Ebenezer Hall was born on 18th November 1820 and
was baptised at St. Mary's Church, Wirksworth on 11th May 1823. He was the
second son and third child of Gilbert Hall and Elizabeth Slack. In the
natural course of events Ebenezer named after his
great-grandfather, Ebenezer Hall (1735-1803) would
have become a lead miner like his father but maybe he was a delicate child,
he was over two years old when he was baptised. At all events, he was
evidently a very bright boy and attended Cromford School, which had been
founded by Richard Arkwright in 1832. Here he caught the eye of the
schoolmaster William Shaw, who recommended him to his friend John Roberts,
a childless Sheffield silversmith who wished to adopt a promising young
man to succeed to his silverplating business.
In 1836 Ebenezer moved to Sheffield to be
apprenticed to the firm of Wilkinson & Roberts; he lived with John Roberts
and his wife Sarah at their house in Shrewsbury Road in the Park district
of Sheffield. Ebenezer learned the business quickly
and within a few years became a manager, travelling on the firm's behalf
to London, Edinburgh and elsewhere. This involved arduous journeys by
stagecoach but in 1847 his diligence was rewarded when John Roberts'
original partner Henry Wilkinson retired and Ebenezer
was offered a partnership in the firm, which now became known as Roberts &
Hall. At this stage Roberts contribution to the partnership (£2,750)
greatly exceeded the £100 stake put up by Ebenezer
Hall and Roberts retained overall financial control. Ebenezer Hall allowed his profits to be retained by the
firm until such time as his share matched that of his partner. This gave
him an extra incentive to succeed and the firm went from strength to
strength, exhibiting at the Great Exhibition of 1851 where they were
awarded a Certificate of Merit.
In 1852 Roberts & Hall amalgamated with Martin & Naylor of Fargate,
Sheffield and henceforth became known as Martin, Hall & Co. Around this
time several of Ebenezer's brothers joined the
firm, most becoming departmental managers. On 31st October 1857 a patent
for Improvements in Steam Hammers was granted in the names of
Richard Martin, Ebenezer Hall and Joshua Hall and
in 1859 the indenture of apprenticeship of William Monks described Joshua
as a Co-partner in the firm. Joshua died on 12th June 1861 and is buried
in Sheffield General Cemetery. In due course some of Ebebenzer's nephews,
notably his namesake Ebenezer Hall junior, the
first son of his elder brother John Hall, also joined the management team.
Some time between 1854 and 1856 John Roberts retired from active involvement
in the firm, which was now located at Shrewsbury Works, 53 Broad Street,
Sheffield Park. In 1851 Roberts had purchased Abbeydale Villa, Dore,
Derbyshire where Ebenezer Hall continued to live
with him as a boarder. At this time Abbeydale Villa was set in rural
surroundings on the turnpike road between Beauchief and Owler Bar. Between
then and 1857 the house was extended in the Victorian-Gothic style but in
that year it was severely damaged by a fire which started in the attic
and completely destroyed the room occupied by Ebenezer.
The 1861 census describes John Roberts, aged 63, as a "gentleman" and
Ebenezer Hall, aged 40, as a "silver-plater". The
other members of the household were John's wife Sarah, aged 55, and her
cousin Sarah Wilkinson, aged 26.
In 1866 Martin, Hall & Co. was incorporated as a Limited Company under
the chairmanship of Bernard Wake, with Richard Martin and Ebenezer Hall as joint managing-directors, the capital
of the new company was to be £150,000. This massive increase in capital
since Ebenezer had first entered partnership, less
than 20 years before, suggests that the business had indeed prospered,
and bonuses and dividends averaged 15% around this time.
Ebenezer continued to live as a boarder at
Abbeydale Villa, now renamed Abbeydale Hall, until after the death of
Sarah Roberts on 9th November 1874. On 17th February 1876 he married
Sarah Wilkinson at St Paul, Covent Garden. 'The Times' for Friday 25th
February 1876 carried the following marriage notice:
'On the 17th inst. at the Church of St. Paul, Covent-garden, by the Rev. J.I.F. Aldred, M.A., Vicar of Dore, Derbyshire, assisted by the Rev. H.B. Wilkinson, of Sharnbrook, Beds., brother of the bride, Ebenezer Hall, Esq., of Abbeydale Park, Sheffield to Sarah Wilkinson, fourth daughter of the late George Wilkinson, Esq., of St. Paul's, Covent-garden.' By 1881
Ebenezer had purchased Abbeydale Hall from John
Roberts, although the latter continued to live there with Ebenezer and Sarah Hall until his death on 11th April 1888.
During the early 1870s the Midland Railway Company had constructed the
Chesterfield and Sheffield line through Dore, although the few trains
passing at that time would have caused little disturbance to the local
residents. However, in 1872 the Dore & Totley station was opened just
quarter of a mile from Abbeydale Hall. Although this would have been
convenient for Ebenezer Hall it also stimulated
was an influx of new people into the area. In February 1884 the Dore &
Chinley Railway Company sought powers to construct a new line passing
about 100 yards from Abbeydale Hall. This was unsuccessfully opposed by
Ebenezer Hall, who eventually decided that his
best option was to become a shareholder in the company.
Ebenezer was appointed a Derbyshire magistrate
in April 1884, but does not appear to have been very active in the role
after that year. After Martin, Hall & Co. had become a Limited Company he
had greatly diversified his business interests and sat on the boards of
several companies, including those of Sanderson Brothers & Newbould Ltd
(chairman), the Sheffield and Rotherham Joint Stock Banking Co. Ltd
(chairman) and the Sheffield United Gas-Light Company. He was also very
much involved in charitable work and was particularly generous to local
churches. He continued to travel daily to Sheffield until at least 1902
but relinquished the Chairmanship of Martin, Hall & Co. Ltd. in 1903 and
finally resigned from the Board of Directors in 1904. His nephew Ebenezer Hall junior had been groomed to take over on
his uncle's retirement but was, by that time, in his sixties and was
apparently considered too unstable for the responsibility so Alfred
Ernest Maxfield succeeded as Chairman.
He retained his directorship of Sanderson Brothers & Newbould Ltd. and
the chairmanship of the Sheffield and Rotherham Bank until 1907. His
interest in Church affairs continued and he still acted as a churchwarden
at St. John, Abbeydale. He remained in good health until within a few weeks
of his death, which occurred on 28th June 1911. 'The Times' of Friday
30th June 1911 carried the following obituary notice:
"Mr Ebenezer Hall"
"The death took place at Sheffield on Wednesday of Mr Ebenezer Hall of Abbeydale Park, Sheffield. Mr. Hall,
who was in his 92nd year was apprenticed as a youth to Mr. John Roberts,
silversmith, and ultimately became head of the firm, which, under the name
of Martin, Hall & Co. has long been prominent in the silver and
electroplate trade. He retired from business many years ago. Mr. Hall was
a liberal benefactor to religious and charitable organisations."
He was buried in Sheffield General Cemetery in the same vault as John and
Sarah Roberts. His widow Sarah continued to live at Abbeydale Hall until
her own death in 1919.
His will, dated 14th September 1905, occupied 39 pages and proved to be
a genealogical goldmine. The gross value of his estate was about £194,00.
Abbeydale Hall was left in trust to his executors, who were to allow Sarah
to live there during her widowhood, and he left around £20,000 to local
churches and charities. A special trust fund was created for Ebenezer Hall junior who had been destined to succeed
him as Chairman of Martin, Hall & Co. Ltd. Most of the residue of his
estate was divided between his surviving brothers and sisters, the families
of his deceased siblings, his wife's nephews and nieces and a few close
friends and colleagues.
Ebenezer's parents and two of his brothers are
buried in the churchyard of Holy Trinity Church, Middleton-by-Wirksworth.
His bequest to this church funded the building of an extension and a new
vestry which was completed in 1925 and is commemorated by a stone laid by
his nephew Gilbert Hall. The east window of the church is dedicated to
the memory of Ebenezer Hall and his photograph
hangs in the nave, next to a photograph of the Church Committee which
oversaw the building work in 1925. Ebenezer's
nephews, Joseph, Ebenezer jun. and Gilbert Hall,
are at the left of the centre row.
The firm of Martin, Hall & Co. Ltd. survived Ebenezer
for more than 20 years, finally going into liquidation during the great
depression in 1933. During the firm's heyday they had established a
reputation for quality and the beauty of the design and finish of their
goods, they had showrooms in London and Glasgow and factories in Sheffield,
London and Birmingham employing nearly 500 workers. In addition to the
awards from the Great Exhibition of 1851 they won diplomas at London in
1862 and the highest award of merit at the Sydney Exhibition of 1879,
which Ebenezer and his wife attended as part of
a belated honeymoon trip.
On the face of it this is a typical example of 'from rags to riches and
back in three generations' . But Ebenezer's father,
Gilbert Hall, was a smallholder and elector and various branches of the
family continued to prosper after the demise of Martin, Hall & Co. Ltd.
However, it was Ebenezer's entrepreneurial flair
which brought them from the obscurity of the lead-mining village of
Middleton-by-Wirksworth, where the family had lived for the previous 200
years, to the booming prosperity of 19th century Sheffield.
The Migration from Middleton
In 1851 Ebenezer had been joined in Sheffield by
his brothers John, Joshua and Job, all were living in the Sheffield Park
area and working as silversmiths, presumably for Roberts and Hall. By
1861 Joseph, Stephen, Benjamin, Samuel and David had joined them. So had
Ebenezer's brother-in-law Holehouse Storer,
husband of his sister Ann, and members of several other families from
Middleton, they were all living in the Park district and were employed in
the silver-plating trade. Most were from lead mining families and it is
probable that the booming silver-plating industry in Sheffield provided
opportunities that were missing in the village of Middleton during the
rapid decline in the Derbyshire lead mining industry after 1860.
1. Ebenezer Hall by Joan Lacy-Hatton,
Local History Section, Sheffield Central Library
2. St Mary's Wirksworth baptism register
3. Marriage certificate
4. Sheffield General Cemetery Burial Register
5. 1861 Census of Dore, Eccleshall Bierlow (RG 9/3466 folio 58V)
6. 1871 Census of Dore, Eccleshall Bierlow (RG 10/4666 folio 18R)
7. 1881 Census of Dore, Eccleshall Bierlow (RG 11/4628 folio 87)
8. 1891 Census of Dore, Eccleshall Bierlow (RG 12/3800 folio 71V)
9. "The Directory of Directors", 1903
10. Ebenezer Hall's obituary in 'The Sheffield Telegraph'
11. Ebenezer Hall's will, proved at Derby on
10th August 1911