Fox, Fowler & Co.
Thomas Fox was a prominent Quaker and a partner in the Wellington-based woollen firm of Were & Sons. In 1782, he married the daughter of a partner in the renowned London banking business of Smith, Wright & Gray. Five years later, he established his own business, Fox & Co. At this period, it was not unusual for a firm to offer banking services alongside its main business, for a short period. Fox & Co. did just that, acting as both woollen merchant and banker. But in this case, the two functions were not separated until the 1870s.
Once the two businesses had been split, the banking side started to expand. Branches were opened throughout Somerset and Devon. The bank also capitalised on the failure in 1878 of the West of England & South Wales District Bank, taking up much of its business.
In 1879, the business was renamed Fox, Fowler & Co., following a change in the partnership. It continued to grow, acquiring several smaller private banks. Interestingly, during this period of expansion, the firm was taking advice from Howard Lloyd. Lloyd was a senior director of Lloyds Bank, whose sister had married into the Fox family.
Following the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, the bank’s senior partner, John Fox, feared a run on the bank. He travelled to London to collect what he considered necessary funds to cope with mass withdrawals. On his return to the West Country, Fox had three wooden boxes stashed in his railway compartment. These contained £100,000 in gold and silver coin. Fortunately, the bank survived the War unscathed.
Fox, Fowler & Co. banknote, 1921
Fox, Fowler & Co. is best known as the last provincial bank in England and Wales to issue its own banknotes. While it was common for banks to issue notes in the 18th and early 19th centuries, most had given up this right by the latter part of the century. Fox Fowler, however, issued its notes continuously, from its formation in 1787 through to its takeover in 1921.
Fox Fowler had a network of 56 branches by 1921. However, the First World War had taken its toll on the Fox family, and they decided to concentrate on their other business interests. The partners also recognised the difficulties faced by a relatively small private bank, trying to compete against the ever larger joint-stock banks. They accepted Lloyds’ offer of a takeover, with John Fox joining the board of directors. Lloyds, in turn, strengthened its branch network in Somerset, Devon and Cornwall.
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