Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Secrets revealed...

One of the things I love about family history research is visiting the places where our ancestors lived and I've been fortunate in being able to research in some beautiful locations.

None more so than Lavenham in Suffolk, often said to be the "finest medieval town in England".

The Guildhall, Lavenham

But if it hadn't been for the foresight of Francis Lingard Ranson, the village tailor, Lavenham and its wealth of historic buildings would not have survived. 

Ranson, (1880-1950) a keen historian and photographer, captured images of Lavenham during a period when its buildings were in serious decline and threatened with demolition. He used his photographs to raise money for restoration work as well as raising awareness of the imminent loss of our valuable heritage. 

In 1944 he helped form the Lavenham Preservation Society which campaigned to save the village from what would have been almost complete destruction.

Little Hall, Lavenham. Museum and home to the Suffolk Preservation Society.

We stayed in Lavenham in a holiday cottage some years ago while undertaking family history research into my husband's ancestry, the Long family. While we were there, we bought two books, Lingard's Lavenham and Lavenham Panorama, (now, sadly, out of print) containing a collection of Ranson's photographs, compiled by his daughter, Kitty. 

As well as images of buildings - from humble cottages to great halls - the photographs (most taken by her father Francis, but also by her brother Lingard and Joseph Hines Abbott) show the people of Lavenham, including shopkeepers, children playing in the street, the church choir, musicians, workers and village gatherings. On the cover of Lingard's Lavenham is the Ranson family standing outside their own tailor's shop.

Much later, as we pieced together our research on the Longs, we came across Susanna Ranson, daughter of Jeremiah Ranson, who had first opened the tailor's shop in the 1840s, in which his son, Francis, had plied his trade when he wasn't out and about in the village taking photographs. And Susanna, it transpired, was my husband's Great-great-grandmother! 

And what was even more amazing, though we hadn't realised at the time, was that the cottage where we'd  stayed was next door to the Ranson's tailor's shop. Had we known, we could have rented the actual former shop itself - Tailors Cottage!

Lavenham Cottages - Tailors Cottage is on the right


You can learn more about Lavenham on the 'Discover Lavenham' website or at Britain Express.

There are more photographs of its buildings in the Francis Frith Collection.

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