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Newsletter, April 2013 (Issue 191)

The Crane Family


John Barbrook retired after 35 years as Personnel Manager at Crane's Ipswich foundry. Having become increasingly interested in the centuries-old history of the Crane family, he gave Society members a talk on 13 February which was full of fascinating details and enthusiasm. He amply enlarged on the article he wrote for the October Newsletter (Issue 189, pp 14-15) with a few details modified now as his research continues.

He took us on a journey from the thriving Ipswich factory, sometimes referred to as "the Yanks up Nacton Road", to the founding of the company in Chicago in 1855, to the family's Castle Hill estate near Ipswich Massachusetts, back to the purchase of the site in Ipswich (1919) and the building of the factory in 1921, and then a survey of the Cranes in England from the late Middle Ages and the emigration of some to the United States in the 17th century, and so ending up again with Richard Teller Crane in 19th century Chicago. It wasn't breathlessly presented as my summary might suggest but a uniquely structured talk and well illustrated on the Methodist Church's four bright new screens, and often amusingly anecdotal. I am pleased to recount a few of the intriguing facts and opinions we learned in the evening. From its beginnings in a rather primitive 1855 Chicago, RT Crane developed a hugely comprehensive business on paternalistic but caring lines (doctors for his workers, hired trains for their outings). In 1895 Crane sold his elevator business to the Otis Elevator Company - whose name John couldn't help noticing on the lift at the new John Lewis, built on the old Crane's site! In Ipswich the factory was designed to use American mass production methods but not until 1927 was the first metal cast here; previously American-made castings were assembled in Ipswich, just as Chinese parts are brought in for assembling in the UK today.

John outlined the family's success and huge land holdings where in West Suffolk especially they owned 22 manorial estates. Near Sudbury the Cranes at Chilton Hall were neighbours of the Winthrops of Groton. John Winthrop became the first Governor of Massachusetts and although there are no mentions of Cranes there at that early time, John thinks the Ipswich branch could have emigrated from Crane Hall (photo of the 'modernised' house in the October Newsletter, p 15) in about 1650. We also learned that Chilton church, cared for by an independent trust, can be accessed and contains not only table tombs of earlier Cranes but also a fine early 17th century Crane wall monument.

Why was the foundry set up in Ipswich, making boilers sold all over the country? Yes, there was suitable land to be developed and a useful deep water port for importing and exporting, but John is sure that the Cranes' extensive ancestral connections and therefore some sentiment in the decision were also factors. Perhaps he will one day discover a document that clinches this perfectly reasonable supposition.

Neil Salmon

    Front cover of issue 191 Cover, issue 191

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