THE 1850's proved to be the busiest and most fruitful years in Sir Benjamin Hall's Parliamentary career, with an intensified period of activity from 1854 to 1858, when he held office, first as President of the Board of Health, and afterwards as First Commissioner of Works, and was able for the first time to use his remarkable administrative abilities in the public service. At their Monmouthshire home,2 the decade began well for the Halls. The London Morning Chronicle, who were publishing a series of articles on 'Labour and the Poor' in England and Wales, had sent a Special Commissioner to tour the South Wales iron and coal districts. He had sent detailed reports to the paper, and had found in many Welsh centres of industry that the working people were herded together in miserable hovels, steeped in ignorance, and shamelessly exploited by the Truck Shops. The last place he visited was Abercarn3 which, he had heard, had a model colliery, and he was 'desirous of seeing a model colliery, if such existed'. 4 He explained in his article that Sir Benjamin Hall, the owner of the Abercarn estate, was 'desirous of forming upon his property a large colliery, which might become the germ of a sounder and more humane system in the neighbourhood an establishment where the workmen should enjoy their inalienable right of being paid, at short and regular intervals, in cash, and where they might have every appliance needed for the preservation of life and health and where their domestic comfort, their intellectual improvement and the education of their children should be anxiously studied and liberally provided for'. The Commissioner added: 'This wish he has seen abundantly gratified, and it must be a most pleasing reflection to him that there exists on his property, in the centre of a district where the well-being of the workman is shamefully neglected, and where "truck" is rife, a colliery having a contented, industrious, temperate, thriving and improving population, where, but for his exertions and those of the company to whom he has leased the collieries, there would have existed the same unhappiness, discontent, embarrassment, dependence, and slavery, which I have already described as disgracing the neighbouring coal-works'. The Commissioner visited every part of the works, and found that 'every provision had been made for executing work soundly and with celerity', and when he left he 'could not forbear expressing my gratification at the very complete arrangements I had witnessed acknowledging that, of the various collieries I had visited in the course of this inquiry, I had seen none SIR BENJAMIN AND LADY HALL AT HOME IN THE 1850's: PART I (PLATES XIV. 16-20)