In the founding of Clan Hall Society, a lot of research was conducted by our founder and first President, Atlas D. Hall, FSA Scot. He, with the help of others, wanted to verify the historical connection the surname of Hall had with the Scottish and English border region. The establishment of the use of last names resulted in many names being wide spread while others were more localized to a specific region. This was particularly true in the Borders. Clans, in the sense of Highland Clans, were not part of Border society. However, family dynasties did exist and localized to certain border districts. The larger and more commonly know names, such as Armstrong, Elliot, Graham, Kerr, and Scott, are readily known as Border families. Other names of family groups existed in the borders, but were also widespread throughout England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. The Hall surname is one such name.
The question as to how the Hall name became so widely spread is a good one and most likely one that would be hard to answer. Information on my ancestral background connects me to the Halls around Bradford on Avon in Wiltshire, Southwestern, England. Looking further back in time, ancestors with the surname of De Aula came over with William the Conqueror and participated in the Norman conquest of England. After the Norman victory, De Aula settled in Wiltshire and their last name eventually was changed from Latin to the English version, Hall. Others who acquired the last name of Hall settled in Aberdeenshire, Scotland near the city of Aberdeen, which is about 128 miles north of Edinburgh on Scotland’s East coast. The Halls who settled there became a sept of Clan Skene. (A sept is a family associated with and /or within a Clan territory with allegiance to said Clan and its chieftain.)
What about the Border Halls? Could the Hall families in the Borders still be a sept of Skene? With the encouragement of other Border Clan organizations, Atlas Hall sought to discover if the Halls of the Borders operated as a unique family group or if their Border presence was minimal. What stood out was 1) As I had stated, Aberdeen is about 128 miles north of Edinburgh and the Scottish Border Halls resided near the city of Jedburgh and surrounding region. This is about 50 miles south of Edinburgh. With 180 plus miles separating the Halls of Clan Skene and Border Halls there is little chance of Clan Skene influence. 2) Border Halls resided in large numbers in both Scotland and England, primarily in the central border region of both countries. It became apparent to Atlas that Hall families had their own identity and presence and were contributors to the nefarious Border history.
Two of the great books of Border history is, 1) The Reivers, The Story of the Border Reivers by Alistair Moffat and 2) The Steel Bonnets, The Story of the Anglo-Scottish Border Reivers, by George MacDonald Fraser. In Mr. Fraser's book he gives a list of twenty-one surnames of families who were active and prominent in the occupation of cross border reiving. Part of what Mr. Fraser writes concerning the Halls is that they were a widely spread clan living in Redesdale, Liddesdale, and East Teviotdale. He further states that in the Redesdale region of England, the Halls, at one time, were one of the its most powerful families. Also, the Halls, for a time, were well hated and feared on both sides of the border.
Another thing I discovered while touring and doing research in the Borders was that historically the Halls did not have a designated chieftain or headman. Many other Border families had a headman that controlled the family and its interests. The Halls on the other hand did not. It would seem they were an independent lot and would not subjugate themselves to anyone, however they participated with other Clans in cross border raids.
The result of Atlas’ research is that even though Halls were a sept of Clan Skene in the north near Aberdeen, or were part of regional populations throughout England, they maintained their own identity in the Borders. So how did the Halls arrive in the Borders. It was a journey that took time. After the Norman conquest of 1066, supporters of William, Duke of Normandy, were granted lands throughout England. Based on research compiled by Atlas Hall, Wentworth, Earl Fitz William had been granted lands in Lincolnshire, an East coast county in the English Midlands, prior to 1090. Wentworth had two sons, who were successful and must have been competitive with each other. One son , Arthur Fitz William, did not want people to mistake his accomplishments for his brother’s so he changed his surname to Hall. (How much of this is fact and how much is family lore I do not know.) This is to have been officially recorded about the year 1090. Arthur’s family line continued to grow in Lincolnshire and many Halls continue to live there today. In fact, one of our English members still lives in Lincolnshire and his family may be descended from Arthur Hall. Unfortunately, he does not have solid documentation at this time. My hope is that he discovers his ancestral lineage providing proof of the Arthur story.
In the early to mid-1300’s, it is said, some Halls of Lincolnshire were invited by the future Scottish king, David, Earl of Huntington, to come north and were granted lands in Berwickshire. From there they continued to move and settle in other regions of the border. Because of political intrigues, the animosity between the Scottish and English Crowns, and the constant threat of warring armies, the border territories became the buffer zone between the two governments. Unable to depend on their respective Crowns for protection and support, the only certainty was the support and strength of family and unity with other Border Clans. The age of the Border Reiver had begun and by the 1500’s became the main mode of livelihood.
It is the independence and uniqueness of the Border Halls that Clan Hall Society was formed to represent. Though we do not sanction their criminal activity, we recognize that they were an active part of the reiving society they lived in. History is a harsh judge. We render judgements based on the ideology and values of contemporary times not from the times and perspectives our ancestors lived in. Today the Border Reivers are celebrated in many Scotthish/English border towns and communities. Not for their crimes, but for the colorful history they gave to Border antiquity.
Membership in Clan Hall Society is open to anyone with the surname of Hall or has a Hall in their family lineage. Direct association to the Borders is not required.