Ross-on-Wye Civic Society

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Ross-on-Wye & District Civic Society newsletter Spring & Autumn 2001 (number 74 & 75)

John Garlick Ball lived from 1793 to 1878. As a young man, between the years 1809 and 1814, he lived and worked in Ross as an Articled Clerk. The section of his memoirs, written in later life, covering the Ross years sheds some interesting light on the history of the town at that time. These memoirs have been researched by Peter Hancock of Leominster on behalf of the Pleydell family, descendants of John Ball, and thanks are due to Mr. Hancock and the Pleydells for permission to publish the extracts.

John Ball's home was in Nailsworth, Gloucestershire and he travelled from there to Ross to meet John Stratford Collins, a solicitor in the town, with whom John was seeking a post as Articled Clerk. His description of his first sight of Ross has a rather familiar ring to it.

Quoted from '4th May'
" father and myself rode on horseback to Ross and saw him - this was in January 1809 - the country in many places was under water - we had to ride in two or three places on the turnpike road for some distance through water above the horses knees and on our arrival at Ross we found the Street called Brookend navigable - two or three boats were floating and taking things to and from the inmates of several houses there while the country from the bottom of the town to Wilton appeared to be almost wholly under water. Altogether it was one of the most desolate spectacles I had ever seen and the language of complaint of sorrow and sad foreboding was on every tongue. We learnt that only one such flood (in or about 1797 I believe) was remembered by the oldest inhabitants."

In May he received his Articles of Clerkship and became a lodger in Mr. Collins's house.

"At Mr. Collins' breakfast table as a rule something useful was read and talked about - his daughters from about 22 years of age down to 12 or 13 and in the vacation a son being present. Mr. C. often asked and encouraged us to ask questions and much have I enjoyed it though in a general way I was far behind the ladies - I may here observe that Mr. Collins lived in the house in which the 'Man of Ross' John Kyrle Esq. lived and died."

The following year Mr. Collins died, the practice being taken over by his son to whom John Ball was assigned.

"The elder Mr. Collins' sudden death was much felt in the town and neighbourhood where he was deservedly respected by many and I was now brought much into communication with many of the town's people - amongst others Mr. James Kibble and his wife who had some years before lived at and near Minchinhampton where some of Mr. Kibbles relations were then living - he was a well read man for one in his situation - a careful and thoughtful man not given to take dogmas on trust but deeply impressed with the religious view of the Evangelical section of the Church of England (then, in 1810, and there apparently a very small one) he had been a regular hearer many years before of the Hon. and Revd. Thos. Scott.

I also soon became acquainted with Mr. Thos. W. Purchas a young Wine Merchant but little my senior who by the death of his father had been left some time before to the management of a respectable and increasing business and the care of his Mother two Sisters and a brother (then quite a boy) - we were pleased with each others family and after a time I became intimately acquainted with the other members of the family - the younger daughter became in a few years my affectionate and devoted wife.

Mr. Collins having gone to a small house near the Crofts I went to one or two places for a few weeks only as a boarder and lodger but in a few months took two rooms as lodger only in the house of Mr. Uriah Delahay - in the Churchyard - he and his wife engaging to purchase food etc. and to manage for me and here I remained till I finally left Ross.

Early in July 1811 Mrs. Purchas the Mother of my friend died and this event brought first distinctly to my mind that there was something more than common acquaintance between her youngest daughter and myself - a secret sympathy convinced me that she was more to me than any other person living - it was not long after - I believe it was in the same month - that a serious fire occurred in Mr. Kibble's premises - it was discovered past midnight and I was roused by a knocking at the door of my lodgings where the key of the Church porch (in which the fire engine stood) was kept.

On looking out of the window I saw Mr. Kibble not half dressed - he told me of the fire - I ran down and he put his watch some cash and books into my hands and entreated me to do what I could. There had been just before a slight misunderstanding between us. I assisted in getting the Engine out - proceeded to the place exerted myself vigorously and secured the approval of all who witnessed the fire - indeed I was supposed to have incurred no slight hazard. Impressed with a fear that the fire would break out during the following night I succeeded in getting a person to sit up with me to watch and have all necessary appliances and between two and three o'clock in the morning it broke out accordingly and in all probability the consequences but for our watch would have been serious.

The fire was however soon got under and some hours later fatigued and dirty I went to the River Wye for bathing and ablutions little dreaming of danger. I always enjoyed the water and perhaps continued too long in it but that day and part of the next passed before I had reason to fear. The evening of the second day however found me prostrated and I was compelled almost the first time in my life to call in medical aid. I was confined to my room for some days and was literally not able to walk across it. Dr. Evans attended me most kindly and after a short time I was enabled to move by degrees."

"I became a Member of the Ross Reading Society of which The Revd. Bowan Thickins was Manager. This supplied me with reading of a better character than the circulating libraries and afforded me better opportunities of becoming acquainted with some respectable and reading persons whom I might not otherwise have known. Mr. Thickins was a very extraordinary man of humble origin and considerable wealth of which he thought very much having a peculiarity in his speech and hesitancy in manner he soon requested me to take the Office of Auctioneer on selling the books to the highest bidder at the annual meeting of the Members.

I had some time previously been a teacher - the only unpaid Male one in the Sunday School then held over the Market House and having been when walking up to the Church with the boys pointed at by Capt. Ball with his ragged regiment - this rather encouraged than discouraged me. I well remember two atrocious murders committed about this time in Ratcliffe Highway, London - families named Mar and Wiliamson and they excited more universal alarm than I ever remember to have heard before or have known since. Universal fear seemed to prevail and in many towns associations for the purpose of patrolling the streets were formed. It was talked of but only talked of in Ross and therefore I occasionally sallied out at very uncertain hours and walked thro' great parts of the streets. Some curious scenes I encountered and in one instance was seriously threatened by a man to whom I had communicated the disagreeable intelligences that his shutters were insecure.

I well remember that one night Mr. Nathaniel Morgan a Quaker Banker coming to my lodgings with a man who had just before in a bye street encountered a most formidable looking personage whom size and height and strange manner he described at length. Mr. Morgan wished me to go with his informant to look for this dreadful man but I declined the offered help and said I would walk out shortly alone and look for him. I did so and soon saw him approaching. I met and passed him he was made up for the occasion. I looked at him very closely and after a few paces turned and followed him at an increased speed - he slackened his and as I again passed him I addressed him by the name of a young tradesman of the town told him I knew him and advised him to go home - he did not speak - I went toward his house and kept (somewhat concealed myself) in sight of it till I saw him go in and I then went and told Mr. Morgan all was safe but I kept the secret and never divulged it to any one but the frightful one who acknowledged that it was done to excite remark or perhaps alarm."

"Mr. Thos Rudge who was then an Articled Clerk with Mr. Hooper - Solicitor of Ross - and myself arranged and carried out a plan for meeting at my lodgings once or twice a week to read and talk on professional matters and we succeeded in making notes on Blackstone which were useful to us. I found the friendships of many invaluable - Mr. Amos Jones - Nathaniel Morgan the Quaker Banker - Mr. Fisher of the Lea his son-in-law The Revd. Davis and his good wife, Mr. & Mrs. Hardwick of Lower Weston - The Revd. Thomas King (Independent Minister) The Revd. B. Kickson and his kind wife who were specially kind to my affianced one - indeed I had continued cause for gratitude. I cannot omit Mr. Thos Jenkins who was for a long time a kind and useful friend and advisor but who went off on strange Church views going so far as to make the boys carry an embroidered cross on a black book thro' the Church yard to the Church - stop and turn to the Communion table when they got opposite to sit and make their bows or genuflections and burn incense in the Church - he could not bear my protest against all this and our friendship was thus broken up.

Many times during my Clerkship I walked either from Ross to Gloucester or from Gloucester to Nailsworth on my journey home - reversing it on my return - thus saving half coach hire which was then no trifle - and twice walked all the way from Ross to Nailsworth - once before a very late breakfast and once after dinner. Sometime before I left Ross on the expiration of my Clerkship, I went by appointment to Fownhope to a Mr. Nathaniel Purchas the elder brother of my beloved Martha's Father and a Trustee of his Will." * Mr. Thos. W. Purchas accompanied me the greatest part of the way and was with me then as well as Mr. Nathaniel Purchas Jnr. whose father was then a very aged man and nearly blind. I was very kindly received and the result of the interview was that a way was opened for me again to visit the house in Ross occasionally which doubtless I did."

* Mr. Purchas' house was painted by the Hereford artist James Wathen and appears in 'James Wathen's Herefordshire' by David Whitehead and Ron Shoesmith, where Nathaniel Purchas (senior) is described as "the uncrowned liquor king of Herefordshire in the late eighteenth century". The house still stands beside the road between Fownhope and Mordiford.

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