Ernest James Hall: The Spinner and Soldier

The youngest child of William Henry and Eliza Ann Hall, Ernest James Hall, was born at the family’s home, 48 Taylor Street in Batley, on 11 February 1885. His family came from a pretty typical working class background, with his father working a variety of jobs at local woollen mills and his mother raising her seven surviving children and performing dreary and demanding domestic work.

What was atypical, at least to an extent, was his father’s rampant alcoholism. Not only did William Henry Hall have a reputation of being an alcoholic, but he was also convicted of being “drunk and riotous” at least four times. Furthermore, Lewis Hall, the second youngest child of William and Eliza, would recall to his grandchildren that William went around local pubs selling shellfish to fund his habits. It is unclear if this led to William being abusive to his family, as there is no evidence directly confirming or denying abuse. None of his youngest two boys, Ernest and Lewis, ever spoke of facing abuse, but either way, the possibility stands.

In 1891 the family had moved to 25 Beaumont Street; the house is recorded as having three rooms and housed both parents and seven siblings of Ernest. Two of William Henry’s convictions occurred before the next census in 1897 and 1900, both resulting in a hefty or prison time. In 1901 the family resided at the four-roomed 42 Cobden Street, which was located near Batley Town Centre. In July of the same year, Ernest’s brother Walter married Annie Butcher at St. Paul’s Church, where he probably met his future wife, Emily Butcher, Annie’s sister, for the first time.

A map showing the areas Ernest spent his childhood in

After an illness of about two months, William Henry succumbed to Thyroid Cancer, aged 62, on 20 September 1904 at the Batley District Hospital. Three days later, he was buried at Batley Cemetery in the unmarked plot R 476.

Banns of marriage were read between Ernest James Hall and Emily Butcher at All Saints Church in Batley on 26 April, 3 May, 10 May 1908. The wedding took place on 24 May 1908; they were both living on Cobden Street. Emily is listed as living at number 49, and Ernest’s house number is not specified. Emily’s siblings, Walter and Agnes Butcher, witnessed the marriage.

Batley Parish Church

The couple moved to 1 Providence Street, nearby Cobden Street, after their marriage. Their first child, Percy, was born on 17 September 1908. His baptism took place on 11 November 1908 at Batley Parish Church. Ernest took up business in the mill to support his young family.

The Hall family appears on Lloyd George’s 1910 Tax Valuation. They had moved to 5 Providence Street, which had a gross annual value of £5 10 shillings and a rateable value of £3 15 shillings. The house had two rooms recorded on the 1911 Census. The couple’s first daughter, Evelyn, was born on 26 May of the same year. Interestingly, she was baptised alongside many Hall cousins at Batley Parish Church on 6 July 1910. Some were unusually old to be baptised, but it is interesting as it shows that the family have been quite close.

Emily holding a young Evelyn circa 1910

Marion was born three years later in 1913 with a deformity in her legs. This prevented her from walking, so she effectively lived on the couch until she was aged three. Luckily, she had a relatively normal life past that point but was just a little shorter than her peers.

Phyllis Hall was born on 1 July 1915, and at some point after her birth, Ernest was either called up or voluntarily enlisted into the army during the First World War. He served as a Private in the 8th Battalion of the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry and was given the service number 35562. He likely served across the Western Front for a few years before serving in Italy towards the end of the war.

Ernest and Emily Hall

He was injured at some point in his service, as he is included in a list of the wounded in the Sheffield Daily Telegraph on 10 July 1917. Furthermore, he suffered from PTSD (or “Shell Shock”) due to his war service for the rest of his life.

He was awarded the British Victory Medal and discharged from the army on 16 June 1919.

One of Ernest’s war medals

A few more details of Ernest’s injury can be found on his army pension record, which states that he had defective vision attributable to his war service. His pension commenced on 17 June 1919, describing the degree of his disablement as 20%. On 29 October 1921, the record states that there were no grounds for the claim to stand.

The family moved to 99 Whitley Street, around the Westown area of Dewsbury, by 1919. It is quite tricky to pinpoint a direct date on the move, but the town of his next of kin is Batley on the war injury newspaper report, so the move was most likely after July 1917.

Jack Hall, the couple’s second son, was born on 5 June 1920, and Ernest had returned to his pre-war occupation of a card fettler in a woollen mill by that point. Frank was born soon after on 22 July 1922, and the final child, Mildred (or Millie), was born in May 1927.

Ernest’s brother Lewis lived close by at Green Lane during the same period. Lewis’ granddaughter described the conditions of their house; “The bedroom ceiling was open to the rafters, and it was so cold in winter that a glass of water would freeze solid. The house was lit by gas mantels and candles. The mattress was stuffed with straw animal bedding, and they would have to pick the flees off it”. It is possible that Ernest and the family lived in similar conditions.

Evelyn (right) and Phyllis (left), probably during the 1930s

The family continued to live at 99 Whitley Street for about seventeen years when they moved to 32 Oakfield Terrace, Commonside in Hanging Heaton, in 1936. The houses had much nicer conditions, and at least one member of the Hall family would remain living on the Oakfield Terrace row of houses for the next sixty years. Lewis Hall, Ernest’s brother, moved next door at number 30 in about 1938.

Many marriages ensued during the next four years. Firstly, Phyllis married Herbert Grimbleby in the summer of 1936 and was the first child to move out. Next, my Great Grandfather, Percy Hall, married his wife Edith Annie Whitaker at St John the Baptist Church on 17 July 1937. The last marriage of this period was Evelyn’s marriage to Tom Senior in mid-1939.

Evelyn alongside her parents on her wedding day

The 1939 Register details a few things about Ernest’s children who remained at home, barring Mildred, whose record is closed. Both Ernest and Jack Hall worked in woollen mills, with Ernest specifically working as a hopper minder. Emily undertook domestic work alongside help from Evelyn, especially helping outside. Frank worked as a grocery shop assistant.

Marion’s identity card

The outbreak of the Second World War affected Ernest’s life in two ways; his son Frank went to war serving in the Navy, and the more obvious but slightly overlooked effects of the war domestically. Rationing, fears of invasion, and the Blitz, which hit the towns of Dewsbury and Batley directly.

Frank Hall in his army uniform

Life went on, and the first grandchild of Ernest and Emily, Phyillis’ son Brian, was born in late 1940, followed by my Great Uncle John Edward Hall in October 1942. Percy, my Great Grandfather, had moved to 36 Oakfield Terrace, next door but one to his parents, by the birth of my Grandfather Richard on 14 January 1944.

Emily Hall passed away at home due to cancer on 6 June 1948, at the age of 61. Her daughter Marion registered her death and was present at it. She was buried at the Hanging Heaton Churchyard on 9 June 1948. His wife’s death made Ernest even more reclusive, and he was always in the other room to others. He passed away at home due to a heart attack on 2 December 1948, aged 64 and was buried in the same plot as his wife.

Ernest and Emily Hall’s grave at Hanging Heaton Churchyard

Ernest is easily one of my favourite ancestors, and I am incredibly proud to be a descendant of his. There are many reasons, but his story has literally taken about 20 months to uncover, and I am proud of the research I have managed to undertake. Furthermore, I work not far from Hanging Heaton Churchyard, and the Church overlooks me, connecting me to Ernest’s story on a more personal level. We also share the same birthday, albeit exactly 120 years apart. I just deeply connect to him as a person and love his story, which is far from rosy but one I am proud to be able to tell.

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