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Thursday
Feb182010

Ball, John (1882 - 1953)  SHOEMAKER

Ball, John (1882 – 1953)

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, 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 that 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 is living in Hill Street and all 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 are working at home, except George and John. 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 shoework industry, mostly working at home.

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

 "Handsewn men in the "Rat Pit" (Cellar) of Adams Bros., Raunds about 1908

I believe that Jack Ball is the man seated on the left

(From Old Northamptonshire in Photographs which published this with permission of Cyril Putt)

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, contnues 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 a factory or workshop but the two wives are “Hand Boot Closers” at home.

 Jack played for Wollaston in his time there. He is the last player in kit on the right of those on chairs

Cutting provided by Brian Ball, Grandson of Jack and Eunice

John and Eunice already have 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.

 John and Eunice with their sons (probably just after the First World War)

 

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 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 moving back 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 and never had to fight. 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. He had been a talented runner and won many prizes over the years. He also played football until he was fifty. After his own career was over he trained some local runners 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. This also shows another side of 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!

 John with his running trophies

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 is 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.

 

 John (third from right) in Clicking department of John Horrell & Sons Ltd (1929)

The next glimpse of John came to me quite recently when I saw a copy of the Rance 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 wooden spills, in 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 lists six boot and shoe firms in Raunds: Adams Bros.; R. Coggins and Sons; Tebbutt and Hall Bros Ltd.; The St. Crispins 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 communities is now archeaology.

 

References

 

Censuses 1881, 1891, 1901, 1911

Rance Magazine (especially article by Paul Roberts)

British Army WW1 Service Records 1914 -18 (Ancestry.co.uk)

www.cwgc.org (Commonwealth Graves Commission)

Raunds, Picturing the Past. David Hall, Ruth Harding and Cyril Putt (F. W. March & Co. and Buscott Publications 1988)

Old Northamptonshire in Photographs. R. L. Greenall (Northamptonshire Libraries 1976)