Sunday, 10 June 2012

The Rann Family of Birmingham

A few miles away in the small town of Birmingham, a very different story unfolded during the Civil War.  The community there was predominantly made up of leather workers and tanners,  self-reliant artisans who instinctively gravitated towards the puritanism that had come to dominate the Capital and Parliament.  The followers of the King tended to be (although were by no means exclusively) traditionalists from the countryside,  the agricultural workers of a big landowner who could call upon their feudal services.  The people in the towns and cities had no feudal lord to tip their hat to and thus tended to mobilise around the urban churches which had become influenced by incomers from the continent,  often hardline Protestant refugees from Catholic France.  The French protestants were largely Calvinists,  an uncompromising community which was in no mood to meekly bow the knee to an English King that had married a devout Catholic Frenchwoman of the ruling French Royal House - their great tormentors.  These people moved to the heart of the new communities of manufacturers such as weavers and other like trades and must have been a great influence on the English townspeople around them.  The English had always had a reputation in Europe for loose living and debauchery,  but these influences even converted the notoriously immoral population of London to presbyterianism.  Shortly before the outbreak of the Civil War, the Scots Covenanter Army marched south in protest at the ‘papist’ actions of the King the London crowds unbelievably turned out onto the streets in their thousands to cheer them as heroes and liberators.

Birmingham like London, opposed the King,  and so it was that Prince Rupert, Charles I’s nephew and flambuoyant cavalry leader, and his army rode towards the town intent on preventing further depradations on the Royalist Army from that locality.  The people of Birmingham had seized goods and even soldiers of the Royal Army, sending them to the city of Coventry where they were free to roam within the walls but were ignored as enemy prisoners (thereby giving rise to the well-known phrase).  Rupert had just besieged and captured the Cathedral Close of Lichfield and converted it into a Royalist citadel.  As he approached he was confronted by hastily-constructed defences in the form of mud walls that surrounded the fifteen or so streets.

There was desultory resistance from defenders which was soon put to flight,  leaving the local population to face a rampaging army,  some of whom were mercenaries with little interest in the well-being of those left behind.  The reports of what happened next are contradictory.  Rupert claimed that he restrained his army from going further than some limited reprisals.  The stories of local people contradict this. 

The Rann family had featured in the parish registers of Birmingham’s St Martin’s Church at least since the late 1500s – one William Rande marrying Elizabeth Rastell on November 6th 1574 .  There are earlier records of Ranns – for example the late 14th century Rydeware Chartulary (in Latin) mentions one Hercelyno De Rande.  Humphrey Rann clearly was a man of some note in the community to be mentioned by name in this account - which mentions few other  names.  In his will of 1646 his profession is given as baker – he owned a shop in the Shambles.  The streets of Birmingham of those days were said to be lined with leather hides being hung out and stretched.  The centre of the town was graced by a large Leather Hall,  for the use of the trade.  It had also long been a place where metalworking was practised.  Upon the Restoration,  when suddenly anti-Royalists became extremely rare creatures indeed,  Birmingham started to become the centre for making buttons,  buckles, and other light goods.  Such goods were easy to transport and catered for the moneyed classes who took a renewed interest in elegant fashions after the manner of their gay monarch.  One Joseph Rann was to become Sheriff of Birmingham during the late years of the century when the town had become very much larger and when William III had taken the throne – another European import most welcome to the burghers of Birmingham.  The Sheriff and town bailiffs were the elected chief officials of the Corporation. The parish records show that Joseph Rann had a son, John Rann in 1687.  Young John Rann was to go on to live a very long life and play a major part in our story (see here)

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