The Ballard Family Register

It was many years ago, in 1970 to be exact, that as a schoolboy of 14 I saw and touched my first old document. I can still remember the excitement of reading the handwriting of a person born in the 1690s, and, what is more, a direct ancestor, which seemed to make his words come to life in an extraordinarily immediate way. It was a strange feeling to have such a personal link with someone who had lived so long ago; I was hooked from that moment onwards and continue to pursue my unfailing interest in family and local history through the original source material left by our forebears.

My interest in the family history of the Ballards really originates from the time of my great Aunt’s death in 1969 at the age of 98. Aunt May was my grandmother’s eldest sister; she never married, and I can only just remember her. But she was a dear old lady who was fascinated by the past and her hero of all time was William the Conqueror. She loved nothing better than to visit old churches and she would go on long walks with her sisters in the countryside to seek out places of interest. Soon after she died, all her personal effects were sent round to an Aunt’s and I was lucky enough to help sort through them. Among her possessions was a box full of family papers and correspondence which I avidly devoured and photocopied whilst I had the opportunity. There were also some scrapbooks of newspaper cuttings, and a small album of photographs – all served to stimulate my interest in my grandmother’s family, especially as she had died many years before I was born.

But what I discovered at the bottom of the box was really quite remarkable. It was, in effect, a family register of births, marriages and deaths, begun by Isaac Ballard of Cranbrook, who was born in 1692. Whereas many families recorded these events on the fly leaves of the Family Bible, the Ballards of Cranbrook kept a separate book in which was entered up, from generation to generation, a register of the family. Isaac entitled it: “Isaac Ballard His Register Book of Births and Deaths in his own Family.” This title page was added to twice by later Ballards who have continued to make entries. His son, Joseph wrote beneath his father’s writing: “& likewise his Son Joseph’s Regester of his Children.” Isaac’s grandson added his own title page (which is the present one): “Isaac Ballard His Regester Book of Births and Deaths in His Own Family & Likwis of His Father Joseph Ballard and His Grandfather Isaac Ballard.”

I was rather puzzled at first as to why Isaac started to make entries in a separate book when the family did, in fact, possess a Family Bible. Unfortunately, the bible and its owner completely disappeared during the 1880s, but not before my grandmother’s eldest brother, as a young boy, had copied out the many entries it contained. Nevertheless, the entries were quite sporadic. Although mention is made of an Isaac (or Richard) Ballard, Gent. who was born October 23rd 1567, it then jumps to the 1680s. The births recorded are those of Isaac’s brothers and sisters, although, strangely, Isaac’s birth in 1692 was not included; this may, of course, have been the fault of the transcriber who already had the information from the Register.

Isaac married Frances Godfrey in October 1714, and their first child, Sarah, was born in August 1715. This was the date when he probably started his record, judging by the similarity of detail attached to every entry that follows. Isaac’s father was Richard Ballard, husbandman, born in 1640, who married Elizabeth Boughton of Cranbrook in 1680. It is probably safe to assume that the Family Bible was originally acquired by Isaac’s father who recorded the births of his children from the early 1680s, and, for good measure, that of his earliest known ancestor. Why, then, did Isaac not continue to use it? A plausible answer is that he couldn’t, for the simple reason that the Family Bible didn’t belong to him till much later. Since his father died in October 1717, it probably passed to his eldest son, Joseph, who died ten years after. As Joseph had no sons, and his second brother Richard was also dead, the Bible eventually passed to Isaac. Not surprisingly, therefore, he continued to make entries in the book he had already started rather than revert to the Family Bible which would have entailed a lot of copying out. But he obviously valued this book, or he would not have taken the trouble to entrust its future care to his grandson. He apparently wrote the inscription: “I give and bequeath this Family Bible to my grandson Isaac Ballard. Witness my hand this 2nd day of July 1771. Isaac Ballard.”

Isaac’s Register records events as they actually happened, and in many cases the names of godparents at baptisms and the officiating clergyman. An early instance of the use of two Christian names in the family occurs in 1766, when Joseph Ballard’s eldest daughter was christened Elizabeth, with the addition of Balcombe, her mother’s maiden name. The high incidence of infant mortality is very apparent, but Isaac records these events with obvious detachment. This is surely a reflection of the times when all families expected to lose one or two children before they reached aduthood.

Luckily, other happenings of importance to the family are noted at various times. In October and November 1723, “my 4 children Sarah Francis Rich:& Isaac had the Measels.” Then, on September 5th 1736, “My Wife fell from her Horse and broak her Coller Bone. Sett by Dr. Backett 15s.” In the same year, “My Son Isaac with Mr. Simonds carlesly set Fire to upward of 2 pounds of Gunpowder in Mr. Jenning’s Shop which blew out the Shop Windows and did great damage to the house and Goods and Vastly Scorched their faces & hands & were several days Blind, both cured by Docr. Walter, Feb. 19th paid him his Bill, for applications to Isaacs hands and Face and Board with Francis (his elder sister) 20 days 4-4-0.”

In 1742 Isaac tells us: “I by a whip with a Twig a brushing hurt my left Eye and lost gradualy the Sight thearof.” On June 20th 1745, he records that “the Small Pox came out on Isaac, He living with Mr Davis at W. Farly was extream bad, came home the 23rd of August very weak, went again to Mr Davis Nov: 5.” Next year, on July 25th, Isaac “had an Ishue cut above my left Knee by Dr. Backet. Dryed up Jan: 1st 1765.” Issues, or running sores, were fairly common among our ancestors; his wife had a similar complaint in 1755.

Evidence of Isaac’s meticulous attention to detail can still be seen on his tombstone in the churchyard at Cranbrook:

This stone was erected by ISAAC BALLARD of this Parish In memory of FRANCES his Beloved and Virtuous Wife with Whom he lived lovingly 44 Years Had by her 3 sons Richd Isaac & Joseph & 4 Daughters Sarah Frances Eliz & Rebekah. She died Sept 6th 1759 aged 69 years. Also the aforesaid ISAAC which died…

Unfortunately, erosion has worn away the rest of the inscription; but it obviously refers to Isaac’s burial in 1782, some 23 years after his wife.

Joseph Ballard, who was born on November 26th 1728, was the seventh child of Isaac and Frances. He married Ann Balcombe in Cranbrook Church on October 4th 1757. In 1783 he was staying at Deal where, on August 15th he suddenly died, as the register records, “after comeing out of the Sea, where he had been bathing for the Comfit of his health. He was in the 56 yr of his age. Was buried in Deal Chappel Field. Josh. & James was there.” His tombstone, in what is now known as St. George’s Churchyard, records that “he was a Kind Husband and a Sincere Friend.” It would appear from the different handwriting in the Register that Isaac made his last entry in 1771, so he probably passed the Register on to Joseph at about the same time he bequeathed the old Family Bible to his grandson, Isaac. Perhaps increasing infirmity, especially poor eyesight, had something to do with his decision.

His grandson, Isaac married Mary Pearce at Cranbrook Church on December 5th 1786, and so begun yet another generation of children to be recorded in the family register. In 1799 or 1800, Isaac and his young family moved to Sittingbourne where he took over the inn known as the “Rose”. To do this he had to show a certificate from the churchwardens and overseers proving that the family had lived in Cranbrook 200 years and had never received parish relief. Of their many children, William Ballard, who was born at Sittingbourne in 1801, was their eldest surviving son. He became innkeeper on his father’s death in 1822, but in 1832, soon after his marriage to Maria Osborn at Chatham, he moved to Chichester to take over the Dolphin Hotel. The Register came with him to Sussex, and he became the fourth generation Ballard to record the births of his children in it.

William Ballard was a man of substance, with many commercial interests, and he remained landlord of the Dolphin until his death in 1868. In 1843, he was appointed Posting Master at Chichester; in 1857, he received a warrant signed by Arthur Wellesley, 2nd Duke of Wellington, appointing him Posting Master to the Establishment of Her Majesty’s Stables. Both these original warrants are still on display at the Dolphin and Anchor Hotel. In Kelly’s Directory for 1855, William is described as of the Dolphin Hotel, a commercial inn and posting house, wine, spirit and coal merchant, inland revenue office, and agent to the London and Brighton Railway Company. Both William and Maria were staunch Wesleyan Methodists and did much to further the cause of Methodism in the city. Maria’s brother was Dr George Osborn (1808-1891), twice President of the Wesleyan Conference and an outstanding figure in the movement. He was well known for his inspiring oratory and an able preacher.

William faithfully recorded the births of his eleven children between 1831 and 1845 in the Family Register, and I am lucky to possess a photograph album containing pictures of virtually all of them, including their parents. Among them, born on January 31 1838, was my grandmother’s father, Adolphus Ballard (1838-1918). Adolphus married Frances Stafford in 1865, and on the death of their father, he took over the family business with his elder brother, George. Adolphus and Frances also had 11 children, but none are entered in the Register begun by his great great grandfather some 150 years previously. Unfortunately, not having seen the original document for 25 years, I cannot remember whether it was full or not, but I suspect it was. As far as I know, it is now in Australia with another Ballard descendant who is very keen on family history – so at least it should be in safe hands. I refrained from photocopying it at the time because I only had access to a machine which copied internally, and I dared not risk it. What if it should get stuck? But at least I had the sense to make a full transcript, thereby preserving the contents of this unique family record for future generations. I shall shortly be providing copies to the West Sussex Record Office and the Kent County Archives Office.

Returning briefly to the Chichester Ballards, some six years after his brother George suddenly died in 1882, Adolphus sold the Dolphin to Henry Waite. Until his retirement in 1904, he ran an ironmongery business in East Street. Like his father, he was very active in local affairs, both in the Wesleyan Methodist Church in which he held all the various posts, and in the town council to which he was first elected in 1885. He was elected Mayor on two occasions, in 1896 and 1897, and in that capacity presided over Chichester’s local celebrations of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.

But what about the young boy who copied out the entries in the Ballard Family Bible before it disappeared? Named after his father, Adolphus junior was their eldest child; he was born in 1867. After studying law at London University, he completed his articles and started in practise as a solicitor in Woodstock. In 1894 he was appointed Town Clerk of Woodstock. Despite his very busy professional life, he also found time to indulge his passion for historical research, his favourite subject being the social and economic history of the Middle Ages. Apart from his many contributions to the Sussex Archaeological Collections, he also wrote a History of Chichester, published in 1898, but his major work was undoubtedly The Domesday Inquest (1906). In this book, he comprehensively describes conditions in the 11th century through a detailed analysis of the Domesday Book. Tragically, Adolphus died at the early age of 48, his death possibly hastened by a strenuous workload. Sadly, his only son, Godfrey, who was on military service on the Western Front, was killed in action a few months later. He was 20. I still have the letter which his former Platoon Sergeant sent me in 1975. He said: “(Godfrey)… was a very clever and well educated young man and we got quite friendly. He was well liked by all his comrades… I am enclosing a photograph he gave me before he left us, which you may like to have.”

This concludes the story of the Ballard Family Register. Some time after I first saw it, I discovered that my great Aunt had written a short article about it during the 1930s, which was published in Archaeologia Cantiana. Though concise and to the point, it unfortunately says very little about the family. I hope I have rectified the omission by saying something of the people who continued to use Isaac’s book, thereby keeping alive the history of this family for future generations.

BIBLIOGRAPHY ‘The Ballard Family Register’, by Miss Frances M. Ballard and WPD Stebbing FSA in Archaeologia Cantiana, Vol. XLVI. The Dolphin & Anchor Hotel Chichester, by Francis W. Steer MA, FSA. Chichester Papers, No 23 (1961) Methodism in a Cathedral City, by John and Hilary Vickers. Published by the Southgate Centenary Committee (1977)

Note: I have also extracted information for this article from a number of newspaper cuttings; all are contained in two scrapbooks, which belonged to my great Aunt. Unfortunately, they were not referenced and dated. Nevertheless, included among them are the Chichester Observer, Methodist Recorder and Oxford Chronicle.

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