Edward Hughes Ball Hughes - The Golden Ball (26 May 1798 – 10 March 1863)
Edward Hughes Ball was born in 1798 and was probably destined to be something of a 'personality' from the moment he drew his first breath.
Educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge, his chapter in history began to be written in 1819 when he inherited the considerable fortune of £40,000 per year on the death of a step-uncle on his mother's side. Having been given the middle name of Hughes after this uncle, he then added it again on the end to become 'Edward Hughes Ball Hughes' whether this was an act of gratitude or a condition of the legacy is not yet clear. What was very quickly to become clear, was that the now fantastically wealthy Edward had is eyes firmly set on making his mark within the high society of the period.
Widely regarded as 'a man of extreme handsomeness', Edward wasted little time in styling himself as a dandy and making his entrances into society functions with as much flourish as he could muster and, by all accounts, he could muster a lot. Soon becoming known as "The Golden Ball" within a circle of 'friends' that revolved more around sex, scandal, money and fashion than the concerns of the large and powerful empire that was Britain at the time. Edward gained the royal 'approval' quickly and this led to him beginning the process to purchase Oatlands from the Duke of York in 1824, only a very few years after he came into his fortune.
Thus the Oatlands Estate, which then comprised 3,512 acres and included the Manors of Byfleet & Weybridge, Walton on Thames and Walton Leigh, passed into Edward's ownership in 1827 - the delay having been due to questions over the legal title to some parts of the estate, dating back to the Duke of York's purchase from The Duke of Newcastle (Henry Pelham Clinton, 9th Earl of Lincoln) in 1788.
Edward had used Oatlands for his honeymoon in 1823 when, as befitted his flamboyant style, he married a beautiful 16 year old Spanish dancer 'Mademoiselle Mercandoti" who was then the toast of the London. Never one to do things by halves, Edward had whisked her away before her performance at a packed King's Theatre, the manager being forced onto the stage to announce that "Mademoiselle Mercandoti has disappeared" - the marriage came to light a short time later. The novelist Ainsworth commented "The damsel is gone, and no wonder at all that, bred to the dance, she has gone to the Ball...". At the time of his marriage, the Rhode Island American reported in its 'Society Pages' that Edward was now "... a young man with the solid charms of an income in the funds, of one hundred and twenty thousand dollars a year."
During his ownership of Oatlands, Edward was regularly reported as 'striding about his newly acquired estate, hunting in his latest creations for fashion; an army of servants carrying guns, wine and food behind him.'
Possibly because of the easy manner in which his wealth was acquired, Edward seems to have possessed no ability to comprehend what he had and, like many in similar situations before and since, developed a gambling habit, placing huge bets on anything from cards to the toss of a coin, that was to prove his ultimate downfall.
In a “pamphlet” printed in 1824 a letter appeared, signed at the end "Admonisher", Edward was warned about the social company he was keeping:
"Another observation I must make - you were chosen a member of White's Club-house on the day of your marriage. Listen, Sir, a WARNING VOICE; there are THREE members of THAT Club who have ALREADY marked you as a victim to combinations you cannot detect, and to skill you are unable to oppose. Ruin will follow your steps THERE; you cannot escape. If you play in private, or at subscription houses you devote yourself to inevitable destruction, and your whole family to beggary. In these slaughter houses, carcass butchers of rank and title will knock down your whole fortune in one night"
Edward seemingly took little notice - it was later recorded that:
“Hughes lost £45,000 in one night gambling at Wattier's Club, Piccadilly, London”
That would be regarded as a large enough sum even today – it was, after all, more than his annual income from the will of his step-uncle. In the 1820s it was positively astronomic. Depending which method is used to calculate the relative value, it represents something between £3.4 and £37 million in today’s money!!!
It was Edward's selling of the estate in 1846 that shaped Oatlands into the village that we see today. Although his Oatlands speculation was, in the end, one of the only things he did that ever, on paper at least, showed a profit it proved only adequate to clear his debts and Edward Hughes Ball Hughes ended his days living, by his standards, a relatively prudent and quiet life in Paris, where he had fled to escape his creditors.
After he died on the 10th of March 1863 in St.Germaine-en-Laye, France, his will was subsequently probated on the 14th of July in the Principal Registry in London and it is somewhat chilling to read "Effects under £30,000" for the man who once had so much - three quarters of what he lost in one night of gambling in Piccadilly without turning a hair...
There is vey little legacy from Edward Hughes Ball Highes visible in the Oatlands of today. In terms of buildings, there is nothing except for the Oatlands Park Hotel which, although heavily remodeled several times over the years, does still retain at its core some of the features which date from Edward's era and earlier, when it was the grand mansion house of the Oatlands Estate.
The 'shape' of the village, though, is undoubtedly something that Edward would recognise - Oatlands Drive is very close to the original line of the 'Carriage Drive" that ran between the regal estate gates and lodges that guarded each end, Oatlands Chase follows the line of one of the original tracks shown on the 1846 sale plan, as do Oatlands Avenue and St Mary's Road.
St Mary's Road was named Ball's Road until the early 1880s but, despite it being an obvious conclusion that this was after Edward (a conclusion that more than one local history author has incorrectly arrived at), it was actually named after Joseph Ball who purchased it and the adjoining plot in the sale of 19th May 1846.
Oatlands and the Golden Ball by Michael A Blackman
Walton & Weybridge Local History Society 1989