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Twentieth Century


The Dartford firm of J. & E. Hall established in 1785 and still in business in the year 2000 was one of Dartford's premier industrial companies. In the early days the company specialised in heavy foundry-based engineering. Later on, the company developed a specialisation in refrigeration engineering. Britain was at this time the biggest importer of foods in the world. Halls specialised in the manufacture and installation of CO2 refrigeration units in ships. This was a new field with almost unlimited business applications.

By the end of the Edwardian era whole fleets of cargo vessels had insulated and refrigerated holds. The use of refrigeration units on land was also spreading. Halls experimented with the refrigeration of apples and soft fruits. Meat shipments provided the bulk of Hall's refrigeration business. Beef, mutton and lamb were imported by ship from as far afield as Argentina, Mexico, Italy and Portugal. In 1903 over six million frozen rabbits were imported from Australia. The rabbit, regarded as an agricultural pest in Australia, was a useful source of meat in Europe. Halls installed giant cold-stores at docks.

Refrigeration units made by Halls of Dartford had many other less obvious applications. Most London hospitals and hotels were equipped with Halls refrigeration units. Brewers purchased large refrigeration machines for cooling water, controlling the temperature in fermenting rooms and chilling beer for bottling. Smaller refrigeration machines were installed in retail grocery and provisions shops. In 1910, the company decided to add ammonia refrigeration to their range. These units were hugely popular and successful.

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Halls were always quick to diversify production into new profitable areas. Just after the turn of the century the company decided to produce motor vehicles. In 1906 the company acquired a licence to manufacture chassis for buses, lorries and other heavy motor vehicles. Halls called their vehicles Hallfords after their telegraphic address. By 1911 the company had produced an engine of its own design. The Hallford was a rugged and adaptable vehicle. Many London buses were built on the Hallford chassis. The leading brewers equipped whole transport fleets with Hallfords, which were also bought by haulage contractors. The last Hallford lorries were sold in 1926.

In 1922 the company introduced their high speed vertical enclosed ammonia machines. These became world-famous in the brewing industry. By the mid 1920s Halls went in for the manufacture of passenger and goods lifts. The company took over the Medway Safety Lift Company. In the 1939-1945 war Halls installed lifts in Royal Navy ships. On land, Hall's lifts were installed in colleges, offices, hotels and civic buildings. One unique variety of continuously moving lift known as the Paternoster lift became a company speciality. Halls installed a Paternoster lift in their Dartford office building. It could handle twice as many up passengers as the most advanced high-speed lifts of the time. The firm also specialised in the manufacture of goods lifts and escalators. In 1931, during the Great Depression, Halls signed an agreement to produce 'moving staircases' under licence from a German company. Halls escalators were installed in all the leading stores world-wide including Harrods and Selfridges. Lift and escalator production continued well into the 1960s.

In June 1959 Halls merged with two other companies to be known as Hall-Thermotank Ltd. Profits fell disastrously in the early 1960s; subsidiary firms were sold off in an attempt to save the future of the company. The foundry was closed and in 1968 the company decided to concentrate wholly on the manufacture of small refrigeration units and air conditioning for commercial premises. Halls developed an entirely new range of small electrically-controlled automatic compressors using methyl carbide as the refrigerant. Things improved by the 1970s under a major reconstruction of the company. In 1981 Hall-Thermotank became part of the APV group which opened up new business possibilities at home and abroad. In 1984 APV Hall Products Ltd. were awarded the Queen's Award to Industry for the development of the Hallscrew single refrigeration compressor.

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Annual Halls outing
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J. & E. Hall was a family business. It was not uncommon for three generations of one family to be employed for the firm, which had an excellent reputation for looking after the interests of its large workforce. In 1910 the company had 850 employees. The company was well ahead of most other businesses in its staff welfare policy. Halls set-up a non-contributory benefit fund for past employees, providing assistance for widows and orphans of deceased employees and their families. It also paid for the services of a trained nurse to attend employees and their families during times of sickness. All employees participated in Christmas and holiday bonuses.

The company also provided social facilities for its staff. At the conclusion of the First World War J. & E. Hall purchased land at Darenth Road for a Social and Athletic Club. The company also bought sufficient land for the construction of 120 houses. They built the first batch of 24 houses of what was to be 'Hallford Village'; some of the houses were let to company employees. They sold the bulk of the Hallford Estate in 1933, retaining a number of houses for employees.

Next topic: The Dartford fabric printing works, Bullace Lane

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