Lighting the way for generations

Five generations of a family have worked to keep the lights on across London for almost 100 years, and there’s a possibility of a sixth generation continuing the tradition in the electricity industry. Robert Ball, born in 1871 was from Mitcham; Alfred Ball lived in Rosehill, so did his son Kenny; Steve Ball lived and worked in Croydon and now lives in Littlehampton; Scott Ball works in Croydon and lives in Reigate with his son Andrew who could be the sixth generation to keep the lights on in London.

As the dark nights draw in there’s a spark that runs through the Ball family with five generations working to keep the lights on in London for nearly 100 years – and now a sixth generation wants to follow in their footsteps.

Their story dates back to Robert Ball, from Mitcham, who was born in 1871 and when he retired became a night watchman for the London Electricity Board (LEB) keeping guard on the company’s lighting equipment.

Robert and Alfred Ball

Robert’s son, Alfred, left school at 13 and started work at the Hackbridge Cable Company, making the electricity cables which his great grandson still works on today – he works as a jointer in Croydon for UK Power Networks.

Alfred, from Rosehill, South Morden, joined the Middlesex Regiment and was wounded in the First Worl War and taken prisoner.

When he returned home he drove a horse and cart for haulage then joined the LEB as a foreman in charge of a gang of up to 20 men.

His grandson Steve says his earliest memory of grandad was going to school in 1957 and seeing him laying new underground cables down the road where they lived.

He said: “He was sitting in a metal cabin with a brazier going, watching the men work. He had a whistle and a Smiths fob watch – I still have both of these – and he would blow the whistle to indicate to the men to pull or push the cables underground and to stop and start.”

Steve’s whistle and fob watch used by his grandad

During the Second World War Alfred worked on aerodromes in Norfolk and Suffolk, this time in charge of a gang of 14 women laying power cables, telling his grandson that the women worked very hard.

After the war, in the 1950s, Alfred’s son Kenny joined the LEB as a general labourer working across Brixton, Nine Elms, Streatham and Mitcham, retiring in the late 1980s.

By then Alfred’s grandson, Steve, from Croydon, had carried on the family tradition and joined Seeboard as a labourer in 1978.

He went on to be a meter fixer and became a jointer in 1988, repairing underground cables.

Steve said: “I lived with my grandad after my mother died so I heard lots of stories about his work. I also used to read the magazine sent from the company.”

The electricity company changed hands several times, eventually becoming UK Power Networks, which is currently celebrating its 10th anniversary.

Scott and Andrew

Steve, who is now 69, worked at the Croydon depot for 40 years, retired in 2018 and moved to Littlehampton.

His son Scott joined the industry in 2009 as a jointer’s mate based in the Croydon depot and is now a jointer like his dad, trained to work on underground high voltage cables.

Scott said: “I always wanted to work for UK Power Networks, I even did my school work experience here in 1994 when it was Seeboard.”

Scott, 41, from Reigate, feels a strong connection with former generations, particularly great grandad Alfred.

He said: “He worked for Hackbridge Cable Company making cables which I have worked on in the Croydon area. It makes me smile when opening an electric cable that has a line of paper with the Hackbridge Cable Company written inside. It makes me feel very proud.

“I hope my son Andrew will get to work for the company as well someday. That would be a dream come true to continue the family name in the industry”.

Andrew, 15 said: “I would love to be part of the team and hopefully become a cable jointer like my dad and grandad.”

Main Pic: Steve and Scott

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