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Richard Foley (1580-1657)

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Richard Foley (1580–1657) was a prominent English ironmaster.

Richard was the son of another Richard Foley, a nailer at Dudley. Richard himself is likely to have traded in nails rather than making them.

1616 Foley became mayor of Dudley, where he had house and was active in local government. He also had land outside Dudley. He was the most prosperous property owner locally and did much to secure the sound financial and administrative status of the grammar school.

1621 Married his second wife, Alice Brindley (1587/8-1663), of Hyde, near Kinver, Staffordshire, on 31 October. Details of his first marriage are unknown. He had a total of eleven children: 3 sons from his second.

In the 1620s, he became a partner in a network of mostly ironworks in south Staffordshire, which were undoubtedly the source of the family's fortune.

According to the folktale of "Fiddler Foley", he went to Sweden, or Russia where, posing as a simple fiddler, he succeeded in discovering the secret of the slitting mill, which was enabling English nails to be undercut. He returned home and set up a slitting mill at Hyde Mill in Kinver, thus making his fortune. Unfortunately, the earliest version of the legend, while applying to Hyde Mill, referred not to Richard Foley, but to a member of the Brindley family, who owned the mill until the 1730s. This may possibly have been George Brindley, Richard's brother-in-law. Richard certainly leased Hyde Mill in 1627 and converted it to a slitting mill, though it was not the first in England or even in the Midlands. Of course, the folktale is nonsense.W. K. V. Gale points out that the slitting mill technology was imported from Flanders, and patented in England when Foley was only 8 years old. Godfrey Box had a slitting mill in use at Dartford in 1590, and he was probably working to the patent granted to Bevis Bulmer in 1588.[1]

By 1624 Foley was obtaining leases of local iron mills.

Between 1624 and 1633 Foley acquired leases of 5 furnaces, 9 forges, and other ironworks, either alone or in partnership with others. Foley also bought property in the neighbouring parish of Oldswinford. In time, his sons Richard (1614-1678), Thomas (1617–1677), and Robert (1626-1676) took over parts of the business.

1627 Hyde Mill, at Kinver (Kingswinford, Staffordshire), was converted to use water power for the slitting of iron rod, the basic raw material of nail makers. Richard was credited with the introduction of the slitting mill to the Midlands, but the process was not new; his main achievement was the successful organization and exploitation of water-powered charcoal iron furnaces, forges, and slitting mills, leasing them from landowners who, having built or converted them, found them difficult to manage. He established a business structure which combined centralised control with dispersed plant, thus spreading his risk.

By 1631, Foley had moved to a brick house in High Street, Stourbridge.

By 1638, the family had a warehouse in London, adjoining Leadenhall, and were competing with the London ironmasters and ironmongers in a national market.

1642-45 Contrary to his moral beliefs, Richard and his son Thomas, supplied iron ordnance, shot, pikeheads, and nails to the king's armies.

1657 Foley died in July, aged 77, and was buried in St. Mary's Church, Stourbridge. Of his 5 sons, 4 remained in the iron business, and his daughters and sons-in-law were also actively involved. Capital was raised through partnerships between family members and close associates. Iron mills were acquired or disposed of, depending on the value they contributed to the scheme as a whole.

Richard Foley married twice, and was able to set up several of his sons as gentlemen or in other prominent positions.

By his first marriage he had 6 daughters and 2 sons including:

By his second marriage to Alice Brindley:

  • Thomas Foley (1616-1677), another prominent ironmaster
  • Robert Foley (d. 1676), ironmonger
  • Priscilla, who married first Ezekiel Wallis and then in 1665 Henry Glover (ironmaster)
  • Samuel Foley, a cleric, of Clonmel and Dublin
  • John Foley, Turkey merchant, i.e. a trader to the Levant (1631-c.1684).

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. 'The Black Country Iron Industry - a Technical History' by W. K. V. Gale, The Iron and Steel Institute, London, 1966