrow, Somerset until his death in 1878 (while his great-uncle was Rector of Chiddingfold with Haslemere). After that his grandmother settled in Wrington, which began a long association between the Hesse family and the village.
Hesse followed his father and uncle to Sherborne School, and then after a period cramming with the Rector of Melbury Osmond (who seems to have had a sideline as a private tutor) in 1891, he went to University College Bristol to study engineering. By 1901 he was in Belfast under articles as a mechanical engineer at the famous Harland and Wolff shipbuilding yard: he was also introducing method ringing to Belfast and helping to raise standards within the Irish Association more generally.
Not long after he moved to London. He seems to have been based close to Fulham as he became a regular member of the band at All Saints. He may have been working at Thorneycroft’s yard in Chiswick as he certainly had close connections with Thorneycroft later. By 1905 he was in partnership with Gerald Savory at the Teddington Motor Car and Launch Works, Twickenham Road, Teddington. In addition to cars and boats (for which the Hesse Patent Reversing Gear was a key selling point) the firm also got involved in engines for aeroplanes. At this time Hesse was living in Kingston (5 Downhall Villas), and regular ringer there. On 24 February 1906 he married Phyllis Winifred Young at All Saints Kingston. He was now 33, she was just 19. She was living with her mother at The Lodge, Kingston Road, Teddington. By 1911 the couple were living at 15 Bolton Gardens, Teddington, along with their first child, John William Valentine Hesse, who had been born on 16 February 1908.
In January 1913 the partnership with Savory was broken, with Savory becoming the sole owner, although Hesse initially continued as a manager. The third partner, Robert Bamford, took over what had primarily been a showroom in Chelsea, and began a new firm, which would become known as Aston Martin. In May 1913 Hesse moved to become manager of Thorneycroft’s vehicle repair workshop on Vauxhall Bridge Road.
Given his father’s military service it’s no surprise that Hesse was fairly quick to offer his skills following the outbreak of war, though he was overage. In fact one of his earliest interventions related to the restrictions on ringing that were introduced under the Defence of the Realm Acts, the Ringing World of the 30 October 1914 carried a letter from him explaining that an aviator he knew had a few years earlier told Hesse that the bells of Weybridge were very clearly audible while flying at considerable height, Hesse had suggested that College Youths practices should finish before dark even before official restrictions on ringing after dark were introduced.
He was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Army Service Corps (ASC) on 25 January 1915, and initially worked as a vehicle inspector at Aldershot. At the start of May 1915 he was briefly posted to the ASC depot at Grove Park, London, before proceeding to France on 13 May 1915. Here he joined No 358 Motor Transport Repair Unit. He was promoted captain on 1 August 1915 and attached to No 2 Heavy Repair Shop (320 Motor Transport Company) at Rouen. Around this time he was also granted leave home to the UK as his mother was ill and subsequently died. He was Mentioned in Despatches in the 1916 New Year Honours (one of the first ringers to be so honoured). While engaged in censoring letters, he realised that one of the men in his unit was also a ringer, a rather alarmed Private H Harrington was summoned to see the captain, to discover that Hesse just wanted to talk about ringing. At the end of 1916 he had 6 weeks sick with trench fever and jaundice, including some time convalescing at Cape Mentone. He was promoted acting major on 20 January 1917 and posted as workshop manager to No 4 Heavy Repair Shop (899 Motor Transport Company) at St Omer. He was ill again in mid-1917 and was granted sick leave for three weeks to the UK, returning to duty on 1 July 1917. In October he left the repair shop, returning to the vehicle inspection branch. In March he returned to the UK, reverting to the rank of captain. It had been decided that he would be more valuable to the war effort returning to Thornycroft, working under the Ministry of Munitions on their military contracts, rather than in the army. He relinquished his commission on 14 April 1918, retaining the honorary rank of major. It’s not clear exactly what work he did, he may have contributed to work on their coastal motor boats given his patent on reversing gear. He also seems to have to some degree reverted to his pre-war work at Vauxhall Bridge Road. It seems to have been at this time that the family moved to Haslemere, where he would become tower captain for many years, and first Master of the Guildford Diocesan Guild following the creation of that diocese. Once the war ended he continued to work for Thornycroft until his eventual retirement. He remained closely associated with Wrington too, and died there on 18 October 1946. He had two further sons, Peter Harley Frederick Legrew Hesse in 1919 and Rodney Harley Legrew Hesse in 1925. All three sons followed their father to Sherborne.