Entries in Bull (3)


Book 2: Mary Betts, Thomas Lee, Thomas Chapman Coleman, Thomas Haines, John Childs, Andrew Bull, Thomas Austin, Joseph Scholes, Robert Woodruff: VILLAGE BAKERS:


A little after the First World War, The Millers’ Mutual Association published a colourful pamphlet on the history of bread. This opened with the words:

From time immemorial bread has been the most important food of man. Throughout history its distribution has been the chief concern of Kings and Governments. A shortage of bread has led to revolutions and the downfall of empires. A great deal of the legislation of the world has been devoted to ensuring an adequate supply of bread to the people.

There may be some local pleading here but bread has had a significant place in the social history of the western world. It has been an important Christian symbol and a constant focus for political unrest.

The eighteenth century ended with England at war with Napoleon’s France and a string of poor harvests. The price of a quartern loaf (weighing 4 pounds) in London rose to 1s 5d at a time when many were earning less than 10 shillings a week. The corn dealers and bakers’ shops were looted and the king’s carriage attacked. The Times in 1795 printed a list of rules that it said was the way to ‘Peace and Plenty’. - These included:

1                     Abolish all gravy soups and second courses.

2                     Buy no starch when wheat is dear.

3                     Destroy all useless dogs.

4                     Give no dog or other animal the smallest piece of bread or flour.

5                     Save all your skim-milk carefully and give it all to the poor or sell it at a cheap rate.

6                     Make broth, rice puddings etc., for the poor and teach them to make such things.

7                     Go to church

It is perhaps surprising to see rice as a cheap substitute for bread but this was a bonus of empire often helped by slave labour. Even in 1850 poor Lydia Attley, on the last day that she was seen alive, was going to buy some rice for her dinner. It is likely that she ate it as a rice pudding  which would have been considered good for an invalid or pregnant woman. Another staple crop was becoming popular with working families, much to the disgust of William Cobbett. In his very popular Cottage Economy, published in 1822, he railed against the potato with his usual prejudice:

. . . in the evidence given before the Agricultural Committee . . .many labourers, especially in the West of England, use potatoes instead of bread to a very great extent. And I find from the same evidence that it is the custom to allot the labourers “a potato ground” in part payment of their wages! This has the tendency to bring English labourers down to the state of the Irish whose mode of living, as to food, is but one remove from that of the pig, and of the ill-fed pig too.

Cobbett was also strongly against the ‘shop’ replacing the market stall, believing it an unnecessary, cost intrusion between producer and consumer. Further, in his book, he encouraged labourers to be as self-sufficient as possible which is why his star rose again in the 1970s. He ‘proves’ that bread, financially and in all other respects, was better than potatoes and that baking it at home was similarly better than buying the bakers’ loaves.

How wasteful then, and indeed how shameful for a labourer’s wife to go to the baker’s shop; and how negligent, how criminally careless of the welfare of his family, must the labourer be, who permits so scandalous a use of the proceeds of his labour!

Nevertheless, Ringstead had at least two bakers’ shops for most if not all of the nineteenth century. The making of bread was a time-consuming business, even if, as Cobbett suggested, the week’s supply was baked in one go. Further, many of the cottages would have only had an open fire with their cooking done in front of it or in a pot over it. The baking of bread would have been difficult or impossible for many in the poorer homes. Of course the bakers would also have catered for the trade of the emerging middle class for the whiter bread as well as cakes and pastries.

Ringstead and the parishes around seem to have maintained, at least in some form, local flour which would have been brought by horse and cart from the water and wind mills and it seems likely that the bakers continued to use this, throughout the century, even though there would have been increasing competition from the New World flour and the larger mills and bakeries in the towns and cities. Even as early as 1786 the Albion Mills, the first great steam-powered factory in London, had been established and ground 10 bushels of wheat an hour. The local millers faced ruin until it burnt down in mysterious circumstances.  

The Bett or Betts family had been bakers in Ringstead for much of the eighteenth century. They were part of a large family of farmers, the first son usually being christened, ‘White’. Samuel Bett, born in about 1703 was the first baker that we know of and his son John, born in about 1734 followed his father’s trade. I have not found an older brother called White, and we only know of a brother Samuel, born in 1737 and buried a year later. John married Mary Who????? and they had at least four children: Joseph, John, Samuel and Hannah. John died when he was only about forty-five years old in 1779 but Mary carried on with the family business until her death a quarter of a century later. She was buried in Ringstead churchyard on June 15th 1804 aged seventy-four.

The bakery and house were advertised for sale in the Northampton Mercury on 14th July 1804, with immediate possession. There is some confusion here for the ‘deceased widow’ is referred to as Hannah, not Mary, Betts and we must assume that this is a mix-up with her daughter Hannah. The list of the household furniture and effects shows that she had lived in some comfort, perhaps helped by the Betts’ yeoman background. The items auctioned by Richard Smith at the Swan, included:

Bedsteads and Furniture; Feather and Flock Beds; Blankets and Quilts; Bed and Table Linen; Dining, Tea and Dressing Tables; Chests of Drawers; Pier and Swing Glasses; neat Chairs; Clock; Pewter Dishes and Plates; Glass, China and Earthenware; Brass Pots and Kettles; Kitchen Requisites; Brewing Copper, sweet Casks, Tubs and a Variety of other Effects.

Also included in the sale was the house and bakery which are described as:

A Freehold MESSUAGE or TENEMENT, with an old-accustomed Bakehouse in Full Trade, suitable Barns, Stables, and other Out-offices belonging; also a neat GARDEN and ORCHARD, situate in RINGSTEAD aforesaid, and late in the Occupation of the said Hannah Betts.

N.B. The Fixtures, Baking Implements, and Wood, may be taken by the Purchaser at a fair Valuation;

The sale of the wood shows us that coal fired ovens had not yet reached Ringstead. The ovens would have been heated in the centuries-old way by burning bundles of sticks, or faggots, in the brick oven until it reached the correct temperature, then raking out all the ashes and putting in the dough onto the hot stones and closing the door. It was a long process and the baker would be one of the first risers in the village.

At the end of the advertisement for the sale it adds:

May be viewed in the mean Time; and further Particulars had of Mr FRANCIS TIDBURY, at Woodford Mills, Administrator of the Goods and Chattels of the said Hannah Betts.

We know that the children of Mary Betts signed over their "Right, Title and Interest of in and to the Burthen of Administration of the said chattels and credits of the said deceased". It is clear that Mary had built up large debts to Francis Tidbury, presumably for flour, and. perhaps. as she grew older and less able to run the bakery. As we have said, for most of the nineteenth century Ringstead supported two bakeries but it was not a way to make one’s fortune and some went bankrupt along the way.

We do not know exactly what the bakery would have looked like inside but it seems likely that it was little different from when it was built. In 1805, one year after Mary’s death, A Treatise on the Art of Bread-Making was published. It describes what a good bakehouses should look like:

A bakehouse is a manufactory where bread is made for the purpose of sale. In order to render it convenient, it should be attached to the dwelling house, and have an inner door opening into the kitchen, and likewise an outer door to open into a small yard. In this yard there ought to be a well or pump, as also a shed for the piling of faggots. The room should be large and commodious, and the floor laid with stone or tiles. On one side should be erected a dresser or counter , with suitable shelves above it; on the other side a kneading trough about seven feet long, three feet high, two feet and a half broad at top and sixteen inches at bottom with a sluice board to pen the dough up at one end, and a lid to shut down like that of a box. On a third side a copper will contain from three to four pails of water should be erected, which is far preferable to the filthy custom of heating the water in the oven; and on the fourth side the oven should be placed.

The production of bread was hard work, as anyone who has made bread at home by hand, can testify. Imagine it with the following quantities given by H.G. Muller in Baking and Bakeries:

About 5 imperial gallons (22.7 litres) of yeast were mixed with enough hot water to bring the whole to blood heat. 3½ pounds (1.59kg.) of salt were then dissolved in it and the whole was added to about 1 hundredweight (50.8 kg) of flour in a wooden trough. The mixture was then well worked up by hand until quite free from lumps. This was called the sponge. Its surface was then made level and a little flour sprinkled on it. The whole was then covered up and allowed to ferment for twelve hours. After that warm water containing again 3  pounds (1.59 kg) of salt as well as 3 hundredweight (152.4 kg) of flour was added and the whole worked up into a uniform dough. That was again covered and allowed to ferment for an hour and a half. It now swelled and when sufficiently spongy it was called ‘proof’ and was fit for dividing, weighing and shaping into loaves. These were then introduced into the oven by means of an oven peel.

Of course, the actual quantities used by Mary Betts and her successors would have varied but bread was a large part of most Ringstead families’ expenditure, and the number of loaves needed would have been great.

The next time that we meet the Ringstead bakers is in the 1841 Census. There are two separate bakeries now in business: Thomas Lee, who was next to Vicarage House (or Farm), and Thomas Coleman. There must have been bakers between the death of Mary Betts in 1804 and 1841 but so far we have not found them. Thomas Lee did appear in the List of Licensed Victuallers for Ringstead in 1822 but without a public house named for him. The trades of brewer and baker had long been associated as originally the froth from the beer was used to produce the yeast for the baking. At about twenty years of age, Thomas was probably too young to have bought Mary Betts’s bakery in 1804 but it may be by 1822 he was already the village baker.

The Ringstead parish registers do show the christening, on March 30th 1835, of Elizabeth, the daughter of William (not the later blacksmith, parish clerk and postmaster) and Rebecca Bradshaw. William is shown as a baker but by 1841 the family had moved to Leicester with William now a journeyman baker. By 1851 he is a hawker but by 1861 he had become a baker again. The children are shown as being born in Denford (even Elizabeth) or Leicester so it is likely that William was a journeyman working for one of the other bakers either in Ringstead or Denford.

Thomas Lee was born in East Farndon, south-west of Market Harborough in about 1786. His brother William remained in the area to become a farmer or grazier, with, in 1851 146 acres and employing two labourers. Thomas, however, moved south some twenty-five miles to Ringstead. Neither brother married and both had housekeepers. In 1841 Thomas was 55 and described as a baker. Living with him were Susannah Archer 50, female servant; Samuel Eastham [?], 15, a male servant and Elizabeth Teat, 53, whose role is indecipherable. By 1851 Thomas is a master baker employing one man who is John Hames Dainty, aged 38 a journeyman baker born in Geddington. The women, both born in Stanwick, have aged alarmingly because Susannah Archer is now seventy-five and Elizabeth Teat, a widow is a pauper and eighty years old.

Thomas calls himself a master baker and this could just be a ‘puff’, as I have seen an advertisement for a ‘master window cleaner’, but it may indicate that he considered himself superior to the other baker in the village and besides bread baked a range of cakes and biscuits. The George family kept a baker’s shop in Folkingham, in Lincolnshire, some 45 miles to the north. Between 1833 an 1838 they wrote ‘receipts’ in a small notebook. This was published by Teresa Crompton in 1997 under the title A Pound of Fine Flower (this alternative spelling was just going out of fashion). By looking at the recipes we can see the sort of fare that a village bakery at the time might offer for sale.

The main ingredients used are flour, sugar, butter and milk with a flavouring such as ginger, bitter almonds, lemon juice, caraway seeds and nutmeg. Other common ingredients included eggs, currants and ground rice. The main rising agent used was ‘’Viletta’ or Volatile salts’ which was a form of Ammonium Carbonate. As it was also used in smelling salts it can be imagined that the smell of ammonia would have hung around the bakery. Many of the names of the recipes have a familiar ring; almond cakes, gingerbread, Shrewsbury cakes, Abernethy biscuits, Madeira buns and so on. After the heavy kneading of the bread it may seem that it was a relief to make the biscuits and cakes until one sees a recipe for a, well-named, Pound Cake which, after the ingredients, includes the instruction to, ‘beat them all together for one hour’.

In these days before compressed yeast the preparation of yeast was a laborious process for each baker made his or her own from his ‘stock yeast’ The starter was made from hops, flour and malt beaten into a stiff batter, covered, and allowed to sit for twenty-four hours. This was used as the key ingredient to make the stock yeast which also had to sit for twenty-four hours. Some of this was used each day to start the next batch. Once a month the baker ought to have cleaned everything up and started again but many carried on for a year.

It was hard, time-consuming, work to turn the flour into bread, cakes and biscuits but the baker was always being accused of overcharging and short measures. This was partly because of the vital part played by bread in many people’s diet and the rising price of ‘corn’ caused by the Corn laws, passed in 1815 to protect the farmers from cheap imports from the New World and elsewhere. In many large cities there was rioting and corn factors and bakers were attacked and pillaged. On a local scale, in 1843, Thomas Lee was fined 12 shillings for deficient weights at Wellingborough Petty Sessions. Many small traders were similarly caught as the local Police Inspector began to implement the new laws which standardised and checked weights and measures throughout the country. Bread was a precious commodity and had to be sold by weight.

This suspicion of bakers can be seen from this article in the Stamford Mercury for 16th September 1842:

“How is it,” observes a correspondent, that the bread is so dear, notwithstanding the reduced price of wheat? The answer is plain. The public allow the baker to fix the price and never stay to question it. When the assize of bread was abolished, it was imagined that people would say to a baker ‘What is the price of a 4lb loaf?’ as they do to a butcher, ‘What is the price of a leg of mutton?’ – and would, if discontented with the price, walk out of the shop and make the purchase elsewhere; but habit is stronger than reason. The people had for so long a period been accustomed to think of bread as something settled at a price over which they had no means of control that the most frugal housewife among them never dreams of making a loaf a matter of bargain. Of course the baker will not lower the price, if not compelled; but they have carried the high-price matter too far; and not individual remonstrances but public attention is now directed to the matter. As bread is an article of daily manufacture, it might be as well to consider whether it would not be a good speculation to establish ovens, where for a small charge (smaller than now demanded for baking a joint) loaves might be baked, and thus people enabled, if they pleased to bake their own bread, as they bake their own dinners.

We see that the practice of roasting the Sunday joint in the baker’s ovens for a charge was a long established one and also that many, perhaps most, working-class families had stopped baking their own bread, in spite of Cobbett’s campaign.

Thomas Lee died on the 12th April 1855 and in his will left to his brother William, a grazier in Great Oxenden: 

. . . all that my messuages and tenement in Ringstead aforesaid wherein I now reside with the Bakehouse, Yards, Gardens, Premises and appurtenances thereunto belonging.

He also left nineteen guineas to his servant Susan Archer and five guineas to John Griffuth Leete, his surgeon.

As we have seen Thomas Lee was not the only baker in Ringstead but before we consider his rival it is worth just noting a certain James Wilkinson who was the alleged father of Lydia Attley’s first child before she disappeared heavy with her second, allegedly by William Weekley Ball. James was a journeyman baker from Leicestershire who married Lydia Hill, the daughter of James Hill, publican of the Black Horse. They moved to Welford and he was a baker there for over thirty years.

The other baker in the 1841 Ringstead Census was Thomas Chapman Coleman. He too came from outside the village being born in Holcot and baptised in Ringstead on 30th September 1813, some seventeen miles to the west. All his younger brothers and sisters are christened in Ringstead so it seems the family moved there soon after his birth. . He married Deborah Lawrence from Denford on 3rd May 1831 in Ringstead Parish Church. His mother, Mary, died less than a fortnight later and was buried in Ringstead churchyard. His sons, Charles Chapman Coleman, who was born on 5th November 1826, and John Joseph, born on 18th June 1835 were baptised in the Ringstead Particular Baptist Church

By 1841, as we have seen, he was a baker in Ringstead, with his wife, and sons Charles and John. By 1851 Charles has moved away and John is a butcher’s apprentice. Louise Saddington, from Denford is a house servant. The Northampton Mercury for 12th July 1851 may give a possible reason for there being no further children and the need of a servant. Among the death announcements is the following notice:

At Ringstead, July 4th, after eight years’ spinal affliction, borne with Christian fortitude, Deborah, the beloved wife of Thomas Chapman Coleman, baker, Ringstead, aged 45 years.

We do not see any of the family again in an English Census and it seems certain that soon after Deborah’s death they left England and took their chances on the other side of the world. We have chased many a Ringstead resident across the seas but this time we will only record three entries in the Birth, married and death columns of the newspapers:

On the 1st instant, [May 1852] by special licence at St. James’ Church by the Rev. J. Grylls, Mr. Charles Chapman Coleman of George-street to Miss Mary Ann Esther Chormdery, eldest daughter of Mr. J.J. Chormdery of Windmill-street, Sydney

COLEMAN – April 24 1886 at his residence, Botany-road, Waterloo [Sydney], Thomas Chapman Coleman aged 74.

John Joseph probably died in 1876 in Victoria so the following item in the Barrier Miner [Broken Hill, NSW] which may or not be relevant. It does sum up a way of life for those mining pioneers:

John Joseph Casey was found guilty at the Criminal Court of the manslaughter of John Joseph Coleman. Casey hit Coleman on the head with a stick on Good Friday. The judge fined Casey £15 and allowed him time to pay it.

Thomas Haines was the next baker to help provide the daily bread from one of Ringstead’s bakeries. He had been born in Great Catworth in Huntingdonshire and in 1841 it is probably him working for a farmer in Easton. In 1849 he married Elizabeth Vickers Wilby, whose father was a baker from Market Harborough. Perhaps as a result of this, aged just twenty-five, he is also a baker at 49 Newlands Street in Higham Ferrers. They have an eight-week-old daughter also called Elizabeth, an apprentice baker and a young servant girl. Thomas’s younger brother, William, is also staying with them. He, too, is a baker and although shown as a visitor he is perhaps also helping his brother.

He moved to Ringstead some time in the middle of the 1850s. We know that from the 1861 Census which shows him, aged 35, in the Ringstead High Street. He has two more daughters. Honoria is 6 and born in Higham Ferrers and Anne is 5 and born in Ringstead so it seems that he moved to Ringstead in 1855 or 1856. He is now described as a master baker, employing two journeyman bakers. His bakery business seems to be growing fast: perhaps too fast for his finances.

In April 1862 we learn a little about what has been happening from a newspaper report in the Northampton Mercury. Unfortunately it is from a report of a case in the Crown Court where Thomas has been indicted for obtaining the sum of £171 by false pretences from the Thrapston branch of the Northamptonshire Union Bank. The article records that Mr. Merewether, for the prosecution told the jury that:

The prisoner was a local preacher and might well have paused before he entered upon an act upon which nobody who heard of it could come to a favourable conclusion.

Thomas banked in Wellingborough and was struggling financially. He had been granted an overdraft, upon certain sureties, up to a limit of £600. He had used £535 of that permitted overdraft when he received cheques to the value of £386 [in effect, unpaid bills] from London. He tried to borrow £100 from his father without success and presented a cheque for £170 at the Thrapston branch of the Northamptonshire Union Bank and was given this amount in cash. He then paid this into the Wellingborough account so that he could pay off some of the outstanding bills. He had hoped that the cheque would go via London and take several days to clear, giving him time to borrow the money from somewhere. The Thrapston manager, however, sent the cheque directly to Wellingborough and it was immediately dishonoured.

The jury found Thomas not guilty of trying to defraud the bank but he was obviously in financial difficulties. On April 9th 1862, Thomas Haines, corn factor and baker of Ringstead, by his own petition was registered bankrupt. On 3rd June of the same year at five o’clock in the afternoon, at the White Hart Hotel Thrapston, his possessions were sold by his ‘Mortgagee’.

These were sold in four lots. These included:

Lot 1. All that roomy and convenient MESSUAGE or Farm House situate in Ringstead in the County of Northampton, with the Barns, Yards, Gardens, Homestead, Orchard and piece of Land thereto adjoining. And also all those THREE COTTAGES or Tenements thereto adjoining, with the Barns and Out-buildings.

These Premises extend from the East end of the Street of Ringstead [High Street] to the Back Lane and contain with the site of the buildings 1A. 1R. 9P. (little more or less.)

Lot 2 contained a close of pasture land containing 6 acres and 36 perch; Lot 3 arable land of 8 acres and 29 perch; and Lot 4 arable land of 8 acres 1 rood and 9 perch. This land appears to have been in one piece with Back Lane on the south and Denford Road on the east. Surprisingly there is no mention of the bakery. Of course he may have been renting it or owned both and it was the purchase of the farmhouse, cottages and land that caused his downfall. He overreached himself.

Whatever the details, his career as a baker was over and the 1871 Census finds the family living in Green Lane Terrace in Kettering. Thomas is now a ‘Traveller’ and one daughter is a haberdasher and the other a governess. His wife, Elizabeth has no paid work and they still employ a young girl as a servant. Things are similar in 1881 but by 1891, a Traveller in the Corn Trade, Thomas and Elizabeth are living at 20 Castle Road, Bedford. Their married daughter Honoria and her daughter, Maria are staying with them and they still have another young girl working as a general servant for them.

It seems likely that Thomas and Elizabeth overstretched themselves in Ringstead but he found new work in the corn trade and they managed to maintain a servant and their middle-class status.

In the 1862 edition of Slater’s Royal National Commercial Directory there are three bakers in Ringstead. Alongside Thomas Haines there are John Childs and Andrew Bull. Andrew does not appear in the Melville and Co. Directory of the previous year. We see the Andrew Bull is a new village baker but does the fact that the three bakers are all recorded in 1862 mean that there were three bakeries?

Whatever the answer it does seem that probably John Childs started his bakery in 1861 and Andrew Bull in 1862. They were both to remain village bakers for many years. It is their stories that we are now going to try to discover.

John ‘Chiles’ had been baptised in Ringstead Parish Church on December 25th 1816, the son of James and Susannah. James was originally from Southoe in Huntingdonshire but had married a Ringstead girl, Elizabeth Whiteman, and settled in the village. John  married Elizabeth, (also ‘Chiles’), on June 12th 1837 also in the parish church and by the 1841 Census the young couple already had three children; Joseph 3, Sarah 2 and Martha 6 months old and had moved to Swineshead, some ten miles away, in Bedfordshire. John’s mother Susannah and his younger brother George are also staying with them. Judging by the birthplace of their eldest son, Joseph they moved to Swineshead immediately or soon after their marriage. John is a shoemaker.

By 1852 the couple have seven children living at home and two young shoemakers from Catworth are working for him. It is not clear but it appears that John is also a grocer. His wife, Elizabeth is a shoe binder and the two older girls are lacemakers.

It must have been a busy household but by 1861 they have moved back to Ringstead and John has a new career. We see him in the High Street, one of the village bakers. He is 45 years old, two years younger than his wife, and is helped in his new business by his fifteen-year-old son, Samuel. Robert, the eldest son, and still at home, is a shoemaker. His house and bakery is one house from the Chapel Road turning in the Census so we can be sure that it is what are now two houses, 47 and 49 High Street. It seems that the bakehouse was in number 47 and the house and, possibly, the shop in number 49. This position is confirmed by comparing the black and white postcard below with the earlier picture of the Post Office in the biography of the postmasters. We can see that the two shops were neighbours, although unfortunately the Post Office building has now disappeared.


The Old Bakehouse (47/49 High Street)

Author’s Photograph 2012

1871 finds the family still at the bakery but only daughters, Elizabeth, a dressmaker and Martha a ‘baker’s daughter’ are now at home. Does a ‘baker’s daughter’ help in the shop or the bakery?

At about the time of the Census collection in 1871, John is involved in a court case to recover 12s. from a porter called Cadman, employed by the London and North-Western Railway Company at Thrapston. The debt had actually been to his son who we learn had since emigrated. In fact Cadman’s wife, who was a witness, was too ill to attend so the case was adjourned.

The years roll by and 1881 has John (65) and Elizabeth (67) with the only family living with them being John’s widowed sister, Mary Ann (68). John does have some help, however, because lodging with them there is a sixteen-year-old assistant baker from Raunds.



A 1920s view of the Old Bakehouse from the opposite direction showing the Swan in the distance

[The Bakery is the white building on the left. You can just see the shop sign over the door. The first building on the left had been the Post Office at the end of the Nineteenth Century]

Reproduced with permission of the Northamptonshire Telegraph. 



Olde Bakery Cottage (17 High Street)

Author’s Photograph 2012

Two bakers might seem enough for a small village but it appears that there were sometimes three or more competing for trade. Perhaps as the village bakers got older others saw a chance to increase their own trade. Henry Peach was a baker in Denford and we know that at this time that he too was delivering bread in the village. On 15th May 1882 he and his ‘boy’ were on their round, in the village, unaware that Inspector Alexander was watching them. There had been ‘complaints’. Perhaps one of the village bakers was annoyed by Henry Peach coming into his patch. The Inspector:

Went to Mr. Bradshaw’s, publican [I am not sure which public house this was] and found he had left two loaves there, a “cottage” and a loaf baked in a tin. Witness weighed the bread, and found 4 ozs. Short in the two loaves, - Mr. Peach acknowledged the offence, and said he was very sorry it had occurred but he was under the impression that the loaves came within the denomination of “fancy bread” and did not require weighing. – The same defendant was also charged with selling five other loaves other than by weight on the same date and in the same parish. – Inspector Alexander deposed that these were delivered at the house of Joseph Fox. There was a deficiency of 6 ozs. In the five loaves. – Mr. Peach was then charged with delivering bread from his cart and not being provided with scales to weigh the same, at Ringstead, on the same day. – Defendant acknowledged the offence and pleaded in extenuation that the lad had accidentally left the scales at home. He was very sorry for what had occurred, and would take care it did not happen again.

Henry Peach was fined for not selling ‘by weight’. The fact that Henry Peach might consider the loaves ‘fancy’ may indicate that the standard loaf was a ‘batch loaf’ which was not baked in a tin.

Unfortunately for John, at the same court session, he was charged with having an ‘unjust flour scale’ just two days after Henry Peach was caught. The report states:

It appeared that the scale was about one ounce against the purchaser. There was dough on it, and after cleaning the scale the deficiency was reduced. – Inspector [sic?] Noble said the defendant was a most respectable man, and had never before been summoned on a similar charge. – The Bench considered that it to be rather the result of carelessness than with a fraudulent intent; they therefore imposed the mitigated fine of 5s. and 14s 6d. expenses. - On Superintendant Noble’s application the scales were (after adjustment) ordered to be given up to the defendant.

We do see that John Childs was a well-regarded man but perhaps age was catching up on him. We do not have a description of John. Was he like Grandfather Iden, who Richard Jefferies describes in Amaryllis at the Fair, which was published in 1887?

He wore a grey suit, as a true miller and baker should, and had worn the same cut and colour for years and years. In the shop too, he always had a grey suit on, perhaps its original hue was white, but it got to appear grey upon him; a large grey chimney-pot, many sizes too big for his head apparently, for it looked as if forever about to descend and put out his face like an extinguisher. Though his boots were so carefully polished, they quickly took a grey tint from the flour dust as he pottered about the bins in the morning.

John died in 1888, aged seventy-two, and was buried in the churchyard on October 20th 1888. It seems likely that the house and business was sold and by 1891 his widow, Elizabeth, aged 74 and his sister, Mary Ann, are living together in Carlow Street.

At first I had thought that his only competitor was Andrew Bull but there was one other, besides Henry Peach, who does not appear in any of the trade directories. On 29th April 1876 the Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser printed a nationwide list of ‘Petitions for Liquidation by Arrangement’. Among them was:

                T. Austin, Ringstead, Northamptonshire, baker.

He must have managed to carry on with his business for, on 22nd November 1879, the Northampton Mercury records that at the Thrapston Petty Sessions on November 16th:

Thomas Austin of Ringstead was charged by Inspector Alexander of Oundle with unlawfully selling to one, Rebecca Morris, two loaves of bread otherwise than by weight. – Defendant was fined 5s. and also ordered to pay expenses amounting to £1 3s. 8d.

It may be now that baking ovens were more easily installed. Coal-fired ovens, heated externally, sometimes by pipes, were taking over from ovens needing wood fires lit in the oven space itself. In the Northampton Mercury of 5th June 1880 Hughes and Co. of the Railway Waggon [sic] Works and Coal Yard, Gas Works Wharf, Northampton advertised its list of coals for sale. These included:

                BADDESLEY         Best known kind for Bakers

[Baddesley was a pit in Warwickshire. Just two years after this advertisement, on 2nd May 1882, 32 men lost their lives when a pumping boiler set light to coal dust causing an explosion. 23 of the dead were from the rescue party.]

When we look through the Ringstead Censuses we find that Thomas Austin was a carrier in 1861. He was 33 years old and born in Podington in Bedfordshire. He and his wife, Sarah, have four young children, all born in Ringstead. By 1871 he had become a baker and a grocer in Shop [High] Street. Sarah died in 1879 and by 1881 he is shown as a widower and a ‘baker and outdoor beer house’ only two doors from the Black Horse. He died in 1890 and was buried on March 14th aged sixty-two.

We can only guess at Thomas Austin’s place in the local baking hierarchy but it seems likely that he was at the corner shop end of the market providing bread for London End rather than the emerging middle classes. We see no description of ‘Master Baker’, and no journeyman assistants. It seems that he never made more than a poor living from his shop.


A Baker’s Oven

This picture is from 1920s but would have changed little from nineteenth century

[From Work and Workers, Shown to the Children by Arthur O. Cook]

If we now return to Andrew Bull, we have already briefly met him in another biography. He was the younger brother of Kezia Bull who married the Chemist, Herbert Joseph Abington. He is recorded in the diary of Herbert’s son, also Herbert, as Uncle Andrew. He was born on 18th April 1826 to John and Sarah Bull who were paper makers at Ringstead Mill. They were member of the Ringstead Particular Baptist Church and there is some temptation to wonder if the bakeries were divided on sectarian lines, one for the established church and one for the nonconformists.

There is no sign of Andrew in the 1841 Census but there are two Samuel Bulls, both rounded to the age of fifteen and both tailors. One is living with one sister, Susannah and the other is with Sarah Cheney, another, widowed, sister. It may be that one of these boys was Andrew and probably he is the second ‘Samuel’ as in 1851 he is shown as living with Sarah and her second husband, George Smith. By now he is working as a shoemaker. On 6th July 1854 he married local girl, Mary Ann Partrick and had three children, Elizabeth, Ralph and Eliza before the 1861 Census where he was shown as a shoemaker and baker. The eldest child, Elizabeth is given as being born in Brigstock so presumably the couple had lived there for a time.

His wife, Mary Ann Partrick, had been born in Ringstead but in 1851, at the age of twenty-three she was a cook at Islip for Ralph Wilson (76) a wine merchant and his wife Susannah (70) who is described as a ‘gentlewoman’. When we return to the 1861 Ringstead census we see that Mary Ann is shown as the ‘Manager of the Bakehouse’ and it seems likely that she was the one with the expertise, who was in charge of the baking. There is a young apprentice shoemaker living with them and the only help is probably from Herbert Abington, their nephew, who is described as a baker. It seems that the couple had to do almost all the baking themselves with much of the work falling on Mary Ann. It would have been hard work with long hours but she would have been used to this as a cook.

It seems unlikely that the sickly Herbert worked long for his uncle and by 1871 Andrew is shown in Shop Street (High Street) as the baker and Mary Ann as the baker’s wife. Perhaps Andrew had learned his trade from his wife and had given up the shoemaking. Mary-Ann may have run the shop still but she had four children to look after, ranging in ages from three to sixteen years old, for the youngest son, George has been born

We learn from a court case in July 1875 that Andrew had a sideline as a pig dealer. He had bought a dozen, twelve-week-old pigs from Mr Brawn of Ringstead. The next day he tried to make a quick profit by selling them at auction but they did not make the price he wanted so he had to buy them in. He had a chat at the Swan Inn with Mr Holmes a coal dealer from Denford and agreed to take them there for him to examine:

Plaintiff [Andrew Bull] emptied the pigs out of his cart into the defendant’s stye. Defendant [Mr. Holmes] then examined the pigs and found a good deal of fault with them. I said, “Look here, Mr. Holmes, if the pigs are no good to you you don’t have to have them.” He said, “I will give you 16s. each” and I let him have them.

After some haggling the sale was agreed. This was on the Tuesday and on the Friday Holmes asked Andrew to look at the pigs for two of them were dead. It transpired that they had tuberculosis. The judge decided that there was no evidence to show that Andrew had known of their diseased state and ordered Holmes to pay for the pigs, with the usual costs because he ‘must consider that the defendant did make this purchase with his eyes open’.

By 1881, at 54, Andrew is still a baker and only George, the youngest child, is still at home. He is shown as a baker like his father. Ten years later and one son, George, has moved out to become a baker elsewhere and the couple’s oldest son, Ralph, a butcher, has returned home. There is also an eleven-year-old granddaughter called Elsie Marsh who is staying with them. Mary Ann died a year after the 1891 Census and Andrew, another year later, in spring 1893, re-married. His new bride was Sarah Horn, Ringstead born, but the widow of an Irthlingborough beer seller.

In spring 1895 there were high winds in the area and many houses were damaged. The Ringstead correspondent wrote in the Northampton Mercury on the 29th March:

In several cases the houses are practically unroofed. The thatched houses and other buildings, as might be expected, suffered considerably. A bakehouse chimney, belonging to Mr. Andrew Bull was blown down, smashing through the roof into the bedroom. Fortunately, no one happened to be in the room at the time, or the consequences might have been more serious

Andrew’s time was nearly up, however, and he died in 1896 and was buried on 26th June. In his will he left to his second wife:

. . .  my plate, linen china glass books pictures furniture and other household effects with the exception of a chest containing two drawers at the bottom. The said chest I bequeath to my grandson Raymond Bull of Irthlingboro’ Norths.

He appointed John Knight as his sole executor with instructions to sell everything off and divide the money equally between his son George, now a baker in Irthlingborough and his daughter Eliza Mary Marsh of London. Of his two oldest children, Ralph had died in 1892 and Elizabeth who had been a drapers assistant in Newmarket, possibly died a year later.

By this time the industrialisation of food provided competition to the producers and in the High Street. In 1880 there were some 10,000 water and wind corn mills in Britain but by 1899 there were only around 2,000 left. The hard wheats from the New World together with the steam-driven roller mills drove most local mills out of business although the Ringstead windmill and water mills hung on longer than many.

In politics, in the middle of the century, the Corn Laws repeal had split the old Tory Party with the Peelite faction joining the Whigs to form the new Liberal Party, the right wing becoming the new Conservative Party. The 1867 Reform act had given many working men in urban areas the vote and the 1884 Reform Act extended the vote to all men paying an annual rental of £10 or those holding land valued at £10. This meant that many men in Ringstead now had the vote and the Liberal Party had a Labour wing. Women were still excluded but we can see the influence of these changes in the local politics in the backgrounds of the people who later sat on the new Parish Councils, the attitude of some parents to the National School and the rise of industrial action culminating in the Raunds March.

Part of this working class movement was the growth of the Co-operative movement through the latter part of the century and as it came to a conclusion the Co-op made its appearance on the Ringstead High Street.

First we will look at the last of the individual Ringstead bakers before the new century. It seems likely that Joseph Scholes took over the bakery of John Childs. We see him in Kelly’s Directory of 1890 alongside Andrew Bull. We can also note a George Wadsworth, shown as a miller at Ringstead Water Mill showing that local flour was probably still available.

Joseph was born in Stamford in about 1835 and had become a baker at Belvoir Castle in Leicestershire. He had married, aged 30, to Mary Ann Whyman on February 1866 in Oundle and we see that his first wife had died for he is a widower. His father was Richard Scholes who was also a baker. He is there in the 1871 Census with his second wife. As with most bakers there is a young apprentice living with them. Presumably he was baking for Belvoir Castle and would have been able to produce fine white bread as well as the wholemeal bread for the servants.

By 1881 Joseph has set up as a baker in his own right on the Higham Ferrers High Street. There is just one son, John Joseph, born in about 1873 at Belvoir. It seems that Joseph and family moved to Ringstead to take on John Child’s bakery after his death. We know this because of a case in which Joseph was involved with, although it is a little confusing. It seems that after Higham he moved to Irthlingborough for a short period for he was there when he took on a workhouse apprentice from Bedford Union, called William Askew.

As part of the democratic political movement, which we have briefly mentioned, acts were passed by Parliament to improve the legal position of working men. In 1875 the Employers and Workmen Act put employers on an equal footing with their staff in a legal contract. Previous to this act only the workman, if he broke a contract, was subject to the criminal law and could be imprisoned or fined. This act made it that both employer and workman were only subject to the penalties of the civil law in such a case.

In The Register of Visits to Boys and Girls sent out as apprentices or servants from the Bedford Union Workhouse it reports that:

ASKEW, William, 13. 10 Dec 1884, Joseph SCHOLES, baker of Irthlingboro’ bound 31 Jan 1885,     term 5 years – in consequence of a complaint having been made by a gent. at Irthlingboro’ that the boy was ill treated I went to see the lad who said he had no complaint but the case is a suspicious one. On 5th July 1886 Mr SCHOLES applied to have the Indrs. [Indentures] cancelled. On 28th August SCHOLES brought the boy before the Bd [Board] and said that he had no use for him in consequence of the impediment in his speech. The Bd told SCHOLES that he must keep him but they would endeavour to find him another situation. In consequence of information received I visited the lad and made enquiries at several places and found that without doubt the lad had been constantly ill treated. Steps were taken before the Magistrates at Thrapston and the Indrs, were cancelled and his master fined heavily. Askew returned to the House 29 Oct 1886.

Neither here nor in the court case report do we learn what this constant ill treatment amounted to but presumably it included beatings and physical force. It certainly does not shed a good light on Joseph Scholes, even accepting that William Askew was probably a difficult youngster, and his next employer, a blacksmith in Yielden, also had problems with him.

The report on the case at the Thrapston Petty Sessions on Tuesday November 23rd 1886 states that Joseph is a baker at Ringstead so it is probably some time in 1885 or 1886 that Joseph moved to Ringstead. He is still there in 1891 and 1901 at 2 High Street, next to the Post Office. At 6 High Street is his son John Joseph, at 28 a journeyman baker, almost certainly working for his father, with his wife Martha and their two young daughters, Kathleen (4) and Rita (2). In spite of the numbering it seems most likely that this is 47/49 High Street and he took over the bakery from John Childs. Joseph died in early 1905 and John Joseph took over the family business. The 1911 Census shows us that of the three children that the couple had, only Kathleen aged 14, is still alive and she and her mother are shown as assistant bakers.

In the Ringstead cemetery is a large marble grave with the inscription:

In loving memory of our dear father John Joseph Scholes who passed away July 23rd 1945, aged 72 years. And Martha Jane Scholes who passed away March 9th 1946.

It seems that by the end of the century there were two bakers for the village but perhaps it was not as simple as that. In September 1895 the Board of Guardians of Thrapston Union Workhouse accepted a series of food tenders. Among them was one for:

                Mr. Betts, Ringstead, bread 3¼d., flour 10d. per stone;

So there was a Betts in the bread trade at the end of the century as well as at the beginning but, as yet, I have not found how he fitted in. It is possible that he was a wholesaler rather than a baker himself.

The 1901 Census alerts us to another baker for at number 25 lived Robert Woodruff aged 57 from Riseley in Bedfordshire and his wife Sarah, also 57 and born in Raunds. He is shown as, ‘baker Co-op manager’ Round the corner at 2 Chapel Road lived 19-year-old Lillian Mary Abbott whose occupation is given as a shop assistant in the Co-op stores.

The Co-operative movement probably started in Scotland in the eighteenth century but it was the Rochdale Pioneers who were the first successful example of working people getting together to set up a jointly owned shop . From the start it was also a political movement but its main aim was to provide unadulterated food at reasonable prices. We see this at a meeting of the Kettering District Cooperative Association at Desborough in October 1884:

Mr. Scotton, who was enthusiastically received, gave an instructive speech on how working men, by taking affairs into their own hands, might provide for themselves, and the good co-operation has done for the whole of the working classes throughout the whole country.

The Desborough Co-operative Stores had started in 1864 so it is perhaps surprising that Ringstead did not form its own Co-operative Stores, which included a bakery, until 1894.


Ringstead High Street in 1920s. Girl is leaning against Co-op window (now Londis)

1920s postcard. Author's own copy

The first manager, as we have seen, was Robert Woodruff, who had been born in about 1842 in Riseley in Bedfordshire. By 1871 he was a baker, living with his widowed mother in High Street, Raunds. He married Elizabeth Ann Green in 1877 but she died just two years later and in 1881 he is still a baker, staying with his mother-in-law, Ann Green who was a sixty-eight year old widow living in Rotton Row , Raunds.

He married again to Sarah Pentelow (nee Brown), the widow of a wealthy Raunds farmer, John Pentelow, who had had 300 acres and employed ten men and two boys. 1891 finds the couple in High Street, Raunds. Robert is 49 and Sarah is 48 years old and, living with them are Sarah’s four children, aged 9 to 15 from her first marriage.

One would have thought that Robert was well set up with a bakehouse and presumably married to a rich widow. If this was the case, something changed for by 1901 the couple, with Helen, their eldest daughter, 25 and unmarried, are living at 25 High Street, Ringstead and he is the Co-op manager. Just over a year later Robert died and by 1911 Sarah is living with her 59 year old unmarried brother, a farmer in Walgrave. Also living there are her unmarried sister and widowed brother, all in their sixties.

As an aside, Robert was probably the ‘Mr. Woodroffe’ that Mr David Ramsay, M.B. M.R.C.S., the doctor from Raunds was attending on December 7th 1901. After visiting Robert the doctor called on another patient and while there was consulted by someone with an abscess in his foot. The doctor operated but in the process the knife slipped and the point went in the, ‘principal joint of the forefinger, causing a slight but deep wound’. At the time he did little about it but when he returned home he bled and disinfected the wound, but it was too late. He was almost immediately in pain and despite the attentions of various local doctors and constant nursing he died on Monday 6th January 1902. We tend to forget how the discovery of antibiotics has changed our attitude to many infections.

In 1901 a John Kingsmith had ordered some plans from Wellingborough architects, Talbot, Brown and Fisher, to improve a bakehouse in Ringstead. John Kingsmith (originally King Smith) was from Raunds where he had grown up with his widowed mother Keziah Smith and his siblings. In 1861, aged 19 he was a rough stuff cutter and his older brother Owen was a clicker. His mother had been an Infant School Teacher but by this time was only a ‘Housekeeper’. Lodging with them is Cornelius Steven aged 52, a shoe manufacturer born in Louth. Was he part of the reason for their rise to be manufacturers also?  It seems unlikely for he married on the Isle of Wight in 1865 and the next two Censuses show him as a Schoolmaster living with his wife in Peterborough. Whatever the reason, by 1901 John Kingsmith, as he was now, was a Government Contractor, living with his second wife Mary Ellen. He had given generously to Raunds Parish Church and had also been a trustee of the Raunds Methodist Church. He had also been one of the employers who had agreed to pay the statement prices for piece work and as a result his workers continued to work during the Raunds Strike in 1905. He also gave £5 for the relief fund and promised to pay in ten shillings a week for the duration of the strike.

Why was he getting plans drawn up for a bakehouse in Ringstead? Was he the landlord or was he possibly doing it as part of his good works for the Ringstead Co-operative Society. We must remember that this was still a self funded group: Part of a big movement but not part of a large organisation. We may discover the real truth later. The plans show the building as it is and suggests two possible ways of increasing the size of the bakehouse. It does therefore give us some idea of what a bakehouse would have looked like for the latter part of the nineteenth century




Drawings of Bakehouse before alterations

Talbot, Brown and Fisher October 29th 1901 (NRO. TBF 221)

With permission of Northampton Record Office

 The century had seen bread move from being the main sustainer of life for many working, and pauper families, to being a part of their diet, if still an important part.

We are now into living memory and there are still a few people who recall the two bakers’ shops and the Sunday ritual of taking the Sunday joint to one or other of them to have it roasted in the bread oven. Stan Attley, who was born in 1918 was recorded by the Anchors Away Youth Group in 1998, telling of his childhood:

All food was cooked over an open fire – fried or boiled. The Sunday dinner was taken round to the bake house to be cooked, also cakes and pies etc.: and it cost 2d. There were two bake houses in the village.


Censuses 1841 – 1911

Ringstead Parish Registers (Northampton Record Office).

Northampton Mercury

Bedford Union Register of Apprentices 1838 – 1913 & Paupers’ Service Book 1851 – 1880. (Transcribed and published by The Eureka Partnership 2010)

Baking and Bakeries. H.G. Muller (Shire Publications 1986)

Bread in English History (The Millers Mutual Association 1920)

Cottage Economy. William Cobbett (1st pub. 1822: Peter Davies 1926)

Lark Rise to Candleford. Flora Thompson (OUP World Classics 1954)

A Pound of Fine Flower. Recipes from a Lincolnshire Village Bakery of the 1830s. Teresa Crompton. (Castle Yard Books 1997)

Work and Workers. Arthur O. Cooke. [Shown to Children Series: T.C & E.C. Jack Ltd. c.1920s]

Remembering the Past. (Evening Telegraph publication 1986).

Alterations to Bakehouse. Talbot, Brown and Fisher Octo


The Weekley Ball family of Ringstead

Again very much a first draft and hoping to get corrections and additions. I have removed the images to keep it simple but most can be found in the text of the various relevant Ringstead People pieces below.

The Weekley Ball Line of Ringstead


 (1)Elizabeth (Abt1741 – 1807R) - John Ball (Abt1743 – 1821R) – (2)Sarah Lackson(Abt1744 – 1838R) 

Children of John and Elizabeth

Daniel              William         Dinah           Elijah           Thomas            No children from 2nd marriage

Abt1769LA   Abt1773LA    Abt1778      Abt1779         ? –

     - ?            - 1852 R                 - ?          - 1779 LA      - 1790 R


William Ball  (Abt 1773 – 1852)

It seems likely that William was the son of John and Elizabeth Ball. He was baptised in Little Addington on 26th March 1776 (although from the nineteenth century censuses he appears to have been born about three years earlier. There were 3 older siblings baptised in Little Addington: Daniel (baptised on 30th April 1769), Dinah, baptised on 22nd February 1778 (who possibly married Thomas Smith on 21st June 1798 in Ringstead) and Elijah who was baptised on 23rd May 1779 and buried there on 13th June of the same year. It appears that the family moved to Ringstead and a further son, Thomas, was buried there on 16th August 1790. Elizabeth was buried aged 66 on January 13th 1807 (so born abt1841) in Ringstead churchyard. John remarried to widow, Sarah Lackson, on June 1st 1807 in Ringstead

John was buried in Ringstead churchyard on 6th September 1821 aged 78 (so born abt1743). [Another John Ball was buried  in Ringstead on 8th November 1824 aged 72 (so born abt 1752) but looking at the ages it seems most likely that he was the John who married Anne - who was buried on 12th March 1826 aged 73 (so born abt1753).] It may be that the two John Balls were not related – there are other John Balls in the area and Ball is a common name locally. They certainly were not the same person or brothers so it seems that being cousins would be their nearest relationship. Sarah, John’s second wife  Sarah Ball was buried on 11th November 1838 in Ringstead, aged 82 (so born about 1744)

William   - (c 1773 L Addington – 1852 Ringstead ) – Ann Weekley (Abt1775 - 1852)

Children of William and Ann

          Mary                                     William Weekley                              John                      Henry

      (Abt1815 R- ?)                  (Abt1818 R– 1896 Ramsey)    (Abt1821R – 1894R)    (Abt1824 R – 1829 R)

 Married William Bull             Married Hannah Wilson    Married Rebecca Wilson

                                                                                                              & Jedidah Abington    

This piece is based on chapter in Ringstead People. I have to emphasise that it is very problematic and I have not proved that the William from Ringstead was the same William Ball whose story composes most of this life. All we know that he was a Greenwich Pensioner.

William Ball was born in about 1773 in Great Addington and, probably with his parents, crossed the Nene to Ringstead to get married and live. In his later years he was a shepherd with a family but the 1851 Census gives us the clue that his was not a life always spent in the pastures of Ringstead quietly looking after his flocks. In his old age, it describes him as a ‘Greenwich Pensioner’. This was the naval equivalent of the more well known Chelsea Pensioner, which was a title reserved for men who had served in the army. There was a magnificent ‘hospital’ at Greenwich where those with in-pensions lived but the great majority of the pensioners lived at home and were paid a small ‘out’ pension based mainly on their years of service.

 The records do have an entry for a William Ball giving his service so that his pension can be calculated. As there does not appear to be another of that name in the records we have to assume that he is our man. He was engaged on the 9th April 1796 as an Able Seaman acting as a Ship’s Carpenter. His first boat was the HMS Redoubt which originally had been a civilian boat called the Rover. It had been purchased by the navy in 1793 and converted into a 20-gun floating battery and was intended to be used inshore to protect the coast. Its first task was to defend one of the east coast ports. The Napoleonic Wars had raised the fear of invasion. An alternative seat of government had been built at Weedon Bec in Northamptonshire in case London was captured. Also the coastline was fortified and the Martello towers built.

Kingston- upon-Hull, usually known simply as Hull, in the East Riding of Yorkshire was a major port where a citadel had been built in the seventeenth century to defend it against attack from the sea. Now the defences were reinforced and three ships, fitted out as floating batteries, were sailed to the Humber. The Nonsuch was anchored in White Booth Roads and the Redoubt and the Nautilus in the Humber.

We do not know exactly when the Redoubt was fitted out but it seems likely that William was helping with the completion of the changes needed for its new role. It does not seem that the three boats saw any action.

On 23rd September 1799, still listed as a carpenter, William was transferred to HMS Ambuscade. This was originally a French ship, L'Embuscade which had been captured on 12th October 1798 by Rear Admiral Sir J. B. Warren’s squadron off the coast of Ireland. William was only on board for some five months, until 14th February 1800. He is again listed as a carpenter and it seems likely that he was repairing and refitting the French boat ready for action as part of the British navy.

The wooden ships meant that often enemy vessels could be quickly recycled to become part of the British fleet. This, together with the purchase of ships from the merchant navy, which were also sometimes sold back when no longer required, meant that there were often a bewildering number of vessels with ever-changing names.

On 15th February 1800 William transferred to HMS Immortalité which, unsurprisingly, was also a former French ship. This Romaine class frigate, Immortalité, had been captured on 20th October 1798 by HMS Fisgard, shortly after the Battle of Tory Island. It was a 42-gun 5th Rate ship and saw active service on the Home Station. Once again it seems likely that William was involved in the recommissioning of the vessel but he also remained on the ship for just over five years, until 27th May 1805. A year later, in July 1806, HMS Immortalité belied her name and was broken up.

Meanwhile, on 29th May 1805, William joined the HMS Diomede which was a British boat launched in 1798 in Deptford. Soon after joining it appears that William was part of a secret operation far away from the main conflict in Europe. A small fleet carrying various regiments left Falmouth bound ostensibly for the East Indies. They stopped at Madeira and waited for a larger fleet which had left Cork, said to be going to the Mediterranean. It was under the protection of three ships of sixty-four guns, one ship of fifty guns, and two ships of thirty-two guns. The fifty-gun ship was the Diomede. Altogether an army of six thousand six hundred and fifty four men was aboard.

The destination was not the East Indies or the Mediterranean but the Cape of Good Hope. Of course, at the time, events in Europe were distracting the French and the Battle of Trafalgar in October gave the British supremacy of the seas and stopped the threat of invasion. The Dutch were in possession of the Cape and a century later a bloody war was to be fought over the same ground between the two nations. Strong gales stopped the intended landing which was some sixteen miles from Cape Town. Then the Diomede with the transport ships of the 38th Regiment, the cavalry ships and a proportion of the artillery, preceded by HMS L’Espoir sailed to Saldanha Bay The wind abated overnight and on the afternoon of the 6th January the troops were landed with the loss of one boat which had ventured beyond the protection of the bay.

The action led to the capture of the Cape and, we read that, on 9th February 1806 William was promoted to Acting Master Shipwright at the Cape of Good Hope. Was his worth recognised or did someone die or leave the ship?

Here his record becomes a little confusing. If we look at the Diomede’s progress after the Cape of Good Hope we find that she was part of a strange action in South America where, without government approval, an attack was made in the River Plate region of South America. An unsuccessful attack on Buenos Aires was followed by the capture of Montevideo.

After the capture of Montevideo the Diomede returned to England and was put out of commission in June 1807. The problem is that William seems to have left the service and possibly the Diomede in February 1807. We need to check if the Diomede had docked in England by that date. He then appears to lose his rank of Acting Master Shipwright and there also seems to be a break in his service record of some seven months. This may just be a confusion in the records.

William joined HMS Berwick on 5th September 1807 and again there is something of a problem. The Berwick was commissioned in 1809 There seems to be at least three possibilities: he was stationed at a shipbuilding yard in Berwick-on-Tweed not on a ship; he was  in commissioning the San Juan Nepomuceno which was a Spanish ship captured at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 and was briefly renamed HMS Berwick but was then named San Juan (presumably when the new Berwick was launched), and acted as a supply hulk in Gibraltar harbour; he worked on the HMS Berwick, a 74-gun third rate ship of the line launched in 1809, both before and after it was launched.

More research is needed before we make too many assumptions about William’s final years in the navy. He remained in, or on, the Berwick until he finally left the navy on 3rd October 1816. There is one last document from the Public record office which gives us a little more information and perhaps clarifies the situation. It records that on a ship named the Berwick a William Ball ‘Passed for Lieutenant’, on 5th January 1815 and became a Lieutenant from 6th March of the same year. He seems to have remained so until 1st July 1816. There is a slight discrepancy in the discharge dates so there is the possibility that there were two William Balls on the Berwick who were discharged the same year but it seems unlikely. Underneath the main details it records 7/= [35 pence]. Was this his pay or the contribution to his pension?

Returning now to William’s civilian life, we know that William married Ann Weekley on 7th July 1814 at Ringstead Parish Church with, unusually, three witnesses, Henry Weekley, Eliza Goodwin and Hannah Park. He is described as a bachelor and she as a spinster. It also states that bride and groom are ‘BOTP’, (“Both Of This Parish”), but that did not mean that he had been resident long in Ringstead. It could have been a matter of a week or two. If we look at the most logical scenario, that William was on the HMS Berwick that was launched in 1809, she had taken part in the action that brought about the surrender of Genoa in April 1814. It had then returned to Portsmouth for a refit.

It is possible, therefore, that William could have been on shore leave for his wedding day. He was about forty at the time of his marriage and his bride was around thirty-three years of age. I have not found Ann’s baptism, unless she was christened Mary on March 30th 1783, daughter of William and Susannah Weekley. Certainly their witness, Henry Weekley, was christened, two years later, of the same parents. (At the wedding it states the Banns are ‘with Consent of Parents’ which usually implies that one of the parties is under the statutory age. Both William and Ann are well over this age so either it is a mistake or William married two Anns and we have taken them as one. I can find no evidence of this second possibility so we must take it as a small error).

William and Ann were quite old to be starting a family but they lost no time and the children soon followed. Mary may have been the result of the same shore leave for she was christened on June 12th 1815 (worryingly William is described as a labourer in the Register). The records show that William’s naval career possibly ended in 1816 and William Weekley Ball was baptised in 1818, John in 1821 and Henry 1824. By the time of the christening of John, William is described as a shepherd.

In general the two lives of William, although they overlap, do fit together reasonably well. The 1851 Census for Ringstead has William Ball, father of the head of the house, John Ball, aged 78 and a Greenwich Pensioner. Ann too, is still alive aged 76.

 William and Ann both died within the next few years. William’s death certificate tells us that he died of ‘old age’ on 15th June 1852 at Ringstead aged 78 years and Ann a few months later. At least he did not end up in the workhouse. Perhaps the pension helped them both enjoy a decent old age. He is recorded as a shepherd so we have no clue as to his naval past. Their youngest son, Henry had died as a young child but they had seen their other children, Mary, William and John prosper and join the Victorian middle class. However, the tragic affair of their son William and the disappearance of Lydia Attley would have soured their final years.

There are some worrying holes in the story of the, as yet, two Williams. The parish register never records him as a sailor, even when he was possibly still in the navy. On the other hand there has been a story within my family that one of my ancestors was a sea captain and William is one of only two possibilities for this role although I have to add that I have not proved either that this branch of the family is related to my Ball line [Family stories often upgrade the importance of an ancestor]. We must wait to see if that elusive last piece of evidence needed emerges from the archives.


Children of William and Ann

1 Mary Ball (Abt1815 - 1897)

Mary Ball (1815 – 1897 R) – William Bull (Abt1820 – 1887R)

Children of Mary and William

      John*        Sarah Ann      Eliza             George            Andrew         John        Eliza M         Louisa

    Abt 1845     Abt1847          Abt1849       Abt1850      Abt1852      Abt1854   Abt1856     Abt1859


[*Note. There is the death of a John Bull Oct – Dec 1851 Thrapston Dist. Vol.15 p.270 line 13. Not in Ringstead Burial Register]

Mary who seems to have been the first child of William and Ann was baptised in Ringstead Church on 12th June 1815. In the 1841 Census she is aged 25 (all rounded ages) and living with her parents William (65) a shepherd and wife Ann (55) and brother William Weekley Ball (20), a butcher. Next door live Daniel Ball (also a shepherd) and his wife Phebe [sic] which may be coincidence but may be another hint that Daniel and William were related.

On 23rd December 1843 the Northampton Mercury reported the marriage:

On the 14th instant at Ringstead Baptist Chapel by the Rev. E Whiting, Mr. W. Bull, tailor, to Miss Ball, only daughter of Wm. Ball, of Ringstead

Few ordinary people in Ringstead would have their wedding announcement in the newspaper at this time. It may be from the Bull side rather than the Ball but it does mark the Weekley Ball as higher in the social pecking order than the other Ball lines. We also see that the Bulls(and perhaps the Balls) were Baptist and certainly none of their children appear to have been christened.

With the disappearance of Lydia Attley and the widely held belief that her brother William Weekley Ball was her murderer 1850 must have been a difficult for Mary but later events seem to indicate that the two still remained in close contact even when he had to leave and set up business in Ramsey in Huntingdonshire.

In the 1851 Census William Bull is a “Master Tailor employing 1 man” and, at 30, is 5 years younger than Mary . There are 4 children shown John (6), Sarah Ann (4), Eliza (2) and George (1). They have the jouneyman tailor Thomas Gunmar living with them.

By 1861 Mary, now 45, has had four further children, Andrew (9), John (7), Eliza M (5) and Louisa (2). (next door is William’s brother Andrew Bull and his wife Mary who run a bakery as well as Andrew being a shoemaker. William seems to have diversified perhaps because of “ready-made” competition from travelling salesman and in 1871 he is “Tailor, Draper, Grocer (and a word in brackets that I cannot decipher)”. Mary at 55 is a tailor’s wife and George (21) and John  (17) are tailor’s sons. Exactly what this means is unclear but presumably they helped with the business, either making or selling. Perhaps surprisingly, Eliza (15) and Louisa (12) are still scholars.

By the 1881 Census William (60) now grocer and draper and Mary (65) only have unmarried daughter Sarah A (33) a milliner and, presumably, her daughter Mable [sic] at home in the High Street.

William died on October 20th 1887 aged 67 years and is buried in the churchyard (perhaps because there was nowhere else locally at this time) and his gravestone still stands there. By 1891 Mary aged 75 is running the draper’s shop with daughters Sarah A (43) and Louisa (30) her shopwomen.

In 1896 her brother, William Weekley Ball died in Ramsey.  Mary’s son, John Bull, was one of the executors of William’s will and Mary one of the main beneficiaries. But she too died early in 1897 so presumably it was her children who received the benefit.


Brief details of children of Mary and William Bull

1. John Bull (Abt 1845 – 1851)

Details to be confirmed

2. Sarah Ann Bull (Abt1846 – 1929 tbc)

Sarah Ann seemed set to have been one of those women who stayed at home and looked after her parents and then helped her brother, John. In 1881 she was with her parents and working as a milliner perhaps for her father’s shop. With the family is Mabel, daughter of John and Martha Jane. By 1891 her father has died and Sarah Ann now 43 and her siste Louisa (30) are helping their widowed mother Mary, now 75 years old in the drapers shop in the Ringstead High Street.

On 10th February 1898, however, at Upper Holloway Baptist Church, aged 49, she married John Thomas Knight some four years her junior. Her brother Andrew had lived in this area of London but had died two years earlier. His widow Kate, however, was still living there and I guess that is how the wedding was arranged. Many in the Bull family were involved in the local Baptist Church, Liberal Party and Temperance Society and the Northampton Mercury reported on 1st February 1895 that on the previous Tuesday, at the annual tea and meeting of the Temperance Society, that Miss S. Ball had been elected a collector and Mr. J. T. Knight had been elected secretary. It seems likely that Sarah and John had met at the various worthy activities of the village.

By 1901 we see the couple back in Ringstead, living at 4 Chapel Road. John Thomas Knight, now 47, is a grazier who was born in Ringstead. Living with them are John’s widowed mother Jane Knight (82) and Sarah’s sister Eliza Mary Bull (42). By 1911 John (57) and Sarah Ann (64) are now alone, living at “Sunnydene” their seven room house in Ringstead.

Sarah probably died in January 1929.

3. Eliza Mary Bull (Jul – Sep 1849 R – Oct - Dec 1851R tbc)

4. George Bull (Abt 1850 - 1875 tbc)

George was born in Ringstead in about 1851. He moved to Leicester where he was boarding in the 1881 Census and working as a tailor. He still went back to Ringstead and it is from this we learn of an earlier affair.

The Wellingborough News for 24th February 1883 reported on a case in the Thrapston Police Court where Rebecca had claimed against G. Bull of Leicester for the upkeep of her illegitimate child, Percy Roberts, who was born on 2nd October 1880. George Bull had paid 2s 6d a week but had stopped paying in the previous September. Perhaps he had gone to Leicester to get away from Rebecca. He had obviously considered it ‘hush money’ but Rebecca, like her mother, was a feisty woman. Mr. Rawlins, the defending counsel, contended that the:

. . . complainant publicly insulted the defendant at Ringstead Feast, and had also written him abusive letters. Mr Rawlins also asked for a reduction in the sum paid, as his client was unable to continue payments of 2s. 6d.The Bench made an order for the defendant to contribute 2s per week toward the support of the child with the ordinary costs, 16s. 6d.

Rebecca married local shoemaker, Luther Mayes and around 1883 George married Ellen, some four years his junior, who was born in Birmingham [This could be Ellen Cose who married a George Bull in April – June 1881 in Aston in Birmingham. In the 1911 Census they said had been married 28 years but if this is the correct marriage would probably be 29.] They had five children, one of whom had died before 1911. George like his father remained a tailor and seems to have stayed in Leicester all his life. He possibly died in 1925, aged 75.

5. Andrew Bull (Abt 1852 - ?)

Andrew  was born in about 1852 in Ringstead. Like his brother, George he left home and by 1871, aged 19, is lodging with his boss, Isaac Smith, a butcher and farmer at Church Hill, Geddington in Northamptonshire. Perhaps Andrew’s choice of career as a butcher was influenced by his mother’s brothers, John and William Weekley Ball. By the 1881 Census, aged 27 he is a butcher but now a visitor with Isaac and Elizabeth Freestone sat 4 Bushey Hill, Camberwell in Lambeth, London. Isaac, a cabinet manufacturer, was born in Geddington so it must be that there is some connection.

It seems that Andrew was staying with the Freestones while he established himself in the London area  for he married Kate (probably Kate Adams July – September 1883 in the Holborn District) and by 1891 the couple are living at 9 Fairmead Road in North Islington on London. Andrew is still a butcher and the couple have no children but a niece, Minnie Adams  (14) is staying with them. We see that Kate and Minnie were both born in Heath in Bedfordshire.

Andrew died on 9th April 1896 at 14 Fairmead Road in Upper Holloway and probate was granted to his widow, Kate. The effects were £233. By coincidence, underneath Andrew in the National Probate Calendar is another Andrew Bull, a baker in Ringstead who died on 26th June 1886.

In 1901 Kate (46) is a widow “living on her own means” at 14 Fairmead Road, Islington.  Boarding with her are two men, one from Bradford in Yorkshire and the other is Ernest Smith (41), a company clerk born in Ringstead.. In 1911 William Smith, still a company clerk for a railway company is staying with Minnie Sharrow (who was Minnie Adams, niece of Kate) and her husband Frederick at 15 Tytherton Road, Upper Holloway. I have not found Kate again.



6. John Bull (Abt1854 – 1945 tbc)

John Bull is the son who seems to have carried on his father’s business in Ringstead. In the 1871 Census he is a ”tailor’s son”, with his brother George but by 1881 older brother George, perhaps because of his affair and illegitimate son has left and John, at 27 years old, is in High Street, a tailor employing one boy. He has married Martha Jane but as yet I have not found the marriage. They have two children Ernest R (1) and Ethel E., who is just three months old. The oldest child Mabel, who is 2 is staying with her grandparents William and Mary Bull, presumably to help Martha cope with her new baby. Next door is Andrew Bull (54) and family who have the bakery. John is still a tailor in the Ringstead High street in 1891 and now we have children Mabel A (12), Ernest R. (11), Ethel E. (10), and Frank Stanley (6).

Martha Jane died on 4th July 1895 aged just 44 and by 1901 at 5 High Street, John, aged 46, has taken over from his father who had died in 1887 and is a “Draper and Outfitter”. His son, E. Ross {Ernest], is at 21 a butcher on his own account and Ethel Emily (20) is still at home. Ther is also another child Kathleen Mary who is nine years old. John’s sister Louisa Bull, (appears to say 38) helps in the drapery shop.

John’s uncle, John Ball died in 1894 and his mother’s other brother, William Weekley Ball, died in Ramsey in 1896 and John was one of the executors of his Will. Mary Bull (nee Ball), his mother, died soon after in early 1897. John had become the head of the local family. 

By 1911 John is 57 and a tailor still. His unmarried daughter Emily (30) is acting as his housekeep and youngest daughter, also single Kathleen is an Assistant Teacher for the County Council. John’s unmarried sisters are also living with him. (Eliza) Mary at 55 has “private means” and Louise (53) assists with his business.

I think that John did not die until 1945.


7. Eliza Mary Bull (Abt1856 – 1938 tbc)

The second Eliza Mary was born in about 1856 in Ringstead. In 1861 and 1871 she is living with her family in the drapers, tailors and grocery shop of her parents. In 1871 although 15 she is still shown as a scholar which would have been unusual at the time.

I have not found Eliza in 1881 or 1891 but in 1901 aged apparently 42 she is staying with her sister Sarah Ann and her husband John Thomas Knight at No. 4 Chapel Road, Ringstead. Ten years later she is the Mary Ball, 55 who has private means and is living with her widowed brother John, his unmarried daughters and her unmarried sister Louisa (53).

I think that Eliza probably died in September 1939.

8. Louisa Bull (Abt1859 – 1927 tbc)

Louisa was born in about 1859 and is with her parents and family in 1861 and 1871

By 1881 she is at 5 Buckingham Terrace (off Springfield Road) in Edmonton, London. She is a visitor with John Edwards (63), a carpenter, born in Willoughby in Warwickshire and his wife Eliza (67)  born in Ringstead. There is also their grandson Horace Abington (3) born in Cheshunt in Hertfordshire.  It seems likely that Sarah was also related to the Ringstead Abingtons descendants of the Baptist minister Leonard Abington.

By 1891 she is with her widowed mother Mary (75) and her sister Sarah Ann, helping in the family draper’s shop in the Ringstead High Street. By 1901 she is probably at the same address, 5 High Street, now with her brother John and his children and is an assistant draper in his drapery and outfitters shop. She is shown as 38 but is nearer 42 years old. In 1911, aged 53, she is still living with John and his two unmarried daughters and assisting him with his tailoring business.

She probably died in September 1927.



2. William Weekley Ball (1818 -1896)  

         (1) Hannah Wilson          -        William Weekley Ball    –   (2) Catherine Cattling (nee Littleford) (Abt1812 T. Achurch– 1874 Ram.) (Abt1818 R – 1896 Ram.)  (Abt1830 Birmingham – 1899 Ram.) 

It appears that William had no children with Hannah or Catherine

It is with some reluctance that I set down the history of William Weekley Ball. I have tried in these brief biographies 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. (This was in the pre-internet days of long ago).. 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 reveals 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. Ann was some 34 years old and William 42 when her first child, Mary, was born. At the birth of Henry, their last born child who did not survive childhood, she was about forty-three years old.

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 based mainly on rank and years of trouble-free service. 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. [I have given a tentative biography of him in another chapter].

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 (i.e. mother’s brother). 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.

Soon after the first Census, on July 8th 1841 William married Hannah Wilson who was a domestic servant, born in Thorpe Achurch. She was the daughter of Josiah Wilson, a sawyer. (Her sister  Rebecca married William’s brother John in early 1843.)

Of course something tragic had happened some nine months before the 1851 Census was collected. The story that 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, who is also given the rounded age of 15, and her mother, another 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 retrospective description of Lydia given in the February 29th 1864 edition of the Eastern Counties Gazette when William was brought to trial. It states 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 lawyers’ 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 was a strange travesty of a map which is impossible to reconcile with the local geography. Within the last few years 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.

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. He denies that he ‘had improper intimacy with Lydia’, who was his wife’s sister.

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.

As part of his evidence, 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 trial, that he had been 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 replied, ‘No.’

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 printed ballad was 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



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



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. The Northampton Mercury of the Saturday 6 September 1851 throws some light on William's leaving of Ringstead for Ramsey. It tells of the 29 August Petty Sessions where Thomas Dunmore, a tailor from Ringstead [this may be the journeyman tailor employed by William Bull who was married to William Weekley Ball’s sister, Mary] complained of an assault by William Peacock on 22nd July. It reports:

. . . Mr Ball, a butcher of Ringstead, was removing his household goods and furniture from thence; that a large concourse of persons followed the waggon to a considerable distance, insisting on Ball giving some account of the girl who was so mysteriously missing, before he left town. Whereupon the complainant, fearing the ropes of the waggon would be cut and the furniture injured, went up as a friend of Balls to protect him and his goods, when the defendant immediately struck him on the head with his fist. Fined 5s and costs £1. 8s. 6d.

We see that William had to face the angry crowds as he left but we also see that he had some friends who stood by him. It was almost exactly a year after the disappearance of Lydia that William, too, left Ringstead.

By 1855 was established as a butcher in Ramsey. He appears in Kelly’s Directory of Huntingdonshire for 1854 as ‘Ball, William Butcher’.  Back in Ringstead, however, the case had not gone cold and in 1859 the Northampton mercury of 2nd and 9th April reported that on March 24th that “a skeleton, with the head placed between the legs, had been found by some men when ploughing Mr Passmore's field in Little Addington”. It reports that the spot where it was discovered was about a mile from Ringstead and it was shallowly buried in a field that had not been ploughed for some years. The link to the disappearance of Lydia Hetley [sic] and William Wheatley [sic] Ball is made and it reports that, “the discovery has caused quite an excitement in the locality”. 

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, 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 20th:

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 was 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

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 were 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 details 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.


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 dark, uncomfortable places to live in 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 nephew, Joseph Ball, and Edward Smith the husband of his brother, 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?

For References see various articles on website or in books


 3 John Ball (Abt1821 R – 1894 R)

      (1) Rebecca Wilson            -         John Ball             -          (2) Jedidah Abington

           Abt 1820 T. Achurch  – 1881 R            Abt1821 R -1894 R            Abt 1837 – 1914 R    

Children of John and Rebecca

 Hannah (Abt1845 R – 189? Lewisham?)                Joseph  (Abt 1849 R - ? Canada)

Because they are rarely seen with their parents Hannah especially, is mistakenly put in some trees as the Hannah from another Ball line in Ringstead

John Ball was baptised in Ringstead Church on 4th February 1821. I cannot find John in the 1841 Census around Ringstead but there is a john Ball aged 20 (rounded age) who is a manservant at West Haddon with a grazier called William Lovell. It must remain just a possibility. There is a John Ball of the correct age in Ringstead staying with John and Sarah Cheney but I believe that this John is the son of John and Sarah Ball (Sarah married John Cheney after her husband’s death in 1821).

The couple married in the Thrapston District in Jan – Mar 1843 and Rebecca (Rebekah) Wilson was probably a servant in Thrapston in the 1841 Census.  Rebecca was the sisiter of Hannah Wilson who had earlier married John’s brother, William Weekley Ball.

John and Rebecca were Baptists and there are no christenings for their children. In 1851 John is a shepherd aged 30 and Rebecca is 31. There is a son, Joseph aged 2 and also John’s parents William (78) a Greenwich Pensioner and mother Ann (70). Also living with them are Rebecca’s siblings Samuel (33) and Emma (15) Wilson.

By 1861 John is 40 and now a butcher. Has he taken over his brother’s business?  Living with John and Rebecca are their son Joseph (12) and Hannah (wife of William who is in Ramsey) and niece , Margaret Wilson (5).

By 1871 John Ball is living in Shop Street, with his wife Rebecca and granddaughter, Florence E Smith. He is still a butcher but is also a farmer of 43 acres and has a labourer working for him. The troubles of the fifties and sixties, when his brother William had brought scandal to the family with his accusation and finally acquittal of the murder of his pregnant mistress Lydia Attley, are now in the past. John’s wife, Rebecca being the sister of William Weekley Ball’s wife, Hannah, must have made it a difficult time for the whole family. But William now lives and prospers as a butcher in Ramsey in Huntingdonshire and John too is doing well.

By 1881 John Ball is still living with Rebecca but she is shown as an invalid and there is a live-in nurse, Sarah Hackney, as well as a servant, Louisa Truelove. In the few months following the Census Rebecca died aged 62 years. It is not proven but it may be that Rebecca was often in poor health and this might explain why her children rarely seem at home but from a young age appear to be living mainly with their uncle and aunt in Ramsey.

A younger woman called jedidah (or Edidah or Louisa) Abington, the daughter of Herbert the grocer and chemist and granddaughter of  the former Baptist Minister had returned to Ringstead. In 1879 Kezia Abington, Jedidah’s mother had died, but it may be that she has already moved back to look after her two sickly brothers’ last years as well as her ageing father.

John’s grieving was not long for that same autumn, he married ‘Edidah’ Louisa Abington. Her father died a few years later in 1884. It seems that the newlyweds settled down for a comfortable retirement together. An advertisement in the Wellingborough News on 4th October 1884 gives notice of an auction on the Wednesday 15th ‘. . .upon the Premises at Ringstead, the property of Mr John Ball, who is giving up his land.’ The sale gives some idea of what a small farm would have looked like. It lists:

SHEEP – 30 half-bred two-shear down ewes, 13 theaves, 42 lambs.

BEAST – Three cows in-calf in-profit, I barren cow, ditto heifer, 1 heifer in-calf, 1 21/2 year-old steer and 2 calves.

HORSES- Two active powerful cart mares.

IMPLEMENTS – Two Scotch carts, 1 cart, 1 narrow-wheel wagon, 2 ploughs, 2 set iron harrows (Page), Scuffler, 5-coulter drill, horse hoe, 12 doz hurdles, 10 sheep troughs, 2 turnip mills, cake mill, etc etc.

We see the end of one of the small farmer-butchers who were a feature of many villages. In 1891 John and Jedidah are still living together in High Street in Ringstead.

The Register for the Ringstead Cemetery shows the death of John Ball on the 26thNovember 1894 aged 75 and the burial some two days later. The service was conducted by the Baptist Minister, the Reverend J. Bates and under the heading ‘Trade’ he is classified simply as ‘Gentleman’. On the same solid, respectable grave it also remembers ‘Louisa, Jedidah Ball, beloved wife of the above who died on 24th July 1914 aged 77 years’. There is no sign of Rebecca. The Baptist Minister again took the service.

The two Wilson sisters who married John and William Ball were not productive by nineteenth century standards. Rebecca had two children, Hannah and Joseph and her sister, Hannah, had no children as far as we can tell. Such things are not uncommon but one senses that there is somewhere, perhaps other unrecorded sadnesses.

If you walk down the cemetery toward the road from the fine headstone of John Ball and Louisa Jedidah (as she now finally is) you come to the grave of Benjamin Lovell and Mary Jane, his beloved wife. At the bottom of the gravestone it also remembers Louisa Jedidah Ball. Mary Jane was Jedidah’s sister, who she is shown living next door to, in the 1901 Census. Benjamin Lovell died a few months after Jedidah and Mary Jane died some 7 years after, in 1921. Who wanted her remembered again?


For References see chapter in Ringstead People Book 1 or on website



Children of John and Rebecca

1 Hannah Ball (1845 R – 189? Lewisham?)

Hannah was born in Jan – March 1845 in the Thrapston District. By 1851 she is aged 6 and staying with the Uncle William Na Aunt Hannah in Ringstead. The furore after the disappearance of Lydia Attley and William’s alleged implication makes it a surprising household to have a young girl staying. The following year William and Hannah were forced by local opinion to leave Ringstead by cart for Ramsey in Huntingdonshire, about 25 miles to the east.

In 1861 she is called Anne Ball (aged 16) still staying with William and Hannah, now in Ramsey. She seems to have preferred to be called Anne or Annie perhaps to differentiate herself from her aunt. Hannah, William’s wife, is staying in Ringstead with her sister and John Ball. This may all be the coincidences of the day of the Census but one senses that there may be more to it.

On 29th April 1868, aged 23, she married Edwin Smith, son of Nathaniel, an engineer who was born in Stamford in Lincolnshire but moved with his father and family to Thrapston in 1853. They were married in Ringstead Baptist Church by licence and Hannah’s father is shown as John Ball, butcher. Did this mean that Hannah (Annie) did spend much of her life in Ringstead or had Edwin met her in Ramsey or St Ives market where William Ball was a regular visitor.  The Smith family had an extensive foundry, engineering and implement making business in Denford Road Thrapston, near the Union Workhouse.

In the 1881 Census Edwin and Annie are living at 20 Bridge Street in Thrapston with their seven children and a young domestic servant. The children are: Florence R. (12), Ellen A. (9), Edwin (7), Mildred E. (5), Maud F. (5), Hilda M. (3) and Wilfred S. (10 months). As we can see Annie had had little rest from childbearing, including twins. Next door at No. 19 is Edwin’s father Nathaniel (67) born in Kettering and at No. 18 his brother George (29).

As Nathaniel had left the family firm in Stamford and moved to Thrapston to set up business there so we find in 1891 that Edwin has moved with his family to “Chaseley”, Chestnut Road, Norwood, Lambeth in London. Edwin is still and engineer and ironfounder. There has been one further child born, Dorothy E., who is 4. She was born in Norwood so we know that they have been there since at least 1887.

Annie (Hannah) died some time before the next Census and Edwin remarried and is living at 43 Kirkdale, Lewisham in the 1901 Census with his new wife Emily. In the 1911 Census where the are living at 47 Sillwood Road in Brighton they have piut that they have been married 16years which means that Hannah must have died before 1895. Edwin Smith (64) is still an engineer and iron founder and he and his wife Emily Crawford Smith, have three servants; a cook, a lady’s maid and a housemaid. Edwin’s married daughter Florence Rebecca Barthorpe (42) is also staying with them. The house has 10 rooms and Edwin and Emily seem to be living very well.


2 Joseph Ball  (1849 –1920)

Joseph was born in about 1849 although, as a Baptist, he was not christened. Also, from 1837 every birth marriage and death had had to be registered with the local Registrar so that infant christening in the parish church became a less important part of village life.

After four years of marriage between John and Rebecca, Hannah was born and Joseph arrived some four years later. There was not going to be another child. A little over a year later the world of the Ball family explodes. William’s pregnant mistress Lydia Attley was allegedly heard accusing William of wanting to kill her and promptly disappears. John and Rebecca must have been caught up in all the accusations and hate directed against his brother who is forced to leave the village. Nevertheless, life seems to carry on and in 1851 and 1861 the family are there in the butchery business with various nephews and nieces staying with them.

By 1871 the lives of the family have taken a new turn. John seems to be prospering being described as a butcher and farmer of 43 acres employing one man. There is however no sign of Joseph and we finally locate him living with his Uncle William and Aunt Hannah and two Wilson nieces in Ramsey in Huntingdonshire, some twenty five miles away. William has been acquitted of the murder of Lydia, the case collapsing some seven years earlier. Joseph is described as a butcher’s assistant. One would have expected him to have worked with his father ready to take over the business when the time came. Perhaps, with William and Hannah being childless, it was intended that Joseph should inherit the business. It is a strange fact that the younger Hannah never appears in a Census with her parents, and at six and sixteen she is with William and Hannah. Joseph is only with his parents in one Census (1851) as a young child.

By the 1881 Census the plan, if such it is, appears to be working because now Joseph is running the butcher’s business in the Great Whyte, Ramsey and William has moved to the High Street and is a farmer of 17 acres. William is now 65 years old and living with his new wife Catherine, some 13 years his junior. Shortly after the Census Joseph’s mother Rebecca dies and by the end of the years John has married Jedidah Louisa Abington (some sixteen years his junior).

Joseph is now married with five children. His wife is some twelve years younger than he is and when we look at the children we see that Harry Arthur Ball is eight years old which means that Joseph’s wife, Annie Judith, would have been twelve at his birth. It is possible but seems unlikely. On searching the Marriage Register we find that Joseph married Mary Elizabeth Housden in 1872 but she died on the 30th December 1878, aged just twenty five years, having given birth to four children in five years. He remarried to Judith Ann Sewell a local publican’s daughter in 1880. She was already pregnant with Joseph’s fifth child Sidney.

It had been a frantic few years and as the local paper, the Peterborough Advertiser of the 15thNovember 1879 reported, he had also been knocked off his horse on the road between Bury and Warboys in Huntingdonshire. Poor Joseph, returning slowly home, along the roadside, from Warboys, ‘his horse having got some wheat’, a Mr Edward Samworth rode straight into him. Mr Samworth had to be pulled by Joseph from under his horse which shortly ‘expired’. The paper reported that Joseph was shaken and ‘is suffering a good deal from the culpable and rash conduct of the other horseman’.

There is another item which was published in the Peterborough Advertiser on 27th December 1879 which gives an insight into a part of Joseph’s life that later was to prove important.

Midnight minstrelry. The trained brass band under the able conductorship of Mr. Joseph Ball favoured the townspeople with some excellent music at midnight on Christmas Eve. Another body also paraded the streets, singing at several houses in the town.

It seems that after the domestic turmoil of his father and uncle, as well as his own problems, he was settled. He has a business with an assistant. There is also a general servant to help his young wife.

We never see Joseph or his family on an English Census again. The next time we find him is in October 1883 and he has just disembarked from the SS Samaria, in Boston Massachusetts, having travelled from Liverpool via Queenstown in Ireland, a voyage of some ten days. The Samaria was made of iron with one funnel but also had two masts rigged for sail. There was a capacity for 130 first passengers and 800 third class passengers. Her last sailing to Boston was on 30th January 1896 and she was scrapped some six years later. The passenger list states that Joseph is in transit to Canada. Surprisingly he describes himself as a ‘spinner’ but there can be no mistaking the family even though the ages are somewhat astray. With Joseph there is his wife Annie, aged 25 and children, Henry aged 9, William 7, Gertrude 4, Fred 3 and Sidney 2. They have six pieces of baggage and are in ‘Intermediate’ class. This was ‘quite separate from steerage and with superior accommodation and dietary scale’, although ‘very inferior to saloon.’

This was a time when many were leaving Britain, especially to Canada and the United States, or Australia and New Zealand. The population of Great Britain has been estimated at about 30 million by 1881 and of England and Wales at 26 million. The emigration figure for Great Britain for 1882 was about 29,000 so a little less than one percent of the population was leaving these shores every ten years. Emigrants' Guides were produced by Pitt and Scott who were passenger agents. These contained letters extolling the new land, ‘for those willing to work’, and gave practical advice on what to bring to their new lives. The emigrants were also given cautionary advice. John Hale writes from Manitoba, ‘A man who drinks heavily is worse off there than at home’ and, ‘working men and their families must expect a little rough life for a few months until they get properly settled down’.

By 21st May1891 his family were established in the St George’s ward of Toronto in Ontario, Canada. Joseph was now forty-two years old and a ‘piano tuner and musician’. His son Harry aged 18 is a confectioner and John, 16 is a fur cutter. They are all put down as Church of England. Their neighbours are tradesmen, railwaymen, servants and machinists and, immediately next door, is an Irish hotel keeper and his family.

Toronto had a mix of faiths and backgrounds with Evangelical Baptists and Irish Roman Catholics. There were some 22 riots or near riots between Catholics and Protestants of Irish origin between 1867 and 1892. It was on Lake Ontario and raw materials and people came by ship to the waterfront but the coming of the railway in 1855 and its development over the next half century turned it into a railway centre and, by 1891, into a rapidly developing large industrial city. In 1861 horse-drawn street cars first appeared and they were electrified in the 1890s. Telephone and electric lights in homes and businesses as well as on the streets arrived in the 1880s. Modern flush toilets came at the end of the century and the first skyscrapers, at first a modest seven storey Board of Trade building in 1889, were built.

This was the noisy bustling city that Joseph and his family came to. It is therefore even more of a surprise to find he was neither butcher nor spinner or in one of the new industries. We have seen that Joseph had an interest in music and in his new life he became musician and piano tuner. What type of music did he play? Was he a classical musician in a local concert hall or did he earn a living in the Music Hall or even on the street corner? Of course we must not forget that pianos had their heyday in the Victorian era and most homes aspired to have an upright piano in the parlour. In a sense piano-tuning was part of a new industry.

In the Western Ontario Gazetteer and Directory for 1898 -99 there is listed a “Joseph Ball, Music and Musical Instruments” with premises at 307 Yonge Street in Toronto. It seems likely that this is our Joseph and at least part of his income was from the selling of sheet music and instruments.

By 1901 he was living in the centre of Toronto and, aged 52, he is just described as ‘musician’. Annie, his wife is 40 and is not working. All the children except Sidney have gone and he is 20 and also described as a musician. Over the next years the children marry in Toronto and have children of their own. Harry marries in 1895 and is shown with his family in 1901. His job is given as an Auto Inspector Maker although I suspect this may be a mistranscription. His mother is given as Elizabeth. Frederick Gilbert marries in 1897. Sydney, the youngest marries in 1906 and his mother is given as Judith Annie Jewell  and his middle name is recorded as Venimore.  Looking back at Ramsey we find that the local MP is a certain Venimore Sewell. It may be just coincidence but Judith Annie’s maiden name was Sewell. It looks as if Venimore in Frederick’s name was allusion to his mother’s family.

Joseph and Annie had appeared in the 1911 Toronto Census giving their address as 258 Augusta. He was now 62 and still a musician. Joseph died on 6th July 1920 aged 71. The primary cause of death was heart disease exacerbated by dropsy. He was living with Annie at 68 Caroline Avenue, in York, Toronto a the tome of his death.  Annie J Ball died, some three years later, on 9 April 1923. All around their deaths you can see marriages of grandchildren. It is in the New World that the descendants of John and vicariously of William Weekley, bearing the Ball name, now live. The notoriety and tragedy of the Ringstead butcher is now long forgotten. Perhaps that was what Joseph and Annie Judith wanted when they took the brave step of making a new life for themselves.

For References see chapter in Ringstead People or on website











William Mitchell (c 1800 - c1863) and other PAPERMAKERS

William Mitchell (c 1800 - c1863) and Other Papermakers 

This biography started out as the story of papermaker, William Mitchell, but like others before me, I soon became embroiled in the complex history of the various mills along the Nene boundary of the Ringstead Parish. The 1835 and 1871 Ordnance Survey maps show on the Nene, working from the south, a mill at Cotton near the station, a Paper Mill due west of Ringstead, and Woodford Mill between Woodford and Denford. There is also a windmill SSW of Ringstead in Ringstead Field.

So far, all is reasonably clear but the mills are, at times, called by the same name and tenants come and go, sometimes hopping from one mill to the other. Finally the usages of the mills also changes. So what started out as a brief history of a man has become also a short and rather confused history of two of the mills

Woodford Bottom Mill also known as Allen's Mill was used in the nineteenth century by the Hill family until about 1863 when Samuel Allen took over the premises. This was later demolished and as it is not, even in part, in the Ringstead parish it has been omitted from the story.

Woodford Upper Mill is the same as Willy Watt Mill which is also sometimes called Willett’s Mill, Ringstead Mill and it is still there. This must be the Paper Mill on the maps (by the position). Although it is in Woodford parish some to the millrace is in Ringstead Parish and it is nearer to Ringstead village than Woodford. 

Finally there is Cotton Mill (or also Ringstead Mill) which was also used for paper production.

To avoid confusion I will use the names Willy Watt Mill and Cotton Mill wherever possible 


My first sight the water mills of Ringstead came from a strange source. The website The Exeter Working Papers in Book History lists historical insurance policies taken out by people in the book and paper trade. There are three references to a Francis Tidbury. One for 1782 for £600 has the address as “Willett Mill, Ringstead –papermaker. Also Miller”. 1783 is similar but for only £400 but 1785/6 is for £1700 and has the address as Cotton House. This poses questions to be answered. Did he mill corn and make paper in the same mill, perhaps according to the time of year or did he have two mills. Also did he move in 1784 to new larger premises or did he invest in new machinery?

Googling idly, seeing if I could find anything on Cotton Paper Mill I came across a site which had extracts from a book on Jane Austen’s letters It lists the watermarks on letters written by one of England’s most famous novelists who would have been writing in the last decade of the eighteenth century and the first two of the nineteenth. It includes in the list:

            John Hall, Cotton Mill, Ringstead, Northamptonshire 

It seems that Ringstead was producing good quality writing paper which was sold to clients far away from Northamptonshire. Perhaps we need to revise our preconception of a little cottage industry in a backwater of the Nene. It may help if we first we look very briefly at the craft of papermaking and its gradual but accelerating industrialisation during this time. 

Paper is a commodity that we now take for granted. With newspapers, magazines, computer printouts, books, advertising leaflets, bags, wrapping paper, bills letters, envelopes, banknotes, till receipts, wallpaper, toilet and kitchen rolls, disposable nappies etc etc etc we now use more paper in a week than our ancestors would use in a lifetime. When we remember how John Clare, the Northamptonshire poet, had to use scraps of paper such as the backs of bills or envelope in order to write we see how the access to paper has changed. For many centuries and well into the nineteenth century paper was made almost entirely from rags and it was the speeding up of the process of pulverising these rags by mechanisation that first changed the trade. Also high taxation on paper and even higher duty on imported paper kept its product out of the reach of ordinary people but these were gradually relaxed and finally abolished. It was only as the century progressed that paper could be produced on continuous paper rolls so it was for many years labour-intensive.

In 1800 there were a little over 400 paper mills licensed by the Excise authorities, mostly driven by waterpower and small in scale. These mills took in rags and originally the colour of the rags determined the colour of the paper. Until the beginning of the nineteenth century the only bleaching was by sunlight and by sprinkling with sour milk. One can only imagine the smell. They were steeped in water for weeks and then pulverised by a machine called a “Hollander” before being laid onto wire screens and then put to dry into sheets of paper. This was a slow process taking some three months between the rags arriving at the mill and the finished paper leaving it The rags had to be sorted and graded which was an unpleasant job because different rags gave different grades of paper and a mixture would  end up uneven and blobby. Also at first only white rags produced white paper. 

The paper was made by a man dipping an oblong, divided, wooden frame with a fine wire screen backing into a tub of pulverised fibre and water. He would swish it around and take it out so that he had left a thin layer of fibres laid on the screen. The mixture in the tub would get thinner so he had to adjust accordingly. The size of the paper was limited by the distance a man's arms could stretch. In 1816 it was calculated that it was a day’s work for three men to make 4000 small sheets of paper. This was after all the initial processing of the fibres. The amount of paper produced in the United Kingdom increased nearly five times in the forty years after 1820 and quicker mechanised paper production, printing and transport made it become affordable to an ever increasing circle of society. 

Of course, as in many industries, the industrialisation and cheaper prices tended to concentrate production into larger factories and the smaller mills, such as those at Ringstead, struggled to survive. The new railways could bring cheap, good quality paper to the village, whether blue for the grocers to wrap the sugar in or white for the letters to go by the penny post.

When we look in more detail at the mills along the Nene we find that there was a history of paper making which lasted at least a century. As I have said, we shall have to consider both mills in order to get a clear idea of how the story unfolded for William.

Looking at Willy Watt first, there has been a mill on the site for over a thousand years. In the Domesday Book it states that (in translation)

                In WOODFORD Roger holds 7 hides from the Abbot.

                Land for 12 ploughs. In lordship 2½ ploughs; 4 slaves 

                12 villagers, 3 smallholders and 12 Freemen with 9½ ploughs.

                A mill at 2s; meadow 20 acres ……….

It was used for fulling cloth in the early eighteenth century. Before the Hollander was invented for mashing up the cloth for paper manufacture a system of water operated wooden hammers were used and it would not be difficult to alter the fulling hammers for this process. A little earlier, in 1742, Henry Shuttleworth had married Catherine Bletsoe. She was the only child of Charles Bletsoe of Great Bowden. By the marriage, the couple had six water mills and one windmill (probably at Ringstead).

It was in 1765 that Francis Tidbury, who we first met via the internet obtaining his insurance, started making paper. He was married to Susanna and there is a floor slab in the tower of Ringstead Parish Church which has the epitaph:

In memory of SUSSANNA TIDBURY wife of FRANCIS TIDBURY who departed this life Nov’r ye 2d 1791. Aged 52 years

Francis remarried Keziah Loveday (Loveden in the record) on 4th April 1793. Unlike most of the tenants of the mills, Francis was a well-to-do man who also owned a mill at Southwick. He lived in Cotton House and, at his death, in 1814, his estate was estimated as worth £3,500.

His widow Keziah Tidbury, took over Willy Watt but within two years she was bankrupt and one son became a baker in Raunds and another a farm labourer in Woodford. This was not the last time that comparatively well-off families were brought low by the mills. Then James Fernelly (various spellings) took over the mill for paper production.

The earlier history of Cotton or Ringstead Mill is not yet so clear and it is not until 1814 that I have found the name of a tenant, although we do know that the Shuttleworths owned both mills from the middle of the previous century.

We have mentioned John Hall of Cotton Mill whose paper was used by Jane Austen. The Morgan Library and Museum in the USA has a collection of 51 of the surviving 160 Jane Austen letters (it is estimated that she wrote some 3000). It has put online the watermarks of the paper used and they have John Hall and also have the date of 1814 as part of the mark. Whether this was the date that he started business in Cotton Mill or if he changed his mark each year, I am not certain. It does show, however, that he was making paper in Cotton Mill at this date.

The next glimpse of a tenant comes from a number of bills and letters that have been preserved which relate to the repairs carried out and not paid for at "Mrs. Bull's Mill" in 1829. In one of the bills it also refers to it as "Ringstead Paper Mill" The letters involve a John Fisher of Woodford, who appears to be the brother of Sarah Bull, for he pleads on her behalf to the agent of Mr Shuttleworth, the owner, not to expect her to pay the cost of some other associated repairs. I have tried to transcribe it as faithfully as possible.


The consult [import?] of my letter his to in form you that i have paid George Willson one pound in account on the 17th of October has he was so bad in wants of the money 

He continues later in the letter

I ham showing you the diferent expence i consider it will be verry hard for my sister to pay in [?] to the whole amount. i shall take it a faviour if you will do what you can for my sister. i hope Mr Shuttleworth will be at the expence of a new [pit?] well has the hold one will not last long.

The repairs carried out must have been quite extensive because the bill came to £127.13s.11d and included bricks, lime, wood and iron and oak, as well as the services of a mason, millwright, plumber, blacksmith and sawyer. There also appears an amount of £2 16s for beer from Mrs Allen and five shillings to repay him because he, "Gave men drink by way of encouragement."

John Fisher seems to have acted as the building supervisor for his sister and the slow payment by Shuttleworth gave him some difficulty. The millwrights sent him a threatening letter on 27th November 1829.


As our money is been due this 3 months wee think it is time it was paid and as you was our employer wee shall look to you to pay us. If you don't pay us or cause us to be paid between now and next Friday wee must see further about it As we had plenty of trouble About it

Geo. John and Wm. Wilson

The years from 1829 to 1841 produce a large amount of documentary evidence, which although still sometimes confusing, does begin to give us some picture of the two mills. It is here that we first encounter William Mitchell, whose paper making activities straddled both mills but apparently, with no more success than most other tenants.

On 12th July 1840 William Mitchell wrote and signed a "Declaration", although the language suggests that it was drawn up by a solicitor or J.P.. it was probably made to help the Shuttleworth family prove ownership ready for the Enclosure of Ringstead when all the parish was surveyed and allocated to specific individuals (and, more directly, for a sale to George Capron who bought up much of the land in the area).

In this Declaration, William states that he hired, of Nathaniel Shuttleworth, Willy Watt Mill from midsummer 1830 until midsummer 1834. He also records that it had previously been hired by Francis Tidbury and, on his death, by his widow Keziah Tidbury (although she may have had "undertenants"). James Fernley (Fernelly) then took it over. All had used it as a paper mill. After William quitted in 1834 it was lived in by Henry Shuttleworth Bellamy for a year before being succeeded by George Ivens, although the rent was paid by his brother William who farmed some adjacent land.

At about this time (1835-6) part of Willy Watt was turned into a bone mill. These mills were used to render down the bones from local slaughterhouses (and perhaps whale bones from the blubber factory in Kings Lynn). The bones were boiled down to make them brittle and to remove the fat, which was used as grease on carts etc. They were then broken into small pieces by hand, or by feeding them through a toothed cylinder. Finally they were ground into a fine powder by millstones powered by the water wheel. At Narborough Bone Mill, in Norfolk, human bones from cemeteries in Hamburg in Germany were shipped to Kings Lynn for use in the Mill. I am not sure if any came up the Nene to Ringstead. The fine bonemeal was, and still is, a valuable fertilizer but perhaps the cycle is not so complete.

In the month following William Mitchell's Declaration, George Ivens drowned in the Nene while looking for his brother's horse. He left a wife and eight children. The Nene, even more than today often claimed victims both from accidental drownings and from suicides. In the story of John Ball, the quarry workman, Bill Warren told of the barn in Denford where the bodies were taken on hurdles when found in the Nene. A son of one of the Twentieth Century owners of Willy Watt Mill tells that in the 1930s, during the Depression years, that, on his way to school in the mornings, he would look out for bodies washed down the river. He got 7s 6d for every body that he reported to the police.

After George Ivens' tragic death, John Smith, a coal and timber merchant from Northampton, took over the lease and continued with the bonemeal production, which he sold from his riverside wharves in Stanwick, Irthlingborough and Wellingborough.

Returning to Cotton Mill, Pigots’s Directory of Cambs, Hunts and Northants 1830 list two papermakers for the area, James Fernelly for Woodford Mill and Sarah Bull for Ringstead Mill. From the parish records we can deduce that Sarah was the wife of John Bull, and their children’s baptisms are recorded. The earlier ones are in the Ringstead Parish Register but the younger children are baptised in the Ringstead Particular Baptist Register. We see that, by 1830, Sarah was a widow and trying to carry on the family papermaking business.

By 1835 Sarah had left Cotton Mill, which was then taken over by William Mitchell, and by 1841 she is acting as a nurse for Eliza, wife of Henry Hill, who has two young children. Eliza is the right age to be Sarah’s daughter (born 28th October 1817) but this still has to be further researched.

It is here that other documents clarify the position a little more. If we look in the Apportionment of Rent Charge in lieu of Tithes in the Parish of Ringstead (24 October 1838),we see that in Cotton there are 5 acres of grass owned by Henry Shuttleworth but occupied by William Mitchell and a little further down it talks of:

A certain mill called Cotton Mill of which Henry Shuttleworth is owner and also payed a Modus (?) of customary payment of six shillings and eight pence yearly in lieu of Tithes payable to the said Rector...

Soon after, in 1841, Ringstead was finally "Enclosed" and all those who felt they had an interest in the land to be enclosed had to submit claims. We will look at this when we tell the stories of some of the agricultural labourers but there is one claim that is worth looking at here. A George Capron who was a London solicitor who bought up large areas of the land at this time, and also in 1841 bought Southwick Hall near Peterborough, put in a claim for:

A water mill and offices and a windmill

A paper mill with dwelling house and offices and Mill Holliner [Hollander?] near or adjoining / Mitchel tenant

Mill Cotton Close / Mitchel tenant

Holiner [Hollander?] and meadow adjoining Lower Mill in the occupation of William Ivens.

It still leaves open whether the paper mill was adjoining the corn mill, or a separate mill, although it implies the latter, it does make clear that William Mitchell was only the tenant, who, among other things, was a papermaker.

Below is the Inclosure Award map of 1840. Woodford or Willy Watt Mill is the small mark right at the top of the map where the straight yellow road crosses the larger island. (Cotton Mill is shown as award 129).


Part of the Inclosure Award Map 1840 (ML 1550 NRO)

With the kind permission of Northampton Record Office) 

In the Inclosure Schedule of Estates it again lists George Capron as owning various estates previously owned by Shuttleworth which includes 3 islands a (river) bank area, Cotton orchard and homestead and a "Water Corn and Paper Mill" comprising 3 roods. Looking at the Inclosure map and the numbering it is clear that this refers to Cotton Mill.

I thought that I was beginning to clarify the usage of the two mills until I made another visit to the Northamptonshire Record Office. I read through a Draft Schedule of Land at Ringstead [C(S)82] which appears to be listing premises for a future sale, giving the rents payable and various acreages. Unfortunately there is no date but it appears to be around 1840.

It includes:

The Royalty or Sole Fishery in the River Nene, otherwise Nen, on both sides of the River from a certain stone called the Red Stone in Raunds Meadow to the Mills called Willywatt Mills in the Parish of Woodford.

The Fishery at per annum      £5. 15s  0d

There is also the, Right of cutting Rushes in the said river at £3 3s 0d per annum. More importantly for our present story are two toher entries:

All the Messuage now divided into two Tenements with the Water Paper Mill, Closes, Lands and Premises situate and being at Ringstead Cotton at present therewith let, in the lane of Great Addington within the county of the tenure or occupation of William Mitchell.

......Also that Bone Mill situate and being at Ringstead Cotton aforesaid now in the occupation of John Smith.

This seems to prove that the Bone Mill was not at Willy Watt but was at Cotton Mill (or both!). Certainly the  reference to the Bridge over Mr Mitchell's Mill Head which we will look at in the 1835-6 repairs makes more sense if the Bone Mill is at Cotton.

Returning to William Mitchell, the Northampton Mercury for 20th January 1844 reports that he is prosecuted for trying to evade the excise duty on paper. As we have said there was a heavy duty on paper and the paper was watermarked, and put into wrappers which were stamped as duty was paid. Three charges were brought against William but he seems to have had a smart lawyer who argued successfully that two of them should be dropped for technical reasons. The nub of the case against him was that: 

“A ream of paper was found on the premises of Mr T. O. Beale of Wellingborough which had been permitted to Northampton twelve months ago. The grounds of the suspicion were that the defendant had got possession of an old wrapper and re-filled it and sent it out again, thereby evading the duty.”

William’s lawyer tried another technical challenge without success. He then called Thomas Beale who told the court that Mitchell would sometimes make up his order with paper that he would fetch from Northampton, if he did not have enough of his own manufacture. This was perhaps the way the wrapper had come to be there. The Bench, however, found William guilty and fined him £25 which was a large sum of money. It is difficult to compare with today’s world because average incomes have increased so much faster than prices, but, according to the National Archives “Currency Converter”, in 1840, £25 would buy about 120 days of a craftsman’s time (in the building trade) or 37 stones of wool or 12 quarters of wheat or 4 cows or 1 horse.

From the evidence we have, it is in Cotton Mill not Willy Watt Mill that William is producing paper in 1844. We have noted that Pigots Directory of 1830 gives two paper makers: James Fernelly at Woodford Mill and Sarah Bull at Ringstead (Cotton) Mill. We know, therefore that there were times when papermaking was carried out at both mills simultaneously.

The bills also, sometimes refer to it as a paper mill. It seems probable that William Mitchell left Willy Watt in 1834 and took over Cotton Mill for papermaking from Sarah Bull and her son Enos. Meanwhile Willy Watt (or part of it) became a bone mill. There was a long list of work done to "Ringstead Flour Mill" by Edward Button in 1835-6 for H Shuttleworth Esq. These repairs were again extensive and include work "on Mr Iven's house and Bone Mill," "a bridge over Mr Mitchell's Mill Head" and a laying of a new floor in the Flour Mill. Was this all done at Willy Watt (it was the year after Mitchell had given up his tenancy of Willy Watt) or was work done at both mills and the bridge over the mill head was near Cotton Mill? Was the Flour Mill, Willy Watt? It is still very confusing.


 Rough sketch based on the Specification and Estimate for repairing the overshot at Woodford by Thrapston Bone Mill (mid 1830s)

I would welcome any corrections to the Key or explanation of the Plan.

 By kind permission of Northamptonshire Record Office (FS 40/1)

Between 1829 and 1836 the water mills, Cotton Mill, Willy Watt Mill and the Bone Mill had extensive improvements and repairs. The letters and bills tell a story of estimates being questioned and reduced by Mr West, on behalf of his employer Henry Shuttleworth. Henry had married his cousin Eliza, daughter of George Shuttleworth, and on the death of his father, Nathaniel, he owned properties in Northamptonshire, Leicestershire and Gloucestershire.

We also see irate tradesmen complaining about late payment which caused some of them great hardship. William Mitchell also complains to the agent:

I am sorry I have not got the balance by me at present and as rent day is soe near I pray let it be tel then. Sir, you promised me a new press and [???] there is great difficulty in carren on the business with out one.

William was plainly struggling, which may explain his attempt to evade the paper tax. What, perhaps William and the others were not aware of, was that Henry Shuttleworth was being destroyed by debt and that in 1839 he had to declare himself bankrupt. A junior line of an ancient family was brought down by his attempts to ride on the new wave of industrial enterprise. It was family was brought down by his attempts to ride on the new wave of industrial enterprise. It was, perhaps, the Light-Poole Mills in Gloucestershire where Henry, with his partner had bought the patent to a new pin-making machine and hoped to make their fortunes, which really destroyed his empire. It appears that he had been a solicitor in Market Harborough and he had dealt with money matters in a way that some considered fraudulent so perhaps his empire was built on dodgy foundations.

Henry and his wife both died within a short time of each other and left eight children. Eric and Mary Humphries record that a letter was written to ask for subscriptions for the orphans and hoping “that the follies of the parents would not operate to the disadvantage of the children”. What exactly do these words refer to? If we look some ten years after his bankruptcy, at the effect on some of Henry's family, the effect is clear. In 1851, Nathaniel at 16 is on trial as a grocer with Joseph Roberts in Leicester St. Martin; Georgina, at 25, is a teacher in Norfolk and Edward, by the end of the decade, is living in Victoria, Australia. There is a further story to be told but Ringstead was only a small part in Henry's fall from grace and his family’s troubles. We must leave their stories for someone else to tell

If we now return to the 1841 Census which records that Enos Bull and George Lovell are living at “Ringstead Mills” and that they are papermakers. In 1841 too, the Great Addington parish register records that Henry William Lovell, aged two years, the natural son of Fanny Lovell papermaker at Cotton Mill was scalded to death in a vat. Women worked in the paper mills sorting and treading the cloth ready for the Hollander to pulverise it into fibres. One can only imagine that Fanny had to take her child with her to work, with terrible consequences. At best it was an unpleasant, smelly job with the constant threat of disease from the stinking, often imported, rags.

This census records that a further four papermakers are distributed throughout Ringstead. The four are Thomas Mundin, Thomas Stanley, Robert Phillips and Benjamin Mitchell. It does not discriminate between master and worker or craftsman and labourer. It seems likely that Willy Watt was now a bone mill so all were working at Cotton Mill. As we have seen, there may have been other workers living in adjacent parishes.

It looks as if, after Sarah Bull was replaced, as tenant of Cotton Mill, by William Mitchell that Enos Bull, probably the son of Sarah although I have not yet found his baptism, continued to work for William. William’s son, Benjamin was not living at the Mill but was working there, perhaps learning his trade.

By 1851 Enos Bull has disappeared and another son of William Mitchell called Samuel, aged 22 and born in Great Addington, is the only paper maker listed in the Ringstead parish. I have not traced George Lovell, Thomas Stanley or Thomas Mundin. Robert Phillips, the oldest worker, is still in Ringstead but, aged 66, he is a “Road Labourer and Scavenger”. It is possible that scavenging might include the collecting of rags for the paper mill but we have no proof of this.

By 1861 Enos Bull is still a “Papermaker and Packer” but now living at 5 North Street, Spitalfields, Middlesex with his wife, Sarah and their three children.

Returning to the 1841 Census we find William Mitchell, aged 40 living with his wife Mary, some ten years his elder. He is listed as a papermaker. He originally came from Romsey in Hampshire (usually Ramsey or Rumsey in the transcriptions) which had a number of papermaking mills so perhaps he learnt his craft there before moving to Great Addington.

As we have seen his son Benjamin is also recorded as a papermaker in Ringstead and his profession is confirmed at the baptism of his daughter Charlotte on 20th March 1842. He had married Dorothy Bateman on 12th September 1836 in Ringstead but by 1851 he has moved to Northampton and has become a shoemaker. Of course, this is not as sudden as it may appear. The Censuses, coming every ten years, tend to condense time.

Another son of William, called Samuel, became a papermaker and by 1851 he is the one remaining person in the trade living in the parish of Ringstead.

William Mitchell, living in Great Addington, is recorded as a “Victualler”. It may be that he is taking a back seat. But Samuel too, for some reason, leaves the business and by1861 William is again a paper maker now lodging with Thomas Wadsworth and his family. Wadsworth is a Miller in Ringstead. It seems possible that William was making paper in the same mill, or an adjacent one to that used by Thomas Wadsworth to grind corn. It would be interesting to know how this arrangement worked for Paper Mills were known as messy unpleasant smelling places.


 Drawing of Woodford Mill by George Harrison in "A Wanderer in Northamptonshire"                  

(Some time between 1925 and 1945)

So William Michell carried on the paper business possibly doing it alongside the milling business of Thomas Wadsworth. Certainly the Tithe and Inclosure documents of the period around 1840 talk of a Corn and Paper Mill at Cotton. What we do know is that William’s son, Samuel Mitchell, with his wife Naomi, moved to Stirchley in Shropshire as a Station Master and later became a railway guard on the London and North West Region Railway still living in Shropshire. In 1901 he is recorded as a retired Passenger Guard so it is unlikely that he returned to Ringstead to live. As an aside, in 1881, Samuel and Naomi are lodging with Thomas Gelson who was a skilled potter at the famous Coalport China factory. The factory had been taken into receivership in 1876 but Thomas Gelson became the General Manager and helped bring it back to profitability.

It seems most probable that William died in 1863 and some two years later Mary followed him to the grave. These deaths need to be confirmed but certainly I have not been able to find either in 1871 or the later censuses.

In 1861, William, the eldest of William Wadsworth’s sons, appears in Marylebone in London as a railway porter. Perhaps it is no coincidence that he followed the same route as Samuel Mitchell although in the opposite direction. If we look for Thomas Wadsworth, the father, he is 74 but still recorded as a "Relief Miller” His wife is presumably dead but four unmarried children live with him and his sons Richard and George are now the Millers. Interestingly the residence is recorded as "Flour Mill" and is sandwiched between Cotton Farm and the Railway Station in the Census. It seems that this must be Cotton Mill

Ringstead Mill (possibly early 20th Century: Source of photgrqaph unknown).

Muirheads lived in one of the Mill Cotttages but were shoemakers.

Perhaps the mill is being used for houses but the mill itself has stopped working

What happened next to papermaking in Ringstead? Did it die with William? The 1871 Ordnance Survey map still shows a paper mill but at Willy Watt. So far I have no evidence that paper was made there after William Mitchell left in 1834 so perhaps the map had not been properly updated. Plans of the two mills, drawn up for the sale of the two mills to Mr Eady in 1879, show that both existed at that date but, although they record the buildings,  they do not tell us what state Cotton Mill was in and whether it was in use. We must look on the mills as power sources which were used in different ways as times and markets changed.

If we now look briefly at what happened to Willy Watt and Cotton Mills after the death of William we see the slow decline of both mills as first steam and then electricity, together with the new fast transport system made both mills uneconomic


The owner, Mr. Hawes, carrying water outside Willy Watt Mill in the 1950s.

A tunnel from the church, built by Monks from Croyland Abbey in the 15th Century, was rumoured to emerge in the old elm tree which here casts winter shadows on the Mill.

It seems possible that both mills reverted back to being corn mills. In Cotton Mill we have Thomas Wadsworth and his sons, Richard and George. In Willy Watt Moses Irons Eady became the miller. In 1841 a Moses Eady was living in North Mill, Burton Latimer. This was a windmill and in 1852 a thunderstorm destroyed one of the sails. In 1870 he was admitted to the Woodford Baptist Chapel as a Deacon but it appears that his membership ceased, possibly because he went to the Burton Latimer chapel. In 1884 a Mr Eady is advertising the North Mill for sale. Previously to this, in 1880, following the plans we have seen sketches of, Moses Eady had bought Cotton and Willy Watt mills.

Something of their siting and working can be seen from the plans prepared for George Capron’s sale to Moses Eady


Sketch from Siddons map of Land sold to Eady 1879 [C(S)662]

By kind permission of Northamptonshire Record Office


Sketch from Siddons map of Land sold to Eady 1879  [C(S)662]

Could this be showing the presence of two mills?

By kind permission of Northamptonshire Record Office

 When, in 1897, William Dodson bought the Willy Watt Mill it was to grind corn. He had been a baker in Great Addington, after previously running a public house and outdoor beerhouse in Little Addington. He bought Tithe Farm in Ringstead and Willy Watt Mill so that he owned the whole process from growing the grain to baking the bread. Before the First World War some 46 people were involved in the farm and mill. The last miller there was Frank Hart who was nearly a hundred when he died. It seems possible that both mills continued as flour mills alongside or adjacent to, the other activities such as paper making, throughout most of their working lives from the late eighteenth century

By the time that William Dodson bought both mills, Cotton Mill was in a semi-derelict state. The only reason why he bought it along with Willy Watt was so that he could demand two heads of water (of about four feet each). This enabled him to run the Willy Watt Mill for much longer each day. It is possible that this was already the reality for the last part of the nineteenth century. The rough map below is based on one provided by a descendant of William Dodson



If this map is correct it has Ringstead Mill on the other bank to that shown in the Inclosure (see earlier in life story) and other nineteenth century maps. This has still to be investigated and clarified. Writing in 1970 Geoffrey Starmer states that Cotton Mill was reported as finally dismantled in 1920. It is also interesting to note that Carters Ford, near Willy Watt Mill, was, originally, the only crossing point before the railway came and new bridges were constructed. In the Twentieth Century the bridge outside Willy Watt Mill, which had only been built for horse-drawn vehicles, collapsed under the weight of lorry traffic.

It seems that Willy Watt Mill had had two wheels from the eighteenth century. In the twentieth century the smaller one was used to generate electricity from 1903 to 1947. Previously to this it had been used, probably by John Cave, who married Moses Eady’s daughter Harriett, in the late Victorian period, for driving the mill machine shop which made cartwheels etc.

Today Willy Watt Mill is still there although the mill wheels have long stopped turning. It became increasingly difficult to make a living using waterpower and was used, among other things as a bed and breakfast establishment. Ringstead Mill had been in ruins for many years by the mid twentieth century and now a few bricks and broken concrete among the tangle of bushes by the choked millstream show where it once stood.


Is this the site of the ruins of Cotton Mill beside the old millstream? (Taken June 2010)

It may seem a sad end for the Mills but remember that both bone and paper mills were foul smelling places which polluted the streams that they used. It was more Dickens than Constable. In Strapetona, the magazine of the Thrapston District Historical Society, in 1989, one former resident of Willy Watt Mill told of his grandfather in about 1913 during floods following a snowmelt. The water almost reached the Dining Room ceiling, confining the family to the upper rooms. Their drinking water was collected in an old milk churn from a well in Ringstead.

As the waters subsided a little his grand father set out with the mill cart drawn by his largest carthorse. The strong current across the road took the horse and cart downstream and his grandfather had to jump for his life. Luckily the horse struggled out of the water near Woodford with the harness still attached to the broken shafts of the cart, which had probably acted as buoyancy aids. The cart was never found. Much later in the century, the writer returned home one Friday evening to find his parents, quite unconcerned about the rising water which was coming through the keyhole in the door.

If you have managed to struggle through all the confusion to this point I can only apologise for the lack of clarity. It is still unclear to me, at certain points in the history who was doing what in which mill. We do know that all have long ceased working. As we walk or cycle or fish and look into the clear water perhaps, on reflection, they are better gone. Like many industrial places they are at their best in retrospect.


1    Films were made in Irthlingborough in the very early days of cinema and one, "The Poacher's Sweetheart” described in an advertisement of the 8th July 1916 edition of the Poverty Bay Herald in New Zealand as a "Three-Reel Masterpiece" featured a Ringstead Mill. Tony Ireson tells that, "the villain imprisoned the heroine there but she escaped and swam the Nene, rushed to the courthouse on a newfangled motor-cycle and sidecar, saved the hero from the black cap and arranged the downfall of the villain". Does the film still exist? Little of the more famous epic, "The Battle of Waterloo" remains so perhaps it has gone

2    A previous owner of the Willy Watt Mill also told of the past when it too was used for paper production. He remembers hearing that the workers would tread bark and rags to help soften it before it was made into a form of paper parchment. Two workers from Ringstead were said to have died as a result of working in this way, he believed from some disease or poisoning contracted from this treading process. Perhaps it was the bark itself but, increasingly, chemicals were used. Chlorine bleach was introduced to produce white paper and arsenic was also sometimes used to prevent mould from forming. In damp houses arsenic in wallpaper was known to poison people in Victorian times. It has even been alleged that this is what killed Napoleon in exile.

3    David Phillips states that Ringstead Lower mill  - was demolished when the Blisworth - Peterborough railway was built in 1845 but all the three mills mentioned here are shown on both the 1835 and 1871 maps so is it another one?



Victorian Northamptonshire Vol 2 Scandals and Surprises of 1840-41. Eric Jenkins (W. D. Wharton 1999)

The River Nene: A Pictorial History. Josephine Jeremiah (Phillimore 2003)

Papermaking in Britain 1488 – 1988: A Short History Richard L. Hills (The Athlone Press 1988).

The River Nene from Source to Sea. David Phillips (Past & Present Publishing 1977)

 Jane Austen’s Letters by Deidre Le Faye (OUP) 1995 on .

A Wanderer in Northamptonshire. George Harrison (Mitre Press

Northamptonshire. Tony Ireson (Robert Hale Ltd. 1954)  Exeter Working Papers in Book History. Index of Insurance Policies. Site run by Ian Maxted (Northampton Mercury newspaper 20th January 1844)

Pigots Directory of Cambs, Hunts, Lincs. and Northants for 1830 (Huntingdon Record Office)

Ordnance Survey Maps 1835, 1871

Censuses 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891, 1901. ( )

Declaration of Mr. William Mitchell (NRO C(S) 429/22)

Narborough Bone Mill

Victorian Northamptonshire Vol 2 Scandals & Surprises 1840-41. Eric Jenkins (W.D. Wharton 1999 P 81)

Ringstead Enclosure 1839 - 41 Enclosure Commissioners' Act, Claims Book, Minutes, Accounts (NRO)

Ringstead Flour Mill 1835-6 (NRO FS40/8) Bill to H Shuttleworth from Edward Button

Draft Schedule of Premises at Ringstead (NRO C(S)82)

Specification and Estimate and Plans for repairing the overshot at Woodford by Thrapston Bone Mill (NRO FS 40/1)

Ringstead Inclosure Award Map 1840 (NRO ML 1550)

Apportionment of Rent-Charge in lieu of Tithes in the Parish of Ringstead (24th October 1838) (NRO)

Ringstead Inclosure Map 1841 with Schedule of Estates (ML 1550 NRO)

Siddons map of Land sold to Eady 1879 (NRO C(S)662) a Woodford Baptist Chapel Membership List

The Times: Dec 18 1840 p6; July 23 1841 p6; Dec 12 1842 p6; Dec20 1842 p6;Dec08 1843 p6;Dec12 1843 p6. (Times Archive via Cambridgeshire Libraries online)

A genealogical and heraldic history of the commoners of Great Britain Vol 4 by John Burke p 665-6 ( ).

Bulletin of Industrial Archaeology in CBA Group 9 No. 12 April 1970. A Checklist of Northamptonshire Wind and Water Mills by Geoffrey H Starmer is on It gives the OS grid references as: Ringstead Mill SP 968745, Woodford Upper (Willy Watt) Mill SP 973752, Woodford Lower (formerly Dodes Mill) Mill 981769