John Ball

John Ball in his distinctive bowler hat, briefing officials at the Southport Rotary Game Fayre

John Ball in his distinctive bowler hat, briefing officials at the Southport Rotary Game Fayre

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AS chief steward for the horse and show jumping sections of the Kilnsey Show, John Ball was the man who introduced Dales pony classes to this popular and characterful event.

He was known on the showground for his insistence on wearing a bowler hat that matched his suit when either stewarding or judging classes.

Mr Ball, who has died at the age of 84, also competed in the flower arranging classes, an interest that developed as he assisted his wife Ruth with the flowers at St Michael and All Angels’ Church, Linton, near to where they ran a B&B.

There was much comment at the centenary show when he won the rose bowl for best in the show, beating his wife.

Born in Southport, Mr Ball was one of two brothers.

Their father George ran a building business which his own father had set up in the early 1890s, and following their apprenticeships as a plasterer and carpenter respectively, the two boys joined him.

The family of their mother Ada worked the land around Altcar, between Southport and Liverpool, and also had a carting and coal merchants business where the brothers began a lifelong association with horses, playing in the stables and walking the decorated shire horses to the local agricultural shows.

They trained as British Show Jumping Association course builders and were appointed to the course building panel in 1956.

Mr Ball worked mainly in the north of England as a course builder, judge and area representative for Area 17 (Lancashire) while his brother Alan became an international course builder.

In the 1980s, Mr Ball also started designing courses for the scurry element of carriage driving trials, most notably at Lowther where he designed the cones tracks for 20 years.

In his school days at King George V School in Southport, he captained the athletics team and sprinted for Salford Harriers. He played hockey for Southport and Birkdale and was an enthusiastic member of Southport Rugby Club. He remained interested in the school throughout his life, helping to renovate a property near Sedbergh as the school’s outdoor pursuits centre, and he became a loyal supporter of its sports teams when his son went to the school.

He and his future wife, Ruth Forrest, were childhood sweethearts, and on their first date – in November 1944 – they went to the cinema. They married in 1954 and every year afterwards they celebrated that first date by a trip to the cinema.

An active member of a numerous organisations in Southport, Mr Ball was chairman of the builders’ trade federation in 1955, church warden of St Andrews Church, area chairman of Round Table in 1966, group scout leader of the 61st Southport and president of Southport Rotary in 1985. He encouraged the club to hold a bi-annual Game and Country Fayre, and through it raised many thousands of pounds for local charities.

Always happiest when in the countryside, in 1981 he bought a cottage to renovate in Settle and when the family business closed in 1987, he and Mrs Ball moved permanently to Yorkshire, giving a welcome to many tired and often damp walkers at their bed and breakfast business at Woodland View in Threshfield.

They quickly embedded themselves into Yorkshire life, Mr Ball joining the Airedale Hunt, Skipton Rotary club and becoming a vociferous supporter of Wharfedale RUFC. He helped maintain the fabric of St Michael and All Angels, was vice chairman of the Threshfield village hall committee, a member of the vernacular building society and the Grassington and District Horticultural Society.

He was regularly to be seen collecting and transplanting young oak saplings as part of the national parks replanting scheme.

His association with Kilnsey Show started with an offer to help the then chairman Jim Caygill. He became a committed helper and supporter, his involvement leading him to taking on the horse and show jumping sections.

Mr Ball returned to Southport in 2001, where he continued his interest in alpine gardening (particularly growing hellebores), working on the support crew at Meresands Wood and membership of 41 club.

He retained an interest in Wharfedale RUFC, marking his fixture card with the results each week, reading the sports pages daily and keeping abreast of equestrian events. He was delighted when a horse trained by Sue Smith won the National.

Mr Ball was a showman, enjoying dressing for the occasion, particularly the Grassington Victorian Christmas weekends.

His taste for spectacle was evident in his instructions for his funeral which included a horse drawn hearse with black horses (not dark bays), a huntsman to blow “going home” and his Yorkshire-born grandson-in-law playing a cornet solo.

A man of high standards, Mr Ball expected things to be done correctly; he had a strong sense of fairness, and was vocal if he disagreed with an opinion being expressed. On the other hand, he possessed a deeply-embedded sense of humour, and he gave generously of his time, often to be seen driving his vans for scout and Round Table events.

Whether it was sporting activities, their careers or hobbies, many benefited from his mentoring, encouragement and interest.

Mr Ball is survived by his children Mandy and Robin and four grandchildren.

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