Hilton was born in Middleton, Manchester on 17 November 1916, and died in Birmingham on 7 June 2002. He was educated at Manchester Grammar School and Balliol College, Oxford, where his fellow students included the historian Christopher Hill and the future politician Denis Healey. He was also active in left-wing politics, and a member of the Labour Club. He completed his DPhil in 1939, writing a thesis on the rural economy of Leicestershire from the thirteenth to the fifteenth centuries, applying the Marxist analysis to the emergence of agrarian capitalism. He joined the army in 1940, and served with the Eighth Army in Palestine and Syria, North Africa and then Italy. Discharged at the end of the Second World War, he took up a teaching post at the University of Birmingham in 1946, remaining there until his retirement in 1982. He was appointed professor of medieval social history in 1983.
From The Biographical Dictionary of British Economists in Oxford Reference.