John Henry Ball


The Versailles leaving Newhaven for France

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Seaford photographer, active in the mid and late 1930s. John Ball and his wife, Audrey, ran the Harvey House Guest House in Claremont Road, Seaford, from about 1934 to just after the start of the Second World War. He worked as a photographer at Harvey House until about 1938 when he set up a separate studio at 32 Church Road in Seaford. Perhaps residents had complained about the smell of chemicals, but more probably he just needed more space. The Seaford Official Guide for 1940, which was evidently printed before the start of the war, carried an advertisement for the Guest House whose terms were two and a half to three guineas weekly. John Ball contributed photographs to the Guide. As the war intensified, he and Audrey decided to close the Guest House and studio, which no doubt were experiencing a great reduction in business. Because of the vulnerability of the south coast to enemy attack, the Balls left Seaford and went to live with Audrey's parents at Thrapston in Northamptonshire.

During the middle and late 1930s John Ball had produced good quality real photographic cards, photogravures and halftones of Seaford, Newhaven, Southease, West Dean, Alfriston, Wilmington (the Long Man) and Lewes. His many real photographics of shipping in Newhaven Harbour are particularly well known to collectors. Less familiar are his artistic and atmospheric cards, for example an attractive real photographic showing a storm over Newhaven Bay with the breakwater in the distance and another equally fine view of the sun setting over the breakwater. A delicately toned photogravure of Newhaven swing-bridge is also memorable.

Ball's real photographic cards typically have white borders (though some are unchacteristically borderless) and neat, machine printed or in some cases handwritten captions. Many are labelled "Sussex Pictorial Series. John Ball, Seaford" on the back, but a few are labelled "Photo. J. H. Ball" on the front.

In May 1936, the Russian steamer "Ussuri" grounded on Seaford beach, but was later refloated. John Ball published at least two cards of the stranded ship, one of which is reproduced by Tony Payne in his book Newhaven in old picture postcards: lifeboats - wrecks - rescues (1991, European Library, Zaltbommel, Netherlands).

East Sussex Record Office (ESRO) houses a large collection of John Ball's lantern slides, postcards and photographs, including views of Harvey House and its garden (AMS 6797).

John Ball was born on January 29, 1901 at his parent's home at 16 Eleanor Road in Stratford, Newham in East London. His father was Henry William Ball, who was described on the birth certificate as a brass fitter, and his mother was Isabella Elizabeth Ball, formerly Bland. He had a younger brother, David William Ball, and an older sister, Grace Ruth Ball. When the 1911 census was held, the Ball family was living at 52 Rectory Road, Manor Park East in East Ham. John's father was recorded as working as a brass pattern maker. Later both men became Baptist ministers. The ESRO archive includes two cards addressed to the Rev John Henry Ball at 11 Cherry Orchard Road in Bromley in Kent, which was the home of the pastor of Bromley Common Baptist church in 1928-30. Later, John Ball suffered a loss of faith and decided to give up his ministry. His father in contrast held his faith to the end, and died in 1938 at the age of 74 while conducting a service at Lancing.

John Ball married at the Baptist Meeting House in Thrapston in Northamptonshire on June 15, 1933, when he was 32 years old. His bride, Audrey Chatell Hepher, was the daughter of Garner Prior Hepher, a confectioner (who in 1911 was described as a fitter). She had been born in Thrapston, and at the time of her marriage lived in the High Street. Chatell was her mother's maiden name. John Ball was working as a private secretary, and living at 105 Trafalgar Road, Portslade on Sea. Some of his photographs in the ESRO archive show the hills around Shoreham and are dated 1932, which suggests he may have taken up photography soon after arriving in Portslade, if not before.

John and Audrey Ball had two sons: John Robin Ball, born in 1937 and Peter Garner Ball, born in 1940. After leaving Seaford, John Ball, who was too old to be called up, took a job as a civilian at Molesworth airfield on the border of Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire, which became a key United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) base. Shortly before the end of the war he moved with his family to Birmingham, where he secured a civil service post. After receiving, it is presumed, further training, he became an industrial psychologist working at a number of government rehabilitation centres. Retiring early because of ill health, he and Audrey moved to Church Stretton in Shropshire. They finally settled at Kirton near Ipswich in Suffolk to be near their elder son.

John Henry Ball died at home at 13 Oakdene at Kirton on November 15, 1997. Although he gave up professional photography on leaving Seaford, he retained a keen interest in water colour painting into his retirement.

Acknowledgement: This website is greatly indebted to John Robin Ball and his son Martin for supplying some of the above information.

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