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The Ball Family

As with the other family chapters this is incomplete and probably has errors. It is just my direct line but I have added the line fron Daniel Ball (probable brother of John) in another posting. For an explanation of the parentage of John and Daniel (John & Ann) see the Daniel Ball posting. Please do let me know of errors or additions at I have omitted photographs for ease of uploading onto the website. Many are in the relevant section in the Ringstead Books stories.

The Ball Family

Based partly on chapters in my two Ringstead People books. 


John Ball (1) 

Abt 1783 – 13/03/1821


                               Sarah Burkett                      

    Abt 1790 – 1873 

(remarried John Cheney 1831) 

John  Ball (2)

Abt 1817 –

Married Sarah Smith Clarke

Thomas Ball

Abt 1818 – 1891

Married Ann(e) Childs 

Anne Ball 

Abt 1820 – 1880

Married William Warren 1841

Daniel Clarke Ball 

Abt 1821 – 1823




John Ball 1 (1783 – 1821) 

 John Ball is one of those ‘ag labs’ nearly lost in the carelessness of history. He died before the first Census that began to put names and places and ages to our ancestors. Even in the 1841 Census the ages are often rounded to the nearest five and the place of birth is and relationship to the head of the house is not given. We have to piece their lives together from scraps of information and the laws of probability. It surprises me that people confidently trace their ancestry back to some noble Norman lord when one wrong piece of information, one unrecorded ‘one night stand’ would send the roots off into much commoner soil.

At first I thought that he was the John Ball who married Sarah Lackson in 1807 in Ringstead but they were widow and widower and the children of our John and Sarah did not start appearing until 1817. Then I discovered another John Ball (one of many) who married Sarah Burkett on the 6th June 1816.  I realised that for all those years I had the wrong man.

As was often the case in those comparatively contraceptiveless years the children then came tumbling one after another. John was baptised on the 18th May 1817, Thomas on the 19th July 1818, Ann on the 16th April 1820 and Daniel Clarke Ball on the 4th November 1821. Then just as suddenly the children stop. John and Sarah have no more baptisms recorded in the registers. It is only when we turn to the entries of burials that we see a possible reason. The register states in unusually full detail:

John Ball killed 13th March 1821 at Denford by the falling of a wall at a fire at Thos Fouscutts aged 38.

1830 was the year of Captain Swing when groups of agricultural workers and their sympathisers went around the countryside burning ricks and machinery of farmers who had brought in the new steam threshing machines. Wages were poor and the new machines threatened even this meagre income. Land was being enclosed and the family use of the common land, for animals or wood gathering, was disappearing. There was unemployment and pauperism. Even as early as 1816 there was some machine breaking and rick-burning. Northamptonshire was never as much affected as Norfolk but, as the book Captain Swing points out, riots were more prevalent where there was a large population of shoemakers. Shoemakers, like tailors, were known to include many dangerous radicals. Was John’s death just an accident or was there insurrection in progress?

If the latter, on which side was John Ball?

Many may find that this is fanciful stretching of the known facts. There is, however, a bill which was posted around the district, a copy of which is in the Northampton Record Office. The old Parish Constable system was  unable to cope with large scale problems and Associations were set up. The wealthier members of an area paid a subscription and, if one of their number suffered harm, the Association would send out reward notices and also pay the court costs. The ‘Thrapston Association’ sent out such a notice offering a reward of sixty guineas (including fifty from the County Fire Office), on the conviction of the culprits, to anyone (except the perpetrator) who shall ‘discover’ them. As Richard Cowley points out in his book ‘Guilty M’Lud!’, sixty guineas would pay an agricultural labourer’s wages for at least two years. In this case someone had set fire to ‘A Range of Hovels and Sheds partly covered with beans and partly with straw, standing in a Farm Yard in the Parish of Ringstead’. The date of the fire was 24th April 1824, just three years after John’s death.

It is only the death entry in the Parish Register which gives us some idea of John’s birth date because it means that he was born in about 1783. There are other John Balls in Ringstead and the villages around but none seem to be the correct year. Like the people of prehistory we only know a few details of their lives through their deaths.

On 25th April 1831 a Sarah Ball (widow) marries John Cheney (widower), ‘Both of this Parish’, at Ringstead. This I believe is John’s widow. The 1841 Census now does offer some evidence for what we have so far surmised. John Cheney, (60) and his wife Sarah (50) are living together and it appears that John (20) and Thomas Ball (20) are living with them. Given the fact that the ages are mostly rounded to the nearest 5 this seems to be compelling if not conclusive evidence for the pattern of events I have given being true.

John Cheney (72), tailor and his wife Sarah (62), tailor’s wife are there together in 1851. John dies and is buried, aged 75, on January 21st 1854 and, in the 1861 Census, Sarah has her granddaughter, Elizabeth Ball, aged 14 living with her (whose child?). By 1871 Sarah is living on her own in Carlow Street, a few doors down from her son Thomas and his family. She is now a great grandmother aged 81 and on Parish Relief. She dies, aged 83, and is buried in Ringstead churchyard on November 19th 1873.

[Note: Sarah Burkett who married John Ball and then John Cheney should not be confused with the younger Sarah Bull, born about 1811, (sometimes transcribed as Ball) who married Thomas Cheney and then George Smith. In the 1841 Ringstead Census John and Sarah Cheney have her sons, John Ball(20) and Thomas Ball (20), living with them; the widowed Sarah Cheney has daughter Louisa (4) and William Bull (20) and Samuel Bull (20) living with her - soon after the Census she marries again – to George Smith.]


Generation 2 

John Ball (2)  

John Ball (2)

Abt 1817 -

Sarah Smith Clark(e)

Abt 1820 -

Elizabeth Ball

Abt 1842 - ??

George Daniel

Abt 1848 -


John Ball, born in about 1817 to John Ball and Sarah (nee Burkett), is something of an enigma. The Parish Registers record he was baptised on May 18th 1817 in Ringstead Parish Church. They also record that he married Sarah Smith Clark (e) on 21st November 1841. I believe that the 1841 Census records him with his brother Thomas staying with his mother and her second husband John Cheney who she had married some 10 years after the death of husband in a fire at Denford. (They are sometimes transcribed as Bull). Sarah Smith Clark(e), daughter of Jeremiah and Elizabeth  Clark, was baptised at Barnwell St Andrew, 2 miles south of Oundle, in Northamptonshire on the 11th June 1818. She may be the farm servant Sarah Clark living in with Ringstead farmer Richard Freeman, his wife Elizabeth and their family in the 1841 Ringstead Census. Unfortunately this Census does not record place of birth.

They had two children baptised in Ringstead Parish Church, Elizabeth, on 11th November 1842, and George Daniel on 11 August 1848. After that it is silence, although some Ancestry trees do have the deaths of John and Sarah locally in 1891 and 1901 respectively. I have not found these deaths. As we have seen elsewhere most of the elder John’s brother, Daniel’s children had either joined the military or emigrated, so this must be the most likely possibility. Of course there are many other scenarios. John may have died elsewhere or been transported and Sarah had remarried and the children took the new father’s surname. Unfortunately John Ball is a common name so, at the moment, it is just guesswork.


Thomas Ball (1818 – 1891)


Thomas Ball

1818 - 1891

Ann Childs

Abt1823 – 4/05/1912 (Thrapston Workhouse)

(Sarah) Elizabeth

 Abt 1844 –


Possibly did not marry



 Abt 1846 –


Married Gabriel Bates



Abt 1847 –


Married Charles Ferrey



Abt 1850 –


Married Henry Sykes



Abt 1852 –


Married Susannah Phillips



Abt 1854 –



William Smith



Abt 1858 – 1941 Brixworth TBC


Lot Major

 Oct-Dec 1878



We know that the second son, Thomas did remain in Ringstead. He had been baptised in the parish church on 19th July 1818 and, as we have said above, he was probably living with his mother Sarah and her second husband John Cheney who was a tailor. He like his brother, John, was an agricultural labourer.

He married Ann Childs on 2nd December 1844. She had been born in Ringstead, probably in 1824, and christened on 14th September 1828. She was the daughter of Thomas and Susannah (nee Whiteman). Thomas signed his name in the marriage register but Sarah only put X (her mark). He was a labourer at the time of the marriage and seems to have remained one all his working life.

By 1851 the couple had three children staying with them, and the eldest, Elizabeth, aged 7, living with her grandparents, James and Susan Childs. Ann was shown to be a lacemaker at the time of her marriage but the Censuses do not record her as having any paid occupation. The children were coming perhaps too regularly for another occupation.

The 1861 Census has the couple with seven children at home including the oldest (Sarah) Elizabeth who is 16 and a lacemaker, probably taught by her mother. The other children are just shown as scholars or without an occupation (but scholar does not mean necessarily that they went to school, merely that they had no paid work). The exception is John, who at just nine years old is shown as a labourer. James Childs, Ann’s seventy-one year old widowed father, is living with them and still shown as an agricultural labourer.

By 1871, Thomas, aged 53 is still an agricultural labourer as is his son John (18) but the two girls, Esther (22) and Ann(ie) (16), are both doing shoe work. Susan (12) is shown as a scholar. Also living with them are two grandchildren Ellen Ball (3) and Sarah E. (7 months) who are the children of one of the couple’s sons or unmarried daughters. It may be that Sarah Elizabeth or Esther are the most likely but this needs further research. [Note: I believe at present that the Elizabeth who married Joseph Cobley on 12th September 1864 was the illegitimate daughter of Anne – who was daughter of Daniel and Phoebe - but again it needs further research – the marriage entry just states in place of father “illegitimate” and I think this indicates that unmarried Anne (who married George Mays two years after Elizabeth’s birth) was the mother.] This Sarah Elizabeth then seems to disappear from the records: death, marriage, emigration? I have not found the answer.

Thomas is aged 62 in the 1881 Census but still a farm labourer. Ann is now 57 and Ellen (13) (still called Ellen Ball and their daughter) is living with them. I believe that she is their granddaughter but perhaps they have “adopted” her. Also living with them are their daughter Susan and her husband, Lot Major with their 8 month old daughter Polly. Another grandchild, Richard Smith (4), son of their daughter Annie and her husband William Smith is also living with them.

Thomas died in 1891 and was buried on Tuesday 3rd March. We know this from an article in the Ringstead section of the Northampton Mercury of Friday 6th March 1891 which shows us how much of people’s lives lie hidden behind the official records that is many people’s only epitaph.

IN MEMORIAM. – On Tuesday, with the bells muffled, as a last token of respect to the memory of Mr. Thomas Ball, who was foreman of the ringers for upwards of 50 years, and who was carried to the grave by his fellow ringers, was rung a 720 Yorkshire Court with 18 bobs and two singles. G, Roberts 1, F. Chapman 2, R. Shipley 3, J. Braybrook 4, E. Mayes 5, and T. Roberts (conductor), 6; a 720 Double Court, with 18 bobs and two singles – E. Mayes 1, G. Roberts 2, R. Shipley 3, F. Chapman 4, J. Braybrook (conductor) 5, and T. Roberts 6; and a 360 College Single – A. Starmore 1, J. Braybrook 2, R. Shipley 3, E. Mayes 4, G. Roberts 5, and F. Chapman (conductor) 6.

In the 1891 Census a few weeks later Ann, now a widow, aged 66, is living at The Terrace, Shop Street, Ringstead. Ellen Ball (23) is now described as her granddaughter: she is a shoe stitcher. Also living with Ann are her grandchildren, Eliza (3) and John (1) Ball and William Hackney (25), a bricklayer is lodging with them. (Whose children are Eliza and John?) Next door is Ann’s daughter Susan and her husband Lot Major, a shoemaker, and family and the house after that has daughter Rachel and her husband Henry Sykes, a platelayer and their family.

By 1901 Ann is now 76 and living with granddaughter Ellen and her husband John William Hackney (38) a bricklayer born in Great Addington. Is he the same William Hackney who was lodging with the family in 1891 (ages 3 years different but a bricklayer born in Gt. Addington so it seems very likely - if not a brother)).

By 1911 Ann is 86 years old and an inmate in Thrapston Union Workhouse. Many of the Union Workhouses had begun to serve as old people’s homes and cottage hospitals.  She died there on 4th May 1912 and was buried in Ringstead Cemetery.

Note: When Hannah Bates (Nee Ball: born abt 1846) died in 1928 the Northampton Mercury of 7th September simply stated:

The death has occurred at Ringstead of Mrs Hannah Bates who was married at the age of 18, was a widow for over 40 years and had lived in the same cottage for 50 years.             

My thanks to Jane Linnitt for this information 

Anne Ball (1820 – 1880)


Anne Ball

Abt 1820 – 15/09/1880

William Warren

Abt 1815 (Irthlingborough)– 23/09/1884 

Daniel Clarke Warren

Abt 1843 – 02/01/1940

Married Eunice Knight


Ann (e) was born in about 1820 and christened in the Ringstead Parish Church on 16th April 1820. In the 1841 Census, aged 19 she appears to be a farm servant at Vicarage Farm in Ringstead. There is some confusion because the Census was held on the 6th June 1841 and she is shown in the Marriage Register as marrying William Warren, born in Irthlingborough, on 20th May 1841. Also William (25) is shown with his sister Sarah elsewhere in the village.

By 1851 the couple have one son, Daniel Clarke Warren, who is 8 years old. William is a road labourer and Ann a lacemaker. [Was he named after his uncle who died as an infant?). By 1861 William is still a road labourer and Daniel has become a shoemaker.  The couple are living in Shop Street in 1871. William was now an agricultural labourer. Their son Daniel had married Eunice Knight on the 5th June 1865.

Ann died on 15th September 1880 and the Census in the following year has William, aged 66, living with Daniel and Eunice in High Street. Daniel is a shoemaker and also the Parish Clerk. Has he gained the advantage of being a single child? William Warren died on 23rd September 1884, aged seventy, and was buried in Ringstead. Unusually his son Daniel Clarke Warren lived to 97 years old, dying on 2nd January 1940, outliving Eunice who died on 12th December 1913 by some 27 years.

[Note: The 1910 Ringstead Directory lists a Francis Harry Chapman as the manager for the Unity Co-operative Society. Francis was born at the end of 1871 but baptised in Ringstead on June 11th 1872, the son of Charles Henry and Dinah Amelia Chapman. Surprisingly, when Charles, who was a carpenter and joiner, moved with the family to Northampton, Francis did not go with them. Instead he remained with his uncle and aunt in Ringstead. Daniel Clarke Warren was married to Eunice Knight who was the sister of Francis’s mother. We learn from the 1911 Census that Daniel and Eunice had no children of their own born alive and it may be that this is why they seem to have brought up Francis as their own.]


Daniel Clarke Ball (1821 – 1823)

Daniel was christened on 4th November 1821 and buried on 18th December 1823 in Ringstead churchyard. His father, John had been killed when a wall fell on him in a fire in Denford on 13th March 1821 some eight months before Daniel’s birth. 



John Ball (1852 – 1886) and Susannah Phillips (1855 – 1944)

Thomas Ball

Abt 1818 - 1891

Ann(e) Childs

Abt 1823 - 1912

William Phillips

Abt 1831 - 1861

Elizabeth Warren

1827 -

John Ball

Abt 1853 – 21/09/1886

Susannah Phillips

10/09/1854 (Raunds) - 19/07/1944 

Elizabeth (Eliza)

Abt 1875 -

George Henry (Harry)

Abt 1878 – 20/04/1932


Abt 1879 – 15/10/1918


Abt 1882 -08/02/1953


Susannah Ball was one of those nineteenth century women, not uncommon, for whom marriage was a short interlude between maidenhood and widowhood. Her husband was born and died in the heart of Victoria’s reign but Susannah lived to see another, more terrible, world emerge.

John Ball was the grandson of the other John Ball who had been killed in a fire in farm buildings in Denford some thirty years before his birth. He was baptised on the 16th January 1853, the fifth of seven children of Thomas and Ann Ball. His father was an agricultural labourer.

In the 1861 Census he is living with his family in Ringstead; parents, Thomas and Ann Ball and his six siblings, Sarah, Hannah, Esther, Rachel, Anne and Susan. Next door is another namesake, the butcher John Ball. Again in 1871 he is there in Carlow Street, now an agricultural labourer, with his parents and siblings. The older girls of the family who were doing lacework in 1861 are now doing shoe work.

On 14thSeptember 1874 John married local Raunds girl, Susannah Phillips, in Ringstead Parish Church. Neither could write their signatures. He was stated to be a labourer which probably means he was still an agricultural labourer but at some point over the next decade John became a labourer in one of the limestone quarries in the area. 

Limestone and ironstone quarrying on a small scale had been carried on in the Nene valley since Roman times. There were quarries in the parishes of Ringstead and Woodford but it was at Islip that John seems to have obtained work. How and when this happened we do not know. Many agricultural labourers left the land at this time. Pamela Horn gives figures of a decline in agricultural workers for the forty years from 1861 of between 8.9% and 19.5% per decade. There were many reasons including mechanisation and a decline in agriculture, leaving many farm workers work. For many also the work would be intermittent with no pay in times of bad weather. Also important was that jobs in the new industries were often better paid and less tied to the whim of the ‘master’. Education and politics were slowly raising the aspirations of the rural working class.

So John walked each day, we must presume, from Ringstead to Islip, a distance of some three-and-a-half miles each way. The first thought would be that the quickest route would be along the road through Denford to Thrapston and across the old stone bridge to Islip. We must be careful, however because the Islip quarries covered a wide area and were not in the village itself. Eric Tonks tells us that there ‘was also a little quarrying in the middle 1880s between Thrapston Road and the main tramway - possibly when the Slipton area was difficult to access in winter storms - and a branch of the tramway was laid under the road to a limestone quarry on the north side. This was worked generally clockwise from 1883 onwards up to 17th January 1934 and was referred to as Peray Pit or Peray Hole.’ It seems likely that John was working in the quarries close to the furnace and possibly in Peray Pit. He would have probably gone to work via Woodford, perhaps using the railway viaduct to cross the Nene. He would have often had smoke from the furnaces belching across the skyline to guide him on his way. It would have been a weary trudge home at the end of the day after a hard shift moving earth at the quarry.

As I have said, iron ore was mined in the area in Roman times but the cutting of the railways showed clearly to the mining engineers that good seams of ironstone lay close to the surface in the Nene Valley area. Also the railway gave another, easier, route for the ore and the incoming coal, rather than the poor roads and the Nene barges. There were a number of small local quarries including one at Ringstead owned by Thomas Walters. This, like many others, was soon exhausted and was only active from 1873 to 1881. The Islip area, however, contained good deposits and, but for the opposition of the local major landowner, it could easily have replaced Corby at the major steel town of the region. The Islip Iron Ore Company had a number of quarries in the Islip, Slipton, Lowick area. A Derbyshire coalmine owner, C. H. Plevins with his partner, John Kidner, formed the Islip Iron Ore Co. Ltd and four blast furnaces were planned. The coal came from Plevins' mines in Derbyshire using the new rail system. At first, the ore was transported also by rail, to be smelted elsewhere but quite quickly, by 1873, the first two blast furnaces were built and two more were added later. They were open-topped furnaces and only made pig iron in sand casts, 200 tons at a time. This became a real industrial site with, finally, 10 locomotives and 10 miles of track.

Mechanisation changed the work dramatically over the next fifty years but, at the time John was working, it was very labour intensive. It was at this time, as we have said, that the main quarry was up the Slipton Road in Islip. After the initial trench or ‘gullet’ the gangs would work along the face removing the overburden, limestone and ironstone keeping a ‘batter’.  The overburden would be barrowed off across planks to the back of the gullet and dumped. Once an area of limestone or ironstone had been uncovered by the labourers it would be broken up by a mixture of mechanical means and explosives and then loaded into narrow gauge horse-drawn trucks to be taken to the iron smelting furnaces.

It is likely that John was part of a gang removing this overburden. The simplest, quickest way of doing this was to undermine the soil with picks and shovels rather as the sea undermines a cliff. Then the soil above would slip and fall and could be shovelled up and carted away. It was an easier as well as being a faster method of working, and the labourers would almost certainly be on very hard piece rates. In 1930, although working practices were safer, workers were still paid by how much they moved in a fortnight and if it rained, and they could not work, they would be sent home and were not paid. It was an inherently dangerous way of working forced on men trying to make a living. It is easy to see how there was always the temptation to remove too much from the foot of the overburden. Bill Warren, who has helped me with this chapter, has told me that his great grandfather's nephew, Lewis Warren, was killed on the 6th June 1881 by a fall of earth in the Slipton quarry. He was only 22 years old and he is remembered on a gravestone, in Twywell churchyard, erected by his fellow workers. We also know, from his death certificate, that on the 21st September 1886 at Islip, John Ball was ‘accidentally killed by a fall of earth in a limestone pit’.

Searching the Northampton Mercury we find on October 2nd 1886 that a brief paragraph reports the Inquest. It was held just one day after his death. It states:

ACCIDENTAL DEATH. – An Inquest was held at the Bakers Arms, Woodford on the 22nd inst., before Mr. Parker, on the body of John Ball, labourer, who was accidentally killed by a fall of earth. It appears that the deceased, who was 34 years of age, was engaged in removing earth in a pit, in the parish of Islip, along with several other labourers. On the morning of the 21st he had undermined a piece of earth and several tons fell suddenly on him, killing him on the spot.- A verdict of accidental death was returned.

The Baker's Arms is not far from the church in Woodford. There was a bakery in the building adjoining it. Today it is a private house but can be picked out by the large boulder, which was used for mounting horses, which stands beside it. There is also a large barn where, into the early twentieth century, drowned bodies found in the Lower Shott between Denford and Woodford would be brought by four men on a sheep hurdle ready for the Inquest. [Information given to Bill Warren by his father.]

Is this how John Ball was brought there? It seems more likely, given the distance, that he came on a cart but he too may have been left in the barn for the doctor's post mortem examination.

John, in his quest to better himself and his family had lost his life. For his wife Susannah there was not only the grief and emotional loss of a young wife with a young family but also the prospect of grinding poverty with the spectre of the workhouse hanging over their lives. It is her life we must now follow to see how she coped with this tragedy and its financial consequences.

In 1881 Susannah, or Susan, as she usually called herself in the Censuses, had hadno paid job recorded but by 1891, some five years after her husband’s death, she is recorded as an army boot closer. In the early part of the century it was to lacemaking that the women had looked to help them avoid the workhouse. As this declined they went on to the tough work of closing boots, for the Raunds and Ringstead area’s main work was Government Contract work for the army and navy.

Susannah had moved back to Finding Terrace, Raunds, where she lived with her three sons. George Henry, at 13, was an errand boy, but Thomas, aged 12, has as his occupation ‘Rivetter and school’ and John is at school. Her daughter, Eliza, is away in Knotting Bedfordshire where she is listed as a visitor and an ‘Army Boot Closer’. It is likely that Susan, like most of the women would collect, or get one of her children to collect, the cut leather pieces, or perhaps they would be brought by a sort of outwork agent, and the completed uppers would be taken back to the factory. They would be paid on piece-work rates.

H.E. Bates writes of this period in The Feast of July. He tells of family competing with family to get the available work in one of the depressions that the industry suffered between national conflicts. The father sends his daughter to find them work:

By chance, every few days, Wainwright would hear of a hope of work in towns across the Valley: a pair or two in Orlingford, a dozen at Nenborough, something at Evensford, A chance at Addington, nine miles away. ‘Git the truck out. Nip through Chapel Yard. Go down by Long Hedges or somebody will twig you. And git back before dinner if you can.’

There were factories that began at six in the morning and sometimes she was out in the darkness running with bread in her hands.

Bates was writing of the Higham Ferrers/Rushden area so we can only guess that it was a similar story in Ringstead and Raunds. Certainly, in Woodford, Richard Roe, who was born in 1826, was a ‘sprigging boy’ for his father at the tender age of 6; he was flat-seam sewing at 8 and putting tongues in jockey boots when nine. He walked each day to collect his work. Incidentally the author, Eric Humphries tells us that, later, Richard became a prominent politician in Northampton.Susan continues until 1911 in Hill Street Raunds as a boot closer living with her two unmarried children Eliza, 36, a closer, and George, 33, a clicker, and nephew Harold aged 9. Susan worked ‘at home’ but her two children worked in “Boot Manufacture” in one of the nearby factories.

She lost her son Thomas, who was killed in the First World War in Belgium, on Tuesday 15th October 1918 aged 38. George also died in 1932. Susan was my great grandmother and was known in the family as ‘Little Granny’ She died on 19thJuly 1944 and was buried in Raunds Cemetery with her son George. Her husband, John Ball, was buried in Ringstead but is remembered on the gravestone at Raunds. She lived with John for some ten years and without him for a further forty-eight.


Eliza (beth) Abt 1875 - ??

Elizabeth, always known as Eliza, was a formidable woman. She was the oldest child, born in about 1875. In the 1891 Census she was a 16 and a “visitor” staying with Sarah Habard, a widow, and her 16 year old son, Joseph in Knotting in Bedfordshire (about 10 miles south of Raunds). She was shown as a boot closer.

By 1901 she was 26 and back with her widowed mother, Susannah and her unmarried brothers George Henry, Thomas and John. In the 1911 Census George Henry (Harry) is shown as the head of the house with Susan (46) and Eliza and nephew Harold, son of Thomas, staying with them. Thomas and John have both married and moved to Wollaston.

In the late 1980s my father told me the following story about an incident probably in the 1920s.

The funniest thing I ever struck was at the Hospital Fete.  Dad went in it.  Now he and my Aunt Liza were a lot alike.  Dad went dressed as - I forget what - he had a smock or something on.  He marched through and two men stood there and one of them said, “Look, there’s old Liza Ball dressed up as a nurse.”  That was it - he went in dressed as a nurse.

 “Well”, said the other one, “fancy old Liza Ball going in as a nurse.”

And a voice behind them said “Well that’s where you’re wrong.  It aint old Liza Ball at all!”  They turned round and there stood Aunt Liza.

“Well Liza,” he said, “I just seed you go by in the Parade”.

She said, “You want to go to the doctors and get your eyes examined then, don’t you.  Because I’ve been standing here all the time”.  Because my Dad and Aunt Liza were a lot alike in features.  “Well Liza, I saw you just go by!”

  Aunt Liza had a very sharp tongue and yet she was one of the kindest women I’ve ever met.  I always used to go up there after I’d been to Sunday School in the afternoon.  Always used to go and have tea up there because they had tinned fruit.  We never had tinned fruit at home.  I used to hang about and I would say, “Well, I’d better go.”And Aunt Liza would always say, “Would you like to stop and have some tea? “  I could always rely on it.  I think more or less inviting myself to tea.

She lived at the top of Hill Street.  Do you know Hill Street?  You know the Square.  On the right of theSquare was Palmer’s Stores and on the right before you got to them there is a steep hill going up - that’s Hill Street.  They lived right in the top there. Peculiar place in a way because you had to go through a door in the wall, walk down a passage, open another door, turn right and the house door was straight in front of you.  But the kitchen was on your right, separate from the rest of the house.  Quaint!  If you cooked your dinner you had to go from the kitchen outside and into the house.  Most peculiar!  But they’d lived there for years and got used to it, I expect.

There was just Liza, Uncle Harry and Grandma - all three of them.  Grandma would never have a Sunday paper delivered.  She was one of the old school - you know - she said they’re full of horses and that sort of thing.  And yet there wasn’t a bigger gambler anywhere in Raunds than Uncle Harry was.  He was a tremendous gambler. 

I wish that I knew more about Eliza. She seems to have been an independent woman who took a full part in the life of the town and held her own with any of the men


George Henry Abt 1878 – 20/04/1932

George Henry was born in July – Sept 1878 in Ringstead. By 1891 the family were living in Findings Terrace in Raunds and George, aged 13, was an errand boy. By 1901 he had become an army boot clicker, probably the only one in the family not working at home. In 1911 Thomas and John have married and are in Wollaston but George and Eliza were never to marry and were living with their mother Susan (ah) and nephew Harold (9).

George Henry seems to have been known as Harry all his adult life. My father told me about his Uncle Harry:

Did I tell you about the time I met Lord Lilford?  Well at one time I walked and biked all over Northamptonshire.  I had an old bike that my Uncle Harry had given me.  Well I was at Thrapston looking at Lilford Hall from the road.  It’s an ugly looking house.  There was this old man leaning on a gate.

He started talking to me about where I had come from.  I wondered what he wanted.  He asked me my name and when I said Ball he said, “Are you any relation to Harry Ball?”  When I said yes he took me in for tea in the kitchen.

You see Harry was a well known local cricketer.  He was only five feet tall but he was a good bowler.  He was one of the last of the underarm bowlers.  He could spin the ball both ways and back spin it.

In Raunds Cemetery there is a gravestone which remembers John (George’s father killed in an ironstone pit), Susannah his mother, Thomas his brother killed in 1918 and George Henry himself who died on 20th April 1932 aged 54 years. The Cemetery Register records working as an “operative” (probably in a boot and shoe factory) at the time of his death.


Thomas (Abt 1879 – 15/10/1918)


Thomas Ball 

1879 – 15/10/1918

Charlotte Cade

Oct – Dec 1880 – March 1964 tbc 

Harold Ball

1902 – 2002 (tbc)

Leonard Ball 

1905 – 1958 (tbc)

Roland Ball 

20/09/1912 – Jul- Sep 2001



Thomas Ball was b0rn in Ringstead in early 1879, the third child of John and Susannah. In 1891 he is shown with his widowed mother, living in Findings Terrace, Raunds. His mother is an “army boot closer” and his older brother George (13) is an errand boy but Thomas (12), although, it seems is part time at school, is also a boot riveter. By 1901 the family are at Hill Street in Raunds. Susan (ah) at 46 is still an army boot closer, as is daughter Eliza (26). George (23) is now a clicker, as is younger brother John (19) but Thomas (22) is still a riveter. All seem to be working at home although George may be working in a local factory.

Thomas married Charlotte Cade in Jan – Mar 1902. Charlotte was born in Bythorn in Huntingdonshire in Oct – Dec 1890, the daughter of a farm labourer. By 1901, aged 20, she is working as a “general domestic servant”  for Alfred Williams, Wesleyan Minister and his wife at Berrister House (?), Vicarage Place, Raunds.

The couple had two children, Harold in April June 1902 and Leonard in July – Sep 1905. At some stage, soon after the birth of Leonard the family moved to Wollaston where they lived with his younger brother John and his family in York Cottages. He was working as a “Bottom Stuff Rivetter “in a local factory and Charlotte was working at home as a hand boot closer. Leonard (5) was staying with the couple but Harold (9) was staying (at least at the time of the 1911 Census)with unmarried George Henry (33) and Eliza (36) and his grandmother Susan Ball (56) in Hill Street, Raunds. A further child Roland was born on 20th September 1912.

Soon after this John and his family returned to Raunds but it seems that Thomas and Charlotte stayed in Wollaston and took over a fish shop in the village. He was also a well known local Rechabite (a temperance organisation). He enlisted in Wollaston in 1916 and initially joined the Northamptonshire Regiment (30339). He transferred to the 15th Battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles as Rifleman 41592. I have a copy of a picture from Gillian Jolley (daughter of Ronald Ball) which is said to be Thomas (in uniform) with son Harold. If this is the case it was probably taken about 1910/12 and means that Thomas may have been in the Northamptonshire Regiment Territorials before the Great War.

His Battalion was engaged in the Battle of Courtrai and, on 15th October 1918, it was in reserve after being in action on 13th. The Kettering Leader of 29th November reported:

Rifleman Ball was with a party that was in a farmhouse some miles away from the fighting line when a shell came and killed three of them (including Thomas Ball) and wounded several including the padre. The chaplain wrote to Charlotte, paying a high tribute to his “character as a soldier”.

It must have been a terrible blow to the family, especially being so close to the end of the war. The Armistice was signed on the 11th November 1918. Charlotte may have died in the Wellingborough District in March 1964 aged 83

My memory of the family is of the cycle shop. L & H Ball, in Cambridge Street, Wellingborough that Harold and Leonard ran in the 1950s. In 1956, when I passed the 11+, my parents bought me a brand new bicycle. It was one of the first breed of “teenage” bikes by Triumph, electric blue with straight handlebars, white plastic mudguards, cable brakes, and whitewall tyres. It came from Harold and Leonard’s shop and I think my mum paid a weekly amount.


John Ball (1882 – 08/02/1953)


John Ball

1882 – 08/02/1953

Eunice Andrews

1876 – 21/08/1956

Aubrey Andrew Phillip Ball 

30/05/1906 – 28/12/1990

 Married Maud Jessie Louisa Hardwick


Sidney  Ball  

Abt 1908 -  


 Married Mary Ann Knight 

 (Mary remarried Arthur Allen 1958) 

Ronald Ball  

24/10/1910 – Dec 1983 

 Married Gladys E. Birt 


Dennis Verdun Ball 

11/12/1916 – 24/04/2004 

 Married Elsie Gell 

 (no children) 




John, or Jack as he was usually known, was the third John Ball in a direct line, only separated by his grandfather Thomas. They span the years from 1783 to 1953 and he was the only one that I touched, in his old age. I did not know him well, for I was only seven when he died and it was a small part of an article in the Rance Reunited magazine that determined me to tell something of his story. 

John was born the fourth child of John and Susannah, or Susan, Ball, in 1882. He followed Eliza, George Henry and Thomas. In 1881 his parents and his siblings were living in Carlow Street, Ringstead. His father was an ironstone labourer in the Islip quarries. As we have seen in his story, on the 21st September 1886 he was buried in a fall of earth in the limestone pit, where he was working, and killed. John junior was only some three years old.

We do not know how Susannah coped with four young children on her own but by 1891 she has moved back to her home town of Raunds. She had not been able to write her signature at her marriage in 1874 so opportunities must have been limited for her. She became an army boot closer, sewing the uppers, and her children also worked to help keep the family from the workhouse. Eliza is away from home, also working as a boot closer and the two older boys are ‘Errand boy’ and ‘Riveter and School’. At nine years old, John is still a ‘Scholar’.

By 1901 the whole family, including Eliza was living in Hill Street and all were engaged in the army boot trade. Susan, the widowed mother, and Eliza, her daughter, are both closers and Thomas is a riveter but John has followed his older brother George and is a clicker. It appears that all the family are working at home, except George and John who are probably in a local factory. This is what we would expect because ’clicking’ was considered the most skilled work and the one which cost or saved the employer the most money. The ability to match parts of the leather and cut the maximum from a hide were valued abilities. It was also true that it required room and was for all these reasons often centralised into a factory before the other shoeworking crafts. All around them in Hill Street are people in the boot and shoe industry, mostly working at home.

My father had told me that his father, John (Jack) Ball, had been summoned for playing football and there is confirmation in the Mercury on Friday 27th February, 1901. Under the heading, The Football Nuisance, it reports that: 

John Ball, shoe hand, Raunds, was charged by Mr. Corby, Clerk to the Urban Council, with playing football in the Pleasure Ground, at Raunds. - The Bench decided not to convict and the case was dismissed on payment of 6s. costs.

[In my father's version it was for playing football there on a Sunday. I am not sure if this is a detail that has been missed out.] 

There is a photograph in Old Northamptonshire in Photographs of five men in the ‘Rat Pit’ of Adams Bros, Raunds in about 1908. My sister, who was fifteen years older than me and so knew my grandfather well, was sure that one was him He is finishing a boot as one of the ‘handsewn men’ so perhaps he could not get work as a clicker and had to settle for other work. He then decided, with his brother Thomas, to move to Wollaston where they both had been offered, or obtained, work.

So, by 1911, things have changed. George Henry and Eliza appear to be working in a factory, George a boot clicker and Eliza a boot closer, although Susan, now 56, continues to work at home. They still live in Hill Street. Two of the sons have left the nest. John has married Eunice Andrews on 23rdDecember 1905, some five months before the birth of their first child. They are living in Highfields Cottages, Marshalls Road, at the time of his birth. Thomas has married earlier, in 1902 to Charlotte Cade and the two couples have moved to Wollaston where they share York Cottages which had six rooms, excluding the scullery and any outbuildings. Thomas is now a ‘Bottom Stuff Riveter’ and John is a clicker. Both work in factory but the two wives are ‘Hand Boot Closers’ at home.

By 1914 Jack and Eunice and the family are back in Raunds living at 63 Marshalls Road which was in Nene Cottages, built for workers in Coggins factory which was on the opposite side of the road. Highfield cottages, an almost identical row faced them. In the 1914 Raunds Directory almost all the heads of houses are shoehands.

John and Eunice already had three children, the older two, Aubrey (4) and Sydney (3), born in Raunds and Ronald (5 months) born in Wollaston. It seems that they did not move from Raunds until after 1908 so he could be the man in the photograph of the ‘Rat Pit’.

It is here that we come within the reach of living memory, or at least the memories of my father, who was Aubrey Ball, eldest son of John and Eunice, told to me in his last years. Senile Dementia was beginning to cloud his memory but I believe that the basic facts are true. He was born in 1906 and the first house that he remembered was in Thorpe Street next to the Blacks and opposite Partricks, the Stone Masons. If you look at the bottom of many of the gravestones in the cemeteries and church yards of Ringstead and Raunds you will see the Partrick name carved discretely at the bottom.

John and Eunice moved back to Raunds but Thomas and his wife stayed in Wollaston and ran a fish shop. I know this because Aubrey went to stay with them for a time to help in the shop and was, he believed, treated badly by Thomas.

We must beware, however, of putting too much weight onto the slights suffered by a young boy, recalled seventy years later. This is particularly true of Thomas because the First World War took both brothers into the army. Soon after returning to Raunds, John and his family moved back into the new houses In Marshalls Road that had been built for workers of R. Coggins and Sons factory. It was locally known as ‘The Colony’. My father said they were cheaply built and always cold but they are still there today. Before central heating and insulation most terraced houses were freezing cold in winter with one coal-fired room sucking icy draughts from the rest of the house. 

Both John and Thomas enlisted. Thomas joined up first, in Wollaston in 1916. He became a private in the Northampton Regiment and later a rifleman in the 15th Battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles. John did not join up until 1917 and put his preferred option to be the Essex Regiment. He became a gunner in the Royal Field Artillery but I think that he was in the 4a Reserve Brigade of the 56th Reserve Battalion and never had to fight.  We know from the army records that John was 5ft 7 inches tall with a 37 inch chest when he enlisted. He was discharged on 27th November 1918 as being “surplus to military requirements”.  His character was described as “good”.

Thomas was not so lucky and was killed on 15thOctober 1918 during the battle of Courtrai. Not only was he a few months from the end of the war but he was also resting, in reserve after being in the front line, when a shell hit the farm house where a group of the soldiers were sheltering.

John returned home and carried on with his life.  It appears that some time near the end of the war he was awarded a “silver badge” which carried the legend, “ For King and Empire – Services Rendered”, which was given to those who were discharged as a result of sickness or wounds contracted during the war whether abroad or at home. He had a 20% pension for a time after discharge for a disability which was not attributable to his service years. He had been diagnosed with “neuralgia of the testicle”. It seems the pension was cancelled in March 1919.

John had been a talented local runner and won many prizes over the years. He also played football and his son, Aubrey, recalled:

My father was a good footballer.  A match had been got up between the Coffee Tavern and the Woodbine Club.  One day I overheard someone from the Woodbine Club team say, “It’s going to be easy.  They’re only a bunch of lads and Jack Ball - and he’s gone past it.”

I told my dad this and he just said, “Did they!  Right!” Anyway he played them on his own - he was everywhere.  He was going to show them that he wasn’t past it.  Of course, he played until he was past fifty.

After his own career as a runner was over he trained some local athletes including his youngest son Dennis who was born in 1917 and whose middle name was Verdun after the First World War battle, and his nephews, Harold and Len. These athletic competitions also reveal a weakness that he shared with many shoemakers. He was an inveterate gambler. Amateur race meetings were organised but there would be a line of bookies also at the meets. My father told of one occasion which perhaps gives some insight into this: 

I heard him say to a bloke once, ‘Look, according to the stopwatch you’ve got the beating of my boy (my cousin Harold). If you let him win you can have the prize money – as long as we win.’

And the bloke replied, ‘No, I’ll run and I’ll win the prize!’ 

‘Well,’ said Dad, ‘I’ll tell you now, before the race, you ent got a snowball in hell’s chance of winning that race.’

And he hadn’t, because when it came to the bend he was shut out. Dad bet on Harold of course and he won the race easily. It was around three legs – I suppose it was about half a mile, something like that. Dirty work! This was amateur athletics! 

The meetings were organised to raise money. They charged so much to go in, you see. There used to be a lot of running – athletics – in those days. What killed it was the gambling. There was a lot of gambling on it. And my father was one of the worst! 

This rough independence and occasional disregard for the law can be seen in another incident which made the local papers. In 1908 a piped water system had been established in Raunds. Water was taken from a well to a huge concrete tank or reservoir in Hargrave Road. All went well until 1921 when there was a long drought. I will let my father’s words tell, what happened next:

Well, the farm next to the well was sold. A man from the north bought it. He dug another well at his side of the fence and his well tapped the same supply so that the Raunds well began to run dry. So a group of men from the Woodbine Club got together one night and marched down to the meadows – with Sid and me behind them. They got the pumping machinery and threw it all down the well that he had dug.

It made the national press. ‘Bolsheviks Cause Damage in Raunds’, or something like that. But after that there was no more trouble with the water supply. They never found out who did it. We had two policemen in the town. Although the police must have had a good idea who was responsible they probably thought it wiser not to take it up. I mean, after all, they’d got to live in the town with the rest of us!

I have an original copy of a photograph which fills in a little more of John’s history. It shows him standing in a clicking room. The same photograph is in Raunds, Picturing the Past and it tells us that it was taken in 1929 to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of John Horrell and Son Ltd of Wellington Hill, Raunds. 

The next glimpse of John came to me quite recently when I saw a copy of the Rance Revisited magazine in the local library. To my surprise I saw a piece on Adams Brothers by Paul Roberts. He movingly describes the clickers breaking into song as they worked. The would sing in harmony, with descant, songs from Nellie Dean to Abide with Me and Crimond, which was known locally as the ‘Ringstead Hymn’ because of its Dissenting associations. He goes on to tell of an incident involving Jack Ball (which seems to imply that he was working at Adams at the time).

They credited Jack Ball with causing Labour to lose the seat in the 1935 General Election. Wing Commander James, the Conservative candidate, had as his agent a Finedon man called Chapman, nicknamed ‘Sugar Chapman’. They always introduced him at political meetings as a ‘Conservative Working Man’. His presence at political meetings was like a red rag to some of the Raunds’ Radical shoemakers. No one can recall hearing Sugar Chapman speak because of the uproar that his presence caused. As Wing Commander James left his Eve of Poll meeting in Raunds, Jack kicked his backside for bringing ‘Sugar Chapman’. ‘CONSERVATIVE CANDIDATE ASSAULTED AT RAUNDS,’ said the headlines in the next day’s Evening Telegraph.

I first encountered John when I was a young child and I went on the bus from Wellingborough to Raunds to visit my grandparents. I remember my grandmother a little. She was a proud woman who kept a neat house with polished brass jugs, full of coloured wooden spills, in the fireplace. I can remember using these spills to make pictures and roads for toy cars on the mat in front of the fireplace. She had a special tiered plate for cakes and was mortified when I discovered a fly in my Tizer. Of my grandfather I have only two memories. One is of him standing in the workshop in his son Ronald’s garden where he was still doing outwork. He did the old clickers’ trick for me of taking a circle of leather, sticking it to the bench with a small curved knife and then pulling to make a shoelace. Magic and shoemakers are often associated. The other memory is of him sitting silently in the corner in Marshalls Road, as the grandfather clock beside him ticked the seconds slowly away.

He died on the 8th February 1953 aged 70 years to be followed by his ‘beloved wife’ Eunice on 21stAugust 1956. They are buried in Raunds Cemetery. In 1919 The Shoe and Leather News Illustrated Biographic Dictionary of British Shoe and Leather Traders listed six boot and shoe firms in Raunds: Adams Bros.; R. Coggins and Sons; Tebbutt and Hall Bros Ltd.; The St. Crispin's Productive Society Ltd.; Regulation Boot Co. (Raunds) Ltd. and John Horrell and Son.  All have fallen silent and many have been demolished. Most of the backyard workshops have also disappeared. What was once the vibrant lifeblood of the Nene valley communities is now archaeology.























































































































































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