Cranbrook, Kent: Then and Now

When George and Ellen Booth moved from Detroit to Bloomfield in 1904, they named their estate ‘Cranbrook’ after George’s ancestral home of Cranbrook, Kent, England. As the institutions and landscape developed, many of them were also named after places in and around the ancestral Cranbrook. George’s father, Henry Wood Booth, was born there in 1837, where his father, Henry Gough Booth, and grandfather, George Booth, were coppersmiths.

In 1901, Henry Wood Booth along with George and Ellen took a trip to England, and the photographs from this trip are held in the Henry Wood Booth Papers in Cranbrook Archives. I invite you on a virtual “walking” tour of Cranbrook, Kent, using these historical images alongside the same places in the present day.

Cranbrook is a small town situated on the River Crane with an industrial history in iron-making, that goes back to Roman times, and cloth-making, stimulated by the settlement of Flemish weavers in 1331. Cranbrook belongs to a group of towns known as the Weald, which comes from a West Saxon word for “forest”. During the middle ages, Kent was divided into seven “lathes” (an administrative unit peculiar to Kent), and Cranbrook was one of seven “hundreds” (the smallest administrative unit about the same size as a parish) belonging to the lathe of Scray.

The map below pinpoints the places that we will visit so that you can follow the route as we tour the town.

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Walking tour directions. Google, 2020.

1. View down High Street towards Town Hall

Cranbrook is comprised of one main road, the High Street, which intersects with another smaller road, Stone Street. Most English towns have a “High Street,” just like “Main Street” in the US, and we will begin our tour on the High Street that leads into the town center.

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View of the High Street looking down to the Town Hall, 1901. Cranbrook Archives.

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View of Cranbrook High Street. May 2019. Google.

2. Crane Lane

At the end of the High Street, there is a small lane called Crane Lane. The Booth family lived on the High Street nearby this lane. The symbolism of the Crane is well known on the Cranbrook campus and you can see its history rooted in the etymology of the ancestral Cranbrook, which is named for the gathering of cranes at the brook.

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View of Crane Lane, 1901. Cranbrook Archives.

This is a bird’s eye view of Crane Lane showing the brook. If you click and zoom out on the map you can see that it leads to a small unbuilt area and eventually to a road named “Brookside”.

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Satellite map showing Crane Brook and Crane Lane. 2020. Google.

3. Turning right onto Stone Street – you can see the George Hotel on the right:

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View of Stone Street with the George Hotel on the right, 1901. Cranbrook Archives.

The George Hotel is still there today:

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View of Stone Street. May 2019. Google.

4. At the intersection of Stone Street and Hill Road, which leads to the Union Mill, there was a blacksmith’s shop on the corner. Henry Wood Booth’s birthplace is on the left on Hill Road:

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View of Hill Road leading to Union Mill, 1901. Cranbrook Archives.

The view today is quite similar:

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View of Hill Road. May 2019. Google.

Union Mill is the last remaining of four smock mills in Cranbrook. It is still used to grind flour which you can see here.

5. Heading back to the center of town, you can see St. Dunstan’s in the distance:

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This is the view today:

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View looking down Hill Road from the site of the mill. May 2019. Google.

7. St. Dunstan’s Church

You may be familiar with this name from St. Dunstan’s Theatre and St. Dunstan’s Chapel. St. Dunstan’s Church is the parish church of Cranbrook in the Diocese of Canterbury. It is known as the Cathedral in the Weald and, while records show that a church was there almost 1000 years ago, the present building is over 500 years old. St. Dunstan himself is the patron saint of metalsmiths.

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St. Dunstan’s Church, 1901. Cranbrook Archives.

In the surrounding area, there are other sites with names that you will recognize from Cranbrook campus, namely Angley Wood and Glassenbury Manor (Kingswood Lake was once called Glassenbury Lake).

I hope you have enjoyed the trip and discovered something new about Cranbrook past and present.

–Laura MacNewman, Associate Archivist

Three C’s: China, Cranbrook, and the Crane

It is generally known that our founder, George Booth, named our community “Cranbrook” after the Booth’s ancestral home in Kent, England. Even the portion of the Rouge River which flows through the property was called the “Crane” by the Booth family. I’m certain that Booth must have been aware of the derivation of the Cranbrook name, which began with the Old English words “cran broc” which means “crane marsh.” The spelling, which evolved over time from Cranebroca to Cranebroc then Cranebrok, eventually became Cranbrooke.

On a recent trip to China, I was surprised when I saw large bronze cranes at the Teng Wang Pavilion in Jiangxi province’s capital city of Nanchang. They reminded me of the crane iconography at Cranbrook. While I had previously noticed the use of cranes as a subject in Chinese paintings, I never really thought about their meaning. The Chinese have a symbol for everything including life, death, and immortality. Our guide informed us that the crane symbolizes good health, longevity, and auspiciousness to the Chinese people.

Photo taken at Teng Wang Pavilion, Nanchang, China, Jun 2017. Courtesy of the author.

A crane can also represent happiness and a soaring spirit. A crane that is shown outstretched wings and one leg raised stands for longevity while one shown flying towards the sun is illustrative of a wish or hope for social advancement. There is even a form of martial arts called the “White Crane Style” originated by the female martial artist Fang Qi Niang during the Qing Dynasty.

Back to Cranbrook! References to cranes have been widely used over the past 100 years, many in relation to Cranbrook School. Perhaps the most obvious is the use of The Crane as the title for the Cranbrook School for Boys school newspaper, which won by popular vote at the first meeting of the School League in 1928. (Today the paper is known as The Crane-Clarion since the merger with Kingswood School in 1985.) Below are block prints by Cranbrook School students found on the covers of the 1928 papers. In mid-March 1930, The Crane switched to a new format and instead of being mimeographed, was printed by The Cranbrook Press at the Academy of Art. To go along with this new format, a logo for the paper was designed, likely by art editor Alfred Davock.

The bronze crane inserts for the dining hall chairs for Cranbrook School (designed by Eero Saarinen) are still in use today. Henry Scripps Booth used the symbol of the crane as a directional marker on his architectural drawings. The Academy of Art Administration Building (designed by Swanson and Booth) features a crane brick pattern on the south façade of the building, and Eliel Saarinen designed two “bird motifs” for the bottom of the stairs at the First Arts and Crafts building. The drawings, in the collection of Cranbrook Archives, show Saarinen’s plan to use light and dark bluestone to delineate the body of the cranes with red slate for the eyes and black slate for the beaks. As recently as 1994, Katherine McCoy, co-chair of the Academy’s design department, developed the current Cranbrook community logo which features a contemporary symbol of the crane rising out of a large “C” for Cranbrook. It is shown below, alongside a humorous 1930 illustration for a column heading in The Crane.

While Cranbrook’s history with the crane may not be as long-standing as that of the Chinese, one might argue that we, too, have incorporated the crane into our community’s culture as a symbol not only of longevity, but one of respect for the legacy of our founders and our community’s heritage.

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

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