Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: June 26, 2017
Webpage updated: October 04, 2019




When Mr Albert Casanova Ballard (1866-1942) arrived in Plymouth in 1923 he was apparently dismayed by the poverty he saw, which he blamed on the fact that most of young males in the Town had lost their fathers during the Great War and their mothers were having difficulty in earning money and looking after their children.

He asked a couple of Royal Marines to help him start a boys' club.  This was started in the Ebenezer Church Hall in Treville Street but soon it was necessary to move to larger premises in Athenaeum Lane.  Finally an old soap works in West Hoe Road became available so he bought the premises, had them demolished and designed a fine new building to be erected in its place.  This was the Ballard Institute for Boys.

That new building, some five storeys high and with a lift capable of holding 50 people, was opened by Lady Astor MP on Saturday May 12th 1928.  It was built by Messrs Solomon and Rennie, who, it is said, went bankrupt because Mr Ballard refused to pay their bill when the cost went over the 60,000 he had been quoted for it.

Although there was wide praise for Mr Ballard's work, Lady Astor laid into to him even at the opening ceremony.  She is reported to have said: 'I perfectly understand Mr Ballard's desire to be among children and to spend his time and money on them, but I do not understand why Mr Ballard should only cater for boys.  That is beyond my comprehension.  In that he is a little behind his time, because the world now sees that if you want boys to go straight the girls have got to go straight'.  However, she did acknowledge that 'underneath his shy and modest exterior was beating a heart of gold'.

During the ceremony it was announced that Mr Ballard was allocating capital of 40,000 to provide scholarships worth 2,000 for members of the club wishing to attend the University College of the South West at Exeter.  This was the largest benefaction that the College had yet received.

The guest list at the opening reads like a "Who's Who" of Plymouth society, amongst them being Lord Astor; Mr & Mrs J H Beckly; Mr R J Fittall, the Town Clerk; Mr Leslie Hore-Belisha MP; Mr & Mrs Henry Hurrell; Alderman J J H Moses; Mr & Mrs Solomon Stephens; Major and Mrs Clifford Tozer; Sir Frederick Winnicott; and not forgetting the Mayor of Plymouth, Mr W H J Priest, and his Deputy, Mr Lovell Dunstan.

But the Ballard Institute was not without its critics.  The vicar of Saint James the Great at Keyham, the Reverend Ernest Atherton, called it "False Charity" and claimed 'it is sapping the moral and spiritual fibre of the nation.  It is the counterpart of an utter lack of faith or belief in anything but the supremacy of private judgement'.

While even out at Yelverton, the owner of the Devon Tors Hotel made a formal complaint was made at the annual general meeting of the Roborough Commoners about the noise and nuisance brought every Sunday afternoon by the arrival of 40 or 50 Ballard Boys to play football outside the Hotel.  However, one Commoner stated that the Boys caused little disturbance as they were there for only 15 or 20 minutes.  A letter of complaint was written to Mr Ballard, who a few days later responded that the boys were merely warming up after the cold char-a-banc journey out from Plymouth and were not there for much longer than 15 minutes.  Unfortunately he does not reveal what they did after the warm-up.

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

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

What had once been described as 'a veritable fairy-land for boys' was just an empty shell at the end of the War and to make matters worse found itself located in an area earmarked for industrial development rather than recreational use.  The War Damage Commission agreed to pay 87,000 for repairs but it seemed inevitable that the existing remains would be demolished. 

A new Ballard Centre was opened in Crescent Avenue, at the end of Millbay Road, on Tuesday June 11th 1963.  Sir John Hunt, of Mount Everest fame, performed the ceremony in the presence of the Lord Mayor of Plymouth, Alderman H M Pattinson, and the chairman of the Ballard Trust, Alderman Leslie F Paul.  Doctor Andrew Scotland, Plymouth's Director of Education, commented in his speech that 'there were some people in advance of their time who were misunderstood and misrepresented: he was sure Mr Ballard was one'.  Continuing, he said: 'In many ways he seemed to be an unhappy man, but he had a great regard for the masculine side of youth.  Twenty-one years ago people were not all that interested in youth work. They did not create bursaries and scholarships.  But that was what this lonely and strange man did'.  The building was dedicated by the Reverend Maurice Harker, minister of King Street Wesleyan Methodist Chapel.

Before leaving the Ballard Centre for a visit to Drake's Island, Sir John Hunt presented Duke of Edinburgh awards to 19-years-old Christopher Fruer, of Woodland Youth Club; Vic Ashton, also 19, of the 5th Plymouth Scout Troop; 18-years-old Alan Dobinson, of the 22nd Plymouth Scout Troop; and Alick Barnes, 18, of the Battisborough House School.

The new building was financed partly by 87,000 received for war damage to the old premises, partly from a grant of 10,000 by the Ministry of Education; and partly from Mr Ballard's residual estate.

The Ballard Centre was demolished in 2005 after laying empty for a couple of years but the Albert Casanova Ballard (Deceased) Trust is still operating in the City.