Thursday, 5 September 2019

Ernest Hall of Shimla

Ernest Hall of Shimla
One handwritten line on a faded school admissions’ document can open up a life.
Exeter School still holds the ‘home’ address of Ernest Hall – ‘Fontainebleau, Simla’ – from when his son, William Ernest Hall, entered the School in 1905. ‘Fontainebleau Cottage’, to give it its proper name, was built in  sandstone and light blue limestone some time in the 1880s in the heavily ornamented Indo-Saracenic style, with the ‘sun and moon with morning star’ motif on a pediment, the house name above the door and exquisite ornamentation on the columns holding up the roof. The house was almost certainly the work of Jacob Henry Irwin, ‘the architect of British India’. Situated just off The Mall, at the heart of the administrative district of the city, it housed the staff of the Civil Secretariat who administered British India in the summer months from Gorton Castle further along The Mall – Simla (now Shimla)  became the ‘summer capital’ of India in 1864. A photograph taken in 2015 shows it to be a derelict wreck, but one taken in 1890 show what a beautiful house it must have been.
So Ernest Hall, like Reginald Peel and ArchieVlieland, was in Government service – Archie would have recognised Fontainebleau Cottage, as much of Kuala Lumpur, the administrative capital Selangor when he was in Malaya, was built in the same style, attempting to combine Mughal (Mogul) and British traditions. Ernest must have entered the administration in 1876, but since he married Charlotte Laura Monfries in Calcutta in 1880, their surviving son was born in Darjeeling in 1892, and Ernest was in Shimla in 1915 when William Ernest died and in 1919 when Richard Morgan died, it looks as if he may have been in some branch of government that had him moving about  the subcontinent. There is a question about the Hall children. If William Ernest was born 12 years into the marriage there must surely be older children who predeceased him. The Exeter College Oxford Roll of Honour listing William Ernest’s death in the second battle of Krithia in Gallipoli in May 1915 has him as the ‘only son’ of Ernest Hall, but this could imply ‘only surviving son’, and Ernest is the only relative apart from Arthur (Ernest’s father), listed, so Charlotte Laura must also be dead by that time. Exeter School is a day school, which William Ernest entered aged 13, so there must have been a ‘British home’ in Exeter that we do not know about, where Ernest and Charlotte spent their furlough time on home leave and their son came home after school, unless he lived with a Hall/Monfries relative while his parent(s) were in India. There is a big cluster of Hall families in the St Leonards area of the city (the district including Southernhay, where the Vlielands lived), so it is almost certainly somewhere there.

Many thanks are due to Karen Dart and Kevin White at Exeter School, without whose archival research this story could not have been told.
And to Barbara!

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