Ball, Hannah

Founder of the first Sunday School in Britain and one of John Wesley's most trusted lay leaders, she was born on 13 March 1734, lived with an uncle in High Wycombe from the age of 9, then for five years in Hertfordshire, returning to High Wycombe in 1750 tp live with a widowed brother. She was first attracted to Methodism by reading the sermons of Thomas Walsh. She probably met John Wesley for the first time on his visit to High Wycombe in January 1765 and they became regular correspondents. In 1769 she began a class for the ostler children who worked in the local coaching inns, thereby anticipating the work of Robert Raikes in Gloucester by a decade. In this work she was encouraged by John Wesley, who regarded her as one of his wisest women workers. On several occasions he entrusted her with the task of monitoring the work of his preachers stationed in Oxfordshire, as regards both the content and the method of their preaching. From time to time he sought her advice in matters of dispute. Remarkably, he seems to have encouraged and advised her in carrying through the plans for the building of a chapel in High Wycombe, which he opened in 1779. She was a conscientious visitor both of the sick and of those in prison. In 1776 she attended the WM Conference in London and took part in testifying and counselling at fourteen preaching services at which Wesley preached. Although not permitted to preach herself (in the formal sense of expounding a text), she nevertheless was recognized as exercising a considerable and effective ministry, as well as being the precursor of the Sunday School movement. Having taken Wesley's advice against marrying a man he considered unsuitable, she remained single. Her Memoirs, based on her diary and correspondence, were first published in 1796 (revised edition, 1839). She died on 16 August 1792.

At the request of the High Wycombe Circuit, Fred Pratt Green wrote a hymn in her memory, ending:

          May we, who follow in her steps.
          Take heart, as we recall
          How God most wonderfully used
          His servant, Hannah Ball.
  • John Parker, Memoir of Miss Hannah Ball (revised edition, 1839)
  • T.M. Morrow, Early Methodist Women (1967), pp.27-39
  • M.L. Edwards, My Dear Sister (n.d.) pp.75-84
  • Oxford DNB


Entry written by: PMW
Category: Person
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