Edward Hughes Ball Hughes, also known as “The Golden Ball,” was an English dandy infamous for his extravagant lifestyle. Born in May 1798, Hughes was educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge. He spent some time in the 7th Hussars but left arm life to enjoy his fortune. He quickly attracted the attention of the Haut Ton. Hughes was a handsome man known for his chocolate-colored coach and his invention of the black cravat.
In 1823, Hughes made a mésalliance by unexpectedly marrying Maria Mercandotti, a 16-year-old Spanish dancer, who left a theatre full of patrons waiting in vain to see her. William Harrison Ainsworth reportedly said, “The damsel is gone, and no wonder at all/that, bred to the dance, she is gone to a Ball.” The couple later separated and was divorced in 1839.
In 1824, Hughes purchased Oatlands Palace (near Weybridge) from the Duke of York for the exorbitant price of £180,000. Later, the sale of the grounds for housing lots, which created the modern community of Oatlands, was a profitable venture for Hughes. He and young wife went to live in Greenwich, where he kept an “open” house and played whist for five-pound points. Hughes achieved the reputation as one of the great gamblers of the day. He was said to have spent a night in the garden betting on the outcome of games of battledore and shuttlecock.
Hughes mounting gambling debts and extravagant living forced him to move to France in 1829 to avoid his creditors. His affairs were left in the hands of his solicitors, Freere and Forster, who sent Hughes an allowance upon which to live. He was far from destitute, however; according to a governmental report, Hughes was one of the foreign investors in the Second Bank of the United States. In 1832, his holding amounted to $51,000 in stock.
In 1835, Hughes came into the possession of the manor of Sidmouth. In 1835, he helped finance a new sea wall for the town. In 1839, a law was passed by Parliament allowing Hughes to tear down the market and build a new one. An 1846 law confirmed that the new market had been built and that no one could sell anything in the manor except at the market, unless they paid a toll at the market building.
Many stories were told about Hughes’ origins and family, most of them untrue. For example, one tale said he was the son of a slop seller. His grandmother Ruth (c. 1731 – 1800), after her first husband, a Mr. Ball, had died, married Admiral Edward Hughes. Admiral Hughes advanced the career of his wife’s eldest son, Captain Henry Ball (c. 1754-1792), who served under Hughes as captain of his flagship in India, but Henry predeceased him. Admiral Hughes died in 1794 without issue, and Hughes, son of Ruth’s second son David Ball (c. 1760-1798), inherited the Hughes money (40,000 pounds a year, an enormous fortune, and especially so without the encumbrance of an expensive country house to maintain) upon turning 21; he adopted the Hughes last name at that time. Ball Hughes’ mother’s name was Sarah; she later remarried, to a man named Thomas Johnson.
Hughes’ older sister Catherine Ball was a socialite, journalist, and novelist who eventually styled herself the “Baroness de Calabrella” after acquiring property in Italy. She married an older man, Rev. Francis Lee, at the age of 16 in 1804, without her mother’s permission, and was separated from him in 1810 on charges of adultery; her lover, Captain George de Blaquiere, was successfully sued by Lee for criminal conversation. She was later a friend of the Countess of Blessington and married the Countess’ first patron, Thomas Jenkins. Another sister, Ruth, married Houlton Hartwell, son of Admiral Francis Hartwell, in 1812; he was one of the Prince Regent’s chaplains. A third sister, Sydney, married Sir John Ignatius Burke, 10th Baronet of Glinsk. There was a fourth sister, Elizabeth Ball.
Hughes had several several relationships while in France, although it is unclear whether he actually remarried. With actress Eliza Breugnot Momborne he had three children: Edward Seymour; Adeline Eleanor, and Sydney Matilda. Edward Seymour died in 1867 in Dieppe after his horse fell on him; d’Orsay had made a portrait of him as a young man. Hughes later had several children with Anne Henriette de Dauvet: Edward Edmund Hughes Ball Hughes and Kate Henrietta Edwardine Hughes Ball Hughes.
Hughes was exceedingly handsome, generous, and entertained lavishly. Lord William Pitt-Lennox, a rival dandy, declared that Hughes tried too hard to be the toast of the ton. Pitt-Lennox said of Hughes, “Brummell sets the fashion; Ball Hughes merely follows it.” Hughes, for example, was known to dislike hunting, but he nevertheless kept a string of hunters because he saw doing so as “trendy.” He also disliked music while maintaining a box at Covent Garden. He knew little of racing but always attended Ascot and Goodwood. Pitt-Lennox was also to have said of Hughes, “[His] manner in public was too coxcombical; he screwed his mouth up, and lisped or drawled forth his words, while his manner of walking was so affected that he looked as if he was on stilts, and had swallowed the kitchen poker.”