OLD PLYMOUTH . UK
www.oldplymouth.uk
 

  Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: October 04, 2019
Webpage updated: October 04, 2019

        

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ALBERT CASANOVA BALLARD (1866-1942)

Albert Ballard (minus the "Casanova" middle name by the looks of it) was born in Saint Peter Port, Guernsey, Channel Islands, on July 9th 1866.  His parents were Mr John Ballard, of Cranbrook, Kent, and the former Miss Amelia Fricker, of Guernsey.

At the time of the census in 1851 Mr John Ballard was an ironmonger employing four men at Cranbrook.  It appears that he moved to Guernsey during the late 1850s.

In 1871 young Albert, then aged 4, was living at Rose Place House, Saint Peter Port, Guernsey, with his mother and three older brothers, 11-years-old John Ballard, 9-years-old William Ballard and Henry Ballard, who was 8-years-old.  Amelia was the sister of the head of the household, Mary Bell.

Ten years later the family were living at number 4 Alexandra Road, Hampstead, Middlesex, where Mr John Ballard was articled to a brewer; Mr William Washington Ballard was articled to an architect and Mr Henry Ballard was a cloth woollen merchant.  Albert, now 14 years of age was at school.

At the age of 23, in 1891, Mr Albert Casanova Ballard was already 'living off his own means' in Valley Road, Streatham, London, with an 18-years-old servant and clerk named Mr William W Stenson and 77-years-old Mr Francis Bell, a distant relative, also living on his own means.

There is no trace of Albert in the 1901 census so we could speculate that he was abroad at the time, enjoying some of his wealth.

He reappears in the 1911 census, as a guest staying at the Tregenna Castle Hotel, Saint Ives, in Cornwall, no less.  He was still single and was declared as a 'Gentleman'.

It is said that Mr Albert Casanova Ballard appeared in Plymouth in 1923.  But for around ten years before that he provided scholarships for boys to attend Westminster School and Dulwich College, in London.

In Plymouth he observed how unruly the boys of the Town were and blamed their behaviour on the fact that they were born during the Great War, when their fathers were away fighting.  Many were now fatherless and their mothers were struggling to support them properly.  It is said that he asked a couple of Royal Marines to help him found a boys' club, the objects of which were to educate boys of conspicuous talent and deserving ability, to send boys to the University College of the South West at Exeter, to encourage outside sport and recreation, and to train youths to become good citizens.

This was started in the Ebenezer Church Hall in Treville Street but it soon had to move to larger premises in Athenaeum Lane.  Finally the site of the Millbay Soap Works became available so he bought the premises, had them demolished and replaced it with a palatial building to be known as the Ballard Institute.

The Ballard Institute for Boys in West Hoe Road was officially opened in May 1928, the first occasion upon which Mr Ballard had made any appearance in public.

At the beginning of 1929 Mr Ballard announced that he intended to give a ten shilling note to every boy who attended the Sunday service at the Institute when the total reached 5,000.  On the last Sunday in January 1929 the number of boys at the service was 5,800.

At one time he encouraged boys to attend the Sunday service by giving them each a sixpenny piece when they turned up.  Not surprisingly this became immensely popular and ordinary churches emptied of young lads.  This act of philanthropy upset the established churches, causing Mr Ballard to write: 'I feel I have been the victim of misrepresentation since I came here'.  One boy who attended a Sunday service held there was seen to be in old and tattered clothes.  He was led upstairs, fearing he was to be excluded from the club, but was instead given a suit, shoes and an overcoat, all of the correct size and all brand new.  It gave the lad pride in himself.

To pacify the local clergy he gave them 40,000 to award scholarships.

Many other boys found themselves better off in a different way when Mr Ballard celebrated the coronation of His Majesty King George VI in May 1937.   Without warning he presented them with a National Provincial Bank book each, with an entry for 5 already in them.  This was perhaps double the average weekly wage for a man in those days.  Mr Ballard was cunning, however, for what he apparently omitted to tell the boys was that if the fiver remained untouched for twelve months, he would give them an additional ten shillings.  Such was the poverty at the time, in the 1930s, that few boys earned that extra contribution although it has to be said that the original money was mainly spent on new clothes.

It is not clear if this represented the gift of 10,000 to the boys of Plymouth that he announce at that time or the gift was additional.

Mr Ballard also gave a cheque for 500 Guineas (525) to Plymouth Argyle Football Club when they were in financial difficulties and he also supported the Plymouth Speedway.  Both organisations elected him their president in 1932.

His most well-known act was to create a trust to administer scholarships worth 2,000 each per year to allow thirty boys to attend the University College of the South West.

At first he seems to have been friendly with Lady Astor but she was very critical of the fact that the Institute was only for boys.  He refused to admit girls and this gave rise to a claim that he hated women.  It is also thought that this division provoked him to leave Plymouth and go to live in Teignmouth, where his house was called "Mount Everest".

The Institute was closed down on the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939 and the building, along with Mr Ballard's old home at Holland House, were bombed in March 1941.

Mr Albert Casanova Ballard died of a brain haemorrhage at his home in Teignmouth on August 10th 1942.

After a service at Saint Catharine's Church, led by the Bishop of Plymouth and assisted by the Reverend Murray H Rogers, the funeral was held at Efford Cemetery, Plymouth, on the afternoon of Wednesday August 12th 1942.  There was a large attendance, which spilled out into the roadway.  In the congregation were the deputy Lord Mayor of Plymouth, W J W Modley; Mr Colin Campbell, the Town Clerk; Mr A H Cole, the acting secretary of Plymouth Argyle Football Club; and Mr S G R Solomon, the builder of the Ballard Institute.  There was a floral tribute from the staff and boys of Sutton High School, then in evacuation at Saint Austell.

It was reported at this time that he thought nothing of booking blocks of seats at the theatre or cinema for special events and that he had supported around 100 boys each term at the Hoe Grammar School and at Mutley Grammar School.  If the parents of a boy could not afford to buy him clothes then Mr Ballard funded the purchase and if a boy lived a long way from his school he would provide hum with a bicycle.  He accompanied them on their first air or steamer excursions but the boys had to earn the privilege by merit.  The Ballard Boys acted as ball boys for Plymouth Argyle and it was with great pride that he watched them run on to the pitch before a match.  Mr Ballard also paid for an experimental air flight to take the Plymouth Argyle team to an away match at Stoke-on-Trent.

So where did Mr Ballard's wealth come from?  Apparently he had paid builders to construct hundreds of houses in the London suburbs of Crystal Palace, Leyton, New Maldon, Streatham, Walthamstow and Wimbledon, and at the time he came to Plymouth it was thought he owned between 600 and 700 properties in London.  In fact he claimed to have already lost a fortune on the Stock Exchange by 1923.

Not bad for the son of an ironmonger!

Incidentally, all four of the Ballard boys appear to have died unmarried.  William became a qualified architect in London and John became a professional brewer, at one time at Maidenhead, Berkshire, then in Birmingham and finally at Islington, London, where he died in 1913.  Henry was last heard of in 1891 as a farm pupil at Winterbourne Steepleton, Dorset.

 

 

With acknowledgement to Mr Paul J Ballard of Ballina, County Mayo, Ireland,
for the information about Mr Ballard's birthplace and parents; March 2010.