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Sydney Hall

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Sydney Hall (1813-1884)

1846 Married Cornelia Cardew in Curry Mallet, Somerset[1]

1848 Partnership dissolved. '...the Partnership heretofore subsisting between as the undersigned, James Corry Sherrard and Sydney Hall, carrying on business as Civil Engineers, at No. 2, Great George-street, in the county of Middlesex, has been dissolved, by mutual consent...'[2]


1885 Obituary [3]

SYDNEY HALL was the second surviving son of Mr. C. H. Hall of Hornings Heath, near Bury St. Edmunds, formerly an officer in the 16th Light Dragoons.

He was born at Bury on the 5th April 1813; and was educated partly at the grammar school of that town, and afterwards at Bruce Castle School, Tottenham, under Mr. Hill, father of the late Sir Rowland Hill, the introducer of the penny-postage system. The latter, then Mr. Rowland Hill, was a master in this school, and had commenced to elaborate his famous system. In making the numerous calculations involved he selected Sydney Hall as one of the smartest boys in the school to assist, often keeping him up till far into the night on this work.

At Tottenham, Sydney Hall formed a friendship with a schoolfellow, Joseph Cubitt, son of the late Sir William Cubitt, Past-President Inst. C.E. This had much to do with deciding his future line in life. His father had wished him to take Orders in the Church, but to this he would not agree, and at the age of 18, and by the advice of Sir William (then Mr.) Cubitt, Sydney Hall, in September 1831, entered the office of Mr. George Edwards, M.Inst.C.E., of Lowestoft, as a pupil. He remained with Mr. Edwards two years, during which he was principally employed in making observations of the experimental works being carried out for maintaining the entrance of the harbour, and in chronicling their effects.

About September 1833 he became a pupil in Sir William Cubitt’s office. After the usual training he entered the Horseley Iron Works, near Birmingham. Here he remained for two years, submitting to a regular mechanical education in the various departments, and acquiring a practical knowledge, which he often stated was of the greatest value to him in his subsequent career. Before leaving Horseley he had been promoted to a position of responsibility in the works, so proficient had he made himself in his knowledge of the operations there carried on.

He was next employed for some time under contractors upon railway works. Subsequently he went into practice on his own account, and in 1838 joined Mr. J. C. Sherrard, M.Inst.C.E. (who had also been in Sir William Cubitt’s office), in partnership as civil engineers and surveyors. Thu partners enjoyed great success, chiefy in parliamentary surveys for projected railways. Of the latter Sir William Cubitt put a considerable amount into their hands, besides recommending Mr. Sydney Hall for the construction of the Chard and Bridgwater Canal in 1841-3. This was entirely carried out by him, the works including inclined planes and lifts instead of locks for the transference of barges from one reach to another.

Railway surveying work kept the firm fully employed up to 1847, when the reaction set in after the Railway Mania, which was at its height in the years 1844-5. The depression that followed in railway engineering was so great that thinking there was little prospect of matters mending, or that there would be much more for civil engineers to do in England for years to come, the firm in March 1848 dissolved partnership.

Mr. Sydney Hall at the time thought of migrating to Australia, being convinced there was much to be done by the civil engineer in that new country. While, however, arranging for his departure he was requested to visit Swansea to inspect some important works then in the course of erection, by a company formed to manufacture compressed fuel on the patent of a Hanoverian named Warlich. He had previously been induced to take shares in this company (The Patent Fuel Company) and his visit resulted in his being appointed resident director of the company at Swansea.

From this time he lived at Swansea and devoted his entire energies to the interests of this company, until in 1871 when he took up his residence in London. During 1871-3 he erected large new works for the same company at Sunderland, capable of turning out 200 tons of fuel per diem. These works, however, soon after changed hands, but under the name of the Wear Fuel-works they are still in full working order.

In 1875 his health failing he had to give up all active work, and passed the rest of his life in London in much suffering and helplessness.

He died on the 30th August 1884, in the 72nd year of his age; his mind and intellect being clear to the last in spite of his great bodily trials. He was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery.

Both in the original works at Swansea, and in those at Sunderland, he designed and erected a good deal of machinery of the most ingenious description for effecting the various operations of the manufacture of compressed fuel, much of it forming the subject of numerous patents.

At the Swansea works Mr. Hall accidentally made the discovery of aniline dyes. This was quite independently of Mr. W. H. Perkin, who did the same thing and took out a patent for it about the year 1858. The substance yielding the dye Mr. Hall found in one of the large retorts or ovens used for baking the fuel after compression. The fuel, it may be stated, was that made with raw coal tar, not with coal tar pitch. The substance was found only once, and more of it, though sought for, could not thus be obtained. He then set about endeavouring to artificially reproduce it, but at that time failed in discovering any chemical process for doing so, and while engaged in the experiments Mr. Perkin quite independently elaborated and patented a successful process.

Mr. Hall carried on experiments for the next few years up to 1863, endeavouring to avoid Perkin’s process and strike out a new colour for himself if possible, but in this he failed. He used, however, to aver that he had satisfied himself that his discovery was actually prior to that of Mr. Perkin. At all events this is another instance of a great invention being made almost at the sm1e time by two independent workers.

Mr. Sydney Hall was a man of considerable ability as an engineer, and many of his friends regretted he should have given up the profession and settled down to manufacturing pursuits. In particular, Sir William Cubitt in subsequent years, strongly urged him to resume practice in London, promising to assist him, but this course Mr. Hall did not see his way to adopt. His intimate friends knew him as one not only full of information on an immense variety of subjects, but as equally able of imparting it to others in conversation.

In January 1868 he was appointed a Justice of the Peace for the borough of Swansea. For many years he was a Mercantile Assessor for the Swansea County Court, and one of the Harbour Trustees. In the latter capacity he was re-elected again and again, and did much good service in the post. For some years also he served on the Town Council.

He was elected a Member of the Institution on the 4th April 1843.



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