Clare Balding


PanoramaTop row: Clare Balding; with her autobiography at a signing session; with her OBE, awarded in 2013 for services to broadcasting and journalism. Middle row: Poster for a BBC Radio 4 series; Royal trainers Ian Balding, Clare’s father, and her brother, Andrew; Grandmother Priscilla Hastings, one of the first women to be elected to the Jockey Club. Bottom row: the Balding brothers, Ivor, Barney and Gerald, who were polo stars in the United States of America during the 1930s; the stable yard at Kingsclere; Toby Balding, Clare’s uncle and also a well-known trainer.

CLARE BALDING , according to some pundits, has joined that elite band of celebrities who are known as national treasures. Be that as it may, wherever you look she is rarely off our TV screens.

Her performance as one of the star presenters of the 2012 London Olympics coverage was widely acclaimed and, in addition to her long-time coverage of horse racing, she also pops up on lots of other programmes from quizzes to documentaries. In 2013 she fronted a BBC1 documentary on the Queen’s lifelong love of horses and racing – hardly surprising, since Clare’s dad and brother have both trained horses for the Queen. In April 2015 she launched a chat show on BBC2, interviewing famous sportsmen and women.

Clare’s ancestry is a colourful mix of royalty, the aristocracy and ordinary people who climbed up the social ladder to join top society. Through her mother’s family, she descends from the Earls of Derby – one of whom, the 12th Earl (1752-1834) founded both the Derby and that other Epsom classic, the Oaks – and also from the Earls of Huntingdon. Through the latter, she is a direct descendant of William the Conqueror and seven other medieval monarchs, Henrys I, II and III, King John and Edwards I, II and III.

She also has in her family tree some ancestors who met with tragic ends. Her 14th great grandfather was George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence (1449-1478) who, according to William Shakespeare, was famously drowned in a barrel of Malmsey wine, and her 13th great grandmother was Clarence’s daughter, Margaret Countess of Salisbury, the last of the Plantagenets and a Catholic martyr who was messily beheaded as a frail old lady of 67 on the orders of Henry VIII in 1541.

However, I confined my researches mostly to Clare’s direct paternal ancestry and was intrigued to discover that she is, in fact, one quarter American in her lineage. She descends from a prominent US family whose ancestry has been traced back to a Dutch immigrant into New York in 1634. A great great great grandfather was a baking powder tycoon, while her paternal English ancestors were involved with horses as far back as I was able to discover. A 4-times great grandfather was a saddler in Reading in the 19th century and successive generations of his descendants were horse dealers and trainers.

Clare went to Downe School, near Newbury, where she was head girl and a contemporary of the comedienne and actress, Miranda Hart.


Clare Victoria Balding was born on January 29 1971, the daughter of Ian Anthony Balding and the Hon Emma Alice Mary Hastings-Bass, whose father Peter Hastings-Bass (1920-1964) trained race horses at Kingsclere, Berkshire, near Highclere Castle where Downton Abbey is filmed. The stables were subsequently taken over first by Ian Balding and then by his son, Andrew, Clare’s younger brother.

Clare’s maternal grandmother, Priscilla Victoria Hastings (1920-2010) was a racehorse owner and trainer and one of the very first women to be elected to membership of the Jockey Club. She was a director of Newbury Racecourse and served as chairman of the racecourse, and was a director of The Tote between 1984 and 1990.


Ian Balding and Emma Hastings-Bass married at Kingsclere  in 1969. Ian Balding is half-American, having been born in the USA on 7 November 1938. His parents were Gerald Matthews Balding (1903-1957) and Eleanor S. Hoagland (1915-1985), who married in New York on 14 December 1935.

NY Times article 1935

The marriage attracted a write-up in the New York Times because Gerald Balding, along with his brothers Ivor and Barney, was a well-known English polo player in the US in the 1930s, while Clare’s grandmother, Eleanor Hoagland, was a society heiress from a wealthy family. Eleanor’s great grandfather, Joseph Christoffel Hoagland (1841-1899), founded in 1873 the Royal Baking Powder Company, once the largest manufacturers of baking powder in America.

The Hoaglands descended from a Dutch immigrant, Christoffel Hoaglandt,  who entered what was then New Amsterdam in 1634 and died in 1684. The Hoaglands had homes in Brooklyn, New York, and on Shelter Island, a fashionable summer resort at the tip of Long Island.

A comprehensive account of Joseph Hoagland and his elder brother Cornelius, with their extensive property and business dealings, can be seen at Joseph and Cornelius both served in the Union Army during the American Civil War and the article offers a vivid insight into Clare Balding’s American ancestry.

I found with the United States census collection an entry for Clare’s American  grandmother, Eleanor Hoagland, who was born in New York in 1915. The 1920 census of New York City showed her, aged four, living with her parents, Joseph Hoagland, aged 30, and Mrs Joseph Hoagland, 28, and her sister Caroline, aged five. Joseph Hoagland’s occupation was given as a finance executive and he was born in New York, while his wife was born in New Jersey.  Joseph was a grandson of the earlier Joseph Hoagland who founded the baking powder empire.

Great grandparents

Returning to the Balding line, Gerald Mattthews Balding (1903-1957), was the son of Albert Charles Balding and Florence Mabel Matthews, who were married at Hendon, Middlesex, in 1901. In the 1911 census Albert and Florence Balding were living at The Hall, Keyham, Leicestershire, about seven miles east of Leicester. Albert was 34, a horse dealer, born at New Cross, London, while his wife Florence was 31, born at Hendon. The couple had been married 10 years and had had five children, one of whom had died.

Albert Charles Balding & Florence Mabel MatthewsMarriage of Albert Balding and Florence Matthews at Hendon in 1901.

With them were three of their four sons, John Barnard Balding 4, Ivor Godfrey Balding 2 and Humphrey Quinton Balding 1, all born at East Langton, Leicestershire, and two female servants. However, the eldest son Gerald – Clare Balding’s grandfather – was a pupil and boarder, aged 7, at a convent school run by French nuns at Leicester Road, Market Harborough. He also was born at East Langton.

A decade earlier in 1901, Albert Balding was not yet married and he appears as a boarder at 81 Church Road, Hendon, in the household of a family called Allen. Albert appears in this census as Bert Balding, aged 25, a horse dealer, and his birth place is shown as Kingsbury, Middlesex. The place of birth didn’t fit for that given by Albert himself in 1911, which was New Cross, or for his entry in the GRO birth indexes which records his birth as having been registered in the first quarter of 1876 at Greenwich registration district. However, the information in 1901 was probably given by the head of the household, Josiah Allen, a bricklayer, who either got it wrong or was given incorrect information by Albert himself.

Albert Charles Balding and Florence Mabel Matthews were married on 22 August 1901 at Hendon Parish Church. Albert’s occupation was given as a dealer in horses and his father was William Balding, deceased, also a dealer in horses. Florence’s father was John Barnard Matthews, also deceased, a licensed victualler. Attempting to discover who Albert’s parents were, I next looked at the 1891 census. This produced more confusion because initially I couldn’t find him! I did eventually locate him – but his first name appeared on the census schedule as HERBERT.

He was living with his grandparents, William and Mary Ann Balding, at Willesden Paddocks, Oxgate Lane, Willesden, north London. William Balding was aged 60, a dealer in horses, born at Reading, Berkshire; Mary Ann Balding was  59, born at Wickford, Essex; and with them were three grandsons, William 16, Herbert (Albert) 15 and Arthur 13. All three boys were born at New Cross, Middlesex, and the two elder ones were described as ‘Assistant to Grand Father’.

It was apparent that William Balding was in a substantial way of business as a horse dealer, for also in the household were a female servant and six males all connected with horses or farm work, including three grooms, a cowman, a blacksmith and a stableman. A spot of Googling elicited the information that Willesden Paddocks had once belonged to Edmund Tattersall – Tattersalls is a famous name in racing as the oldest bloodstock auctioneers in the world – as racing stables and a stud farm.

Great great grandparents

To discover who Albert Balding’s parents were I trekked back another decade to the census of 1881 and this produced the answer. In this census Albert was aged five and living with his parents at 26 Leylang Road, St Paul Deptford, in south London. This area was part of the Haberdashers estate, developed by the Haberdashers’ Company around New Cross Gate in the second half of the 19th century.

William Balding was 26 and a horse dealer, born at Reading; his wife Mary A Balding was 24, born at Newington, Surrey; and they had five children, Mary A 9, William 7, Albert 5, Arthur 3 and Ernest 2, all born at New Cross.

Searching the GRO indexes produced the fact that William Balding junior died in the last quarter of 1881, aged only 27, and that his widow Mary Ann remarried at Newington in 1887. This would explain why Albert and his brothers were living with their grandparents in 1891.

Great great great grandparents

William Balding junior and Mary Ann Burn had married at Trinity Church, Newington, in 1872, William’s father being also William Balding, horse dealer, and Mary Ann’s father being Henry Burn, a green grocer. Both told a fib on the marriage certificate, saying they were of full age, whereas their ages in the 1861 census showed that the couple were only about 17 or 18 when they wed.

In the 1871 census William Balding the younger was living at 1 Westbourne Terrace, Bird In Bush Road, Camberwell , Surrey. William was a horse dealer’s assistant, born at Reading. Head of the household was William Balding, 38, also born at Reading and a master horse dealer employing two men and a boy.

There was a peculiar error on this schedule since William senior’s wife’s name was given as Moneghan Balding, also 38, born at Wickford, Essex. Searching in the GRO indexes and other censuses failed to find anyone of the forename Moneghan, and I must assume that it was a mishearing or mistranscription of Mary Ann, as found in the censuses of 1881 and 1891. Perhaps the enumerator was slightly deaf!

Also in the household in 1871, besides William jr, were three daughters, Lora 18, Eliza 13 and Jane 6. The two eldest girls were, like William, born at Reading and the youngest at Lambeth.

In the 1861 census I found William Balding senior and his son at 16 Swan Street, Newington, Surrey, with both named only as W. Balding. William senior was shown as 28 and a general dealer, born at Reading. However, his wife was shown as Eliza Balding, also 28, born at Reading also – thus, the Mary Ann Balding who was shown in later censuses as the wife of William senior could not have been William Balding junior’s mother. The family tree was getting more complicated!

The GRO marriage indexes have a potential marriage for William Balding and Eliza Parsons at Wallingford, Berkshire, in the last quarter of 1852 and this may have been the right couple. Despite searching, I was unable to find a positive death for Eliza after the 1861 census, but William Balding senior remarried at St Barnabas Church, South Kensington, in February 1876 to Mary Ann Bartlett, a spinster. William described himself as a widower and gave his occupation as a job master, another role connected with horses. His father was given as Thomas Balding, a saddler.

So what happened to Eliza? Did she die or was there a divorce, which was difficult to obtain for most ordinary people in those days? I didn’t find one.

Great great great great grandparents

My pursuit of Clare Balding’s ancestry was taking me away from London and to the town of Reading. I followed her great great great great grandfather Thomas Balding, who was born about 1800-1802, through several censuses until his death in Greenwich registration district in 1882, his age being given as 82.

In the 1861 census Thomas was a lodger, with his wife Elizabeth, at Kings Road, St Giles, Reading. He was 58 and described himself as a dog trainer – was he perhaps training greyhounds? His birth place was given as Reading and that of his wife, Elizabeth, 54, as Shinfield, a village just south of Reading. There was also an unmarried daughter Charlotte, 27, born at Reading.

It looks as if Thomas Balding also married twice, like his son William the elder, for I believe I found the birth and baptism of William on the International Genealogical Index at FamilySearch. The IGI gives his birth date as 21 August 1830 and his baptism on 4 August 1833 at St Mary’s Church, Reading, the parents being Thomas Balding and Mary.

A Mary Balding’s death is in the GRO indexes in the second quarter of 1840 at Reading and a possible marriage of Thomas Balding to Elizabeth Brown appears in the second quarter of 1847 at Wokingham, Berkshire. Shinfield, where Elizabeth Balding said she was born, was in the Wokingham registration district.

I was unable positively to identify the family in the 1841 census but my researches took another unexpected twist when I found them in 1851 – not as Balding but as Baldwin! An entry for 27 Thorn Street, St Mary, Reading shows Thomas Baldwin, 49, a saddler, his wife Elizabeth 40, and two sons, William, 20, and John, 14.

The image clearly shows the name as Baldwin, but what makes me believe this was the right family is because Thomas’s occupation was a saddler and William, the eldest son, was shown as a flyman, yet another occupation connected with horses. A flyman was a driver of a light carriage drawn by one horse and usually hired out.

I was unable to trace a birth or baptism for Thomas Balding, or his marriage to a Mary, but if my researches are correct, then the connection of Clare Balding’s paternal ancestors with horses goes back at least a couple of centuries to her 4-times great grandfather, Thomas the saddler in Reading. She is carrying on a long and illustrious ‘horsey history’, as you might say!

Sources of research include:

FreeBMD ( which has many millions of birth, marriage and death records from the General Register Office for England and Wales.

Findmypast ( a major genealogical website which carries all the census records and images from 1841 to 1911, also the US censuses.

FamilySearch (, the website of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Online sources for descendants of William the Conqueror.

New York Times.


2 Responses to Clare Balding

  1. Thanks for your comment. When WDYTYA? first started they had a strict rule that any subject who knew anything at all about their family history was dropped from the show. This seems to have been altered for more recent series.

  2. Jude says:

    See what you mean Roy about her appearing on WDYTYA

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