John Major 1699-1781


John Major was born of a reputable Yorkshire family, who came from Bridlington and his early days were spent sea-faring and conducting business on the Stockholm route, trading mainly in iron ore, timber and furs. In 1740, Admiral George Anson set sail on a long mission to harass Spanish galleons on the high seas and completed a circumnavigation of the globe. Documents from the Suffolk Record Office indicate that John Major may have accompanied Anson on the arduous four year voyage but further written evidence is sought to confirm this. By the early 1750s, John Major had retired from sea-faring to build up a considerable business empire in overseas trade, eventually forging a successful partnership with John Henniker, a London merchant of considerable wealth and influence. Major also invested in large tracts of agricultural land in Sussex (East Grinstead) and Suffolk (Thornham, Worlingworth, Metfield, etc) and acquired Worlingworth Hall in the 1750s.

John Henniker and John Major were able to monopolise the supply of red pine timber masts for the ships of the British Navy. The masts were shipped from the American Colonies or the Baltic states by armed escort to Chatham or Portsmouth. By this means, the two business partners became wealthier but they also gained additional influence in government circles and at the King's court, with a view to entering Parliament at a later date. John Henniker Senior had died in 1749 and it is likely that John Major carried on supporting the timber importing business with Henniker's son. The partnership had already been cemented by the marriage of this son, also John Henniker, to John Major's eldest daughter Ann.

Major is first mentioned in connection with Worlingworth in a court roll of 1750. However, it is understood that Worlingworth Hall was only an occasional weekend retreat for his family and guests, not in any way a live-in residence. For much of the second half of the 18th century, the west wing of the house, the stately rooms, were occupied by the Green family, middle-class landowners and agriculturalists themselves but of lower rank to the Majors. The east wing was a working farm with about 120 acres.

His career ambitions were met later in the 1760s when he became a Member of Parliament and in 1765 he was created Baronet of Worlingworth Hall. Even though he spent little time in Worlingworth, Sir John Major developed a deep affection for the parish. He gave a fire engine to the parish in 1760. Notwithstanding his many country possessions and properties, he and his wife Elizabeth decided that they would eventually be interred in the chancel of St. Mary's Parish Church, close to Worlingworth Hall.

His own death was reported in the Ipswich Journal and a description of the subsequent events followed:

"Last Friday, died at his house in Savage Gardens, Crutched-Friars, London, Sir John Major".

"Thursday night (1st March 1781), the remains of Sir John Major, Baronet, of Worlingworth Hall and Thornham Hall, both in this County, were interred in the chancel of Worlingworth Church. The hearse was met at Stonham by a great many of his tenants, who attended it to the vault in the same manner as was done about six months past at the interral of Lady Major, his wife; there were two coaches and six, with the chief mourner and four supporters and the pall was hung with escutcheons; a great concourse of people attended and the whole was conducted with a decent solemnity".

As already mentioned, his eldest daughter Ann Major married John Henniker and since Sir John Major had no male heirs, his titles and lands passed to his son-in-law Sir John Henniker, who would eventually be created 1st Lord Henniker.

The memorial to Sir John and Elizabeth Major, his wife, erected by their two daughters in the chancel at St. Mary's, tells us that they “Liv’d with unsully’d Reputation and Died much Lamented”.


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