Spencer Timothy Hall

Man of Talents

By Denis Hill

Although Spencer was born into relative poverty he could boast a wealthy yeoman ancestry. His father started life with considerable wealth but due to an unfortunate business venture, where he lost his money, he settled down to the humble trade of a cobbler. Spencer was born 16th December 1812 into a family of Quakers living in Sutton-In-Ashfield.


Although he received an education it was extremely limited for at the age of seven he was winding cotton for the local stocking makers and at the age at eleven he worked a stocking machine himself. He was obviously taught to read and write for during his early teens he read the life of Benjamin Franklin. This reading fired him with enthusiasm and determination to become a printer.


At the age of 16 he ran away from home and employment on a cold January evening in 1829 with just a few belongings which consisted of one shirt, one pair of stockings, one book and a few magazines all tied together in a bundle. He had thirteen and one half penny in money. He made his way to Nottingham where he was able to enter an apprenticeship as a compositor at the “Mercury” newspaper office. Just one year later his master took him into his own home and made Spencer his confidential assistant.


During his apprenticeship he began to write verse and engage in his other interest of the medical sciences. Even before the age of 20 he had helped to found a scientific institution in Nottingham where he frequently spoke and submitted articles. At the age of 19 he was submitting verse to the “Mirror”, the Metropolitan magazine and other periodicals.


After the completion of his apprenticeship and with the help of friends he returned to his native Sutton and set up business as a printer and bookseller in order to fulfil his ambition. In order to supplement his income he also accepted the position of postmaster. This business unfortunately failed and three years later, in 1839, he was to leave Sutton again in order to take up the position of superintendent of the printing Works of Messer’s Hargrove of York.


In 1841 he published his own book of verse entitled “The Forester’s Offering” for which he apparently set his own type without a manuscript. This book was well accepted by Society; resulting in him being offered the position of co-editor of the ‘Iris’ newspaper in Sheffield where he also became a governor of the Hollis Hospital . From time to time he would publish more of his verse and ventured into biographical writings including that of Robin flood.


At the same time he was becoming renowned in various fields of medical science, for not only was this a hobby to him but he carried out many searching experiments which were carefully followed by the medical community. He wrote many papers and gave lectures on the subject of phrenology (dealing with the size and shape of skull in relation to the brain and a person’s abilities).


Mesmerism was another subject that he not only lectured on but also practiced, by which it is said that he cured many people of their ailments. One such case was witnessed by many during a lecture at Nottingham on 15th February 1845 . ‘The Atlas’ reported the event as follows “The patient was a young, woman of the name of Montgomery . She was attended by her father and several friends, but was altogether a stranger to Mr. Hall. Her right arm had been contracted and useless for five years, and she was totally unable when she first ascended the platform to lift it from her side. Without sleep, or the slightest attempt to induce it, Mr. Hall laid one of his hands on her shoulder, and took her fingers in the other for a few seconds, and afterwards made about a dozen passes over the hitherto impotent limb, when it recovered much power that in little more than five minutes from coming forward she retired able to lift her hand above her head and to use it in pulling on her shawl amid the congratulations of her friends and the delighted assembly. The young woman had some time before been in the General Hospital 14 weeks for the complaint, but without any benefit.”


As a result of a visit to Ireland in 1849 he produced what is reputed to have been his best work; “Life and Death in Ireland as witnessed in 1849”. Shortly after writing this work he left the printing business in favour of the medical profession. He established himself in 1852 as a homeopathic doctor and practiced in Derby . Although he styled himself ‘Doctor’ he was not qualified and consequently never made a descent living out of this trade.  


Throughout his life he continued to write verse, biographies, medical works and even guide books. As a result of his work in phrenology, he was awarded a PhD from the University of Tubingen, Germany along with his M.A. After his time in Derby he moved to Plumgarths near Kendall in 1871 then to Burnley , Lytham and finally to Blackpool where he died 26th April 1885.


Spencer Timothy Hall had achieved fame as poet, writer, medical researcher and lecturer, yet wealth was denied him and due to ill health, died a poor man. Poor in worldly possessions but rich in knowledge and ability. It has been said of him: “Spencer Timothy Hall wrote with a true understanding of his subject” and “His compassion for humanity is revealed especially in ‘Sketches of remarkable people’ and his descriptive capacity so clearly emphasized that it becomes easy to visualise in the imagination the scenes about which he wrote. Possessing ability and poetic feeling he told well the charm of Sherwood Forest and in fact became known as “The Sherwood Forester”.   

This article was originally written for the Chad in 1992, who have given their permission for its reproduction on this website.

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