Joseph Rank (1854-1943) was born in Hull on 28 March 1854 and converted in Kingston Chapel. From humble beginnings he became a highly successful flour miller, showing a willingness to exploit new technology, such as steel rollers in place of millstones, and shrewd business acumen. Converted in the 1880s, he had a simple but robust faith. He was noted for his great benevolence especially to such Methodist causes as the Twentieth Century Fund. He supported the building of central halls as part of the Forward Movement, especially at Tooting (opened 1910) where he continued to be involved in later life. In 1934 he set up the Joseph Rank Benevolent Fund. When attending the Plymouth Conference of 1913, as a representative of the Second London District, he spent much of his time studying the financial columns of the Times, to the disgust of R.N. Flew. By the time he died at his Surrey home, Colley Corner, on 13 November 1943, he was reckoned to have given over £3½m. to Methodist causes. Consolidated in 2002, the Joseph Rank Trust now combines a number of the trusts he endowed between 1918 and 1942, with the aim of 'furthering any other objects or purposes which are exclusively charitable according to the laws of England and Wales in force from time to time'.
His wife Emily (née Voase, c.1855-1916) was a source of strength to him and in their family. She served on the connexional Women's Work Committee and after her death the Karim Nagar Hospital in Hyderabad, India, was built in her memory in 1920.
His daughter Hilda (b. 18 June 1887) was one of the first women representatives to the WM Conference. She married the Rev. Frederick Bartlett Lang (1887-1964; e.m.1909) and their son was Paul Bartlett Lang.
The oldest of the Ranks' three sons, James Voase Rank (1881-1952) joined the family firm. Despite remaining a Methodist, he was divorced from his first wife in 1926 and remarried the following year and was also enthusiastically active in horse-racing. He gave generously to medical and other charities.
Their youngest son Joseph Arthur Rank (1888-1972) was born in Hull on 22 December 1888 and educated at The Leys School. He took over and diversified the family business in 1952. The Lord Rank Research Centre at High Wycombe was set up to promote food technology. To improve the effectiveness of Christian witness, he promoted the Religious Film Society in 1933 and later the Churches Television Centre. This led him into much wider involvement in the British film industry and to the financing of films varying widely from classics like Brief Encounter, Great Expectations and Henry V, through comedies like The Lavender Hill Mob,, to the comic-postcard vulgarity of the Carry On films. In collaboration with Henry Boot, he set up Pinewood Studios in 1936 to rival Alexander Korda's Denham Studios, and gained control of the Odeon Theatre chain in 1942. Despite an addiction to swearing and differing from the Methodist line on gambling (e.g.in his promotion of Bingo halls), he served for many years as treasurer of the Home Missions Department 1933-1972 and of Westminster Central Hall 1967-1972. He married Laura Marshall, daughter of Horace Marshall. He declined the offer of a peerage from Clement Atlee, but in 1957 was created Baron Rank of Sutton Scotney. He died at Sutton Scotney on 29 March 1972.
Many causes have benefited from the Joseph Rank Benevolent Trust and from the Rank Foundation which Arthur Rank set up to safeguard his assets from an American take-over. Its aims include the promotion of education, of 'the Christian religion by any lawful means' and of 'the study of the history of the Christian faith'. According to one calculation, he gave away £100 million during his lifetime, though at his death his estate was valued at no more than £6-7 million. His home, Sutton Manor, Hants was valued at £3½ million.