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Painting game ball is still a privilege after 23 years with brush

By Ashbourne News Telegraph  |  Posted: February 24, 2013

  • 01/02/13 Shrovetide balls - Ashbourne, Ashbourne Tim Baker And Simon Hellaby

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MORE than two decades of Shrovetide have included artwork created by official ball painter, Tim Baker.

Mr Baker, 40, first took on the role as painter for the Ash Wednesday ball in 1991 at the tender age of 16.

Since then, he has painted for a prince and seen years of his artwork celebrated before being virtually obliterated in the hug.

This year, Mr Baker has painted the ball for Nigel Brown, the Ashbourne butcher and Shrovetide stalwart who will start the game on Ash Wednesday.

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Mr Baker said: “It was a pleasure and an honour to paint for Nigel.”

Mr Brown had his shop front in Dig Street on the front panel of his ball, with the traditional Queen’s Imperial Crown emblazoned on the back panel. Other artwork included his first home-grown Supreme Champion bull and the names of his wife and children.

Mr Baker said: “We paint the balls free of charge. It is an honour to do it.

“I use a tape measure to get my centres and put a compass on it to see how round it is. If the ball is a bit more oval I tend to paint it free-hand. I start in the middle and work outwards.

“The balls are usually filthy when I finish, so I have to get them all cleaned up and get the fingermarks off before I varnish them.

“I personally like to see my artwork stay on as long as possible, but it is all to do with the treatment of the leather and the number of coats we put on which vary each year. There’s a limit to what we can do to keep the paint on, especially once the ball gets wet.

“When I was a small child I can remember standing in Shaw Croft watching the cricketer Bob Taylor turn the ball up and I remember saying to my Aunty Elsie, ‘I’m going to paint Shrovetide balls one day.’

“Having a great family history attributed to the game it’s always something that I have loved from an early age and I’ve always gone to it.

“When I was 16 Philip Tomlinson was our milkman at the time and he saw me painting a plastic freedo ball like a Shrovetide ball, just for something to do.

“He didn’t say anything, but came back a few weeks later with a real Shrovetide ball and said would I paint it for a gentleman called Dinky Shepherd, which I did. He later asked me if I would paint the Ash Wednesday ball for next year. I did and have been doing ever since.

“I prefer to do the Wednesday ball as that’s the ball I’ve always done and it is usually a more local person who turns it up.

“I’ve met some wonderful people and some great players with wonderful tales to tell.

“It has been the greatest honour and privilege of my life.

“Shrovetide is the best Ashbourne has to offer, not only through its uniqueness but through its tradition and what it means to everybody. It immortalises people’s names even when they are dead and gone. It has a great way of weaving our past into the future.

“Over the years I have painted some great balls and the zenith of my ball painting years was painting a ball for the Prince of Wales.”

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