Balls Park is one of the most important surviving mid-17th century houses in Hertfordshire. Sir John Harrison, a wealthy financier and customs official, constructed the house between 1637 and 1640, possibly to the designs of Nicholas Stone, the King’s master-mason.
The building is designed in the so-called Artisan Mannerist style similar to several other Hertfordshire houses of the same date but shows purer classical traits which suggest metropolitan influences. Several later phases of remodelling can be traced stylistically to changes initiated by Harrison’s son Richard Harrison, and his grandson Edward Harrison, who had served in the colonial government of the East India Company. Between them, much of the Carolean decoration of the house was lost, but the existing coach house was built during their tenure.
The building remains distinguished by an important sequence of decorated plaster ceilings installed when the house was first built, which have parallels in aristocratic houses elsewhere. In the later 18th century, the house passed to the family of the Marquesses Townshend of Raynham in Norfolk, and so became a secondary home, though favoured by Lord John Townshend, who initiated further changes; possibly roofing over the courtyard as a saloon or atrium in the early 19th century.
In the 1880s it was let to the Faudel-Phillips family, who purchased it outright in 1901 and made further changes. The estate offices and surviving stable block were built in 1902. In the early 1920s Sir Benjamin Faudel-Phillips commissioned the Scottish architect Sir Robert Lorimer to enlarge the house, by removing a series of service buildings and constructing a new west wing, mirroring the form of the mansion. The coach house was also remodelled at the same time.
The estate was sold in 1946 and converted into a teacher training college, and served in an educational capacity for over 50 years, before closure in its final incarnation as the Hertford campus of the University of Hertfordshire in 2002.