Radical Liberal councillor Henry Thomas Hall died in 1894. In previous decades he had witnessed many changes to how the Borough of Cambridge was governed. The obituaries in the local newspapers omit some of his more controversial speeches in the council, and reveal a man who pioneered and contributed towards two essential city services in their all important very early days: The Fire Brigade and the Municipal Library. A Chartist in his younger days, he was also a passionate supporter of the Cambridge Amateur Dramatic Company.
I have transcribed this piece from the Cambridge Chronicle’s obituary, a snapshot of which is below, from the British Newspaper Archive.
DEATH OF MR. H. T. HALL. We deeply regret to announce that Mr. Henry Thomas Hall died at his residence Maids’Causeway last night. He had been in failing health for a long time, and gradually grew worse, but was well enough to be out of doors this week.
“Last evening he had a sudden seizure, and Mr. Wherry, his medical adviser, was called in, but he died shortly afterwards from the breaking of a blood vessel on the brain. He was in his 71st year.
“Mr. Hall was born in Cambridge on the 25th of December, 1823; he first went, at an early age, to a dame’s school, then to Mr. Clay’s (the great-grandfather of the present printer to the University) on Peas-hill, and afterwards and finally to Mr. Cream’s school in Jesus-lane. where boys were supposed to be well fitted for every day life by hard lessons and harder knocks. Apprenticed the printing establishment of Messrs. J. Hall and Son, at the same time as the late Mr. John Webb, he followed the occupation of compositor for several years, but during the railway mania, in the forties, he spent some time in the offices of some London promoters.
“Labour was said to be, to him, not a congenial employment, its restrictions upon his love of adventure sat too heavily and also upon his love of independence. By the death of his father a competence enabled him to throw aside business anxieties and to indulge in the luxury of acquiring many works of fine art and a good library, and upon art or literature he was ever ready to express an opinion.
“As young man he mixed much with his fellow workmen and throughout his life “Harry Hall” (as he was familiarly called) was known, highly esteemed and gratefully remembered as an advocate of workmen’s rights. The art of speaking in public was early acquired, and Jack Mannin’s Coffee House, at the back of the Town Hall, was the place of meeting, where he took a prominent part the debates on political and social questions.
“In his early days he was a Chartist and with others tramped to London at the time of the contemplated riots. He lived to see most points of the Charter carried, and delighted to chaff others who lagged behind him at that period. During the Corn Law agitation he attended and spoke at many meetings, and, young man though he was, he ventured and spoke at the great county meeting called by the Sheriff at the Shire Hall. That bearded boy,” the farmers called him, was rather roughly received and ridiculed, but he was able to hold his own against all opposition.
“Mr. Hall was always to the fore all Liberal political gatherings and his speeches were always well received. A vacancy occurring in the West Barnwell Ward in the year 1860, Mr. Hall was elected to succeed Dr Ransom, and he continued to represent that ward until his death. On the occasion of the recovery of the Prince of Wales from serious illness, he incurred the displeasure of the Council, the expression of an unorthodox opinion, which ended by the passing of a vote of censure. His love of the drama led Mr Hall to take a prominent place in the Cambridge Amateur Dramatic Company, and he was fond of recalling the occasions when he appeared on the boards with such familiars his old friends James Reynolds, Tom Prime, John Monel, Dimmock, Willimott, and many others. It is even said that he gave the first taste for the dramatic performance to the sole proprietor of the Theatre Royal in this town.
“He wrote “The Cambridge Dramatic Album,” “Shakesperian Fly Leaves,” “Shakesperian Statistics,” and “Shakesperian Plays, their separate editions and alterations.”
“His first contribution to literature was in 1849-50, when he edited “The Operative Press,” and again in 1851, when he and others brought out “The Exponent”, a Monthly Review for the People. Later on he published “Organization, as applied to the Liberal Party in Cambridge” and which was followed up by the formation of a representative Committee of persons from all parts of the town.
“His admiration and love of Shakespeare’s writings led him to acquire mass of Shakesperian literature, and his intimate knowledge of his works often led him to demolish an opponent by an apt quotation. If there is one local Institution more than another with which his name is associated it the Cambridge Free Library.
“Like some other of our local men, he was a member of its Committee, before he entered the Council Chamber. Introduced in 1859, by his old friends and fellow workers, Mr. Samuel Buck Hutt and Mr. James Reynolds, he was added to the Committee in that year. The. principle of a free library, as an educational means, had his hearty support, and for the long period, from 1859 till his death, his time and money was given without stint to promote its success The first year he presented ten volumes, the next one hundred and twelve, and so on from year to ear until his death, when he had given 4,297 volumes to the library.
“The Shakespeare Memorial Library and the Cambridge Dramatic Library were both the result of his liberality. In a short account of the Library which the Librarian published, he wrote, speaking of Mr. Hall, in 1882, that:
“His interest in the Library everyone knows, for from the year 1859 until now there has been constant passage of books from his residence to the Free Library, and there a standing vote of thanks from the Committee for his generous gifts”John Pink, 1882 cited by Cambridge Daily News 20 July 1894
“He was elected Chairman of the Library Committee on six several occasions. He was for a long time a member of the Improvement Commissioners, and the time which he gave to the public both in Committee and at ordinary meetings is hardly to be estimated.
“In the public service he was busy man suggesting many improvements, such as the planting of trees, the better management of Parker’s Piece, bathing places, additions to the number of public lamps, and many other public works.
“He was long connected with the Volunteer movement, was first Captain of the Fire Brigade, in which he took a great interest, and on the first election to the County Council he polled the largest number of votes in the town, and was afterwards elected Alderman of that body.
“He was kind-hearted and generous, sparing no time to render a kindly service for any who needed it, and many a needy one received help from him. He was outspoken expressing his opinions, sometimes more forcible than pleasant, but he was a man very highly esteemed by every one, and will be a great loss to the town.”