Hall, Spencer Timothy (DNB00)

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HALL, SPENCER TIMOTHY (1812–1885), known as the ‘Sherwood Forester,’ born on 16 Dec. 1812, in a cottage near the village of Sutton-in-Ashfield in Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire, was the son of Samuel Hall (1769?–1852) [q. v.], a quaker cobbler, and Eleanor Spencer, a Derbyshire shepherdess and dairymaid. His father gave him a little education. At seven years of age he wound cotton for the stocking-makers, and at eleven began weaving stockings himself. Perusal of the life of Benjamin Franklin led to a resolve to become a printer. In January 1829 he went to Nottingham and bound himself apprentice compositor at the ‘Mercury’ newspaper office. At the end of a year his master, well satisfied with his conduct, received him into his house, and subsequently made him his confidential assistant. Some lines descriptive of Clifton Grove, inspired by Bloomfield's ‘Farmer's Boy,’ gained him an introduction to the Howitts and other literary residents of Nottingham. About 1830 he helped to found a scientific institution in the town, at which he read essays. Two years later he contributed verses to the ‘Mirror,’ the ‘Metropolitan Magazine,’ and other periodicals. In 1836, at the end of his apprenticeship, he started, with the assistance of friends, as a printer and bookseller on his own account at Sutton-in-Ashfield. He was appointed postmaster there, and printed a monthly periodical called the ‘Sherwood Magazine.’ In May 1839 he accepted the post of superintendent in the printing establishment of Messrs. Hargrove at York. In 1841 he published a volume of prose and verse descriptive of his birthplace, called ‘The Forester's Offering,’ which he set up in type himself, the greater portion without manuscript. The book having been praised by James Montgomery, Hall was invited to Sheffield, where he became co-editor of the ‘Iris’ newspaper and governor of the Hollis Hospital. A volume of prose sketches entitled ‘Rambles in the Country’ was originally written for the ‘Iris;’ it was reissued in an enlarged form in 1853, under the title of ‘The Peak and the Plain.’ He wrote and spoke publicly in defence of phrenology, and was the first honorary secretary of the Sheffield Phrenological Society, and afterwards an honorary member of the Phrenological Society of Glasgow. He aided La Fontaine, who came to Sheffield to lecture on mesmerism about 1841, and in 1842 himself lectured through the country on the same subject. During 1843 he edited a short-lived periodical called ‘The Phreno-Magnet.’ At Edinburgh in September 1844 his lecture was attended by Combe, Gregory, and Liebig, all of whom, he declares, were completely convinced by the experiments. The result of his work he published in his ‘Mesmeric Experiences’ (1845). He is said to have wrought numerous cures. His most illustrious patient was Harriet Martineau, whom, it seems, he cured of an apparently hopeless illness in the summer of 1844. As the result of a visit paid to Ireland in the famine year he published in 1850 ‘Life and Death in Ireland as witnessed in 1849,’ one of his best books. About 1852 he became a homœopathic doctor, and published ‘Homœopathy; a Testimony’ (1852). After living for some time at Derby he settled in 1866 at Plumgarths, near Kendal; in 1870 or 1871 he removed to Burnley, in 1880 to Lytham, and soon afterwards to Blackpool. Not being legally qualified he never obtained much practice. He paid special attention to hydropathy, and was at one time head of an establishment at Windermere. The latter years of his life, owing to illness and the ill-success of his various speculations, were spent in poverty. A few months before his death he received a grant of 100l. from the government. He died at Blackpool on 26 April 1885, and was buried in the cemetery there on the 29th. He was twice married. His degrees of M.A. and Ph.D. were derived from Tübingen.

Hall was also the author of:

  1. ‘The Upland Hamlet and other Poems,’ 1847.
  2. ‘Days in Derbyshire,’ 1863.
  3. ‘Biographical Sketches of Remarkable People, chiefly from personal recollection, with miscellaneous papers and poems,’ 1873 (originally published as ‘Morning Studies and Evening Pastimes’). Most of the biographies had previously appeared in the supplement of the ‘Manchester Weekly Times’ and other periodicals.
  4. ‘Pendle Hill and its Surroundings, including Burnley,’ 1877.
  5. ‘Lays from the Lakes, and other Poems,’ 1878. He wrote besides various guide-books to Lytham in Lancashire, Malvern in Worcestershire, and Richmond in Yorkshire.

[Manchester Weekly Times, 2 May 1885; Glasgow Examiner, 5 Oct. 1844; Blackpool Herald, 1 May 1885; Blackpool Gazette, 1 May 1885; Blackpool Times, 29 April and 6 May 1885; Academy, 9 May 1885; H. Martineau's Autobiography, ii. 192–5; H. Martineau's Letters on Mesmerism (1); Chambers's Journal, January 1842 (autobiography).]

G. G.