Letters from the Archive

Letters from the Archive

Here we will be exploring the numerous letter books which can be found in Coldharbour Mill’s Fox Business Archive. After many years, these fascinating business records have been stabilised and conserved by our volunteers, in order for us to better understand their contents.

Our archive volunteer, Peter, has been transcribing these letters. Keep checking this page as we delve deeper into the rich history of the Fox brothers business.

The Mill is very fortunate in holding a set of Letter Books dating from 1807 to 1827,  the early period of Thomas Fox’s manufacturing business and not long after the Mill began work in 1799.

Before computers, or even type writers and carbon copies, all the letters sent out of the firm’s office (or Counting house as it was known) were copied into a letter book, so we have a record of the business activities of the period: we do not have any of the in-coming correspondence, but it is still possible to build a fascinating picture of Fox’s business at this time.

The first relates to the important matter of buying suitable wool.

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Respd. Friend                                                          Wellington 27th: 5th mo: 1826

                        John Elliott

                                             Since thou wast here the price of wool has declined considerably, so that we should not now incline to give more than 6d plb 21lb for 20lb for thy lot, and then only on condition of our J. Mullett’s throwing out any that may be found at the time of packing to be injured by damp or lying on the ground or against the wall. We conclude that good 2 months Bills would suit thee for part of the amount, but if thou accept our offer we shall expect thy reply in course of post ~ We should expect to have the wool delivered part of the way to Exeter ~                                                             Ugborough nr. Ashburton



Elliott was a wool stapler; he purchased wool from his local farmers (or growers), sorted it and then sold it on.  John Mullett worked for Thomas Fox as a wool buyer and would often be tasked with visiting the staplers to assess the wool before it was purchased.  Note the attention to price and the conventions of receiving a pound of wool more than is paid for and the stapler having to pay part of the transport cost of bringing the wool to Wellington.  The Bills mentioned are Bills of Exchange, much like a cheque, except that they were used many times in succession without actually being cashed.

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Bowring & Son                                                Wellington 29th: 5th mo: 1826


                                      We send herewith 8ps. Serges to be dyed exact to pattern, & sent home rough dryed ~ The 5ps. Serges are to be pressed & are much wanted    By Chadwell’s waggon we also send 69 Worleys in the raw state ~ you will be pleased to hear that with the exception of the 4ps. returned to you, the whole of our Worleys are passed up to No.73.    We are not at present inclined to take more of your Oil at £38 – as Genuine Gallipoli is offered to us at a lower price  ~  Your 

This letter is addressed to a merchant in Exeter.  The Bowrings were manufacturers too, but the Foxs used them to supervise their cloth finishing as they had direct access to dyers, fullers pressers and packers and so on.  This particular batch includes serges to be dyed and pressed and the local carter is delivering worleys (a very similar fabric) to be finished: felting of the fabric using fulling stocks in a basin of water and raising a nap in a gig mill (a process that had used teasles to produce a soft fluffy surface, which is then cropped with shears to make it even).

The reference to worleys being passed, shows that they were destined for the East India Company, which had a very strict quality control system.


Gallipoli oil is olive oil, which was used in wool combing.

Respd. Friends                                                                                    Wellington 12th: 6th mo: 1826

                        Harrison & Brazier

                                                         We have recd. your several letters of 30th Ulto: and 3rd & 8th inst: and note the further purchases advised in the last ~ Some of the fleeces have been waiting so long for a vessel, that before they can arrive, even if ship’d immediately, we fear we shall be considerably inconvenienced, having of course depended on them as part of our supply; and in a falling market the detention is the more serious ~ Your’s of 30th Ulto: mentions 10 days from that date as the probable time of shipment, but we are uneasy at obser ving that no definite time whatever is named in your last, which, of course, leaves us at great uncertainty, and induces us to request, that should not the Polly have commenced loading on your receiving this, you will immediately ship 20 bags of the fleeces for Wool Quay Wharf, London – with directions to reship them on the first vessel for Exeter; when this is effected, advise us p first post. As the freight from London is charged by the bag, you should put as much as possible into each sheet by that route ~ We presume that in the agreement with the owner of the Polly, you made some stipulation as to the time, otherwise we shall be at his mercy: pray reply to this p first post ~ According to the advices from Yorkshire &c. we are on the wrong side in the purchases you have made for us, and we have now to request you will not exceed £9 ppk for the prime lots of Kent fleeces, at this price you may purchase 30 to 40 packs ~ Since some of our firm saw your T. Harrison, we have learnt that Morgan & Co. of London have been obtaining Kent head & Skin Combing in Kent, one with the other in about equal quantities, or the whole pulls at £7..10 – to £7..15.. You may purchase a little more Kent head at £7..5.. and Fine Head @ £8..5.. say 10 to 15 pks of each. Should any more skin Combing be offered, you may send us samples with the lowest prices ~ Presuming that the skin wools are to be paid for in bills @ 60ds. we enclose £350 at that date and £350 at 15ds. Should you purchase any fleeces at £9.. we wish the period of packing to be so arranged as that our remittances may be in Cash on, or at any time after the 29th inst: either through Willis & Co. or any other house you may direct – this will save the expence of stamps, which in such short dated bills, makes the rate of discount come high ~ You do not invoice any locks, we could now use some, and presume that they might be bought low ~ Relying on receiving advice of the shipment of a pack, at least of our wools, in a post or two after you receive this, we are                                                                                                                   Rye

Continuing the wool buying theme, this letter demonstrates the care taken over more distant purchases.  Kent was a source of wool for the Foxs from early days in the firm’s existence and Harrison & Brazier longstanding suppliers.  However this did not prevent detailed inst-ructions being given, particularly regarding price, with worries that Yorkshire wool was cheaper. An additional difficulty was transporting the wool to Wellington.  Land carriage was out of the question, but it is noteworthy that shipping from London is preferred to a more local port; the amount of wool passing through the city justifying a dedicated wharf.

It is also noteworthy that the volume of wool is great and the money required consequently considerable.  The comments about packing reflect the need to pay farmers cash in hand for their wool  before removing it from the farms and those about stamps, the requirement to pay stamp duty on bills of exchange (our cheques) passing through the banks.

Finally, the ‘locks’ mentioned were a product of the wool sorting, being the lower quality wool from the more peripheral parts of the fleece; generally coarser not of such good colour.

Respd. Friend                                                                                  Wellington 12th: 6th mo: 1826

                       John Caffrey

                                            We are in receit of thine of 8th inst. inclosing a bill amt. £72, which with freight of yarn to Liverpool balances thy accot. & for which we are obliged ~ As the warps are required to be spun smaller, it would add to the cost: our present price is 1/10½plb deliver’d in Liverpool, terms as before, but our machinery being fully employed, we could not undertake to execute an order for 10 packs in less than 6 à 8 weeks from receit of thy order &


This is an unusual letter, demonstrating the reach of Fox yarn.  The output of the manufactory was generally intended for local consumption, as the firm were principally concerned in producing cloth.  However this letter reveals a yarn side line, with sales to a Lancashire manu facturer  and of a considerable quantity!  The reference to warp yarn suggests that previous orders were for weft yarn (that is the yarn in the shuttle being woven into the warp, which being under tension in the loom, needs to be stronger – hence spun more tightly).