By the mid-Eighteenth Century, Ranns owned many brewing and innkeeping establishments – a lucrative business to be in at a time when the Coaching Era was at its height. Another of Thomas Kennedy’s sons (see my post on him on this blog), George Kennedy, who is noted in local records as Maltster – and elsewhere as surgeon - at the end of the 1700s, is documented as buying brewing and innkeeping properties in Birmingham together with numbers of Ranns. It can be argued from this evidence that there is a general family alliance between the Kennedy and Rann families – and families operated very much in this way, doing business as a collective. What is also becoming evident in this picture is the happy coexistence of the Established Church and the Innkeeping and Brewing Industry. Lichfield was noted for its ale which was considered to be both very strong and of excellent flavour by such as James Boswell, as has already been noted.
Revd. John Rann is a mystery in his own right. His father Joseph was from Birmingham. John grew up during the controversial reign of William III and matriculated at Trinity College Oxford in 1703 aged 17, in Queen Anne’s reign, at a time when it was a hotbed of old Toryism. Five years later he received his Bachelor of Arts degree. Oxford was commonly believed to be a nest of Jacobitism, as indeed was the Church of England in general. Most aristocratic English Jacobites had no serious intentions of taking up arms against the ruling Royal House. They would simply grumble amongst themselves about the Whig government and dissipate their energies hunting, shooting and drinking. Rann was no aristocrat. The Ranns were tradespeople so he would have felt the scorn of the sons of the upper classes whilst at University.
|Portrait believed to be of John Rann|
Early in his career, John Rann testified in 1710 against an incumbent of the position of Headmaster of the King Edward VI School in Birmingham who was perceived in the town as being an extreme Whig. The headmaster in question was said to have stated that Cromwell was right to execute King Charles, among other inflammatory statements. He was joined at this tribunal by Joseph Rann who appears to be recognised as a kinsman – and was certainly familiar to the young clergyman. Thus the Ranns were shown by this time as Tories, having some years before been in the vanguard of Parliamentarianism. The evidence is that this was true of most of the inhabitants of Birmingham. The Ranns all testified to have attended the Birmingham School, though Joseph Rann said he had moved his son to Lichfield Grammar School in protest at his son’s excessive workload.
There were plenty of Tories, indeed many correspondents with the Jacobite Court, among the Establishment at this time. A contemporary of John Rann’s at Oxford was Lord Mansfield, a famous QC who later became Lord Chancellor. He was of the Murrays of Scone, a family elevated to nobility by James I and VI. Lord Mansfield went so far as to visit Paris and convey his respects to the Chevalier De St George, but ultimately the pursuit of career and prosperity took him on the high road to the woolsack, unlike his brother who had joined the intriguers, adventurers and diehards at the Stuart cabinet in exile at St Germain in France. The Duke of Marlborough himself kept in regular contact with St Germain, just in case. According to Owen’s History of Shrewsbury, written in 1800, all the squires in Shropshire were Jacobite, and Mary Alden Hopkins in her book ‘Doctor Johnson’s Lichfield’ holds that the gentry in the region of Lichfield were similarly inclined (though she actually refers to them as ‘Jacobins’ - the term given to French revolutionaries from forty years later!)
The purpose of the great universities of the period was chiefly to produce clergy for the Church of England. Oxford and Cambridge controlled huge numbers of the ‘livings’ (as positions in parishes were known) and the staff held ecclesiastical offices which meant that they must remain celibate – a situation directly inherited from the old Roman Catholic ideal of priesthood. Few lectures were delivered at the universities and little learning was acquired from these grandees. If the students chose to spend their time reading then it was a matter of personal choice. What mattered was that a student acquired social connections which would increase the numbers of livings and therefore his future prosperity. The students mostly spent their time in drinking, gambling and loose living. This had been the situation for centuries and few saw any reason for a change.
Whatever his feelings towards learning or the Chevalier, Reverend John Rann successfully pursued his career in the Church, acquiring multiple livings in the Black Country. He is said by different sources to be Vicar of several parishes in the West Midlands, apart from Rushall and Coldmore in Walsall, West Bromwich, Wolverhampton and is also mentioned in connection with Wednesbury. The more careerist churchmen collected livings through the patronage of local lords, and often amassed large salaries as a result. However John Rann was not always the canniest of operators.
He was appointed incumbent of West Bromwich in 1710 but left in 1743 after a lengthy but “unsatisfactory and troubled ministry”. It was in that year that as vicar of All Saints Church West Bromwich John Rann, when apparently very drunk, rode his horse through an open air meeting being addressed by John Wesley (who was also an Oxford man) using "unseemly words". By doing this he seems to have alienated the Earl. This did not affect his other livings, the patrons of whom seem to have approved of his raid on Wesley. He continued to officiate at Rushall where the church accounts of 1732 bear his signature, and a letter in the possession of the family shows he was there in 1770. The tithes of Walsall were in the gift of the Dolphin family of Shenstone.
The living of West Bromwich was in the gift of the Earl of Dartmouth, whose grand family seat was near Birmingham. The Earl who appointed Rann to West Bromwich was the son of the notorious Jacobite George Legge. He had commanded the regiment that escorted The Duke of Monmouth to his fateful meeting with James II after the failed Rebellion that bore the name of that illegitimate son of Charles II. Legge commanded the Navy under James and had been high in the Senior Service, and close associate of Samuel Pepys the diarist, during the reign of Charles II when James had commanded the Navy. Dartmouth had refused to conduct the heir to France on principle, when the crown was already starting to slip from the Stuart King. However he was removed as head of the Navy when William of Orange took the throne. He used his influence in the Navy to conspire on behalf of his former Jacobites, one of the most highly-placed Jacobite sympathisers of all. He paid for this by being clapped in the Tower when one of those plots fell apart, and there he died, still protesting his utter hatred of Frenchmen. The Earl who succeeded him was exiled from political life by William of Orange but upon the death of the Dutchman became a faithful servant to Queen Anne’s governments. He retired when George I succeeded the last of the Stuart monarchs. He was not the Jacobite stalwart that his father was, but he was certainly a Tory and showed no love of the House of Hanover.
The future 2nd Earl of Dartmouth, Viscount Lewisham, Baron Dartmouth of Dartmouth, William Legge (1731 – 1801) was growing up at the time when John Rann was chaplain to the Earl. The 2nd Earl was to become sometime First Lord of Trade, Lord Privy Seal (or Minister Without Portfolio), Lord Steward and crucially Colonial Secretary during the period 1772-1776. The Earl was also stepbrother of Lord North, the British Prime Minister during the Revolutionary War period, who acceded to the post in 1770. Dartmouth was appointed to the government because of his family relationship to North, though Dartmouth was a supporter of Rockingham – whom North detested. ‘Brother’ Legge was a Methodist, though he was too young to have been behind Rann’s swift departure from the living of West Bromwich after the incident with Wesley. Rann was evidently a man with wide political connections some of which he probably cultivated whilst he was chaplain to the old Earl – particularly Lord North, whom he would have known during his lordship’s childhood and formative years.
The Reverend John Rann himself made a most distinguished marriage with Damaris also known as Mary, the beautiful dark-haired daughter of John Dolphin of the elegant Moss Manor, in Shenstone, which still lies on the road between Lichfield and Walsall. Shenstone was favoured as a coaching halt because it allowed coaches on the Watling Street route to bypass the narrower and somewhat tortuous roads in and out of Lichfield. The Dolphin family had inherited Moss Manor from a branch of the Stanley family at the beginning of the 1600s. The Dolphin family had been based in Yardley apparently as long as it had existed - it is now swallowed up by Birmingham but back then it was a village in open countryside. They had been noted landowners and cattle farmers in that area since Norman times. When Reverend John Rann died at a great age he was commemorated in marble along with his wife among the Dolphin Family memorials in the Parish Church in Rushall. The name Dolphin was adopted during the 1400s – Stebbing Shaw says that previously they had the name of Swanshurst – also the name of the house in Birmingham that remained in the family until the 1800s. The Swanshursts were involved in a legal controversy with local villeins during the 1200s when he had attempted to enclose some land up to that time regarded as commons. Their feudal overlords were the Earls of Warwick. The existence to this day among the possessions of some of the Kennedy family of some elegant and opulent portraits of these 17-18th century Dolphins testifies to their wealth and power.
Around 1745 when he was rector of West Bromwich, one of John Rann’s several daughters fell for a young man who claimed to be the heir of a very rich man in another town. She gave him her gold watch. Rann was reluctant to upset the father so he went along with it. However his son-in-law, an attorney, investigated and at length found that the suitor was actually a tailor's son who looked very like the heir who had just died of smallpox. They intercepted a letter the young man had asked to be posted which had details of his plot in it, whereby he was planning to help himself to her dowry then scarper. The trickster was marched off to gaol but the Rann's daughter never got her watch back. The whole tale was related in a love letter from a man in Wolverhampton to his intended in Leek. The story was widespread in the tea rooms of the Black Country at that time according to the narrator. No doubt the embarrassment of the Parson was equalled by fury that he was the subject of gossip for miles around.
John Rann had other children, one of whom, Joseph, went on to be Vicar of Coventry, and who wrote a six volume edition, with commentary, of William Shakespeare’s works. Clearly John Rann was able to pass on a love of literature and drama to his family though some critics have accused Joseph of unimaginativeness in his commentary.
One daughter of John Rann named Mary – possibly the one duped by the tailors son - went on to marry an attorney at law from near Shrewsbury named Illedge Maddox of whom more here.