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Tracing Samson's roots to Bradford
T&A reader Brian Jones, of Menston, quickly picked up on a brief reference to Bowling in a recent episode of BBC1’s Who Do You Think You Are?, which profiled actress Emilia Fox’s search for her great, great grandfather.
Samson Fox, a big man with a full beard, became a self-made multi-millionaire industrialist who gave £45,000 – £2.5m in today’s money – for the construction of the Royal College of Music in London.
Mr Jones alerted us to the fact that Samson was born in Bowling, Bradford, in 1838, although his birth was registered in Leeds, where his mother and father, Sarah and James, moved to shortly after their son was born.
“So, Samson Fox was a Bradford man, and according to the programme, built the Royal College of Music in London, out of his own pocket. Not bad for a one-time overlooker in the mill. One up for Bradford, I think,” wrote Mr Jones.
The Victorian Sam Fox started work in a textile mill at the age of eight. At 15 he became an apprentice at Smith, Beacock and Tannett, a toolmaking and foundry company.
In his late twenties, he was running his own toolmaking company, The Silver Cross Works. In 1874, at the age of 36, he set up the Leeds Forge Company to make ‘best Yorkshire’ iron for locomotives and marine engine parts.
According to Grace’s Guide: The Best Of British Engineering 1750-1960s, the years between 1877 and 1888 saw two significant Samson Fox innovations: the corrugated flue boiler and pressed steel rolling stock.
The first improved the heat transfer capability and compressive strength of boilers, enabling small ones to work at higher rates of pressure without blowing up or bursting. The Royal Navy and major shipping lines were eager customers.
Fox’s pressed iron railway undercarriages and trucks could support 120 tons and were guaranteed for five years. They were sold in the United States, Argentina, Belgium, India, Japan and Spain.
The awards he won included the Royal Society’s gold medal and the French Legion of Honour.
In spite of his philanthropy he did not receive a knighthood, although upon his death in 1903, King Edward VII sent a telegram of condolence to the Fox home, Grove House, in Harrogate.
His association with the North Yorkshire spa town and the good works he did there have made him a local hero.
He gave Harrogate its first steam fire engine, funded the lavishly decorated Royal Hall, and built a water gas plant to provide the main street with street lighting.
He was Mayor three times between 1890-92, and was a JP for both Harrogate and Leeds.
He was married twice and had four children. He is the great-grandfather of screen actors Edward Fox and James Fox and great-great-grandfather of actress Emilia Fox and her cousin, actor Laurence Fox.