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British Industrial History

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Richard Foley

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The Foley family, ironmasters and government contractors, can be traced back to the late 1500s.

Richard Foley I was a nailer - a respectable and lucrative trade.

Richard Foley II

See Richard Foley (1580-1657)

Richard Foley III

See Richard Foley (1614-1678)

Thomas Foley I

See Thomas Foley (1616-1677)

Richard Foley IV

See Richard Foley ( -1684)

The businesses were becoming very widely dispersed as more ironworks were leased, and new partners were brought in. Raw materials, pig iron, and wrought iron were moved further in the course of production, numerous customers expected extended credit and frequently paid by bills of exchange. This caused problems with management and logistics; accounting required sophisticated solutions.

1678 Richard Foley IV had been trained by his father and inherited the north Staffordshire works on his father's death. Philip II and other interested parties made an agreement to resolve the outstanding debts and enabled Richard IV to establish his ownership.

1684 Richard died and his heir was his uncle, John Foley (1631–1684), the youngest son of Richard Foley II. When John Foley died in November the same year, the ironworks were inherited by Henry Glover senior, his brother-in-law, who had been manager of the Stour works. For a while, the Cheshire works were transferred to the Yorkshire ironmasters, but they were back in Foley hands by 1696.

John Wheeler of Wollaston, Stourbridge, took over the Moorland works, with Obadiah Lane as manager, the partners being Wheeler, Lane, and Philip Foley II. These works were well placed between the expanding industrial areas of north and south Staffordshire, where most of the bar and rod iron was sold.

Thomas Foley II

See Thomas Foley (c.1641-1701).

Paul and Philip II

Meanwhile the younger sons of Thomas I, Paul and Philip II, had become the principal managers of the family works, bringing the partnerships to their widest extension in 1692.

Paul was educated at Magdalen Hall, Oxford, from 1662, and possibly at the Inner Temple in London, from September of that year. After his marriage c1668/70, he bought the estate of Stoke Edith in Herefordshire. Shortly before his death, he completely rebuilt the house. He was a dissenter, and employed an ejected minister as tutor for his children. Like his elder brother Thomas II, he was a governor of the Society of Mines Royal from 1666 to 1678 and the Society of Mineral and Battery Works from 1666 to 1687.

1669 The many interlocking partnerships and semi-dependent enterprises of the ironworks had been divided into three: Paul purchased King's works in the Forest of Dean in 1674, and probably demolished them; but the Forest of Dean remained the main base of his power and responsibilities within the ironworks partnership. The Forest of Dean works were mainly furnaces producing high-quality iron from local ores. Eventually Paul held 7 blast furnaces including Redbrook furnace and two forges at Lydbrook, Gloucestershire. He also had a half-interest in St. Weonard's furnace, and the Pontrilas, Peterchurch, and Llansillo forges in Herefordshire.

The Stour works were controlled by the youngest brother, Philip II (b. 1648), in the parish of St. Peter le Poer in London. He married Penelope, daughter of William Paget, in 1670, bringing the Cannock group of forges into the family, and his father settled Prestwood estate in Kingswinford parish on them. They had 2 sons and 5 daughters.

At the age of 19, Philip took over the Stour valley and south Staffordshire works, then comprising 4 furnaces, 13 forges, and the Bewdley warehouse, the stock and debts of which were estimated as £68,830. Philip entered into a bond to pay £60,000 to his father. There was a full assessment in 1667–8 of every mill in respect of its productivity and profitability, and the workmen were appraised in detail for their skills, diligence, and reliability.

1674 There was a rift between Paul and Philip II. Philip was both Paul's chief customer and his main competitor. Paul had expanded his output of pig iron in the Forest works and needed to expand his market in the midlands, but he also raised the price of the best quality Forest iron. Their father, Thomas I, had to intervene in what threatened to become a bitter quarrel between the brothers. An agreement was drawn up which gave Philip one third of the Forest works but gave Paul access to the midland market for iron. It was an uncomfortable, strained partnership and Paul was never satisfied that he was receiving his brother's support nor a fair return from his mills.

1685 There were constant alterations in the arrangements and although Paul received a steady profit from the Forest works he was now anxious to persuade Philip and other ironmasters to buy him out. This may have been a negotiating ploy, for Paul continued to operate the Forest works in close association with Philip.

At the same time Philip II was establishing links with other partners in the Stour valley and in Shropshire, strengthening his own position and making himself less dependent upon Paul for pig iron. His agent and partner, John Wheeler of Wollaston, became important both in the practical management of the Stour valley and of the north Staffordshire works, and in his personal support for Philip.

By 1691, Wheeler was also active in the Forest works. The partnerships included other ironmasters who held shares of ⅙, or ¼, contributing to the large capital required, and they also created an active link with partnerships in other parts of the country.

1692 As the leases of the ironworks were usually for short periods, and without right of survivorship, there was a continual need for adjustment and change of personnel. Paul and Philip II, together with John and Richard Wheeler and Richard Avenant, drew up a new agreement for 7 years, which created a supervisory group of 6 partners. Again, this brought together the Forest, Stour, and Staffordshire works. Paul and Philip paid in cash; the others were deemed to have put in the stock and debts from the mills which they had been operating for some years. The Stour ironworks were similarly reorganized with 5 partners. John Wheeler was the chief agent and salaried cash-holder for both partnerships.

Although this episode marked the climax of the process of expansion, it did not halt the process of continuous renewal and reorganization of capital. It was a flexible arrangement and new mills continued to be brought within the network while others passed into other hands. Philip II briefly made agreements which brought mills in Derbyshire (between 1695 and 1698) and Nottinghamshire (from 1696) into the partnership. The organization was called in the accounts "The Ironworks in Partnership". Although other ironmasters held shares in the partnerships, Paul and Philip retained control of capital and the leadership in decision making. The day-to-day running of the units of production was in the hands of salaried clerks. These were educated men of modest background, who organized the sales and purchases along with the movement of raw materials and iron, and who hired and fired the workmen. The highly skilled men commanded high wages; their competence was monitored by the management, and they moved from mill to mill. In addition the ironworks required local unskilled labourers and large numbers of carriers by land and water. The enterprise was documented and controlled by a single set of annual accounts which were derived from detailed and regular records of daily transactions, wages, stock, debts, buildings repairs, and customers.

Such attention to financial detail was remarkable for the period, but the Foleys had long been concerned with county and national finance as well as business accounting; in the House of Commons Paul was respected as a good financier and lawyer, and he was one of the main organizers of the Land Bank proposed by Robert Harley.

Philip II was less involved in politics than his brother, but was elected MP for Bewdley in 1679, for Stafford in 1689, 1695, and 1698, and for Droitwich in 1690 and 1701. There were five Foley cousins in the House of Commons, including the speaker in 1698, and all of them were notable members. In politics, as in business, the Foley brothers both supported and competed with each other.

The skills of public administration and private business in the Foley concern combined to make possible the effective co-ordination of more than 50 mills located in England and Wales. The enterprise was a landmark in the development of management techniques, but it also developed the selection, training, and control of local agents and managers at the sites.

Many of the family members who had built up the business to its greatest extent died between 1699 and 1716, but their sons made aristocratic marriages and entered the peerage.

1699 Paul Foley died of gangrene on 13 November, and was buried at Stoke Edith, leaving an estate reputed to be worth £4000 a year.

1701 Thomas Foley II died.

From 1710 the Foleys gradually disposed of many of the works, retaining mainly those at the Forest of Dean and the Bewdley warehouse, and the Foley's domination of the industry thus passed to other families.

1716 Philip II died.

Later Generations

1708 The third Thomas Foley of Great Witley used the Wilden Ironworks after the lease to Richard Knight expired

1712 Thomas was created Lord Foley to enable Robert Harley to have a majority in the House of Lords.

His son Thomas Foley, 2nd Baron Foley (1703–1766) operated the Wilden works until his death in 1766

Foley's ownership of Wilden and the Great Witley estates passed to his distant cousin (a descendant of Paul Foley), Thomas Foley of Stoke Edith, who was created Lord Foley in 1776, the year before he died.

Conclusion

Throughout the seventeenth century, the Foley family were pioneers in the production and sale of cast and wrought iron. They developed systems of management which enabled them to co-ordinate a wide variety of units of production spread over a wide geographical area. Their achievement lay in the development of a business which was at once based on a diversity of units of production and local salaried management, a sophisticated system of central controls, and an elaborate unified accounting system. At the level of middle management, the clerks of 2 or 3 related units worked to a uniform pattern throughout the enterprise. At the centre, Henry Glover of Stourbridge and John Wheeler, were of great importance both as managers and partners, but the Foleys were directly and personally creating policies and enforcing the routines which held together the whole enterprise, and demanding accountability from all those involved. They were also active in local and county government and in the second half of the century in the House of Commons. The 2 spheres of action were closely linked, not least in providing access to large government contracts and the experience of the management of money.

There were other partnerships of ironmasters with whom they both competed and associated but for 6 generations they were the leaders of a dynamic sector of industrialization. With the profits they founded three landed estates, namely Great Witley in Worcestershire, Stoke Edith in Herefordshire, and Prestwood in Staffordshire.

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