Papers of James Hall (circa 1800-1854) and his father Sir James Hall (1761-1832)

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 237 Coll-356
  • Dates of Creation
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      1 letter, 1 envelope containing miscellaneous material.
  • Location
      Dc.1.100/8, f.2-6, 8-9; Gen. 1981/138

Scope and Content

Material in the collection relating to James Hall, advocate and painter includes: a letter to his sisters, 1817; class cards, certificates etc while a student at Edinburgh University, 1817-1821; petition to undergo advocate's trials, 1820; act of admission as an advocate, 1821; pencil sketch of the civil law class at Edinburgh University, 1819; and, a letter probably to Sir Archibald Alison, 1839.

Administrative / Biographical History

James Hall was born in 1761. He was the eldest son of Sir John, 3rd Baronet of Dunglass, East Lothian. The younger Hall succeeded to the baronetcy in 1776. In 1777 he entered Christ's College, Cambridge, but did not graduate. He had developed an interest in geology and the work of James Hutton (1726-1797) and tested Hutton's ideas by studying rocks in the Alps, Italy and Sicily. While travelling he studied the architecture of each locality. After his return to Britain in 1785 he submitted papers to the Royal Society of Edinburgh on a variety of topics including basalt, carbonate of lime, and strata.

In 1797 he also submitted an introductory Essay on the origin and principles of Gothic architecture in which he argued that Gothic architecture was the reproduction in stone of simple wattle buildings. He showed how its features copied sprouting buds on willow-staves, curling flakes of bark on poles, and roof poles tied together as rafters.

Between 1807 and 1812, Hall was MP for a borough in Cornwall. A machine invented by him for regulating high temperatures was described posthumously to the Geological Society of London by his second son, Captain Basil Hall (1788-1844). Sir James Hall died in Edinburgh on 23 June 1832.

James Hall, advocate and painter, was the youngest son of Sir James Hall. James Hall was born between 1797 and 1800, and was educated for the legal profession. He became better known however as an art patron and amateur portrait-painter. Hall was a student of the Royal Academy and became friends with Sir David Wilkie (1785-1841). He exhibited portraits and scenic works both at the British Institution and the Royal Academy. His works include The real scenery of the bride of Lammermuir, From Burns's monument in Ayrshire - the island of Arran in the distance, The Pentland Hills near Edinburgh, Tantallon Castle, and The linn at Ashiesteel, where it enters the Tweed. Hall also attempted a political career, unsuccessfully fighting for the borough of Taunton in 1841 and 1842. James Hall died at Ashiesteel, Selkirkshire, on 26 October 1854.

Access Information

Generally open for consultation to bona fide researchers, but please contact repository for details in advance.


The biographical/administrative history was compiled using the following material: (1) Stephen, Leslie. and Lee, Sidney (eds.). Dictionary of national biography. Vol. 8. Glover-Harriott. London: Smith, Elder and Co., 1908.

Compiled by Graeme D Eddie, Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections Division.

Other Finding Aids

Important finding aids generally are: the alphabetical Index to Manuscripts held at Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections and Archives, consisting of typed slips in sheaf binders and to which additions were made until 1987; and the Index to Accessions Since 1987.


Check the local Indexes for details of any additions.

Related Material

The local Indexes show various references to Hall related material in the Laing Collection (check the Indexes for more details): letters to James Hall from T. Campbell, at La.II.426/90-91; letters of Sir James Hall to H. Warrender and E. Blore, 1782-1811, at La.II.309. There is also: mention of Sir James in a letter of Adam Ferguson, 1783, at Gen. 1733/93; mention in a letter of James Byres, 1785, at Gen. 873/11/262-263; mention in a letter of John Playfair, 1804, at Gen. 1999/1/133; note to Professor J. Black at Gen. 873/1/109-110; letters and notes to Sir C. Lyell, Lyell Collection and Gen. 1999/7/7/1-3.

In addition, the UK National Register of Archives (NRA), updated by the Historical Manuscripts Commission, notes for James Hall, painter: 1838-39: letters (14) to 1st Duke of Wellington, 1838-1839, Southampton University Library, Ref. MS 61 NRA 20085 Wellesley. For Sir James Hall, UK NRA notes: correspondence, diaries and papers, 1774-1831, National Archives of Scotland, Ref. GD206 NRA 13872 Hall; notes on experiments, letters and travel journals, 1798-1809, National Library of Scotland, Manuscripts Division, Ref. MSS 584, 3220-21, 3813, 4002, 5019-20, 6324-32, and notes on perspective, circa 1812-1816, undated, NRA 32554 Royal Soc Edinburgh, and also letters to Alexander Marcet, 1804-1813, Ref. MS 3813.

Corporate Names