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17 Feb 2016

John Lain of Diss

Sometimes in family history you are sent hurtling back hundreds of years in a moment.  In the posh, Eastern-Europeaned waitress environment of the Spa Hotel, Tunbridge Wells, trees had crept up on the native commonland, formerly scrub and heath.  I was suddenly confronted with the photograph of the architect of our family's fortunes whose sexy charm had persuaded the furious widow, Mrs Riches, to part with her senses - and her hallowed hall, in his favour.

Finally spotting his countenance, my first thought was 'African!'.  We see him here, presumably in his eighties, tediously dolled up for a photograph at Diss.  Diss is renowned for disappointment in our family.  Lain's great-great-great-niece turned up here in the 1990s, a Cockney, to see where her Dad was born.  But it was the wrong town.

Water summarises Diss and its region in the Waveney Valley.  You are never far away.  There are nature reserves at South Lopham, the family's home of the 1860s, and here the Waveney itself begins on its journey to Oulton Broad and the world at large.

John Lain too is the author of our journey as a family.  Born while the ink was drying in America, on its constitution, and in Vienna, on Don Giovanni (1787) he also made his mark.  His will shows his over-arching influence over now divided families - too distant even for me to claim.  His nephew has over a thousand descendants in Utah, while his nieces' complex tales are out of scope for my own enquiries.

At 28 he marries the widow Riches, 20 years his senior and provides a home for the, soon pregnant, Mary, his niece allowing her to remain after she marries the babyfather, Smith.  Mary remains his closest relative, and Lain provides for the Smiths.  It is fitting that his photograph should appear - of course unlabelled! - in the family trunk at Tunbridge.

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