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Frank’s ripping family yarn

Though Hastings is rich in history, there are not many who have traced their roots here back through the centuries. One who has is Frank Ball, documenting the existence of his forbears back to Tudor times, as he describes in his book Pirates in the Cupboard.

Frank, who was born in Rotherfield in 1945, was intrigued by the family tales of his father Nelson, and after his father died at the youthful age of 42, decided to start digging into the family history.

Surrounded by family history: Frank Ball

It was extremely hard work, but he turned up no lack of interesting material. “The research was horrendous,” he says. “From this book I would say there’s at least another three or four books.”

As far back as the 13th century Frank found mention of the Stanbynorths, a related family, whose name has now died out in these parts. But the ball proper starts rolling in the 16th century, with William Ball, who died in 1557 and tops the first of three family trees tracing the family down to modern times.

That William Ball – there have been various others – was a fisherman, as were many of his descendants down through the ages. Two still are. No-one became rich from that occupation, and it was common enough in those times to turn to privateering, which was acceptable to powers that were, or smuggling, which was not, to improve one’s income – hence the title of the book.

A notable privateer was Richard Ball, who in 1758 became commander of John & Stephen, a 40-ton fighting vessel. It was the time of the Seven Years War with France when privateers had carte blanche to attack enemy shipping. The spoils were shared, with the bulk going to the commander and the owners, and Richard, also a part-owner of the ship, did well, going on to acquire a stake in a much larger vessel.

A foot in both camps

Another intriguing character was another William Ball, who in the late 1700s was made customs surveyor, benefiting from each seizure he made of smuggled goods. But he took what we might call a pragmatic approach to his work. “William made a bloody fortune, he nicked the guys who didn’t look after him or weren’t related, and other times he took a cut. With the best will in the world, he was corrupt,” says Frank.

Within living memory one of Frank’s grandmothers ran The Ship Inn, which has since closed, in what was then Bourne Street. Surrounded by history, Frank has a great feeling of belonging in Hastings. “I love it when I walk around Old Town or George St, and know that William, the customs man, lived there, or 200 years ago someone other member of the family lived there.”

Having got the historical writing bug, Frank is now working on a book about Adam Hide and Nicholas Wingfield, crew members of the Roebuck privateer – the Wingfields were related by marriage to the above-mentioned Richard Ball – who in 1758 were put on trial for piracy, found guilty and hanged.

A printer by trade, Frank also works as a photographer, and will have a series of pictures of geological formations on Rock-a-Nore published in Sussex Life magazine in November.

 

Pirates in the Cupboard, by Frank Ball. Published by Rotherfield Studio 2010, 245pp, £25. Available from Rotherfield Studio (www.rotherfieldstudio.com) and Hastings Information Centre.

 

Posted 17:45 Sunday, Oct 2, 2011 In: Hastings People

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