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. He was reputedly "the greatest importer of iron ore" in Britain in the 1720s and was able to retire from sea-faring by the age of thirty. By the early 1750s, John Major had built up a considerable business empire in overseas trade, 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.

After John Henniker died in 1749, his son continued the partnership with his father-in-law after marrying Ann Major, daughter of John. Through their contacts and earned patronage of important figures in the Government, Henniker and Major were able to monopolise the supply of red pine timber masts for the ships of the British Navy. The masts were shipped from New England 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.

Major is first mentioned in connection with Worlingworth in a court roll of 1750. 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 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 "Lived with unsullyed Reputation and Died much Lamented?."

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