Celebrating 250 years of producing the finest cloth
STEEPED IN HISTORY
TRACED BACK TO THE REIGN OF QUEEN ELIZABETH I
The origins of our Wellington woollen business are believed to have begun with John Were of Pinksmoor Mill, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. In 1772, the young Thomas Fox established a partnership with his Grandfather Thomas Were in his serge (cloth) making company located at Trade Court, South Street, Wellington. Thomas Fox later decided to study languages and the woollen trade abroad, and on his return the company was transformed from a small cottage industry, into one of the most successful family-owned cloth manufacturers. The mill was subsequently operated by the Fox family for the next seven generations.
THOMAS FOX SET UP HIS OWN BANK
Initially established as a way of transferring funds between suppliers and customers, Thomas Fox opened his own bank in 1787. This also became useful for employee wages and savings for workers within the woollen business. The bank later became Fox Fowler & Co. and developed a chain of over 55 branches before being sold to Lloyds Bank in 1922. Fox Fowler & Co was the last British privately owned bank to issue their own bank notes.
A former flour mill at Tonedale
Thomas Fox decided to relocate the business to a larger premises after discovering a former flour mill, which offered more space and was ideally located close to the vital water supply from the River Tone. This allowed the mill to become water and steam powered before the days of gas and electricity. This created a revolutionary change whereby wool could be woven into cloth more efficiently. Additionally, the location at Tonedale was also conveniently situated near the main town of Wellington, Somerset.
Jacquard looms added for increased productivity
As demand grew for finer cloths it became apparent that the mill’s machinery would need to be updated in order to cope with the uptake in cloth production. As a result, Jacquard and Hattersley looms were added by 1843. These were used extensively until the mid-1900's, when they were eventually replaced by Northrop and Sulzer looms.
PROFT SHARING & WORKERS BENEFITS
During this time a scheme was created to offer profit sharing, free medical attendance, illness insurance, and company pensions. These practices were ahead of their time as it would be another forty years when similar methods were set by the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, David Lloyd George. These standards led to employees joining textile unions and encouraged the creation of company delegates.
OVER 5,000 FOX EMPLOYEES
Fox Brothers' employed around 5,000 individuals during peak production periods in the early 20th century. An apprentice programme was established to train enthusiastic workers, as well as a large maintenance department, to oversee the operation of the machinery. By this point Fox Brothers also had subsidiary factories at Cullompton, Culmstock, Uffculme, Wiveliscombe, Weston-Super-Mare, and the William Bliss mill at Chipping Norton.
KHAKI DYE INTRODUCED
After producing scarlet serge for the British Army, Fox Brothers' were fundamental in introducing khaki dye. Reportedly the khaki colouration was personally approved by the Prince of Wales and the War Office. During World War I, an astonishing 8,000 miles of khaki cloth were produced, along with 70,000 pairs of puttees each week.
FIRST LORRY DELIVERY
Transport links and communication lines across the UK had advanced significantly by this point. As a result, Fox Brothers invested in their first lorry which would deliver cloth on a weekly basis to London, the Midlands, and Yorkshire. This service ensured fabric could be delivered quickly and at short notice. This period also saw the arrival of the Telex telephone network.
A tale of two friends : The Gentleman & the Business MagnatE
Business magnate and TV personality Deborah Meaden (most commonly known for her appearances as a 'Dragon', on the BBC TV series Dragons' Den) acquired Fox Brothers alongside long-term friend Douglas Cordeaux in 2009. A business partnership more than 15 years in the making, the pair decided to invest in the great British woollen mill following an insightful visit to the long-standing factory. Following that excursion, they instantly 'fell in love' with its historical charm, original manufacturing processes, and the challenge of revitalising a textile manufacturer. Seeking to preserve and restore "the sound of Great Britain making stuff".
PROUDLY CELEBRATING 250 YEARS
Having recently celebrated its 250th anniversary, Fox Brothers continues to craft the finest woollen and worsted fabric in Somerset, England. Officially credited as the original creators of flannel, Fox Brothers is still the standard bearer for this luxuriously milled cloth. In the present day, the firm continues to adapt and brace change, with collections of cloth suitable for all seasons. "If It's Not Fox, It’s Not Flannel."
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