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Samson Fox, 1838-1903, engineer, industrialist, philanthropist (…and crook?)

This afternoon Carreen gave us an excellent presentation on the life of Samson Fox. Fox was an ancestor of Emilia Fox who featured in the programme ‘Who do you think you are’ in 2011, and alongside extracts from this programme Carreen took us on his journey from rags to riches. Born in Bradford to a millworker and his wife, the family moved to Leeds where Samson worked in a textile mill from age 8. Being a bright child with an enquiring and creative mind he became an apprentice in a toolmaking and foundry company. In 1877 he developed the corrugated boiler flue – enabling boilers to be safer, more efficient and more cost-effective. This won him world-wide fame through their use in steam engines, particularly steam ships, and made him a fortune. Using his knowledge in forging metals Fox also began building forged pressed iron railway undercarriages which could support far greater weights without failing. These too, were sold worldwide, particularly in the US.

Fox and his family moved to Harrogate where he became a benefactor to both the local community and further afield including covering the full cost (£45,000) of building the new Royal College of Music in South Kensington. He eventually became Mayor of Harrogate.

Fox had great faith in the newly discovered ‘water gas’ which he believed was a significant improvement on the use of coal gas for street lighting. He achieved considerable interest and investment from his supporters, confident that he could realise its potential. Unfortunately his venture failed in the face of severe opposition from the coal gas companies. In 1892 journalist Jerome K Jerome claimed that Fox had raised those investment funds under false pretences. A lengthy court case followed which resulted in Fox winning his case against Jerome (who suffered significant financial losses).

Samson Fox had lead fundraising for the building of Harrogate’s Royal Hall which opened in 1903. Recently restored (from several grants and donations, and with the support of Edward Fox, a great-grandson of Samson Fox) we are looking forward to joining a guided tour of this important national heritage building in May.