William Ray 1705-1768
What do we know of this interesting man and his influential family, who shaped the future commercial prosperity of Shop Street? The earliest records indicate that a Joseph Ray came to Worlingworth in the 1650s with his wife Sarah Sparrow, shortly after their marriage in Depden (near Bury St Edmunds) in 1652. At least five children were baptised in Worlingworth St Mary’s between 1656 and 1662, after which most of the family returned to Joseph’s birthplace of Laxfield.
Whilst Joseph Ray spent his final years in Laxfield, his eldest son Samuel Ray settled in Worlingworth and he and his wife Mary represent one of the oldest surviving grave plots in the churchyard. We know from the tomb inscription that Samuel was a grocer; he passed away in 1738 but his legacy, according to a Town Committee book, was to give property to the parish. This was the cottage that used to be a guildhall, opposite to the church, and Samuel Ray expressed the wish that this property be used as a house for the poor of the parish - the Parish Workhouse.
It was opened in February 1739 - a condition of the agreement was for Samuel's grandson William to approve (or otherwise) the admissions. This wasn't a problem for William Ray because a governor had been appointed to deal with the administration of the Workhouse. Besides, William had more important business to attend to, namely his many investments.
Samuel Ray had also invested in the Red House, Worlingworth in about 1720, after the previous owner, Simon Rowse, had to dispose of the property. The Red House had its origins in the 14th century and had been in the possession of the Rous (Rowse) family for hundreds of years.
The house was acquired by William Ray and he set about building a malting-house on land to the west of the house. The malting-house structure still stands today (206 on the 1837 Tithe map shown below) though it has now been re-developed as housing.
William Ray also acquired various properties on Shop Street - we know this because we have a copy of William's will. This is extremely informative and suggests that William Ray was a good businessman and extremely wealthy when he passed away. The Ray family business empire probably reached its zenith at this time.
William Ray (d. 1764) owned land in Redenhall, Withersdale, Weybread and near to Harleston. He also owned land in Tannington, shops and property in Worlingworth and, as already mentioned, the Red House and the associated Maltinghouse. He would leave most of his properties and business interests to his eldest son William (d. 1790).
At some stage in William Ray's business life, an investment was made in a plantation in Jamaica. This was most likely to have been a sugar plantation and might have been linked to the brewing and spirits business developing on the Red House estate. It seems quite remarkable that this remote and sparsely populated parish should house a gentleman who owned part of the West Indies!
As mentioned previously, the Ray family's fortunes were at their height in the middle of the 18th century. By 1815, when Samuel Ray (a grandson of William) was declared bankrupt, the family had truly fallen on hard times, a fate that befell many other respectable businessmen. An indication of the spirits business is evidenced in the inventory of goods in the shop at the time of the bankruptcy - amongst the goods were 40 gallons of pepper mint, 60 gallons of Jamaica rum and 340 gallons of gin!