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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