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The Ball Family

An extended family tree showing the complicated inter-relationships between several families can be seen on the Family Tree page. It would be useful to make a printed copy for easy reference while reading these pages.

Ball Family Part 1


Ball Family Part 2

Catholic Houses

There were several domestic chapels which figure in the history of the Catholic families in north Lancashire. One important set of records still to consult was that produced in 1717 of 'non-jurors', that is, those who refused to swear the oath of allegiance. The oath would have made them deny their faith and carried penalties such as fines or sequestration of property.

Until the repeal of Hardwick's Marriage Act of 1754, that is, about 1837, Catholics like all nonconformists (only Jews and Quakers being excepted) were legally bound to marry in the parish church. They often had a marriage in their own chapel, sometimes referred to as a 'blessing'. Quite a number of poorer people did not bother with the official ceremony but if there was property involved this was risky as their children were officially illegitimate and barred from any inheritance.

Thomas Tyldesley of Myerscough Lodge near Garstang kept a diary from 1712-1714 which gives a picture of life for Catholics in penal times, when practice of the "faith" could mean fines or death, and Mass was only celebrated quietly without any fuss at a farmhouse. The gathering would be pre-arranged by word of mouth in a well-known code of secret passwords. The diary opens with:

"Went with Mrs to Booke to pray* and home to dinr." Because the saying of Mass was forbidden by law it was referred to for safety simply as 'prayers'. 'dinr is of course an abbreviation of 'dinner'."Mrs" was his wife who had a town house in Lancaster and "Booke" was Bulk, the farmhouse at Dolphin Lee by the Lune.

Dolphin Lee

Dolphin Lee (or Dolphinlee, or various other spellings) was in Bulk. It was occupied at first by the Copelands who were for a long time stewards to the Daltons of Thurnham Hall for their estates in Bulk, Aldcliffe and other villages now also swallowed up by Lancaster. Bulk is in a fold of the hill where the River Lune turns to wind its way round the north of Lancaster to the sea. Most of Bulk is now covered by the housing estates of Ridge, and modern communications, not least the M6 motorway, have opened up the area so that it is difficult to imagine how hidden it must once have been.

During the 17th and 18th centuries the private chapel at Dophinlee was open to the Catholics of Bulk who were by law obliged to attend the parish church for worship. William Ball and his wife Cecily were fined £60 each for this 'offence' in 1682*. In the earlier years priests were executed if caught and those who harboured them also faced severe penalties. Secrecy was therefore of vital importance. It is said that there was a hiding place for priests there, though this can no longer be verified as the house was demolished in the early 20th century.

* Source - Lancashire Quarter Sessions Records: Register of Recusants 1682 QDV6, (printed by NW Catholic Family History Society p.43)

The chapel certainly existed and is well attested, including by one Robert Ball in his will first made in 1642 where he mentions 'the Chapel when wanted'. Mass, referred to as 'prayers' for safety was said secretly there by Peter Winder who was ordained at Lisbon. He arrived in Bulk in 1644, going to Quernmore and then Robert Hall, near Hornby, where there was also a domestic chapel. (See Catholic Record Society - CRS - Vol V Miscellanea) In Jun 1744 72 were confirmed at Dolphin Lee by Bishop Walton, Vicar Apostolic of the Northern District, one of the four districts to which missions in England were assigned.. (The title 'Bishop' is only used for convenience - Catholics weren't allowed by law to have bishops until the restoration of the hierarchy in 1850/1)

Dolphin Lee

The lintel with its inscription of 1623 which used to be over the door at Dolphinlee, is now preserved in Lancaster Museum. It reads:

My photo of this lintel was taken by kind permission of Lancaster Record Office with permission to reproduce it solely for my ongoing family newsletter. This is quite understandable in view of the fact that 99% of this page when last updated in 2005,, has since been reproduced online elsewhere word for word without authorisation or acknowledgement. - a common courtesy - thus destroying ts authenticity. The studies in these web pages are the fruit of 30 years of research and a thorough knowledge of both the physical and religious background. Further details are always available here.

The house shows evidence of alteration over the years. The original house was obviously symmetrical, with two windows each side of the porch in both main storeys, the part on the right being added later with a crude doorway and one window to each storey. The roof shows markings and the lintels over the windows are not extended into this portion. From this time they both obviously had separate entrances. The third storey in the porch indicates an attic room, how big is impossible to tell but it could have provided a good place for keeping watch

Dolphinlee was visited by a party of teachers in 1909 who left a description of it. Perhaps the photo, printed by Billington & Brownbill in the History of St Peter's, Lancaster, (Sands & Co. 1910) dates from this visit. The only trace of it now is in the name of a small bridge over the canal.

The history of the Ball family is divided into two parts, both being closely associated with Dolphinlee - perhaps at the same time, with one family in each of the two parts of the house.

The Ball Family Part I
The earlier families are closely related but their relationship to each other is often tenuous in the absence of vital records. Being Catholics they did their best to avoid attending the parish church, sometimes only appearing in lists of recusants being fined heavily for not doing so. There are three basic shrinks of families,

  1. the (known) descendants of William Ball and Cicely Worthington, and a Thomas, a 'non-juror' who has variously been identified both as their son and as the ancestor of John and Jane Ball (which can't be correct!)
  2. the possible ancestors of John and Jane Ball of Rossall, beginning with George?
  3. another Lancaster family, William Ball who had a son and a grandson both named Marmaduke Ball.

The Ball Family Part 2
The second shrink, with a clear line of descent and related to the Cornthwaites, must be cousins of the first if not direct descendants. The families overlap in the 18th century with those in Part I even if they can't be identified with them.


Wills - there are a large number of these, all the relevant ones being transcribed on a separate webpage but cross-referenced with the above pages. They usually identify and confirm two generations and often add married names for children. In one case it is fairly obvious that the children were quite young though the father was of more 'mature' age. They also enable wrong links to be avoided. For example, at first glance it looks as though Thomas Ball whose will was proved in 1769 could be a son of Robert Ball and Winifred Taylor, but he leaves' five pounds part thereof to the daughter of my eldest brother, George Ball, deceased' whereas George (1703-1748), the son of Robert and Winifred, was a Catholic priest

Sources used also include:

Recusant records - these are very useful as at their best the lists made at the request of Parliament in 1767, known as 'The Return of Papists', give information rather like a census, shrinking families together, giving the father's occupation, each person's age, and the number of years they have been in that particular parish. These have often added other family members for whom there is no other source. For the Ball family the 1767 record for Lancaster gives details of the families of :

Lancaster 69
Thomas & Agnes
William Ball & Sarah
[including. Dolphinlee]
William Ball
Thomas Ball & Elizabeth [Brown]

Baptisms : There was no law requiring baptism in the parish church though in parts of the country where there were no priests for many years this was the usual practice. Lancashire was an exception, with its enormous number of 'safe' houses with domestic chapels but there are no records of Catholic baptisms until the late 18th century. Sometimes none were kept, or - perhaps being kept in a priest's small personal notebook - did not survive.. The earlier parish records only give the father's name and the same names recur in every generation! Unfortunately many of the early records from Lancaster do not give any names other than that of the child or person being baptised, making them impossible to identify without other sources. Otherwise Catholic records give more details than the parish records, adding the mother's maiden name, whether either parent is Catholic or not, and giving the names of the godparents who are often other family members.

The abbreviation sps.(sponsores) = godparents

In the area where the Balls lived, from the Lune valley (Lonsdale) to the coast the following Catholic records are relevant, with their earliest dates: Lancaster 1784, Thurnham 1785, Robert Hall 1757 (with gaps), Hornby 1762.

Marriages: From 1754 to 1837 Hardwick's Marriage Act made it obligatory for all couples (except Jews and Quakers) to marry in the parish church. Most Catholic couples probably conformed, often marrying by licence (to avoid attending for the reading of the banns) but records of marriages in general are incomplete.
Catholic records: Lancaster 1785, Thurnham from 1852, Robert Hall - none, Hornby 1762

Deaths: Catholic records are usually of deaths, not burials as in the parish church records. Burials were generally in the parish graveyard and only a few Catholic chapels had graveyards of their own - usually for lack of suitable land - when it was possible or safe enough. Later, where the local vicars were tolerant, a part of the graveyard was often set aside for Catholics. Ages are not given in burial records until well into the 19th century, though the age and the father's name may be given in the case of a child.
First Catholic records: Lancaster 1799, Thurnham from 1825, Robert Hall 1757-8 (1 year only), Hornby 1762

Confirmations - there are numbers of these, but identifying individuals is mostly guesswork as they are only lists of names, the records being dated
Lancaster 1793-1839, Thurnham 1791-1853, Robert Hall 1762, Hornby 1813, 1821, 1831

The following tree of the generations from John and Jane Ball onwards is also included in the Ball Family Part 2.

Family Tree with descent from the Ball Family


Updated 2011