Hall, Roland (Who’s who)

Roland Hall (1930-2017), volunteer reader and editor for OED

Roland Hall on his 77th birthday. Photo courtesy of Roland Hall

Roland Hall was born in Hounslow and educated at Christ’s Hospital, Horsham from 1942-9. After eighteen months of national service in the Army he took up the top annual entrance scholarship at Keble College, Oxford (which he was awarded in 1948), to read Lit Hum – a composite degree in Classical Languages and Literature, Ancient History, and Ancient and Modern Philosophy, also known as Greats. He got a First in 1954, followed by a BPhil (supervised by J. L. Austin and, briefly, Gilbert Ryle) in 1956. Subsequently he held university posts in Philosophy at the University of St Andrews (mostly at Queen’s College, Dundee) before moving to the University of York in 1967, where he was Reader in Philosophy until his retirement in 1994. He subsequently continued an active teaching and research life.

Hall published in a wide range of philosophical areas but is best known for his comprehensive bibliographical work on Locke and Hume; in particular he founded the international journal on John Locke, The Locke Newsletter (since 2001 renamed as Locke Studies: An Annual Journal of Locke Research), which he edited for nearly forty years and which remains the only journal devoted solely to this philosopher. In addition to his work on philosophy and on the OED (for which see below), Hall competed in a number of television quiz programmes, coming fourth in the TV Brain of Britain series in 1969. He was also an inveterate winner of literary quizzes, including the Sunday Times/Faber Quiz (1997), the Times Literary Supplement Christmas Quiz (2003), and (with the help of his wife Roma Hutchinson) many crossword puzzle competitions.

From an early age, Hall had become interested in the OED and its record of philosophical and other sorts of vocabulary, which he had noticed was sometimes deficient. In 1957, he responded to the first public appeal for volunteer readers for the second Supplement to the OED made by its recently appointed new editor, R. W. Burchfield, and from 1963 he also assisted Burchfield with drafting entries and defining terms for the Supplement’s treatment of the early part of the alphabet. Over the succeeding decades he read the entire works of Mill, Locke, William James, and many other philosophical sources for OED, identifying innumerable examples of OED antedatings and omissions, some of which he also reported in the 58 articles he published in the periodical Notes & Queries. Most recently, he identified the original context of many hundreds of quotations from Locke, which had been cited in OED1 from Johnson’s dictionary without full reference (see Silva 2005: 241 n. 8). Hall is one of a handful of external participants in the construction and editing of OED whose individual influence has had (or will have had, once OED3 is completed), a significant, if as yet uncalculated, effect on the final product. His contribution to the Dictionary is described in greater detail in our page on Individual readers in the Reading and readers section of the site.1

Last updated on 9 October 2019


  1. This biography has been derived from personal communication from Roland Hall to Charlotte Brewer, as well as the entry for Hall by David Scott in The Dictionary of Twentieth-Century British Philosophers, ed. Stuart Brown (Bristol: Thoemmes, 2005), vol. 1, pp. 322-3.