Richard Watson Hall (1882-1935)

Richard Watson Hall

Written by Angus Winchester

Occupations: Climber, Grocer and Poet

Richard Watson Hall (1882-1935), grocer, poet and climber, known universally as ‘Dick’, was born in Cockermouth on 13 February 1882, the first child of Josiah Hall (1850-1921), grocer of Cockermouth, and Jane (née Watson), daughter of John Hall Watson, bank manager in the town.  Both his parents were from old established Quaker families in Cumberland.  Dick’s early years were spent at 4 Fern Bank, until the family moved, c.1892, to Elmhurst, a Victorian villa overlooking the town.  He was educated first at a private school in Cockermouth; then at Quaker schools: Brookfield School, Wigton, from 1893 to 1896, and Bootham School, York, from 1896 to 1898.  He learnt the grocery trade with B. Smith & Sons of Thirsk, and then joined his father’s grocery business in Cockermouth c.1902, taking it over on Josiah Hall’s death in 1921.  It is said that Dick became a grocer under duress, as he would have preferred to be a schoolmaster.  

On 4 June 1908, he married Frances Lilian Brooker (1887-1960), daughter of George Brooker, a Maryport sea caption, at the Friends meeting house at Pardshaw Hall.  They made their home in Cockermouth, first at 5 Moorland Place, then, from 1925, at 7 Castlegate Drive.   It does not seem to have been a particularly happy marriage: Dick’s numerous activities took him away from home and Lilian (a bright, talented but frustrated person) suffered from bouts of ill health.  Dick and Lilian had one child, Rachel (1909-2002), who married J. Malcolm Armfield (1885-1958) and settled in Dunedin, New Zealand.

Dick was an active Quaker all his life, regularly attending and giving vocal ministry in meetings for worship and taking a leading role in several committees, including the Wigton Old Scholars Association and the Cumberland Friends Unemployment Committee.  He registered as a conscientious objector during the First World War and served in the Friends Ambulance Unit on board the hospital ship Glenart Castle in the Dardanelles in 1916-17 and later at Uffculme, the FAU hospital at King’s Heath, Birmingham. 

He also took on leadership roles in the local community.  These included serving as secretary and president of the Wordsworth Institute in Cockermouth, many years’ service on the committee of the Cockermouth Cottage Hospital, and election to Cockermouth Urban District Council in 1934.

His driving passion was the outdoors.  Dick was a keen walker and climber, an active man, who spent as much time as he could on the fells.  His year was punctuated by regular walks with friends and family: over Whinlatter from Braithwaite to Cockermouth every Boxing Day; up Great Gable from Gatesgarth each Easter, usually on Good Friday; camping at Lanthwaite Green for a few days each summer.  In 1920 he built a coracle (the first of three), which he paddled through Buttermere and Crummock Water and down the River Derwent from Ouse Bridge to Cockermouth – an adventure reported in the Daily Mirror (17 July 1920) under the heading ‘Voyage in a Hen Basket’.  In the 1920s he climbed Grassmoor each month to take readings from a rain gauge on the summit. 

Rock-climbing became a regular pursuit.  He had known the local pioneering climber John Wilson Robinson (q.v.) in his youth and explored numerous rock climbs in the Buttermere valley; he was invited to join the Fell and Rock Club in 1912.  Following in the footsteps of his hero Robinson, he made repeated ascents of Pillar Rock in Ennerdale, climbing it 37 times.  He was keen to share his enthusiasm for the fells, lecturing widely and penning numerous newspaper pieces for the Whitehaven News from 1909, under the pseudonym ‘Hobcarton’, recording days spent on the hills. 

After he retired from the grocery business in 1926, he devoted more time to outdoor activities.  He led walking holidays to the Alps and the Pyrenees (notably to Andorra) for the Workers’ Travel Association and was instrumental in the early days of the Youth Hostel Association and the Friends of the Lake District.  He published two books: On Cumbrian Fells (Whitehaven News, 1926) and The Art of Mountain Tramping (Witherby, 1932), a homely handbook on camping, fell walking and rock climbing.  He also wrote poetry, some of which was included in E. R. Denwood’s anthology of work by local poets (Denwood 1934, 9-12), and a short historical story set in Andorra.

Dick Hall was remembered for his boundless boyish enthusiasm and ‘radiant good-fellowship’.  One obituarist described him as ‘a boy still growing up and a boy full of the enthusiasms of youth’.  He died suddenly in Cockermouth Cottage Hospital, from pneumonia following bowel surgery, on 13 February 1935, his 53rd birthday, and was buried in the Friends burial ground behind the meeting house at the head of Kirkgate, Cockermouth.


  • Diaries of Richard W. Hall, 1904-1935 in Cumbria Archive Service (Carlisle), DX 1065 (Accession H 13200).
  • Denwood, E. R., Poets of Cockermouth and District: an anthology with biographical notes (Cockermouth, 1934)
  • Obituaries: West Cumberland Times, 16 Feb. 1935; The Friend, 22 Feb. 1935
  • Family memories.
  • Publication by R. W. Hall: On Cumbrian Fells (Whitehaven: Whitehaven News, 1926)
  • Publication by R. W. Hall: The Art of Mountain Tramping: practical hints for both walker and scrambler among the British peaks. The Sports and Pastimes Library (London: H. F. & G. Witherby, 1932)
  • Publication by R. W. Hall: A Tale of Old France: a Pyranean Romance (privately printed, Cockermouth, 1934).
  • Publication by R. W. Hall: A Lakeland Valley (privately printed, Cockermouth, n.d.)