Retro: Family tree research led to grisly discoveries

The Ringstead Band, taken in the early 1900s, on the extreme right is Benjamin Roberts, grandfather of Margaret Thatcher
The Ringstead Band, taken in the early 1900s, on the extreme right is Benjamin Roberts, grandfather of Margaret Thatcher

A historian researching his own family tree has uncovered a host of dark tales and secrets from Ringstead.

The books were written by David Ball, a Cambridgeshire native who discovered his own links to Ringstead while looking into his own ancestry.

Among the tales in the books are one of the Baker family. Four sons of the family fought in the First World War (from left Charlie, Herman, Arthur and Walter).

Among the tales in the books are one of the Baker family. Four sons of the family fought in the First World War (from left Charlie, Herman, Arthur and Walter).

However, Mr Ball admitted that the search for his own family proved to be of less interest than the dirt he dug up on several other historic residents.

The tales in the book include one about an ancestor of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who killed a fellow worker with a scythe in a Ringstead field.

David said: “I wanted to try to write the stories of ordinary people, not the landed gentry who usually fill up the pages of village histories.

“These people had little written about them except for censuses from 1841, and the Parish Registers.

The former Swan Inn, in Ringstead, which has been closed for several decades

The former Swan Inn, in Ringstead, which has been closed for several decades

“I wanted to flesh out some of those fascinating lives for others to discover.”

The tales have been collated into two books, Ringstead People and Ringstead People 2, which was produced by Cambridge-based printers Victoire Press.

David said that thanks to the global reach of the internet, he was able to research ancestors of villagers from Manchester to Australia, and gave context to his findings through extensive historical research, often using Northamptonshire Record Office and Northampton Central Library.

An early blog about the discoveries attracted contributions from all over the world, and David has continued to build on his research.

Woodford Mill at Ringstead, pictured in the 1950s

Woodford Mill at Ringstead, pictured in the 1950s

Some of the tragic and dangerous characters David uncovered include three boys who were caught in a storm and lost their lives while sheltering in a barn.

Others include the tale of a young man who kept a diary of his last years as he died of TB, families who found new lives after braving the perilous voyage across the Atlantic, a young schoolmaster who started his career one snowy morning in January and quickly found his world unravelling so that he was forced to leave his post in May, the aforementioned ancestor of Margaret Thatcher who killed a fellow worker with a scythe in the harvest field and a butcher whose heavily pregnant mistress disappeared immediately after she was heard shouting at him that he meant to kill her.

David said: “It’s amazing how extraordinary most ordinary lives are.

“I tried my best to present all the facts as best I could rather than making tenuous imaginative leaps of interpretation.”

A photograph of Ringstead from the Telegraph archives, looking towards High Street (date unknown)

A photograph of Ringstead from the Telegraph archives, looking towards High Street (date unknown)

David added that he was determined to do justice to the unknown lives he was uncovering.

He compiled the stories into a high quality volume to be published for the public to share.

He had the stories professionally typeset and worked with Victoire Press to get the book brought to life.

Fifty copies of Ringstead People were produced initially, as a high quality A4 paperback to ensure images of maps and people were as visible as possible.

Another 50 were printed shortly afterwards to meet demand.

David has now written and published Ringstead People 2 and he says he is keen to encourage others to take up the hobby of researching local histories.

He added: “I believe that having a pride in your past is part of a healthy community.”

Both books are available at £18 each, plus postage and packing of £4, from David Ball, 1 Fenton Road, Warboys, Cambridgeshire, PE28 2SD.

Alternatively, email david@warboys.com with orders and queries.