Making sense of the family story was helped when I came across a manuscript written by Richard Hall in , the year before he died. He then went on to explain that the family had originally been wealthy landowners in Wiltshire.
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They had their own coat of arms, and in Francis Hall, an only child, was born. The family had pledged most of their land as security for the stock purchases, which had doubled and re-doubled in value over the years. Then one day the crash came and the shares were valueless. The Hall family were not of course alone. Sir Isaac Newton, who amongst other things was Master of the Royal Mint and might be assumed to know a bit about financial matters, lost 30, pounds. On the other hand Sir Thomas Guy got out just at the right time and made a profit of 50, pounds, enough to endow the hospital which still bears his name today.
But for Francis Hall, then aged 25, it meant one thing for certain: he would have to leave home and get himself a job. This was not an easy task, because he had no trade or qualification. He came to London seeking training and found that the Livery Companies had a stranglehold on apprenticeships — and they had strict rules on age at admission.
Francis had already passed his 21 st birthday and was ineligible. He therefore had no alternative but to head south of the Thames, to the somewhat rough area of Southwark, because here the long arm of the Livery Company could not reach. Southwark was a haunt of hookers, pimps and pick-pockets. Francis obtained an apprentice-ship as a hosier, making silk stockings. The money was to be made in the embroidery — a hosier could charge three times the amount for a well embroidered stocking than for a plain one.
Francis served a 7 year apprenticeship before qualifying in late He married the following year and in their only child Richard Hall was born. What is crystal clear is that Francis was determined that his son would be brought up on the straight and narrow — he was the one who could restore the family fortunes.
Remember, this was the time of the Gin craze and Francis was determined that Richard would follow three principles: good education, hard work, and Christian beliefs particularly Baptist beliefs. Looking at each in turn:. Richard appears to have had a very thorough education. I still have many of his school books, including this one of Natural History, from which he could learn that if you crossed a long-necked animal like a camel with a spotted creature such as a leopard, the resulting offspring would be a …giraffe, or camelopardal as it was then called.
Remember, this was pre-Darwin. I think they are rather lovely. I also have pages and pages of his French translations, beautifully written out without correction, English on one side of the page, French on the other. Hard work —in one of his diary entries Richard writes out his rules for getting up a quarter of an hour earlier every morning from the beginning of April — meaning that he would be rising at 4. It really is a reminder of how their lives were dominated by sunlight — and in the winter they almost hibernated! Gill was a man of towering intellect and learning, and Richard looked to him as his mentor — his spiritual guide.
I still have the old family bible — not the King James version, but the earlier Geneva Bible, this one printed in As far as I can see Richard left school at fifteen, because that is when he was apprenticed to his father i. By the time he was seventeen Richard started to jot down events in the world around him — in this case the fact that on 16 th April the Duke of Cumberland defeated the rebels at the battle of Culloden.
Fanny Hill had just been published and the bishop saw the earthquakes as a sign of Divine displeasure. On that day everyone tried to leave the City, their possessions in carts, wheel barrows — anything they could lay their hands on. The result was chaos — perhaps the worst total gridlock the capital had seen.
When Richard was 25 he added a fourth principle to the ways to succeed in life — marry well! He chose as his bride the 21 year old Eleanor Seward. Her father had made a packet in the aftermath of the Great Fire of London, buying up tracts of farmland North of the City and then selling it on for development.
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He made enough money to retire in his late thirties to a rambling stately pile at Bengeworth in the Cotswolds. It is now known as the Evesham Hotel. But when old man Seward left for London after the wedding, leaving Richard and his bride to honeymoon at the house, he fell ill on the journey and died very shortly afterwards.
His widow stayed up in Town but she too caught a disease and died within a matter of months. We therefore have the extraordinary scene where Richard was still a humble sock maker in Southwark, taking time off twice a year to travel down to Evesham to collect his rents and check out his country estates.
Note the bumpy road with the front wheel of the coach about to crash down heavily over a large rock. This is a reminder of the appalling state of the roads at the time of the Rebellion. But justice was swift and highway robbery was a capital offence. I rather like the nonchalant behaviour of the two riders, chatting away and taking absolutely no notice of the gallows. Meanwhile things were changing in London at the old bridge. Here is the scene we associate with the bridge the previous century — it was simply no longer fit for purpose.
Someone has described it as a wall with gaps in it — and certainly it was hopeless for shipping, which could only go through the arches for a couple of hours either side of high tide, and then only with a great deal of care and good fortune. Equally for pedestrians, crossing the bridge was a nightmare with obstructions from houses, shops gateways etc. In work commenced to take out the central pier and to widen the archway to allow ships to pass freely. The carriageway was also widened to 46 feet. In the following year the Great Stone Gate, for so long a bottleneck, was dismantled a nd in the last of the buildings on the bridge was pulled down.
The next year saw the formation of a new pedestrian access onto the bridge direct from St Magnus the Martyr Church. This left the Corporation of London owning a small piece of land just inside the City boundaries, on the other side of the road to St Magnus, and the decision was made to lease it to Richard in so that he could build a shop with a four-bedroom house above. This map by Horwood shows the site of One London Bridge, on the corner of Lower Thames Street, on the other side of the road to the church.
Obviously it was in a very prominent position — the very first shop a traveller would come to as he crossed the bridge and entered the City. It is estimated that perhaps , people a day would have crossed in front of the shop, some on foot, some on horseback. So this would have been the scene from downriver, looking back towards St Pauls. It shows the bridge as a sleek modern bridge, albeit one built on old foundations.
What did he sell in his shop? Well, general haberdashery. I have these two trade display cards, one for Halls Velvet and the other for Bat, a type of cotton wadding. But there was a price to pay for becoming respectable — for coming within the City boundaries.
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