Joseph Hall (1770-1843)

Written by Angus Winchester

Occupation: Clockmaker

Joseph Hall, clockmaker, was born c. 1770 in Cumberland.  His parentage has not been ascertained; he may have been the son of John Hall of Nenthead, baptised at Alston 4 November 1770.  Nothing is known of his education or early life.  He was living in Weardale by 2 June 1794, when he married Elizabeth Bustin (b. 1769; d. 20 March 1810), daughter of Anthony (a shopkeeper) and Elizabeth Bustin of Bridgend, St John’s Chapel, at Stanhope parish church.  They moved to Alston in 1797, to a house at Alston Townfoot now known as Monument View, which had formerly been the town’s first Methodist chapel (Wallace 1890, 73).  Joseph converted it into a clock and watchmaker’s shop; his first known long case clock was made the same year.  Joseph became a Quaker in 1804, but Elizabeth did not do so – their only surviving child, John (1802-1825), was admitted into membership the month after she died in 1810. 

The year after Elizabeth’s death, Joseph married Jane Priestman (b. 3 Nov 1772; d. 31 Nov 1862), daughter of Josiah Priestman of Howbeck, Hesket Newmarket, at Gillfoot meeting house, Caldbeck, on 24 Oct 1811.  She was descended from several old Quaker families in northern Cumberland: Priestman of Howbeck, Bond of Scotby, Graham of Burnthwaite and Boustead of Aglionby.  Joseph and Jane had two sons, Josiah (1813-1824), who died while a pupil at the Friends School, Wigton, and Richard (1815-1881), who farmed at Waverton, near Wigton.

In December 1814 Joseph Hall bought a corn mill, the Low Mill in Alston, for £740, along with a baker’s shop, in which Jane served.  Eleven years later, they sold up and moved to the Wigton area, buying a farm of about 60 acres at Waverton (later known as Milestone House), which carries the inscription ‘J & J HALL 1825’ on the front lintel.  However, they initially took on the roles of superintendent and housekeeper at the Friends School, Brookfield, close to Wigton, in a voluntary capacity, serving from 1826 to 1829 – at that date it was small establishment of 21 boys and 21 girls.  On leaving Brookfield in February 1829 they moved to their property at Waverton, where they farmed until their only surviving son, Richard, married in 1838, when they moved to the cottage adjoining.  Joseph continued to make and repair clocks at Waverton; his clock bench was in the new parlour.

He was clearly a skilled craftsman.  Penfold (1977, 186-8) described him as 'One of the Cumbrian clockmakers of outstanding ability … a clockmaker of distinction and originality'.  He was also presumably an educated man, to have been appointed superintendent (i.e. headmaster) of the Quaker school at Wigton.  Five of his long case clocks remain in the hands of his descendants; others included the clock which was in the hall of the Friends School at Brookfield.  His first known clock, inscribed ‘Joseph & Elizabeth Hall, Alston, 1797’, is an unusual design.  It has two dials, the lower rotating once a year and giving the date, day of the week, sunset and sunrise, lunar months, and saints’ days.  The upper dial, partially superimposed on the lower one, gives seconds and, by means of subsidiary dials, minutes and hours.  It originally had quarter chimes, which were removed when Joseph Hall became a Quaker.

He clearly took religion seriously: a quest for religious truth presumably prompted him to take the then unusual step of becoming a Quaker, with all the lifestyle implications (distinctive speech and dress; simplicity and 'plainness' of living) that this entailed.  His son, Richard, later wrote that he believed that the 'great desire' of Joseph's heart was 'to be found faithful in his duty to God in his daily walk in life, and in his everyday transactions to walk as became a disciple of Christ'.  One of his guiding principles, remembered by later generations, was to ‘Keep under a right influence.’  The small trade disk he placed in the watches he made and repaired when in Alston carried a variant of an exhortatory verse (see Hampson 1841, 81), urging others to a pure (indeed, puritan) religion:

Some Instruction to the heart;
Tell the Busy and the Gay,
Time is passing fast away;
Pleasures will not long endure,
Life’s uncertain; Death is sure;
Happy they who wisely learn,
TRUTH from Error to discern;
TRUTH! Immortal as the Soul,
Pure, while endless ages roll!’

Joseph Hall died on 25 November 1843 and was buried in the Friends burial ground at Wigton.  The stone marking his grave was erected by his family after the Quaker rule prohibiting gravestones was relaxed (in 1850).


  • Hampson, J., The Monitory and Epistolatory Exercise Book (Manchester, 1841)
  • Penfold, J. B., The Clockmakers of Cumberland (Ashford: Brant Wright, 1977)
  • Wallace, W., Alston Moor: its Pastoral People, its Mines and Miners (1890; reprinted Newcastle upon Tyne: Davis Books, 1986)
  • 1841 Census
  • Cumbria Archive Service, DX/143: deeds of Low Mill, Alston
  • Family memories, collected in the 1930s by Richard L. Hall (1906-1990) of Colchester and preserved in a MS family history in the author’s possession.