In a dark corner in the South Transept, there is a superb wall monument by William Stephens, a memorial to Mary Hall, wife of William Hall of Bevere and Jamaica and dated 1794. This memorial is what Chris Guy, the Cathedral’s archaeologist, would call one of our ‘moving monuments’. This is not because they are particularly poignant but because so many of our monuments have been continually re-situated over the centuries. In fact some have been moved so often that they are now back in their original place! Mary Hall was originally buried and commemorated behind the Quire, but her memorial is now in the South Transept and her grave slab is in the floor of the Crypt.
Little is known about Mary Hall, other than she was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1749 to James and Mary Reid and married William Hall in 1773 in the parish of Hanover, Jamaica.
So far – so boring you may think, but delve a little deeper into her husband William Hall and it is a whole different matter.
This Jamaican dynasty of Halls starts with William’s grandfather Thomas Hall of Worcester. Born circa 1660 in the parish of All Saints, Worcester, Thomas was one of the earliest settlers in the new colony of Jamaica. Amazingly, several letters to him from family members survive from the first 10 years of the 1700s. One of the letters is from his brother, Henry. Sent to him in 1710, it is addressed to him as “Thomas Hall living in Port Royal Jamaica – an Englishman borne in the City of Worcester”. Try putting that address on an envelope today and see if it is delivered!
Another, the earliest letter that survives, is from his “cosson” Jane Hall and dated 1909. It was probably not the news he wanted from home, as she writes to inform him that his mother has died, his sister has ‘buried her daughter in child bearing’ and as for his father it seems that ‘that it has pleased god to reduce him to a very low and ruinous state so that he relies on the assistance of good people for succour’. It is not all bad news though as his brother and sister are in good health!
In 1670, the Treaty of Madrid handed Jamaica formally from Spain to England. This meant that the island’s focus could shift from defence to sugar planting. Departing around 1700, Thomas would have been one of a number of enterprising Scottish and English families to settle in Jamaica, drawn by the promise of upward social mobility and prosperity. Most likely Thomas emigrated to Jamaica to start a sugar plantation but unfortunately even though the letters from the family survive, his replies don’t and there is no mention of what trade he is engaged in. The connection to sugar plantations is, though, in the family, as in 1720 Thomas is financing the plantation activities of his son, William.
This next generation of the Hall family, William, the eldest surviving son, and Thomas, a younger son, remained engaged in producing sugars, molasses, and rum for export to England. All this against a background of a continuing war between England, France and Spain that was often played out in the West Indies. The family not only moved up the Jamaican social scale but also the political one when Thomas Hall declared his candidacy as the representative to the Jamaican Assembly for St. James.
It is Thomas’s line we must follow to find William Hall, husband of the Mary Hall buried in Worcester Cathedral, for William was his second son. The eldest was Hugh. Thomas sent both boys to England for their education. Hugh and William were enrolled at Eton, though the one thing that can be said is that this wasn’t a great success as they seemed to be spending their time in the ‘taverns and coffee houses’ and a tutor had to be hired to help them to gain entry into University. Surviving letters between Thomas and the tutor show that Thomas was not blind to their faults saying he feared ‘that neither are ‘blessed with any great intelligence’, with the tutor replying that there is little he could accomplish without their ‘prudence and their own application’. Still Thomas persevered and sent them to Trinity College, Cambridge in 1767.
Obviously Cambridge and William were not suited. Neither having graduated nor obtained any kind of degree, he returned to Jamaica only a year later in 1768. Moreover William seems to have carried on his dissolute ways, as in 1768 one of Thomas’s overseers is writing to him tell him of the birth of a son to a slave called Zipporah. He goes on to write ‘I can’t say if you have heard who the father is’ but ‘he has been christened and his name is William. So I leave you to guess who the father is’.
A few of years later William writes to his father, who is in London, from Jamaica, trying to convince him that his days of frivolity at Eton are over and to allow him to take over management of his father’s estates. In his effort to convince him that he has mended his ways, he buys a plot of land bordering his father’s estate in Worcester and tells him of his plans to purchase slaves and begin a substantial estate in Jamaica. He adds the extra inducement of promising to send him a turtle by the next available ship. His father wasn’t totally convinced though and when he died a year later he left the bulk of his estates to his oldest son, Hugh, leaving William only the Worcester estate and a 1000 acres and even that was possibly only a life interest.
William marries Mary Reid in 1773. Not long after, William acquired the Round Hill Estate which is in the hills overlooking the modern day resort of Montego Bay. They are possibly also living there, as in 1779, William is advertising in the Jamaica Mercury for an absconded slave and the delivery address if caught is Round Hill. Their daughter and only child is born in 1784. It is possible this is the catalyst for their move back to England. Certainly by 1790 they are back in England and living in Bevere a northern suburb of the City of Worcester.
This might make you think that William has mended his ways and settled down, but no, for at the same time he is maintaining a second family in St John’s, a village across the river from Worcester. This family consists of Catherine Jones and her two children by William, son William and daughter Catherine. Whether he acknowledged the children at the time is unknown but he did when he made a will in 1805 describing them as ‘ my two children by the said Catherine Jones’.
After the death of his wife Mary, William, with Catherine Jones, who he never married, moved to Hatfield Place, a not insubstantial house on the southern outskirts of Bath, where he died in March 1805 at the age of 55, having led a full and eventful life.
With thanks to The University of California for access to their archives.
Hall Family Papers and Sugar Plantation Records, MSS 220. Special Collections & Archives, UC San Diego.