Purbeck Biographies



Rev. John BALL [BAWLE] (1591-1639)

Rector of Langton Matravers

©Compiled by Michael Russell OPC for Fordington March 2009


John BALL (1591-1639) was a cousin of the Rev John White ‘The Patriarch of Dorchester’ (1575-1648) and this and his own families background shaped his future.  John White’s mother was Isabel the daughter of John BAWLE of Lichfield and she had two brothers Robert and Henry both of which entered the church. John Ball was the son of Robert Bawle and therefore well known to his aunt. His father Robert was educated at New College Oxford which he entered in 1569 and his uncle Henry followed in 1571.


Henry Bawle was appointed rector of Ulcombe and licenced to preach in Kent in 1583. He went on to become  Preceptor of Chichester in 1587, Canon in 1593, and a Doctor of Divinity in 1594. His final appointment was as Archdeacon in 1596, a position he held until his death in 1603. 

Robert Bawle was awarded his Bachelor of Arts degree at New College on 10 June 1573 going on to obtain his MA in 1577. He was appointed Rector of Eastington in Gloucestershire 15 Feb 1581 where he remained until his death in 1623. Easington is therefore where John Ball was born in 1591.

Birth and Education

John Ball's University records confirm that he came from Gloucestershire and that he was born in 1591. He was taught initially by his father, before following in his footsteps to New College in Oxford, which he entered on 13 October 1609. This of course was the same college that John White had been to, and I give background to the foundation of the College and its links with the Puritan movement in his short biography. John Ball was awarded his Bachelor of Arts degree on 4 June 1613 and his MA followed on 2 May 1617. Attending New College meant that he was not far from Stanton St John where his aunt Isabel lived and when John White 1550-1618 (The Patriarch’s father) made his will on 30 September 1616, he acted as one of the three witnesses.


Rector of St George’s Church Langton Matravers (1618-1628)

John was appointed Rector of Langton Matravers on 14 November 1618 and soon after arrival met and married a lady by the name of Sarah PITT. The wedding took place in her own parish church of St Mary’s in  Melcombe Regis on 13 January 1619/20. 


The present church at Langton Matravers, which is dedicated to St.George, is possibly the 4th church to be built on the site. The west wall shows remains of a chapel built around 1290, and the tower is an addition of 1390. Unfortunately the former medieval church to which John Ball would have arrived in 1618 was taken down and reconstructed in 1829.

Rose-Troup in her book ‘John White - Founder of Massachusetts’ has the following to say about him:-


He was strongly influenced by Puritans of the severe school so that he was ordained by an Irish Bishop in order to avoid signing the Articles. He was keenly interested in the opinions of the exiles in Holland and New England but disapproved of the views of the Separatists. He disputed with Cotton and others and his ‘Trial of the New Church Way in New England and Old’ when sent to Winthrop roused a storm of anger, and a reply, very vigorous though unsatisfactory, was composed in Boston. His “Treatise on Faith,” it will be seen, was used as a catechism by White in Dorchester. Ball “never utterly condemned any use of the Common Prayer Book, nor allowed Separatism because of some abuses”, and therein White agreed with him.

In William Whiteway’s diary there is a brief mention of him preaching to the Archdeacon on a visit to Dorchester on 29 March 1627. His “Treatise on Faith,” was to be used from 1641 in the new hospital in Dorchester which was ‘for setting to work the poor children of the Borough’. Apart from being taught spinning and how to remove “blacks” from knots of wool, they were to be instructed in religion according to John Balls catechism and they had to learn four verses every week.


Rector of All Saints Dorchester ( Dec. 1628 - May 1629)

John Ball was Rector of Langton Matravers for 10 years but on 8 October 1627 another friend of his and John White’s the Rector of all Saints Robert CHEEKE died. Apart from sharing their Puritan ideals Robert Cheeke had previously been Master of the Free School and finding his replacement proved difficult. Samuel WHITFIELD who had acted as White’s assistant for a short period was inducted into the church of All Saints on 11 Jan 1627/8 though he was only twenty seven years old, but he died in the following July.  I suspect with some persuasion from John White, John Ball was ‘instituted and inducted to the parsonage of All Saints on 22 Nov 1628’ but he resigned it a few months later and by 7th May 1629 he had returned to Langton Matravers where he remained until his death.


John BALL died on 4 June 1639 at Langton Matravers and his will was proved 29 April 1640.


CCED: OPC Melcombe Regis, Parish Marriage Register for Melcombe Regis St Mary's - Dorset History Centre Ref: PE/MCR/RE 1/2 [Microfilm MIC/R/593]: OXA: PRO 11/182: RT: WW: John Hutchins.