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British Industrial History

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Thomas Foley (1616-1677)

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Thomas Foley(1617-1677) was an English ironmaster and politician who sat in the House of Commons at various times between 1659 and 1677.

Foley was the eldest son of Richard Foley (1580-1657) and his second wife Alice Brindley. His father was a prominent Midlands ironmaster of Stourbridge.

Foley took over his father's business and made great profits from it in the 1650s and 1660s, which he used to buy estates.

1651 Thomas Foley bought the manor of Compton Hollows in Kinver

1661 Bought the manor of Harborne.

He managed the Stour works from about 1640 and in 1665 his house at Compton Hollows was assessed at 15 hearths. The civil war caused problems for iron transportation, but also provided sales opportunities. Although the partnership supplied the king's armies, it remained neutral and secured valuable naval ordnance contracts for Cromwell's government, post-war.

In 1659 he was elected Member of Parliament for Worcestershire in the Third Protectorate Parliament.

He was elected MP for Bewdley in 1660 for the Convention Parliament.

In 1673 he was elected MP for Bewdley in a by-election to the Cavalier Parliament.

Foley built Witley Court. In the late 1660s, he founded a bluecoat school at Stourbridge known as Old Swinford Hospital, which he endowed in his will.

Foley married Anne Browne, daughter of John Browne. Her father was a gun-founder with iron furnaces in the Weald at Hawkhurst and Bedgebury. They had four sons, Thomas (c.1641–1701), Paul (1644/5–1699), Nathaniel (1647–1663), and Philip (1648-1716) - three of whom joined the iron business. All except Philip were educated at university.

Foley handed his business over to his sons, another Thomas Foley, Paul Foley, and Philip Foley.

Thomas had a fine house in Austin Friars, London, but Worcestershire remained his main centre. In 1667 he founded Oldswinford Hospital, which provided food, clothes, education, and apprenticeships for 60 poor boys. His government contracts with Cromwell led to his entry into public affairs and in 1656 he was high sheriff for Worcestershire. In the previous year he had bought the manors of Great and Little Witley in Worcestershire and other properties for £2600.

1669 Thomas reorganized the ironworks, grouping the mills on a broadly geographical basis. He passed them to the management of his sons, but continued to supervise and arbitrate: Paul was responsible for the Forest works; Philip II for the Stour works. His half-brother Richard III and his nephew Richard IV ran the north Staffordshire works.

1677 Foley died on 1 October, and was buried at Witley.

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