Entries in Dicks (2)


Dicks (nee Bates), Mary (c1818 – 1859) LACEMAKER

Dicks (nee Bates), Mary (c1818 – 1859) LACEMAKER

In 1919 Thomas Wright called his book, which concentrated on hand-made lace of the East Midlands including Northamptonshire, The Romance of the Lace Pillow. We also see photographs, from around this time, of old women sitting outside their cottage doors, in the Indian summer of the hand-made lace industry. Ten years after Wright’s book, Miss C. L. Dalton, in the Northampton County Magazine, wrote:

Once upon a time the wayfarer passing through Northamptonshire villages would always find pillow-lace makers at the cottage doors in summer; at other seasons, if he had the curiosity to peer through the lattice, they would be seen by the fireside; the pillow spotlessly clean with its gay print drawter*, worker and cover, supported on the well-made stand of oak, ash or beechwood, familiarly called the ‘The Maid’. On the dull gray parchment a fairy web would be growing, minute by minute, as the shining beads, twist and turn, the linen thread dexterously kept in place by a forest of pins.

[* a ‘drawter’ was a cloth to cover the finished lace because grubby lace was unsaleable]



Hannah Peach. Taken in Photographic Studio 1884 -1900

With the kind permission of Northampton Museum & Art Gallery

It has been written that, at one time, the lace worker could earn more than the agricultural labourer, so that women would make more at lace than the men working on the land. I have found no sign of this. Rather, we see poor home-workers, paid a pitiful piecework rate, trying to keep themselves and their families from the workhouse. Writing earlier, on July 8th 1780, the poet and hymn writer William Cowper, told his correspondent, Joseph Hill that:

If you ever take the tip of the chancellor’s ear between your finger and thumb you can hardly improve the opportunity to better purpose than if you should whisper into it the voice of compassion and lenity to the . . . lace makers. I am witness to their poverty and do know that hundreds in this little town [Olney] are upon the point of starving; and that the most unremitting industry is but barely sufficient to keep them from it.

There would have been little romance for Ringstead lacemakers, although there may have been some pride in their work.

Lace was, an unusual craft in that, from the start, it was seen as a gentile occupation for upper class ladies and a useful money-earner to teach paupers. Northamptonshire was not as renowned as Buckinghamshire or Bedfordshire, but it did have a significant lace industry from the early seventeenth, and stretching into the eighteenth and the first half of the nineteenth, centuries.

Why these Midland counties together with Devon became the heartlands of the lace industry is not clear. Theories, from the influence of Katherine of Aragon to the migration of Flemish workers fleeing the Inquisition, have been put forward but none have any hard evidence. But, as G. F. R. Spencely points out:

. . . the common feature among all rural workers, no matter what the time or region in which they are employed was poverty. Poverty had always created the necessity to supplement family income and in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century this situation did not change.

Where there was not sufficient other work for women and children, lace became a way of keeping off ‘the Parish’ and some workhouses encouraged the craft. Daniel Defoe, writing in 1730 wrote of lacemakers coming from:

The most idle, useless and burthensom part of our people, viz the younger women and female children. These were a real charge upon the diligent poor such as the husbandsmen, the farmers and the handicrafts of other trades . . . and were now made able to provide for themselves.

I wonder what Mary Dicks and her fellow workers would have made of such a comment.

The Northampton Militia list of 1777 states that there were between nine and ten thousand young women and boys employed in lace making around Wellingborough and about nine thousand involved in the trade around Kettering.

As we have heard there were concerns about the plight of the lacemakers in the eighteenth century and this continued into the nineteenth with concerns expressed about the effect of cheap foreign imports. [1805 insert from NRO letter]

Our particular story starts with a marriage on 23rd December 1813 at Raunds Parish Church. John Bates married Susanna Shaw and it seems likely that they are our subject’s parents. John, we learn later, came from Piddinton or Paddinton or Puddington or Podington. On balance it is likely that he was the John Bates baptised on 27th December 1789, in Puddington or Podington, near Rushden although it is just over the county border in Bedfordshire. There is also some uncertainty about his bride but the best candidate seems to be the Susanna Shaw baptised in Brigstock on 23rd November 1788, the daughter of William and Elizabeth.

What we do know is that a John and Sussana(h) Bates had children baptised, and probably born, in Denford. The first child was Dinah, baptised on 17th September 1815 and again on 16th June 1816. Either the first child died (although her burial is not recorded), or she was baptised twice, the first one being a private one, as sometimes happened. Mary, the second daughter was baptised on 1st February 1818. Then followed twin girls, Susannah and Hannah, baptised on 1st July 1821.

If there was happiness at the birth of the twins, it very quickly turned to tragedy. Their mother, Susanna died some ten days later on the 11th July and the twins quickly followed, Hannah on August 18th and Susanna on 2nd September.

At some stage John had become a shopkeeper. We are not sure when this happened, or if it was a way of coping with his two young daughters while making a living. Unusually, for a man with a young family he did not marry again and we know that on 14th April 1838, at his daughter, Mary’s wedding at Ringstead Parish Church he was described as a Denford shopkeeper.

It is Mary who is the main subject of our story and she was marrying Henry Dicks a farm servant from Ringstead. Mary is described as a lacemaker and one wonders if she was taught by her mother or at a local ‘Lace School’. Her older sister, Dinah had married in 1837 to Thomas Crane so John had no help for the shop or house and in 1841, now aged about fifty-three, we find him living alone and a labourer. Whether the loss of his daughters as helpers had any part in this we may never know. It is likely that he would have found labouring hard after his time as a shopkeeper and certainly by 1851 he is living with Mary and her family and is classified as, ‘unable to work’. Ten years later he dies in Thrapston Union Workhouse. His death certificate states that he died of Hydrothorax, a condition which can still be dangerous, mainly in babies and old people, where the lung cavities are filled with liquid. It can often be a result of kidney or heart problems. He had probably been sickly for some time and the best hope he would have had of nursing and medical care was in the workhouse. The Bates women tend to die young and, unusually for the nineteenth century, it is the men who have long 'widowerhoods'.

In 1841, Mary is in Ringstead with her husband Henry Dicks and their first child, Susannah, just two years old. Unfortunately this Census does not usually give the woman’s work unless she is the head of the household but we would expect Mary to have to continue with her lacemaking as long as her young child allowed her the opportunity.

Is it a coincidence that Henry and Mary’s first child, Susannah, is baptised in Leicester on 12th April 1839 just as her uncle, Korah Dicks, had been baptised some twenty-seven years earlier?[see separate biography of Korah] Was there a family connection? Other children soon filled the house and Mary’s time. First there were twin girls, Elizabeth and Mary Ann (baptised 11th November 1841) followed by John (28th January 1844), Joseph (31st December1848) and Thomas (1850).

By the Census of 1851 Mary was thirty-four years old with six children, aged from eleven years to three months. Mary is now shown as a lacemaker, as are the three eldest children, Susannah (11), Elizabeth (9) and Mary Ann (9). It may be that they were taught and worked with their mother, perhaps also helping to look after the younger children. It is also possible, however, that they worked at one of the unofficial lace schools which were usually run by an older woman.

The ‘National School’ had not yet been planned but, as we saw in the story of the schoolmasters, there were some ‘Dame Schools’ , run by local women. In the main lacemaking areas these schools were often ‘Lace Schools’, where young children were taught the rudiments of lacemaking and sometimes a few basic letters and arithmetic. In those areas boys and girls would have attended, the boys usually even more unwillingly than the girls. In Ringstead the only record of a male lacemaker, that I have found, is one five-year-old boy, called Joseph Saddington in 1851. It was considered important to start the children working on the lace as young as five in order to get their fingers nimble enough to do the work.

A Mrs Roberts, who had lived as a child in Spratton, told of her experience of the lace school, which the children attended from the age of eight, in the middle of the nineteenth century:

here the hours were from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the summer and from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the winter. Half an hour was allowed for breakfast and for tea, and one hour for dinner so that there were ten hours for actual work. The girls had to stick ten pins a minute, or six hundred an hour; and if at the end of the day they were five pins behind, they had to work for another hour. On Saturdays, however, they had a half-holiday, working only to the dinner-hour. They counted to themselves every pin they stuck, and at every fiftieth pin they called out the time, and the girls used to race each other as to who should call out first.

They paid twopence a week (or threepence in winter) for lights, and in return they received the money realised from the sale of the lace made and they could earn sixpence a day. Pay-day was a great event; it came once a month.

In the evenings eighteen girls worked by one tallow candle, value one penny; the ‘candle-stool’ stood about as high as an ordinary table with four legs. In the middle of this was what was known as the ‘pole-board’, with six holes in a circle and one in the centre. In the centre hole was a long stick with a socket for the candle at one end and peg-holes through the sides so that it could be raised or lowered at will. In the other six holes were placed pieces of wood hollowed out like a cup and into each of these was placed a bottle made of very thin glass and filled with water. These bottles acted as strong condensers or lenses, and the eighteen girls sat round the table, three to each bottle, their stools being upon different levels, the highest nearest the bottle which threw the light upon the work like a burning-glass. In the day-time as many as thirty girls, and sometimes boys, would work in a room about twelve feet square with two windows, and in the winter they could have no fire for lack of room. The makers of the best lace would sit nearest the light and so on in order of merit.

There are one or two schoolmistresses who may have run lace schools, such as Elizabeth Colston, originally from Sudborough (a lace-making village), who became the second wife of Isaac Gunn on 27th July 1840 when she was about 43 years old. In 1851 she is shown as an ‘infant teacher’ but we have no proof that she kept a lace school. (Elizabeth gave evidence at the trial of William Weekley Ball).

It may be that, as in Flora Thompson's Lark Rise, that the children leant their lace within the community of women:

Queenie, in her childhood, had been 'brought up to the pillow', sitting among the women at eight years old and learning to fling her bobbins with the best of them. They would gather in one cottage in winter for warmth, she said, each one bringing her faggot or shovel of coals for the fire, and they would sit all day, working, gossiping, singing old songs, and telling old tales till it was time to run home and put on the pots for their husbands' suppers. These were the older women and the young unmarried girls; the women with little children did what lacemaking they could at home.

Even if the children were at home it is likely that they sang the little rhymes or ‘tells’ to help the hours pass and establish a rhythm for the work. Thomas Wright tells us that the:

Northants tells have none of the gruesome features that characterize those of Buckinghamshire and they are less hoydenish and more sentimental than those of Bedfordshire. The Northamptonshire maidens do not gloat over ghosts, corpses, black coffins and gibbets, not do they throw turnips at the heads of inoffensive gentlemen who happen to be passing on horseback.

I would be surprised if, given the chance, the Ringstead girls would not do all of these things. He does quote from some Northamptonshire 'tells' including this one which does help you picture the girls all working together:

Twenty pins have I to do,

Let way be ever so dirty.

Never a penny in my purse,

But farthings five and thirty.


Betsy Bays and Polly Mays,

They are two bonny lasses;

They built a bower upon the tower,

And covered it with rushes*.

[*Custom of carrying rushes and garland to church on Rush-bearing Day.]

For all the customs and mythology that surrounded the craft, it was tedious work for children. Pamela Horn records that many were able to read or write very little, and their bodies were weakened by the bent posture they had to adopt over the bulky ‘pillow’. Some girls even wore a wooden busk in their stays to support them in their work and this distorted their young bones and contracted their chests for life.

The people who might make good money from lacemaking were the dealers who would usually own the patterns, provide the materials and buy the finished product (if it was satisfactory). In lace centres, such as Olney, some dealers became rich men. We do know that Ringstead had a ‘Lace-dealer’ in 1837. This fact emerges because the dealer, William Smith left a will in which his profession is given. The will was read to the family by Mr Williamson, a local farmer. When he reached the part where William Smith had bequeathed the house, orchard and, ‘all that pertained to it’, to the son of his daughter, Mrs Partrick, his son, also William exploded in fury. Being the younger son, he would not have expected to inherit, himself, but he was furious that his eldest brother, who was married with three children, had not been left the property. William snatched the will and left and it is likely that he destroyed it as he threatened.

He was tried and sentenced to seven years transportation. Luckily for William, and to the great annoyance of Thomas Wilkins, the magistrate, the sentence was commuted to three months imprisonment.

After the death of William I have not found another lace dealer but it is possible that a shopkeeper, such as Noah Green, the draper, carried on this work as an addition to his main source of income. On the other hand, a dealer from Wellingborough may have taken over the village. The 1840 Pigot's Directory does not show one in Thrapston but there are three 'Lace Manufactureres and Dealers' in Wellingborough and one of these, William Sears is definitely described as a 'dealer'. Flora Thompson tells us that in 'the hamlet', on the Northamptonshire/Oxfordshire border, Queenie used to store her lace away in blue paper and sell it once a year to the dealer at Banbury Fair.

Returning to 1851, the Census came at a time when handmade lace was struggling to compete with machine-made lace and foreign imports. The original Northamptonshire lace was a version of Buckinghamshire lace but there were subtle differences. Miss Dalton, writing in 1929 tells us:

Northamptonshire had its own characteristics. The clothwork of the Mechlin lace was utilised for small designs of conventional trend and geometrical shapes combined with the vagrant thread of Lille. The little points d’esprit, which also hailed from France, took the fancy of our county and we called them leadwork or plaits.

I have found it difficult to find a clear illustration of Northamptonshire lace showing these characteristics and the local lacemakers would have made what the market, and their dealer, demanded, as far as they had the skill to do so. The lace and photographs that we have are almost entirely from the end of the century or early in the next and probably do not reflect the piecework products that Mary and her like made in Ringstead.

The first photograph below shows lace which, to my untrained eye, is chunkier and coarser than the fine Mechlin type lace produced earlier. It is perhaps a form of Bedfordshire Lace influenced by Maltese lace. It was probably produced by Mrs Jacques or her daughter-in-law of Rushden in the late nineteenth century. The donor had had to learn lace from Mrs Jacques, who was her grandmother, ‘which she did not enjoy’.


With the kind permission of Northampton Museum & Art Gallery

The second illustration is from Mrs. Dalton’s article and shows fine Buckinghamshire style lace. This would almost certainly have been much more complex and finer than Mary and her children would have produced. It was made by Jane Onions (nee Storey), a shepherd’s wife born in about 1842 in Upper Dean Bedfordshire, which is only some eight miles from Ringstead. At nine years old Jane was already a young lacemaker like Mary’s children, as is her mother and sister. After marriage she lived in Newton Bromswold in Northamptonshire (although further away from Ringstead). She made lace for the infant robes of the future King Edward VIII which would have been some time after 1894. The piece below was made by Jane as she sat in a large shop window in London demonstrating her craft.


Buckingham Lace by Mrs Onions of Newton Bromswold

From Art and Industry by Miss C. L. F. Dalton

Much of the lace in the nineteenth century was for baby’s clothes and pillow edging and after 1840 for wedding dresses. The wedding of Queen Victoria had helped revive the declining lace industry. She wore a white dress and had lace trimmings as well as a lace veil. Perhaps surprisingly, white had not been used for wedding dresses prior to this as it meant the dress was almost unusable after the event. Although the lace for the Queen’s dress was Honiton lace (from Beer in Devon) it started a new fashion which helped the whole industry. It is reported that men began to make lace, because they could earn more from its production than their other work, but I have found no evidence of this in Ringstead. The trade was boosted again when Maltese lace, a form of plaited lace, was shown at the Great Exhibition in 1851. This was a rather showy, but quicker to make, form of lace and versions of this were produced in the East Midlands to meet this new demand.

Pamela Horn records that in the 1851 Census for Northamptonshire there were 10,322 female lacemakers of whom 754 were aged five to nine years and 2,124 aged ten to fourteen and that this is probably an underestimate as some part-timers would not have been recorded. This is a surprising figure, twice that quoted elsewhere but appears to be the correct one. It makes the Northamptonshire workforce on a par with Buckinghamshire and twice that of Bedfordshire and Devon. The 1841 census, which only recorded seven lacemakers for Ringstead, the majority of them fifteen-year-olds, is not a reliable source, for most women’s and part-time jobs went unrecorded unless the woman was the head of the household. In 1851, however there were 79 lacemakers (including eight hair lacemakers). This figure was made up of 6 aged five to nine years; 27 aged ten to fourteen; 17 aged fifteen to twenty; 27 aged twenty-one to sixty and 2 over sixty. In Ringstead, therefore, over 40% of the lacemaking workforce was under fifteen years old and almost entirely female. For most it was an additional family income and when a woman is a lacemaker and head of the household she is often also a ‘pauper’. Thus it is with Ann Barker aged 52, Elizabeth Fairey, 78 and Jane Childs, 36 (whose husband is ‘away’).

By 1861 the fashion peak had passed again and machines were beginning to produce a type of Maltese lace and there are only six lacemakers shown in the Ringstead Census and shoemaking (mainly ‘closing’) had become most working women’s profession of choice. Mrs Bury Palliser, in her History of Lace, reported that:

In the Juror’s Report of the International Exhibition of 1862 the number of lacemakers in the counties of Buckingham, Northampton, Bedford and Oxford is estimated as 25,000.

If this figure is correct, it is also true that, in the case of Ringstead, this does not reflect the sudden decline in laceworkers in the years before 1861 and, one suspects, that this was true across much the shoemaking areas where homeworking was the normal practice.

The census figures for Northamptonshire mirror this decline in lace workers, until, by the end of the century there were only a few hundred left in the whole county who were earning a living by the craft.

It was in 1851 that Mary’s husband, Henry, had pulled out the rotten tooth of Lydia Attley shortly before her disappearance and probable death [see story of William Weekley Ball]. Henry told the court that:

            I am a labourer at Ringstead and have lived there all my days

He also reveals that he was, ‘in the habit of drawing teeth’, so it may be that he earned a little extra income by this work. Lydia, who in the 1841 census is shown as a lacemaker, was a regular visitor at his house so perhaps the women would talk while they looked after the children or worked at their lace. More children kept arriving. There was William in 1853, Sarah in 1856 and finally Ellen in 1858. Mary was giving birth, on average, every two years.

In their small cottage there would have been some six children for much of the time, with Mary trying to produce lace, while feeding and looking after her children. Thomas was her old child to die very young, being buried in November 14th 1854 aged three years. The Register also records that their house was in London End which was where many of the poorer villagers lived.

It would have been a hard, tiring existence. It is important to remember the conditions that Mary would have lived in, with almost certainly a communal dirt toilet outside; no running water or sewerage; probably only one room heated by an open fire or stove which would have served also for cooking; earth, brick or stone floors. Add to this poverty and then imagine being pregnant and ill in these conditions in cold wet weather. It must have been a miserable, debilitating time for Mary as she came to termination of another child towards the end of 1859. We know that the birth went wrong and that on 25th November 1859 Mary died and was buried in Ringstead churchyard. Like too many women at the time, including her own mother, she died from childbirth. Her death certificate records that was forty-five years old and that she 'died of exhaustion, parturition, [childbirth] 44 hours'. It would have been her tenth child.

The older children would naturally have been, by this time, marrying and leaving the nest but, perhaps, their mother’s death accelerated this process. Mary had lived long enough to see the wedding of her eldest child, Susannah to William Samuel Bull, a shoemaker and grocer, in the spring of 1859.

The 1861 Census finds Henry a forty-eight year old widower with his daughter Mary, aged 19 acting as his housekeeper. His son John, aged 16 is a shoemaker and Joseph (12) is an agricultural labourer. There are still three children, William (7), Sarah (5) and Ellen (3) for the younger Mary to look after.

In 1863 Elizabeth married a shoemaker called James Braybrook and a year later, Mary, who had been looking after the house for her father, married George Bird Warren. John, the first son to leave, wed Caroline Stanner (or Starmer) in Kettering in 1866 and his brother Joseph married Sarah Ann Major early in 1871. The two younger daughters also left the family home to work as servants, Sarah Emma, aged sixteen to a Higham Ferrers grocer and Ellen, just thirteen years old, to the Forester’s Arms in Thorpe End, Raunds.

So it was that in the 1871 Census, Henry, aged fifty-eight is living with only his son William still at home. His son John and family live next door and most of the rest are still living in the area.

Sarah married Josiah Branston in the year after the census and Ellen married James Foskett in 1878. Finally William, the youngest son married Mary Ann Manning in 1879. By 1881, aged 68, Henry, Mary’s widower, is living with his widowed daughter Elizabeth Braybrook and he is a ‘rag and bone gatherer’. Henry died in 1890 aged seventy-eight.

Nowhere, among Mary’s children, is there a sign that any of them continued to earn a living by lacemaking. In Ringstead, it had probably disappeared as a paid craft by 1870. The 1867 Factory Act had severely restricted the use of child labour and from 1870 a procession of Education Acts gradually forced children out of the workforce. Perhaps some people still made lace for friends and family but, probably, it had to wait to be revived both as a craft and as a hobby in late nineteenth and in the twentieth century. Following on from the work of William Morris and others many hand crafts became popular again as a reaction to industrialisation and many books were written of its practice and history during this period.

In the Pall Mall Magazine of March 1896 Alice Dryden was able to write:

The custom of wearing lace, which has lain dormant fro many years was revived in 1893 because Her Gracious Majesty has so often appeared in her own costly lace, or from a mere caprice of fashion; certain it is that lace is now a very important item in a well-dressed woman's wardrobe.

She assserted that a woman with a family to look after could still earn between fourpence and sixpence a day, enough to pay the rent of her cottage. For the elderly, frail and 'crippled' the work could be done when they were able and so provide some income when little else was open to them. It is from this later flowering of the craft that the pictures of old ladies outside their cottages mainly come.

From Pillow Lace in the Midlands by Alice Dryden


This Indian Summer of pillow lace came too late fro Ringstead and the homeworking tradition was carried on into the boot and shoe making industry until that also declined and died because of mechanisation and cheap imports. In a sense, for all their drawbacks, the two crafts carried on the independence of the home and family based  peasant tradition.



My special thanks to Brenda Hazel for information on the Bates and Dicks families.

Also to Janice Morris for her article on Traditional and Modern Crafts: Lace-making.

Victoria Davies at the Northampton Museum and Art Gallery could not have been more helpful and went to great trouble to show me the relevant lace collection and photographs for which I am very grateful.


1841, 1851, 1861 Ringstead Censuses (lacemakers analysis) also 1871,1881,1891,1901.

Ringstead and Denford Parish Registers.

The Romance of the Lace Pillow. Thomas Wright 1919 (New edition Ruth Bean 1982).

History of Lace. Mrs. Bury Palliser (Sampson, Low, Son and Marston 1869).

Pillow Lace of the Midlands, Alice Dryden: Pall Mall Magazine March 1896 (Northampton Central Library)

The Origins of the English Pillow Lace Industry. G.F.R. Spenceley (The Agricultural History Review 1973).

Art and Industry. Miss C. L. F. Dalton. (The Northampton County Magazine Vol. 2 1929 (Northampton Central Library.)

Northamptonshire Notes and Queries [Old series Vol. IV p 185]. Re: Spratton Lace School (Northamptonshire Record Office).

The Victorian Country Child. Pamela Horn (first pub 1974; Alan Sutton 1985).

The works of William Cowper; his life letters and poems. William Cowper.

Lark Rise. Flora Thompson (Oxford University Press 1939) (The Cowper and Newton Museum).

200 Years of the Census in Northamptonshire. (Count me in Census 2001 Office for National Statistics).

Northampton Mercury 27 Feb 1864 (Northampton Central Library).



William Weekley Ball (1818 -1896) BUTCHER OF RINGSTEAD

William Weekley Ball (1818 -1896) BUTCHER OF RINGSTEAD


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

(original in Northampton Record Office)


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



Drawn from Maps attached to Prosecution Brief

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When cross examined she told the court that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About that time we all do know

Up to the Black Horse that man did go

And for to have a glass of ale

And there he told a dreadful tale


Chorus           A cruel Butcher he hung should be

                                For killing of Lydia Atlee


And then from there he went straightway

To kill a sheep as he did say

To kill that girl it was his guile

Likewise to kill his lovely child


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

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

According to the Eastern Counties Gazette of February 20:

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

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

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

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

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

Drawn from Maps attached to Prosecution Brief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Northampton Aug 12th 1850

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

William Weekley

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


As we were going to press we learnt that another skeleton

was yesterday found lying by the side and partly beneath

the spot where the former skeleton was found. The

skeleton lay in a sloping position and the feet were 18

inches lower than the feet of the former.


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

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

A further note in the margin resignedly adds:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Free BMD Marriage Index 1837 – 1915 (

Ramsey BMD Huntingdon Record Office

Ringstead BMD Northampton Record Office

English Censuses for 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891(

The Northampton Mercury 1864 (Northampton Central Library

The Eastern Counties Gazette 1864 (Huntingdon Public Library)

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

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

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

Hatfield’s Directory of Huntingdonshire 1854 (HRO)

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

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

Kelly’s Directory of Huntingdonshire 1885(HRO)

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

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

Northamptonshire Murders. Paul Harrison Countryside Books 1991

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