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May312011

William Weekley Ball (1818 -1896) BUTCHER OF RINGSTEAD

William Weekley Ball (1818 -1896) BUTCHER OF RINGSTEAD

 

It is with some reluctance that I set down the history of William Weekley Ball. I have tried in these brief biographies to try to show some of the ordinary people of nineteenth century Ringstead whose lives usually go unrecorded except by official statistics. William's life has had many a chapter in books on Northamptonshire and his story is well known by locals. Perhaps many would like to forget him because as one said to me, he did not come from Ringstead. Well, certainly his father William came from that den of iniquity, Little Addington but William was christened in Ringstead on 19th January 1818.

I think that I must give his story because the court case gives us a glimpse not only into William’s life but also into some other villagers who gave witness at his trial. I hope also that I can fill in a little detail about his later life which is often either omitted or wrongly described. By one of those strange coincidences I first came upon William before I knew of his notoriety. My wife had been doing our family tree and because of lack of progress wrote down all the Balls in Ringstead that appeared in the parish registers. We had moved to near Ramsey in Huntingdonshire and someone lent me Craven & Co.’s Directory for the County of Huntingdon for 1855. There I found in the section for Butchers in Ramsey ‘Ball, Wheatley, Great White’. In spite of the incorrect name I guessed that it might be the right person and then I saw, when visiting my mother in Wellingborough a local paper with an article written by Marion Pipe headlined ‘The Ghost of Lydia Atley’. My father had always said that we had a murderer in the family. I had found him! Although I still have not proved his connection with my own branch of the, (very common), Ball name.

As I have said, William Ball senior was born Little Addington in about 1773. He married Ann Weekley on 7thJuly 1814 in Ringstead and they are described as ‘both of this parish’ by that time. In the 1841 Census William is given as a shepherd but by 1851 when he was 78 he was described as a ‘Greenwich Pensioner’. This means that he must have at some time been in the Royal Navy and this may explain his late marriage and the register describes them as bachelor and spinster so we must presume this to be the case. This means that Ann’s was some thirty-four years old and William 42 when her first child, Mary, was born. With Henry, their last born child who did not survive childhood, she was about forty-three.

Looking back at William, Ringstead is a long way from the sea and one wonders where he spent those years before he enters the official records again. The Royal Greenwich Hospital had a fixed number of in-pensioners (like the more well known Chelsea Pensioners for the army) but it also gave out-pensions, a form of superannuation, for deserving applicants. They could be in work and did not have to have reached old age. The time when the Hospital gained its biggest intake was during the Napoleonic Wars and it seems likely that it was in these that William fought before his marriage. This would explain his late marriage. [I have given a tentative biography of him in this series]

William Weekley Ball was born into a family that was probably more comfortably placed than most ordinary people in Ringstead. His father was a shepherd in 1841 but William, at 20 is described as a butcher. Also in Ringstead is Henry Weekley a Butcher and probably William’s uncle. By 1851 Henry has retired and is living next door to William Weekley Ball who is described once again as butcher. We have no proof at present but it looks as if William worked for his uncle and took over the business when he retired.

Of course something tragic had happened some nine months before the 1851 Census was collected. The story we have is mainly from the mouths of witnesses in their depositions given in 1864, first to magistrates at a committal trial in Thrapston and then at the Lent Assizes in Northampton. We must remember that in a small close-knit village like Ringstead few had no connection with or opinion on the two main characters: alleged murderer and alleged victim. First, we will look at the alleged victim and murderer, as they were perceived by the newspapers at the time

We must see Lydia Atley, Attley or Atlee as a person whose last act was, perhaps, to be a victim. What little we know of her leads us to suspect that she had not had an easy life. In the 1841 Ringstead Census she is given as 15 years old and is living with her sister Elizabeth, given too with the rounded age of 15 and her mother, also Lydia, who is 50 years old and a pauper. The two girls are both lacemakers, a common occupation for the women of Ringstead at the time but not one which could support anybody without another source of income. The census was taken on June 6th and just some two weeks before on May 23rd both Lydia and Elizabeth are baptised in the parish church. They are given as the daughters of William and Lydia and young Lydia is ‘represented to be in her twentieth year’ and Elizabeth is ‘represented to be in her sixteenth year’ It seems to show the father was a miller.

We do have a description of Lydia given in the February 29th 1864 edition of the Eastern Counties Gazette when William was brought to trial. It says that in 1850 she was twenty-five years old (but she was probably some four years older).

…..Lydia Atlee…was of middle height, thin in person, and of rather singular appearance. Her hair was auburn in colour, nearly inclined to red, her face was slightly contracted on one side, and disfigured by a scorbutic eruption, which tinted her forehead and cheeks alike with a deep crimson. Besides this she possessed a pair of innocent eyes, and a remarkably fine set of teeth of ivory whiteness, which she frequently displayed, but altogether her physiognomy (sic) was decidedly of the plainest order. Her character was somewhat indifferent, from being of a weak intellect. She unfortunately became initiated into vicious practices and immoral conduct, which resulted in the birth of an illegitimate child. 

You feel that the reporter is trying to be fair-minded but failing. He does, however, go on to say:

With this exception, the woman was of harmless disposition and was generally liked by the villagers, who regarded her with compassionate feelings. Lydia Atlee picked up her precarious living in various ways; hawking nuts and oranges, acting as an errand woman, and occasionally assisting in housework. She resided as a lodger in the quarter of the village known as the ‘London Road

Today we would see her as a vulnerable person and it is easy to see why the people of Ringstead were so antagonistic to William. Paradoxically we also see in the description of her why the men in authority or in the newspapers were generally supportive of him.

Having said that, the descriptions of William were mixed, to say the least. We must remember that these descriptions are 14 years after the two were lovers. A clipping from an unnamed Peterborough Paper is pasted into the Defence Brief in 1864 and it describes William as

..a respectable looking man, 46 years in age and standing about 5feet 7 inches in height. He is of a rosy and pleasing complexion, is moderately stout with dark and straight hair and habited in a suit of light tweed cloth. He has pretty regularly for years attended various markets in the county of Huntingdon and his character for honest and straightforward dealing is unimpeachable. 

On the other hand the Northampton Mercury for 27th February 1864 gave a less favourable picture. 

The prisoner, who appears to be between forty and fifty years of age, was dressed respectably in black, and had the appearance of a well-to-do tradesman. He has rather a high, bald forehead with a single lock of long dark hair drawn across it, a well-shaped nose, thin lips and eyes with many wrinkles about them. His face is peculiar from a complete absence of eyebrows.

We do know that William and Hannah had no children but we do not know whether this was due to inability or inactivity. The few signs that we have lead us to think that it may have been an unhappy match but Hannah was loyal to him throughout the whole saga and moved with him to Ramsey. It is her story which we do not hear and which might throw most light on the real events of that night. Where was she when all these events unfolded? Whatever the background it does not seem disputed that William and Lydia were lovers and she certainly claimed her unborn child to be his.

Statements were taken by the police at the time but it is only fourteen years later that the trial allows us to see how the events that unfolded that warm July evening in 1850 from the lawyer’s Briefs and the newspaper reports.

For many years the only map to explain the alleged facts of that late evening was one drawn in the Defence Brief. It is a strange travesty of a map which is impossible to reconcile with the local geography.

 

A rough copy of a sketch in Defence Brief of 1864 Assize trial

(original in Northampton Record Office)

 

Within the last year the solicitors, Hunnybun & Sykes, have deposited archive material in the Northampton Record Office which includes the Brief for the Prosecution for the case and includes beautifully clear maps drawn up by Law and Sons, Architects and Surveyors, of Northampton. My copies do not do justice to the originals but they do help to show what happened and help to bring that evening one-hundred-and-fifty years ago back into our imagination.

 

 

Drawn from Maps attached to Prosecution Brief

(Hunnybun & Sykes Archive 2009/16: Northampton Record Office)

 

Lydia was heavily pregnant and lodged with her brother John who had kept on the family house after their mother had died that May. At the time she was sleeping with Sarah Ann Phillips whose mother also had recently died. Sarah Ann told of the ordinary events of that day, Monday the 22nd July 1850. Lydia had gone down to the shop to buy some soap and rice ready for the next day. The rice was for dinner and the soap was to do some washing, probably to earn a little money. The two women took the tray used for washing and at about nine o‘clock in the evening Lydia went out to confront William.

We also hear from Sarah Dicks, Lydia’s married sister, who was also heavy with child. She asks Lydia to take her husband’s dinner to where he was working in Mr. Freeman’s hay field. Lydia at first says she is too ill but eventually goes but on her return again complains about feeling unwell. Sarah says that she too saw Lydia off at about a quarter past nine on the fateful night.

Lydia’s sister, Elizabeth was housekeeper and then wife of Joseph Groom and she had been to their house in the Ringstead (High) Street [See map] while Joseph washed himself after finishing work at nine o’clock. He stated that she had said that she was going to, ‘see Weekley Ball about some money and if she did not have some there would be a row that night.’ Joseph left his house with Lydia at about a quarter to ten but after some ten yards he had stopped and leant against a wall in the street to smoke his pipe, opposite the entrance to Ball’s orchard while Lydia continued on to confront him. As Joseph quietly smoked his pipe he heard the two quarrelling in Weekley Ball’s orchard although two boards, possibly a gate, prevented him from seeing inside. He heard Lydia say, ‘Get off me for I believe you mean killing me tonight, Weekley Ball. The Lord have mercy on me, if I am going to die in the state that I am in’. He then heard a trembling noise like ‘screaming from a human being’ which was ‘either going further away from him or getting weaker.’ He thought that it was just a quarrel and did nothing. We also learn that he was the husband of Lydia’s sister, Elizabeth. He denies that he ‘had improper intimacy with Lydia’.

Another witness, John Hill, told how he was working in Mr. Beeby’s orchard, making a chair for himself, when he hears William coming down the slipe (a narrow close, which probably refers to the private footpath from Mrs. Hill’s house, The Black Horse:-see map). He sees Lydia with William in Back Lane and follows them to a new listening point, by a stile in a nearby cherry orchard. He hears them arguing and Lydia repeating loudly, ‘I won’t! It’s yours and nobody else’s’. She also protested that she did not want to go into the orchard but they did and he heard the latch go on the orchard gate. John Hill was supposed to be looking after his baby in its cot so he had to hurry back home.

By the way he tells us that Ringstead Field was enclosed in 1840 and in 1850 the road to Keyston(e) was very bad with cart wheels often up to their hubs. John Hill also denied, when questioned at the trail, that he was evicted because he had kept a brothel. Two young women, who he claimed were distant relations, had stayed with him a few days and he was unaware that one named Emma Bird came from a ‘house of ill repute.’

Elizabeth Gunn, a widow, lived in a house not far from Ball’s orchard (see map). She was an infant schoolmistress, possibly in some form of Dame or Lace School. She stated that:

About ten o’clock that night I was in my house; the house door was open. I heard screams which appeared to come from Weekley Ball’s orchard.

When cross examined she told the court that:

There is great excitement in Ringstead about this. People are wild about it. I have not heard that in order to do Ball a great many people were ready to come up to say anything that was wanted.

The only other witness was Elizabeth Groom, wife of Joseph, and Lydia’s sister who said that William had visited Lydia and had given her meat for her sister. She also saw him the next morning in the street and asked him if he had seen Lydia and he had replied, ‘No’.

[I have not yet found Fairey’s testimony or the significance of the pantry window - see map]

So these were the witnesses of the alleged murder, who, it must be admitted, were mainly relations or an alleged brothel keeper who had not given evidence in 1850 when the magistrates in Thrapston had to decide whether there was a case to be heard. They had adjudged that there was insufficient evidence, especially with the lack of a body, for there to be a case for William to answer. The police, as we hear later from the Chief Constable of Northamptonshire at the later trial, advertised in the Police Gazette and circulated handbills offering a reward of £50 for any evidence leading to Lydia being found. No one came forward.

A letter was also received from a local man, then living in Northampton, who had seen Lydia after the time of her disappearance. Weekley Ball had shown the letter to Thomas Green the innkeeper at the Axe and Compass and this had rather allayed police suspicions

Nevertheless local opinion was against him and most seemed to have believed that he was the murderer and all that was wanted was the body. Soon after her disappearance as the Eastern Counties Gazette recalls in 1864:

On the Wednesday the public excitement had reached such a pitch that the police were forthwith communicated with, and a diligent search was instituted over nearly all the parish and the adjoining one of Denford. Gardens were dug over and excavated, ditches woods and thickets pryed into, and the adjacent ponds together with the river Nene were carefully dragged.

Nothing was found but many were convinced of his guilt and a ballad was written and printed and hawked around the streets, first at the October Fair in Thrapston in 1850 and probably at other fairs and feasts in the area. A copy is in the Brief prepared for the defence barrister in 1864. It is called, The Cruel Butcher of Ringstead and runs to nine verses with a chorus after every one. It also introduces some new ‘facts’ which do not appear to have been mentioned anywhere else and were perhaps part of the rumours flying around Ringstead. A few of the verses and the chorus will give a flavour of the broadsheet:

About that time we all do know

Up to the Black Horse that man did go

And for to have a glass of ale

And there he told a dreadful tale

 

Chorus           A cruel Butcher he hung should be

                                For killing of Lydia Atlee

 

And then from there he went straightway

To kill a sheep as he did say

To kill that girl it was his guile

Likewise to kill his lovely child

Chorus

When she got home and left her tray

To meet the man she went straightway

To get her bounty she did intend

Not thinking of her latter end

Chorus

Obviously William decided that he could not stay in Ringstead. In 1851 he was still there with Hannah and a niece Hannah Ball, daughter of his brother John, but sometime soon after he has left and, as we saw earlier, by 1855 is established as a butcher in Ramsey. He appears in Kelly’s Directory of Huntingdonshire for 1854 as ‘Ball, William Butcher’. In 1861 Hannah, William’s wife is staying with William’s brother John and his wife (Hannah’s sister) in Ringsted, but we do not know if this is just a short visit. She does declare herself as a butcher’s wife to the Census collector. Staying with William in Ramsey are his 16 year old niece Ann Ball and his nephew William Wilson from Oundle who is a butcher’s assistant. It looks as if, written at the side the entry, the Census Collector has written ‘Mrs. Ball absent’.

William was building up a local reputation as a solid citizen who, as we have heard, was known for his ‘honest and straightforward dealing’. We hear in the Brief written for the defence lawyer that, ‘he has recently enlarged his premises and erected a commodious house on the site of his former shop’. There may be the sadness of having no children of their own but nephews and nieces are always staying with them as some compensation. Then in 1864 the past came again to haunt and humiliate him.

According to the Eastern Counties Gazette of February 20:

On Thursday the 4thday of February inst., a man named Warren was engaged in cleaning out a dike which lies at the side of a lane leading from Denford to Keystone and opening into the Denford road near Mr. Peach’s farm. As Warren proceeded with his work, his spade struck against a hard substance buried in the ground buried at about two feet from the surface. The man paused, and manipulating very carefully with his implement, soon unearthed first the skull (split by the spade), and secondly the weird form of a human skeleton, nearly complete and buried with the face downwards, the toes and front of the skull being pressed firmly into the soil. It is a remarkable fact that the heels of this skeleton were close together as if they had been originally and forcibly placed in that position. It lay facing nearly due north and south and in moist boggy earth which received and retained the impression of the bones

At the committal trial in Thrapston in 1864 Richard Warren, who was the labourer mentioned , said that he had dug up the skull on Wednesday 3rdFebruary at about five o’clock in the evening. He said that it was about five feet from the stool of the hedge and about one foot from the side of the ditch. He tells the court that the road had been bad for many years after the common land there had been enclosed. He is also asked about a skeleton dug up in Little Addington parish which had also been thought to have been Lydia’s. He knows nothing about this but it does show that people were convinced that Lydia was buried somewhere and were constantly expecting her body to turn up.

Warren ran to Denford Vicarage which was nearby and the Reverend Percival Sandilands sent a message to J. G. Leete , surgeon, at Raunds, who examined the skeleton and pronounced it a female of middle height who had been interred for a period of thirteen or fourteen years. Even today forensic scientists would not be able to be so definite. Obviously the good doctor had a very clear idea of who he thought it might be. The area was always boggy so little used except by the farmer and at the time of Lydia’s disappearance was a ‘quagmire composed of an agreeable mixture of mud and water of a depth of several feet. The other clinching argument, that this was Lydia, was that the skull had a missing tooth.

Henry Dix, Lydia’s brother-in-law, gave his account of the extraction at the trial. She had most of her teeth, and, as we have heard was proud of them. According to his testimony Lydia had come to him about a fortnight before her disappearance to ask him to extract a tooth, the third one on the left hand side of her jaw. He was unwilling to do it because she was ‘very large in the family way’. She insisted and he drew the tooth, which was double but he could not remember if it was fanged. ‘She sat on the ground and I stood before her’ and... ‘I drew the tooth with a pair of nippers’. Henry stated that he told these facts to Inspector Williamson at the time of the discovery.

John Hill, who had stalked the couple the night before, also stated that at about six o’clock the next morning he had seen William coming from the direction of Ringstead lime kiln with a hoe in his hand

Drawn from Maps attached to Prosecution Brief

(Hunnybun & Sykes Archive 2009/16: Northampton Record Office)

We are not quite sure who said what, when, but we do know that the local magistrates, headed by Lieutenant General Arbuthnott, heard several witnesses in private and issued a warrant for William. Inspector Williamson of Thrapston left for Ramsey in a horse and gig at about 11.30 am. A Peterborough newspaper reported that during that morning, ‘throngs of the poorer inhabitants of the villages of Denford and Ringstead, with other persons, were continually pouring into the town. This ‘jostling, laughing, and impatient’ mob managed to get into the courthouse but the rumours that William was already there were unfounded and they saw only the usual business of the day. The newspaper continues:

…the hall cleared the mob adjourned to the various public houses in the town from which they did not emerge until late at night. We must not forget to add that a strong party of ‘roughs’ walked up the road which leads to Ramsey, via Huntingdon, with the intention of meeting Inspector Williamson and his charge and saluting the latter with certain ugly looking pebbles which they appropriated on the way.

Inspector Williamson reached Ramsey late in the afternoon and went to the Constabulary depot and William was summoned, the warrant read and he was quietly taken into custody.

Although there was much excitement in Ramsey, he was well thought of, and the local reporter states, ‘evidently a strong feeling here in favour of the accused’. The gig did not start back until 6 o’clock the next morning arriving in Thrapston at 11 am. He was greeted, ‘in language which was more profuse than polite’. Wisely, the:

. . . prisoner jumped hastily off the gig and bolted into the police station with remarkable alacrity leaving Inspector Williamson to remonstrate with the crowd.

There was obviously very strong feelings against William locally and the discovery of the skeleton had revived this. On William’s side was the lack of any foetal bones within the body. It was possible that Lydia had given birth before being buried but it did cast a doubt on William’s guilt. William was described as being impassive throughout the case, only showing an interest when the details of the skeleton were given.

He had been worried, however, at the time of Lydia’s disappearance. As we have heard, shortly after Lydia’s disappearance, William had gone to Thomas Green’s house and shown him a letter stating that Lydia had been seen alive in Northampton some time after her alleged murder. The letter had been from a William Weekley, living in Northampton, to his mother, who still lived in Ringstead. He had now admitted that William Weekley Ball had come to him in Northampton and asked him to write the letter. The mother, Eliza Weekley was summoned from her home to the court and then gave evidence that she had received such a letter from her son. A copy of the letter (wrongly transcribed as to ‘Mrs. Ball’ by a local policeman) was read out.

Northampton Aug 12th 1850

I write you a few lines to inform you that I saw L. Attley in Northampton. I was going down Castle Street at about eight p.m. or half-past eight pm on Sunday night. There was a man with her with a long frock coat on and a cape

William Weekley

One can see the little detail of the man’s dress and the vagueness of the times to give an illusion of reality but would a son sign a letter to his mother with his surname? Was this the clever ploy of a guilty man or a desperate attempt to clear his name by an innocent one? The evidence seemed to be piling up against William when suddenly news came through from Ringstead. On Saturday March 5th 1864 the Northampton Mercury had the following brief announcement.

The RINGSTEAD MURDER

As we were going to press we learnt that another skeleton

was yesterday found lying by the side and partly beneath

the spot where the former skeleton was found. The

skeleton lay in a sloping position and the feet were 18

inches lower than the feet of the former.

 

The Prosecution Brief also has the news written in the margin which includes the note:

                What effect it may have on the case is difficult to say.

A further note in the margin resignedly adds:

                7th March 1864. Two more skeletons have been found in the same place.

The case collapsed and William Weekley Ball was discharged. Whatever the feeling in Ringstead, the press accepted the verdict and felt that William had been wrongly accused because of the rumour-mongering of a small village determined that he was the villain. The Mercury printed a letter from someone signed just VERITAS which started ‘Satisfied that the withdrawal of the case against Weekly Ball is only an act of simple justice’. It goes on to tell of another woman who disappeared only to turn up many years later. Hopefully it was not written by another friend of William.

Archboulds, the prosecution solicitors, did seek legal opinion on behalf of General Arbuthnott, the magistrate whether he:

…would be acting properly and be justified in issuing a warrant for the re-apprehension of Wm Weekley Ball on his discharge should the General be of opinion he would be justified.

The reply from the counsel was that it would be justified, if ‘the defects in the evidence that now exist could be supplied,’ but he saw little chance of a conviction without a body. Legally, William was never troubled by the case again.

We see the villagers of Ringstead as perhaps people today imagine them. Almost all the prosecution witnesses were related to each other and rumour could turn possibility into fact. We also see people like Lydia trying to scratch a meagre living from selling oranges around the villages even though her sister said that she had a bad leg. All working people tried to stave off starvation and the workhouse. We also see the man in the evening sun smoking his pipe after a long day in the field. Cottages were generally not comfortable places to live and children and adults alike tried to live outdoors as much as they could, making the most of the light. We also see that there were brothels and extra-marital activity. It was not a Jane Austen world.

William returned to Ramsey and seemed to prosper. 1871 finds him a butcher employing one man and a boy. His nephew Joseph Ball aged 22 and niece Margaret Wilson, 15, are staying with him and his wife Hannah. Looking at the local records we find that William has purchased two pieces of fen land on the outskirts of the town amounting to some seven acres for £540. On April 2 1874 Hannah dies aged 62 and is buried in the local cemetery.

Just two years later, in 1876 William married Catherine Cattling who was born in Birmingham. She was some twelve years his junior but has been married at least twice before. As Catherine Littleford she is shown in 1861 as a barmaid in the George Hotel an old coaching inn with links to the Cromwell family. It was a place where the local farmers would gather on market day. In March 1862 she married John Jackson in the parish of St Marylebone in Westminster. It seems a little odd that they chose to marry in London until we find that her father, a coach maker, was living close by the church in 1841. Perhaps, although born in Birmingham, London was her family home. John did not last long and as Catherine Jackson, a young widow of 38 was married to John Cattling in Ramsey on September 16th 1867 and the 1871 Ramsey Census shows her living in the High Street with John, a farmer of 28 acres and her son, Frank Jackson, aged eight. On October 24th1873 John Cattling died. She and William are married in London. Perhaps it was a wedding near her family or a romantic wedding in the capital or perhaps both William and Catherine may have wanted it away from gossip and pointing fingers. Both had interesting pasts.

The 1877 Post Office Directory of Bedfordshire, Hunts and Northants records that Joseph Ball, William’s nephew, has taken over the business. The following Census shows William is a farmer of 17 acres living in the High Street presumably in the house he built on the site of his first shop. Joseph himself soon disappears in a strange change of circumstances, [See separate biography]. By 1891, aged 74, William is described as a retired farmer and he dies some five years later on November 16th 1896. He is buried alongside Hannah in the Ramsey Cemetery where their stone can still be seen. Catherine dies on March 6th 1899 and she is buried elsewhere in the cemetery.

The Hunts County News for the 3rd November 1896 records his death, ‘at his residence in the High Street on Monday morning at the age of 79. It also records that, ‘for many years he followed the occupation of butcher in the town and was widely respected by a wide circle of friends’. He would certainly have settled for that as an obituary notice in 1864.

William had left Catherine (confusingly copied as Caroline in the registered copy of the will) an annuity of £50 per year from the rents of his land. On her death, John Bull, a tailor from Ringstead, the son of his sister Mary was one of two executors. Catherine’s son, Frank Jackson and his wife and young child were living two doors away from William and Catherine in 1891: he is an ‘iron turner.’ William’s land was sold to Lord de Ramsey and in his will he leaves a personal estate of £2729 17s 1d. After Catherine, the main beneficiaries are his sister, Mary Bull and Joseph Ball, John’s son, and Edward Smith the husband of John’s late daughter Annie (or Hannah). He also gives sums ranging from £10 to £100 to a bewildering range of relatives, some 31 in all. There are 4 nieces, 4 nephews, 4 step nieces, 2 step nephews, 3 great nieces, 5 great nephews, 3 step great nephews, 4 step great nieces, the two trustees and Frank, his wife’s son by her former husband.

Despite all the information we have on William compared to most of his fellow Ringstead villagers we are really no nearer the truth of his guilt. He seems to have been a popular man in Ramsey who, through his life and afterwards, looked after his extended family. Yet the people of Ringstead took against him with a virulence that makes you wonder as to whether there were old scores to settle. When we look at that fateful night in July 1850 can we assess the evidence and come to any conclusions? Unfortunately the answer is still no. The circumstantial evidence of the witnesses would seem enough to convict most men. He had the motive, the opportunity and was last heard with the victim in a heated argument. The other main options seem to be that she committed suicide or fell into the waters that make up a large part of the Parish. I think most people would judge him guilty.

On the other hand, how did he dispose of the body? As the solicitor who wrote the Defence Brief for his trial pointed out the distance to the original alleged burial site was a mile along muddy lanes and fields (and in fact as the Prosecution map shows it was more than that). Could he have carried the pregnant woman so far and undetected. Of course the site of the burial was discredited later but as Paul Harrison has pointed put in his book, Northamptonshire Murders another body in a shallow grave was found near the Thrapston Road in 1906. The body was declared to be a woman of about the right age. Harrison posits that William walked with her, pretending to discuss the problem, then murdered her and buried the body. It seems plausible but did no-one see them? Did he take a spade with him or rush back to get one later?

It is Hannah, his wife, who is a silent witness to all this. No mention is made of her at the trial. William did not forget her after her death, for even though he re-married, her nieces and nephews were remembered in his will. And what of his brother John and the other members of the family? If he was the murderer, would William have needed an accomplice to dispose of the body? Unless, unexpectedly, further evidence comes to light we will never know the truth. Lydia’s ghost is said to walk near the church yard. Is she still looking for justice?

References

Free BMD Marriage Index 1837 – 1915 (Ancestry.co.uk)

Ramsey BMD Huntingdon Record Office

Ringstead BMD Northampton Record Office

English Censuses for 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891(Ancestry.co.uk)

The Northampton Mercury 1864 (Northampton Central Library

The Eastern Counties Gazette 1864 (Huntingdon Public Library)

Conveyance: 11 October 1865. Mr. John Thimbleby and Mr. Wm. Weekley Ball) (Huntingdon Record Office)

Conveyance: 14 October 1871. The Trustees of Mr. Edward Rose deceased and Mr. W.W. Ball (Huntingdon Record Office)

Conveyance 6 July 1899.Messrs Samuel Newton and John Bull to the Right Honourable William Henry, Lord de Ramsey (Huntingdon Record Office)

Hatfield’s Directory of Huntingdonshire 1854 (HRO)

Craven and Co.’s Directory: County of Huntingdon 1855 (HRO)

Kelly’s Directories of Huntingdonshire 1854, 1869. 1877 1894 and 1898(HRO)

Kelly’s Directory of Huntingdonshire 1885(HRO)

Brief prepared for Northampton Spring Assizes March 1864 Regina in the Prosecution of George Williamson Inspector of Police against William Weekley Ball on charge of murder (includes unattributed cutting from a Peterborough Paper). (Northampton Record Office)

Brief prepared for Prosecution (trial as above) with accompanying maps (Hunnybun & Sykes archive 2009/16: Northampton Record Office)

Northamptonshire Murders. Paul Harrison Countryside Books 1991

Will of William Weekley Ball 24th December 1894. Proved and Registered in Principal Probate Registry 10th December 1996

 

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