«Edward Hall, c.1932 Introduction EHC/8 is one of the dozen or so manuscripts in the collection written by Hall himself or close family members. The ...»
Wigan Archives Service
The Edward Hall Diary Collection
The Autobiography of a
By Edward Hall
Edward Hall, c.1932
EHC/8 is one of the dozen or so manuscripts in the collection written by
Hall himself or close family members. The ‘Autobiography of a
Superfluous Man’ is an account of Hall’s life from birth in 1898 to the
outbreak of the Second World War and his enlistment with the Royal Air
Force. It is a fascinating account of a life at once remarkable, but in many ways typical of the times in which he lived, worked and raised a family.
It is written both as a memoir and as a history, and gives invaluable evidence both for those interested in Hall’s personal story and those studying his diary collections and this remarkable legacy of his life’s work and passions.
The transcript of this volume was produced by Bill Melling, Archives Volunteer, to whom thanks are to be given for his perseverance, detective skills and passion for all things Edward Hall!
For Bill Melling’s edited extracts from the records of Hall’s early life, please see Past Forward Magazine, Issues 63 and 64, www.wigan.gov.uk/Resident/Museums-archives/Past-Forward.aspx Editor’s Note All diary transcripts have been produced with the intention of faithfully reproducing the text of the original manuscript exactly as it appears. All spellings and punctuation marks have been transcribed as they appear;
where clarification was thought necessary by the transcriber, an explanation, current spellings or punctuation have been added in square brackets or as a footnote.
Wigan Archives Service, Wigan Council, 2013 Transcript produced by Bill Melling, Archives Volunteer and Alex Milller, Archives Manager To Em Justified in her children ___________ Joan (wife of Lt. J.J. Enders, U.S. Army ).
John (at the age of 19, second officer, Merchant Navy, and holder of four campaign stars).
“Bunk’ (at the age of 17, holder of a State Scholarship, University of London).
_________ “As fathers commonly go, it is seldom a misfortune to be fatherless, and considering the general run of sons, as’seldom a misfortune to be childless’ Lord Chesterfield [Page 1] 1898-1915 Diaries fascinate me, and I am a keen collector of them in the original, the earliest specimen in my collection being that maintained by a Pluralist parson-farmer about the middle of the 18th century. I too have Wigan Archives Service, Wigan Council, 2013 Transcript produced by Bill Melling, Archives Volunteer and Alex Milller, Archives Manager been a diarist in a spasmodic sort of fashion, my first effort dating as far back as 1916, when, as a youth of seventeen, I was undergoing military training in a north of England camp. On reperusal, no particular promise as a diarist is indicated, and the diary expired in a pencilled scribble, some eight months after its inception; indeed, it would never have been commenced upon but for the fact of its having casually come my way as a Christmas present from my sister May; and its existence was completely forgotten by me until it was returned to me some years after the war, by yet another sister, into whose care I had apparently entrusted it, before proceeding, as I then hoped, for the ’front’–a hope which never materialised.
My next attempt proved much more ambitious and sustained, but apart from its interest to my two elder children as a detailed record of their infantile sayings and doings, it is more a tribute to my staying powers and minute calligraphy, than to any honesty of purpose or perception of the drift of my life. It was commenced upon on January 1st, 1924. for no apparent reason that I can now either recollect or detect, and the sequence of diaries, increasing in size with each successive year went on until 1926, [Page 2] that particular diary expiring in the month of March, when a series of financial crises culminated in that major disaster which determined the period of residence in the town of my birth, and also put a period of daily discipline which still did not reflect the true state of affairs.
What prompted me to make yet another attempt in the month of December, 1934, I cannot recollect. The circumstances were certainly propitious, if the somewhat parlous state in which I then found myself, can be accorded that term; or perhaps I had been drawn into the discipline again upon discovering several blank pages in the abortive diary from 1926. Certainly I do remember that I once more decided to dedicate the effort to my children, now increased by one who might later feel resentment in having been born too late to figure in the earlier series. Scorned and rejected by the world outside my own little circle, perhaps someday they would correct their immature conclusions and assessments by a considered study of what lay behind the scenes in the adult lives of their parents, reflecting a stormy past of which they could but dimly surmise, and indicating a future – or lack of same – which was sufficiently reflected in the attitude, even towards them, of the folk at Darton.
Be that as it may, between the years 1934 and 1939, with breaks sometimes of months, sometimes of a year or more, the diaries persisted, so perhaps it was after all, an inherited trait, and my immediate circumstances only served to put into operation that which was latent Wigan Archives Service, Wigan Council, 2013 Transcript produced by Bill Melling, Archives Volunteer and Alex Milller, Archives Manager [Page 3] in me. My father was certainly a diarist of sorts, limiting his daily entries in the small note-books he used for the purpose, to the state of the weather, gardening, and perhaps some business memoranda.
Unfortunately, no specimens of his diaries are extant, but I may yet have the good fortune to secure a specimen of the art in the handwriting of an ancestor or collateral – say, that of the Rev. Samuel Hall, the pig headed tutor of young De Quincy, in his Manchester school days; for I am of an old Lancashire family, my grandfather being the first of the Halls to quit Ashton-under- Lyne, for centuries the location of his forebears, in order to establish himself over the border in Yorkshire. He had a staunch companion in his wife, the daughter of Thomas Bentley Kershaw, a cotton merchant of some standing at one time, but who had lost one fortune in the cotton famine which resulted upon the American civil war, whereupon he had proceeded to establish himself in the coal agency business in London, there in due course to amass another.
T.B.K was no ordinary man, though Victorian to the core. He apparently kept no diary, but found self-expression, adequate and inevitably, in poetry; and in addition to a pocket book filled with callow specimens of the art in his hand-writing, I posses a copy of his somewhat rare Buds of Poetry, published by subscription in 1845. The quality of the Kershaw muse, the interests and state of mind of the author of the Buds, are sufficiently indicated in such titles as Babylon, Mancunian, Waterloo; My Native Land, [Page 4] The Homes of England, Victoria; and particularly in The Dying Boy to His Father, The Lost Sister, The Blind Child, The Dying Youth to Spring, Weep for the Dead, and Lines on the Death Of an Infant – his own. As for The Warrior’s Presentiment, if only for its second canto, it
should not lightly be allowed to slide into oblivion with its author:
His was only a human soul!
He had dreamed on his bed of rest, That a raven had stooped – in its winged roll – To repast on his naked breast!
Notwithstanding, young Kershaw’s Introduction to his precious Buds should excite no superior smile, however high falutin the language in which he enshrined his unconquerable determination to get the best out of two possible worlds.
“As the following poems are my first offering at the shrine of Literature, I must claim from my readers the indulgence which is due to a young and inexperienced author, and more especially to one who, of the twenty five summers of his life, has laboured fourteen amidst the unpoetical sights and sounds of a Cotton Mill, and whose limited education has been obtained at the sacrifice of his midnight Wigan Archives Service, Wigan Council, 2013 Transcript produced by Bill Melling, Archives Volunteer and Alex Milller, Archives Manager rest. Few have been my opportunities of study; and while discharging the duties of my avocation, or mingling with the multitude, my spirit has breathed forth the subsequent effusions.’ The public for his next surge into print, though necessarily limited to that section which follows (or used to) reported debates [Page 5] in extensor, or the hardly less copious letters to the Editor, was apparently by no means negligible in the period of the cotton famine, in part no doubt attributable to the generous latitude allowed by the Editor to the personality exchanging belligerent champions of either North or South America, and despite considerable prolixity of argument and the quoted facts and figures bearing upon the vexed subject – whole bewildering, repellent columns of them, which the proud T.B.K. transposed into his bulging scrap books. Beaten in the end in both reputation for mercantile acumen and credit on’Change’, by the logic of events superior even to Lancashire canniness, still arguing, he turned his back upon faithless Lancashire, and departed South, there to make easier game of feckless Londoners. He died as he would have wished to, though at the somewhat early age of 62, seized in the act of signing a cheque by an apoplectic stroke which terminated his career. And forthwith was despatched one of those leisurely telegrams, so redolent of the’80’s, addressed to my
grandfather at Barnsely:
Dear Ned Father is very bad, but do not frighten my sister. Send her up today without fail.
I am hardly likely to die in the confident act of signing a cheque, nor am I of a particularly choleric temperament (as I rather suspect my maternal grand-father was), but I like to think that I inherited from him the literary strain in me. T.B.K. had out-lived his wife, one of the Ashton-under- Lyne Halls, but in [Page 6] bestowing one of his daughters upon my grand-father, he further cemented the family connection, and established it.
Of my forbears upon the paternal side beyond my grand-father, I know nothing more than can be gathered from a few old heavily black bordered mourning cards, and four samplers of an earlier date, the earliest specimen of the latter having been dutifully and painstakingly worked by Deborah Hall in 1822, listing thereon the numerous progeny, alive and dead, of her parents, Edward and Ann Hall, who commenced somewhat uncanonically by providing themselves with a son and heir within six months of their marriage in 1790. They were still resident in the ancestral home of the Halls, Moss-de-Lee, a place Wigan Archives Service, Wigan Council, 2013 Transcript produced by Bill Melling, Archives Volunteer and Alex Milller, Archives Manager sufficiently large to do duty as a mill later on following upon the subsequent decline in local consequence of the family. My uncle Tom possessed an indifferently painted representation of the old place, with regard to which, knowing my curious interest in such matters as a boy, he once declared that the Hall coat-of-arms was discoverable upon it. It was discoloured and soiled with age, and most careful and diligent scrutiny upon my part failed to reveal the coat-of-arms, until my uncle, who was possessed of a sense of humour in addition to a mild share of the Characteristic Hall mulishness, pointed to the donkey which was browsing in a hedgerow in the foreground of the painting.
Going back, there is a tradition (retailed for what it is worth) that the bells of Ashton-under-Lyne parish church were given by the Halls in the 17th century; and that our particular branch of the family had its origin, somewhat on the bar sinister side, in a [Page 7] deserted hut upon the wild moors. As Deborah Hall saw no particular shame in’samplering’ the urgent virility of her parents. I see no reason either why I should blush over a similar amiable weakness – or strength, according to accepted Lancashire standards not entirely out of favour even today – in a remote ancestor. The Halls were ever prolific, and forms and ceremonies sometimes had to wait on events.
But to return to known or reasonable presumptive facts nearer our own day, and in particular, reverting to diaries, I repeat that it is a pity that those of my father are apparently no longer extant, or otherwise perhaps those gaps in my knowledge of him might be supplied, and that affection which I craved from him, and which perhaps at one time he felt towards me until he abandoned all hope of realising his ambitions on my behalf, might have been found committed to its pages. He died miserably of cancer in 1938, hating me with a hatred only possible, alas, in blood relationships.
I was born on 29 May 1898, in a row of small houses in Park Road, Barnsley, a circumstance not to be taken as a fair indication of the local consequences of my parents, particularly of my father, in a provincial town such as Barnsley then was; for, as a matter of fact, he was the second son of three, of a successful engineer and ironfounder, and the Railway Foundry was the most flourishing of the three local and rival firms of that nature. My grand-father,’old Ned Hall’, was still very much alive, and still very much the head of the firm he had founded back in the’70’s’; and still disinclined.
[Page 8] to consider his three sons other than in the category of employees. Of fine physique, his noble leonine face graced by a fine square beard, he was both the terror and admiration of his one hundred-odd Wigan Archives Service, Wigan Council, 2013 Transcript produced by Bill Melling, Archives Volunteer and Alex Milller, Archives Manager employees. Many were the tales current of his masterful, domineering ways. Quick to anger, he visited his wrath not infrequently upon the offender in a manner which would certainly not be tolerated by the workmen of today; but he was not vindictive, and the incident usually closed with a scathing denunciation, and perhaps a kick in the seat.