DR. HUBERT HALL
PUBLIC RECORD OFFICE
Dr. Hubert Hall, Litt.D., F.R.Hist.S., F.S.A., formerly of the Public Record Office, lost his life in July by enemy action.
Hubert Hall was born at Hesley Hall, Yorkshire, in 1857, the son of Richard Foljambe Hall, and educated at Shrewsbury. Though circumstances made him a scholar and a townsman, he retained through life a countryman's interests and outlook. There are still some who can remember happy holidays at Stiffkey Old Hall, which he used to rent; when he showed himself (rather surprisingly if one had known him only in his London habit) a keen fisherman and good shot; and at all times, even in Chancery Lane, he was a convinced and zealous gardener.
In 1879 he entered the Public Record Office through the open Civil Service competition, and he remained an officer of that department till his retirement in 1921. For many years his work lay in the Government search room, where he did much to produce order in the chaos of unlisted and unindexed departmental archives. These great series had tended to be reckoned of little account compared with the medieval enrolments. Hall, though he did not neglect the earlier, became a recognized authority on these later sources, one to whom an increasing band of students — notably from America — turned confidently as to a sure guide. But it was perhaps his appointment as resident officer in 1891 which did most to shape his career. From the first he had realized that not only a few stately series, but practically all the thousands of classes which lay uncultivated in Chancery Lane contained material for studies of the first importance. So early as 1885 he had produced two volumes on the little known subject of the Customs revenue. Official duties which obliged him to be present in the office at all hours and to familiarize himself with records of all classes supplied both stimulus and opportunity during the next 35 years for a succession of notes, articles, and books ranging in a way no other scholar had attempted from the twelfth to the nineteenth century, over every category of the Public Records, legal, financial, and administrative, and into all departments of history from the genealogical to the economic. This devotion by an official of all his leisure to tasks so germane to the work of the office, while it added to his personal reputation, had a value for the department which it would be difficult to exaggerate.
Hall attempted another activity in 1891 which greatly influence his life — that of literary director of the Royal Historical Society. That body was at the time almost moribund, and it fell to him and a few others to reshape its policy. For 47 years he not only supervised the preparation of an annual volume of serious studies, with all that entailed of personal contacts and editorial labour, but also recommended for publication and saw through the press a like number of texts drawn from the most diverse sources and edited by students and scholars of every historical grade. The width of interest, knowledge, and sympathy necessary for such a great task needs no comment. A third great contribution to knowledge, his teaching, can be mentioned only briefly. For over 30 years, first at London School of Economics, later at King's College and then again at the school, he conducted classes and practical seminars in palaeography and in economic history which added largely to the number of those who found inspiration not only in his learning but in his generous and patient helpfulness. Finally from 1910 to 1918 came his service as secretary to the Royal Commission on Public Records. No task engaged more his interest and devotion, and the appendices to three reports, largely the result of his personal labours, will prove perhaps the most permanently consulted of all his works. In 1920 the University of Cambridge bestowed on him the honorary degree of Litt.D.
The outstanding feature of his great mass of achievement was its pioneer quality. When hardly anyone in England had thought of teaching people to read medieval writings he thought of it and did it. While others still saw little of interest in the Public Records beyond the Chancery enrolments he was exploring the port books. When for most people archives were only collections of documents to be valued according as they served or did not serve the known interests of the present, he saw in them parts of one vast body whose unlimited usefulness must be safeguarded for the unknown interests of the future. He blazed the trails which many now follow. Of his individual and attractive personality much might be written. Many found in the reserved and erudite scholar a humorous and delightful companion and most loyal friend. His widow and son survive him.