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Newsletter, October 2012 (Issue 189)

Crane, a Local Name

Recently, I learned that the Borough Council were debating the naming of the internal roadways being created to service the developments taking shape on the former Crane Ltd site on Nacton Road. I discovered with disappointment that the development had already been named, not mentioning the former manufacturer who had owned the site for close to 100 years. I expressed the view that because of the undoubted importance of Crane's having provided generations of Ipswich people with employment -let alone the families, trade and infrastructure which this had supported - some gesture should be made to mark this by using company associated names for the new roads. I stressed - though not generally known - that because the founder, Richard Crane (an American) had very strong ancestral connections with the town, we should regard the company as local.

The Council said that roads in the Borough were not named after people or organisations that were still present in the town, though clearly this policy had not been adhered to in the past and I cited some examples. I further questioned why so many organisations, people or events had been so marked or celebrated where they were not native or even had historic connections with Ipswich.

It is claimed that the Crane family arrived in England from Normandy in the 11th century, but with some settling in Cornwall, Essex and Norfolk, the clear majority chose Suffolk. In the 14th century, after a succession of marriages to heirs of titled landowning classes by the Suffolk settlers, a number of lordships and manorial titles were acquired. Of significance these in particular included Chilton and Groton in the west and Ipswich in the east. In the next couple of hundred years, this now powerful Protestant family owned at least 14 manorial estates in Suffolk and perhaps less widespread, this was repeated in Norfolk with substantial estates around Dereham.

By now, for some unspecified services to the crown, favours from King James I were being distributed through numerous titles, with armorials established for at least four of the Crane family groupings including London, Loughton, Camborne and significantly those living at Stoke Park, Ipswich.

In Groton, Robert Crane seems to have been very close to John Winthrop, and following expeditions to what was to become New England, purchased land there. In 1636 Winthrop - with other colonists including members of the Groton and Ipswich Crane families - established the first English settlements in Massachusetts, where eventually Winthrop was to become the first governor.

Richard Teller Crane, one of their descendants, founded the company that bears his name in Chicago in 1855 and his son - also Richard - took over upon his father's death in 1912. Born in Denver, Colorado in 1882, he bought the site here in Ipswich in 1919 and set up their first overseas company jointly with James Bennett, a London plumbing merchant, and built a new manufacturing plant which was to pioneer advanced American mass production processes. By that time, Crane Company of Chicago was an organisation of global proportions with businesses right across North America. The family owned thousands of acres of coastal land in Massachusetts and built a large mansion there at Ipswich (on Castle Hill!). They were outstanding benefactors to the whole area but seemed also to have great affection for Ipswich here in England, their ancestral home.

Richard Crane Jnr extended this generosity to us here when in 1920 he paid for the archaeological dig at the site of the Roman villa - now buried under Castle Hill estate - and was also a major donor and guarantor of our Wolsey Pageant in 1930 which marked the 400th anniversary of the Cardinal's death.

The branch of the Crane family which established themselves in Ipswich built Crane Hall some 500 or so years ago. They worked Crane Hall Farm on London Road - still known as Crane Hill. The 500-acre farm and associated estate buildings, which were adjacent to Chantry Park, together with 30 cottages were sold in 1902. Although many of the buildings have since been demolished, Crane Hall, a fine Grade 11 Listed building, still stands, now occupied by a local insurance company. The exterior Victorian brick encasement completely hides the original 16th century timber framed structure.

I have been advised that by my drawing the attention of the !BC to these fascinating details it will after all result in the new site roads being named Crane Boulevard and James Bennett Avenue.

John Barbrook

    Front cover of issue 189 Cover, issue 189

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