Fashion Sketches

I’ve recently been examining some of my father’s papers—part of my collection of family history material—and have enjoyed finding again his old art sketchbook dating from 1913, over one hundred years old now.


Dad’s sketchbook from 1913-14

Dad was a talented artist.  He first showed his artistic ability while still at school, but like many youngsters at that time, he finished his full time education at just age fourteen (in 1910). Afterwards he attended day and evening classes at the School of Art, Handsworth Technical School, and was awarded a first class certificate in Brush Drawing.
Dad’s first job was at John Hardman & Co. in Birmingham’s famous Jewellery Quarter. He used to like pointing out to me the Hardman building when we travelled into town by tram (no. 32) in the late 1940s and by bus (no. 96) in the early 1950s. Hardman’s was well known as a company that specialised in designing and crafting stained glass windows.


A number 32 tram grinding its way out of town up Newhall Hill circa 1930. The tram is about to pass the John Hardman studios on the left.
[Photo from the Birmingham History Forum]

While at Hardman’s, Dad had a chance to develop an interest in commercial art, and by 1913, when he was sixteen years old, he was working on his own from an address in Soho Road, Handsworth, designing and producing posters and tickets for local churches and other organisations. Dad’s sketchbook dates from this period in his career.

The Fashion Sketches
The contents show Dad practising his sketching and developing his flair for high fashion designs. The time-frame of these sketches (2 July 1914 to 30 August 1914) was in the weeks immediately before and after the outbreak of the Great War on 4th August. Whether the designs were strictly from his imagination or whether he modelled them after newspaper or magazine advertisements, we do not know. He was only seventeen and could not have known that his future as an artist would soon be rudely interrupted by service in the British Army. Regardless, the fashion sketches themselves are wonderful evidence of his talent.

His book includes fourteen pages of pen-and-ink fashion sketches like those below. Some  hold just a single sketch, while others show several designs or working details.


Three of the pages from Dad’s sketchbook

All the sketches are dated and signed F. Ball, (later in his life he began signing F L Ball).

Helen and I were charmed by the sketches and so we scanned them, asked Freestyle, our local print shop, to enlarge two of them, and Sable & Hogg‘s picture framer here in Brecon to mount and frame them for use in our home. Below I’ve included an almost full-size image of one of the chosen sketches.

You can read more about the artistic aspects of Dad’s life on my website in the section entitled The Life of Frank Leonard Ball.


Sketch by F Ball, dated July 3rd 1914

A Penny for my Thoughts

As part of my research into the Tumbledown Cottage known as The Old Crow at Willersley, Herefordshire, I investigated the Penny family who occupied the cottage in the 20th century. While working on the history of this Penny family, at the back of my mind has been the realisation that my own BALL family had a link with a member of a PENN[E]Y family: surely there couldn’t be any connection between my family and those who inhabited the Old Crow!
In 1953 my father’s sister Alice Victoria BALL, then a fifty-three year old spinster, married one Frank Leslie PENNEY (shown right), widower, born in Birmingham in 1899, whom my brother and I knew as “Uncle Frank“. I’d never properly researched Uncle Frank’s ancestry, and the thought had never entered my head that there might be a connection with the PENN[E]Y family of Radnorshire, Herefordshire, and the Tumbledown Cottage.

But I was wrong! In 2015, I decided to investigate Uncle Frank’s ancestry and it soon became clear that Frank Leslie PENNEY was indeed a descendant of the same line as the Penny Boys of the Old Crow!

Frank Leslie PENNY (b. 1899, Birmingham) was the son of Joseph William PENNY (b. 1865, Handsworth, Staffs), the grandson of Emmanuel PENNY (b. 1837, Kington, Herefordshire), and the great grandson of Joseph PENNY (b. 1796, Stanner. Herefordshire). Furthermore, Emmanuel PENNY was a younger brother of the Joseph PENNY (b. 1825), long-serving subpostmaster at Winforton, from whom the Penny Boys were descended.

Uncle Frank’s great grandfather was the Penny Boys’ great great grandfather!

Of course I am not a blood relative of the Penn(e)y family – but this new-found connection between me and The Old Crow is truly an amazing coincidence.