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Hall, Edward Thomas [Teddy]locked

  • Robert Hedges

Hall, Edward Thomas [Teddy] (1924–2001), archaeological scientist, was born at 9 Mandeville Place, London, on 10 May 1924, the younger son in the family of two sons and one daughter of Lieutenant-Colonel Walter D'Arcy Hall (1891–1980), army officer and politician, and his first wife, Ann Madelaine, née Brook, who owned a dairy. His family's very considerable wealth resulted from his grandfather's move to Australia and fortunate investment in the Mount Morgan Gold Mining Company Ltd. Hall's father served in both world wars, and was Unionist MP for Brecon and Radnor from 1924 to 1929 and from 1931 to 1935. As a child, and during his education at Eton College, Hall's practical and scientific bent was manifested in numerous escapades involving explosives or ingenious contraptions. But he was also captain of games at school, being possessed of a large, powerful frame; and during the Second World War he commanded a flotilla of small boats in the RNVR, taking part in raids on the French coast. His elder brother, Bill, was killed in action at Anzio. The war had come as an interruption to Hall's education, but this resumed in 1946 when he went to New College, Oxford, to read chemistry. Although his undergraduate career was not particularly distinguished (he obtained an aegrotat degree in part one of chemistry in 1948), he was taken on by the Clarendon professor to join the research effort in physics, an early task being the construction of a mass spectrometer for helium isotopes.

It was Professor Lord Cherwell who gave the initial impetus for Hall's work for science within the arts. He challenged Hall to 'make an honest woman of Science' by showing that it could be useful in the service of the arts—first in his doctoral thesis (for which he was awarded the degree of DPhil in 1954), and then by setting up a dedicated laboratory, later known as the Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art. Hall decided to develop a non-destructive method of elemental analysis for his doctoral thesis. This could be used on excavated artefacts, items in museum collections, and works of art. It would provide a wholly different realm of information concerning their composition, and, by implication, their history, place, and method of manufacture. The principle was X-ray fluorescence, which became an important analytical method. Hall's thesis was mainly concerned to understand how to analyse accurately the surface of real objects, rather than dealing with ideal laboratory samples. The extent of uncharted terrain in this research is illustrated by his surprise when analysing a valuable Sung porcelain jar, for he produced an unsightly radiation ‘burn’, considerably, if temporarily, reducing its value. He was fortunate to have the opportunity to try out his new method during a reinvestigation, by the Natural History Museum, of the remains of Piltdown Man—whose inauthenticity had long been suspected. The skull was brought to Oxford in 1953 and was offered up to the focus of the X-ray beam. Its fluorescent X-rays were analysed to reveal the presence of chromium, an element that could be present only artificially—in fact because the bones had been stained with potassium dichromate to make them look brown and old. This new use of science made the front page of leading newspapers, and helped to make the case for the founding of a dedicated laboratory. In 1957 Hall married the South African model Jennifer Louise (Jeffie) de la Harpe; typically, he made the wedding ring himself. There were two sons of the marriage.

The application of science to archaeology goes right back to the time of Faraday, if not earlier, and laboratories to determine the nature of archaeological materials existed within the British Museum and in the ancient monuments section of the Ministry of Works. But the Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art at Oxford (established under Hall's directorship in 1954) had as its aim the production of good science research, without being tied to specific and limited questions. He was proud of the fact that the research laboratory was sui generis in the university, coming under neither physics nor archaeology; but its success was also due to his choice of staff. This was especially true as Hall played an increasingly important role in national councils in later years, directing the laboratory with a committed but light hand. A notable feature of the laboratory, which sprang directly from Hall's predilections, was in building novel equipment. This included apparatus to measure the luminescence released by thermally or optically stimulating such material as archaeological pottery, which had accumulated radiation damage since the time it was made, establishing an important way of dating a new sort of cultural artefact. Indeed, this approach led to setting up an authenticity testing laboratory where museum or commercial market pieces could be validated, or not. (Such activity was later discontinued, because it was seen as encouraging the looting of antiquities.) Hall's involvement with commercial applications, many years before the more direct encouragement, or necessity, for universities to do so, was realized in the founding of the Littlemore Scientific Engineering Company, which manufactured proton magnetometers (for surveying sites), thermoluminescence equipment, and environmental monitors for museums, following development in the research laboratory.

From his DPhil work onwards Hall continued to take a special interest in questions of elemental composition and the archaeological information they might contain. He built a very early version of the scanning electron microprobe, to analyse microscopic material; one early application was to identify pigments in sections through paint layers sampled from paintings in the National Gallery. He also pioneered ways of measuring the trace element composition of potsherds, so as to discover the geographical origin of the clay and so trace the movements of the traded pots.

Hall's achievement in founding and leading the research laboratory was recognized by his election to a fellowship at Worcester College, Oxford, in 1969, and the award of a professorship in 1975. Beyond the immediate thrust of research, he played many roles on the national scene. Within academia he had a major part in the setting up of the science-based archaeology committee of the then Science Research Council in the mid-1970s, which was the start of real research funding for archaeological science in the UK. Indeed, the funding of such an apparent hybrid as archaeological science, often questioned in principle, achieved such respectability that the UK became a model for other countries. Hall also achieved the distinction, perhaps unique, of being simultaneously a trustee of the National Gallery (1977–84), the British Museum (1973–95), and the Science Museum (1984–92). As a trustee, his support for scientific research, coupled with his frankness and charm, fostered a respect for science within institutions that were not naturally inclined to see its necessity. For his public service he was appointed CBE in 1988, while in 1984 his academic standing was recognized in his election as a fellow of the British Academy, a rare privilege for a scientist.

Hall enjoyed nothing so much as a good debunking, and if his career opened with Piltdown Man, so the Turin shroud could be seen as his closing scientific work. In 1988 the archbishop of Turin gave three laboratories, including Hall's, the opportunity to measure the radiocarbon date of the cloth on which the image is imprinted. The opportunity had arisen from a new technique of radiocarbon dating, which Hall had strenuously worked to establish at Oxford. The three laboratories unanimously agreed that the cloth dated from between 1260 and 1390, a date consistent with its known history—but which demolished the notion of its being the burial shroud of Christ. Hall, who made no secret of his atheism, had no hesitation in enjoying the public attention that this definitive result attracted.

Hall's professional life was spent at the interface between the sciences and the arts. His main achievement was to put the application of scientific methods to archaeology on the academic map. As a discipline, or rather as a fusion of disciplines, the pursuit of ‘archaeological science’ elicited, by the time of his death, the respect equally of archaeologists and scientists. After fifty years' growth it had become an important part of mainstream archaeology in most university departments. Hall, or Teddy as everyone who encountered him learned to call him, played a key role in achieving this, through his scientific outlook, his experimental skills, his committed scientific curiosity of a more cultured world, and especially through the force of his personality. He was 'unusual and perhaps anachronistic' in his career, given that he was 'one of the last gentleman scientists', refusing to take a salary, and paying many of his research laboratory's costs from inherited wealth (The Independent, 25 April 1988). On his retirement he contributed 10 per cent of the £750,000 needed to fund his chair of archaeological sciences in perpetuity.

To those who worked with him, Hall seemed a rather larger-than-life character, literally and metaphorically. He was not easily contained in any one box, often bestriding different worlds, of academia, public museums, manufacture, and having fun. When a shelf at his house bearing priceless Ming imperial yellow porcelain collapsed, the laboratory gained an opportunity to analyse the abundant sample material. His analytical bent and his heritage made his involvement in the Goldsmiths' Company seem inevitable, while his astuteness carried him to the position of prime warden (1985–6). His parties were renowned. His interest in time, art, and mechanism informed his important collection of clocks, and it was typical that, after retirement, he should devote himself to making a pendulum clock of unprecedented accuracy, sunk in 18 tonnes of concrete, in his back garden. He died at St Luke's Nursing Home, Latimer Road, Oxford, on 11 August 2001, following a stroke, and was survived by his wife and two sons. He left an estate valued at more than £4 million.


  • The Independent (25 April 1988)
  • E. T. Hall, Some memories (privately printed, Cheney & Sons, 1999)
  • The Independent (16 Aug 2001)
  • Daily Telegraph (17 Aug 2001)
  • The Guardian (20 Aug 2001)
  • The Times (23 Aug 2001)
  • The Scotsman (23 Aug 2001)
  • WW (2001)
  • personal knowledge (2005)
  • private information (2005)
  • b. cert.
  • d. cert.


  • group photograph, 1967, repro. in The Independent
  • photograph, 1988, repro. in Daily Telegraph
  • photograph, 1989, repro. in The Times
  • photograph, repro. in The Guardian

Wealth at Death

£4,019,240: probate, 30 April 2002, CGPLA Eng. & Wales