Life of the Goat of Havering-atte-Bower, Elizabeth Balls

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Published:
07:37 PM February 20, 2022



Here, historian Andy Grant reflects on the life of a Havering legend…

Like most areas, Havering has historically had its share of eccentrics. One of the most famous of these was known locally as the Havering-atte-Bower goat.

Elizabeth Balls is said to have been the daughter of a respectable farmer living in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire.

Records from this town show that Richard and Elizabeth Balls had a daughter whom they named Elizabeth on December 23, 1764, although it is uncertain whether this was the same person.

It was claimed that she “suffered disappointment in her affections, either from the death or defection of her lover”.

Another version from his youth held that his “lover had died at sea and entrusted him with a favorite goat”: to this animal were transferred all the affections that survived the desolation of his heart.

Later in life she lived in a cottage, which she evidently owned, located near the village square in Havering-atte-Bower.

Despite being an annuitant receiving an income of around £150 a year, she chose to live in squalor with a menagerie of goats, sheep, cats and a dog, becoming known as the Goat. Woman of Havering-atte-Bower.

The antiquarian and author of Essex history, Elizabeth Ogborne (1763-1853), wrote a first-hand account of her dwelling in 1817: “The lower apartment she occupies,
surrounded by a number of goats; and has been known to keep up to 50; in 1814, she was 32; in September 1816 his family consisted of 14 goats, some very large and
handsome, two sheep, 17 hens and a French dog.

“These, she called them on the small patch of grass, in the pales which surrounded her dwelling, to show them to the author of this article.”

Most accounts of her life were written after her death, but the one told by Mrs. Ogborne was written while she was still alive and is probably the closest to the truth.

Later accounts seem to have been embellished to some extent.

She obviously kept a pony to take her to London every six months to collect her pension income and take her to Romford when she needed to buy hay for
his goats.

The Gentleman’s Magazine, Volume 94, Part One, 1824, published an obituary for her, as did a number of contemporary newspapers.

He said: “No one is ever admitted under any pretext inside his dwelling, except about twice a year when a person is authorized to clean it; indeed, this task is not useless, because, previously, the place is almost suffocated by the accumulation of dirt from these creatures.

Although she wouldn’t allow anyone into her home, a constant stream of curious visitors peeked over her garden fence, and she wasn’t averse to conversation.
of her “dear children” – the goats that would gather around her.

On more general matters, she spoke very rationally and she was quite religious.

Ms Ogborne described her as being “about 60 years old, being of medium height, with a pale complexion and a weak voice; his manners were gentle, with none of that vulgarity or ferocity to be expected from a person fully domesticated with brutal animals”.

His attire was described as “squalid in the extreme”.

It was stated in her obituary that she died, aged 63, on Saturday 27 December 1823 and was buried in Havering Churchyard, although there is no mention of such a burial in the Havering church records.

A number of contemporary portraits of Elizabeth Balls have been published, including a recently candid half-sheet lithograph print executed by J. Deare; a lithograph, taken from a painting by J. Rolfe, for the Honorable Count St Vincent and printed by C. Hullmandel; and a lithograph by T. Willis and published by Rowney & Forster.

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