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24 Francis St, Pietermaritzburg

The History of A.G. Hall

Definitely a case of in our city fathers' mansions there are many Halls

history1The first Hall came to Pietermaritzburg, aged 18 years , from London. Disembarking in Durban on 10 January 1862, Alfred Hall came to Pietermaritzburg and learned to be a house painter. His second son, Ted (the second generation painter), followed in his footsteps. But it was not until 1902 that Ted opened a painting, glazing and wallpaper hanging business at 167 Longmarket Street, thus laying a future claim, in the year 2001 to being the second oldest family concern in Pietermaritzburg that is still solely owned and controlled by the founding family. This claim is still valid.

From the start Hall's flourished, and for good reasons. As Eddie Hall (the fourth generation painter) explained when interviewed on the occasion of the Firm’s centenary in 2002, "We got the basics right. And we have always believed in the old-fashioned value of hard work”. By “basics” he meant using the best materials, of the highest quality at all times. "Painting is an unforgiving medium", adds John Hall (the fifth generation painter). "A finished job will always be mute but powerful testimony to either your ability or incompetence for years to come. There is no hiding the mistakes behind the small print."

we have always believed in the old-fashioned value of hard work

Alfie Hall (the third generation painter), who gave his initials to the firm, joined his father in 1920 and, for the next 56 years, was intimately concerned with the family fortunes, save for two absences. The first occurred when he travelled to Durban, for six months, as a young man, where he was taught the art of graining, whereby any surface can be painted to resemble the rich grains of various woods, or marble, by an elderly craftsman at the cut price of 5/- an hour. The second was when Alfie volunteered for military service during the Second World War. His wife Lily, with no business training whatsoever, but a tremendous will to fill the breach, was pitch forked into the driving seat. Nonetheless, family tradition insists she ran the firm so well that Alfie, on his return, found it difficult to get his old job back.

history2Painting and renovating is not a business given to sudden changes over night, and A.G.Hall has stuck to what it terms the basics, with only one or two variations. In the mid-fifties when P.V.A and water based paints appeared, it revolutionized the business of decorating. "Before that, painting really required an expert, what with white lead mixing”. Now suddenly Do It Yourself (d.i.y) became a possibility for anyone with a paintbrush.

This opening up of the field did not the spell the demise of the professionals, but it meant eternal vigilance in the maintenance of a good reputation. A deal was struck with Federated Paints and the Hall's became the local agents for this paint.

In 1965, the Hall's built a retail paint shop in Victoria Road. This complimented the contracting side of the business by enhancing the buying power of the firm and also exploited the new DIY market.

By the late 1980's the Paint Shop had grown to the point of requiring a great deal of the family’s time. The choice had to be made - take in extra people to run this side of the business or sell off the retail side? As fate would have, Richard Shave made an offer and the Halls accepted. The retail shop was sold off and the family concentrated on contracting.

history3In 1963, Floor Sanding was added. From the humble beginnings, when they took over the first machine (the operator insisted that he was coming with “his” machine), it has grown to represent a significant portion of the business. At present over 2000 m2 of wooden flooring are sanded on average, every month. A large portion of the work is undertaken for institutions and for schools but many a householder, pulling up a carpet to reveal a lovely wood floor underneath, has called in AG Hall. Once a building is renovated and the wooden floors are sandpapered and “sealed” the effect is almost miraculous. The Halls hasten to assure you that our machines are all fitted with dust collecting vacuum bags and there is very little dust to worry about.

1974 saw the addition of another string to the firm’s bow. The introduction of a new and innovative product which protected homes and offices from the harmful and uncomfortable rays of the South African sun. This is in the form of an adhesive “Solarfilm fixed to glass. A.G.Hall became the local approved fitters of Solar and Safety Film on normal flat glass.

In the tradition of the business, the most qualified members of the staff were trained in providing this service. “It’s no good buying the best materials, which are expensive, and then giving them to somebody incompetent to install, especially as these products carry guarantees and we aim to be around to uphold them”, says John.

In 2001 the Victoria Road premises that the business had occupied for over 45 years was sold. The family looked to other options. The obvious and economical option would have been to work from home. This would, however, have inconvenienced the contracting staff. In their normal caring way, the Hall's opted to rent premises elsewhere in central Pietermaritzburg and moved to a site at the corner of Boshoff Street and Victoria Road. (6 B Boshoff Street - behind Protectowear).

history4Whilst smaller, the site offered better administration and staff facilities. As John says, “Most of our work happens on site and we only use this address as a home base with a workshop and administration centre.”

At the same time as this move, the opportunity was taken to change the firm from the Private Company created in 1965 to a Closed Corporation. Merely an administrative and accounting change.

Whilst renting was an economical and comfortable alternative, somehow it seemed devoid of confidence. The family felt it necessary to boost their own confidence by committing to the future of the City of Pietermaritzburg. So they went looking for a suitable site on which to settle.

John and Eileen bought a pair of semi detached properties in Francis Street. 24 and 26 Francis Street are about the same age as the firm, having been built around the turn of the 20th century. The buildings were extremely run down and had seen better days. AG Hall proceeded to restore the two properties to the style of the early 1900's and have refurbished these two old homes to comprise a comfortable suite of offices and workshops.

history5

Above is a photo of what was acquired in December 2003 and, below, the finished restoration

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Home to the family business for the next 50 years? The Halls think so!

The name A.G.Hall is known where it counts the most - amongst their many local long term clients. A source of genuine pleasure to Denise and John Hall is to reflect on the very many buildings that they have worked on. Some of these, repeatedly, for over 100 years.

The Hall's are a traditional Pietermaritzburg family. John’s children are the fifth generation to be born and educated in Pietermaritzburg. Whilst not a lot is known of the original Alf Hall, it is believed that he served in one of the volunteer corps of his era. Ted played football, bowls and croquette for Natal, and Alfie, Eddie and John served in the Natal Carbineers (collectively for 150 years and still counting) and all three represented Natal at target shooting. Both Eddie and John have served the community in Round Table (Eddie) and Rotaract (John) as well as sports administration.

history6In 2004, Candice, pictured here with Eileen, who has completed 10 Comrades Marathons, finished the Comrades Marathon as the youngest finisher of the 2004 up run and in October, Justin represented South Africa at the KSI World Karate Champs, finishing a very creditible 4th in his weight and age category. Justin went on to represent South Africa twice more and Candice has completed 9 Comrades Marathons and has represented Western Province, where she now lives and has a biokinetics practice, at cross country and marathon running.

Justin has joined the firm and has completed his initial training in the craft of joinery.

history8The family feeling extends to the staff where a great deal of effort is put into training and betterment, as well as job security. When you are hired by A. G. Hall it is to fill the gap left by someone who has voluntarily departed.

In the recent past, the firm has continued with its policy of spreading good will and empowerment.

AG Hall have embarked on a number of small social programs and offers financial assistance to the staff for assistance with education, home improvement and upliftment.