Edward Hughes Ball Hughes

Edward Hughes Ball Hughes
Other names
The Golden Ball
Birth and death
1798 - 1863
Profession details
Dandy, Serious Gambler
Related place
John D.Smith

Life beyond Elmbridge

Edward Hughes Ball was born on 26 May 1798 to David and Sarah Ball of Lambourne, Essex. He had three older sisters. The family was not particularly well off but Edward's grandmother, Ruth Ball had been widowed around 1760. She remarried in 1765, her second husband being a naval officer who rose to become Admiral Sir Edward Hughes. In various actions against the French Admiral Hughes's fleet captured many enemy merchantmen and as was the custom the Admiral took the lion's share of the prize money, thereby amassing a large fortune. The Admiral died in 1794 and Lady Hughes in 1800. The couple had no children and Lady Hughes left the estate in trust for young Edward Ball until he reached the age of 21. Thus in June 1819 shortly after reaching 21 he came into possession of a vast fortune: two London houses, estates in Essex and over £590,000 in securities. His first action was to apply for a royal licence to change his name to Edward Hughes Ball Hughes "in testimony of his gratitude" to the Admiral. His new-found wealth enabled him to enter London society where he soon became known as a dandy and, according to one contemporary, "perhaps the greatest gambler of his day", frequenting all the fashionable clubs. His famed wealth earned him the nick-name, "The Golden Ball". In 1823 Edward visited the King's Theatre where he saw and was captivated by a young ballerina, Maria Mercandotti. They were married in Scotland in March 1823 giving rise to the comment: "The fair damsel is gone; and no wonder at all That, bred to the dance, she is gone to a Ball".

Life in Elmbridge

About this time, Frederick, Duke of York, was trying to sell his Oatlands estate. Ball Hughes in October 1824 agreed to buy the whole estate, some 3,233 acres, for £145,000. It seems that he moved in immediately upon signing the contract although it was another three years before the legal conveyance was completed. At Oatlands he and his wife did a great deal of extravagant entertaining but also spent time at his West End house enjoying the pleasures of London society. Through his expensive tastes and, worse, his addictive gambling, he rapidly squandered the remainder of his fortune and by 1827 found himself heavily in debt. So much so that he fled to France to escape his creditors. Moreover his marriage to Maria had not been a success and they separated at about this time. He left his financial affairs in the hands of his solicitors, Frere and Forster and the management of the Oatlands estate to his bailiff, William H. Haines. The estate farms and other assets yielded some income for Edward but nowhere near enough to meet his needs even though he was, by his standards, living frugally. He therefore decided in 1829 to sell Oatlands. The first attempt met with little success, less than 800 acres being disposed of. Most notably, Brooklands Farm and Byfleet Manor Farm were both sold to Lord King of Ockham - many years later his grandson, Hugh Locke King would build Brooklands motor racing track on this land. Also subsequent to the auction Lord Francis Egerton bought the whole of St George's Hill. It was not until 1846 that the estate was finally sold. For the auction sales in that year it was arbitrarily divided into a great many lots and the present layout of roads and plot boundaries in the Oatlands area is a direct consequence of this division. Indirectly, therefore, because of the way in which the estate was broken up, Edward Hughes Ball Hughes can be said to have left his mark on the district even though his name appears nowhere. The mansion itself and several other lots were bought by James Watts Peppercorne. The South Western Hotel Company which he founded, converted the mansion into the Oatlands Park Hotel, which opened for business in July 1858. Edward Hughes Ball Hughes died at St. Germains, France, on March 13, 1863.

Further Reading

Michael Blackman : Oatlands and The Golden Ball, Walton & Weybridge Local History Society, 1986.

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