The meeting opened promptly at 1030a.m. with Chairman Peter Staples advising of seven apologies having been received. A welcome was extended to visitor Don Birkin.
Under “Initial Notices” the last call for A.G.M. items to be advised to Secretary Neil Ramshaw was made and final bookings for the Anniversary Lunch to Programme Secretary John Taylor were asked for, both with an April 11th cut off date.
Today saw the 40th Anniversary Lecture and the Forum were delighted that it was to be given by Harrogate’s foremost historian Mr Malcolm Neesam who although a regular Speaker to groups in the town was appearing at this gathering for the first time. His topic appropriately was about one of Harrogate’s illustrious Victorians and characters “Samson Fox: Victorian Industrialist”.
For the next hour the audience were treated to an excellent discourse about the great Samson Fox, genius , industrialist and philanthropist with the talk being supported by an illustrated and evocative slide show.
Born in 1838 in Bowling near Bradford his beginnings were from an impoverished background and at the age of nine finished his rudimentary education and went to work at Armley Mill but even from an early age wanted to be a mechanic. In 1853 he was apprenticed to the Victorian Iron Foundry in Leeds and by 1861 at the age of twenty-three had made enough money to make his first marriage to Mary Anne Slinger from Knaresborough. In 1862 he was sent by his employers to attend the Great Exhibition at Crystal Place in London and in 1863 made his first patent for “Improvements to Machinery”. He was also the Chief Rep for Scotts of Greenock involved with shipping and wrestling with the ever-present danger of Marine Boilers blowing up. In 1874 Samson Fox founded the Leeds Forge Company which at its height would employ 2,000 men. In 1877 he patented the Corrugated Boiler Flue , a world leading development, which massively improved the safety and reliability of Marine Boilers and which established his considerable fortune. In the workplace he continued with developments such as new methods of steel manufacture, started the production of the Press Steel Railway Bogies and by 1900 had three forges producing his steel products.
In 1883 he purchased Grove House Skipton Road Harrogate and moved here. In 1889 he was elected to Harrogate Borough Council and very quickly became Mayor for three years. His philanthropic activities , running in tandem with his business and private life, saw him provide £45,000 to build the Royal College of Music Building as well as many more localised good works such as houses for workers and financial support together with him providing his notable roasted ox celebrations most notably in 1887 on the Stray to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Jubilee.
Other things mentioned in the life story of Samson Fox included the mystery of Louis Aime Augustin Le Prince; his dealings with “Diamond” Jim Brady to facilitate sales in America and his involvement with the great and good of Victorian Society.
We also were advised of the failed Water Gas Syndicate launched by Samson Fox which saw a lengthy court case eventually won following a literary attack by the author Jerome K Jerome. Following the death of his first wife Fox remarried a much younger woman Annie Louise Baxter in 1899. His son and heir Willie Fox did not come across well appearing to be the antithesis of his father and following a period of ill-health Samson Fox passed away in October 1903.
Some questions and comments made at the conclusion of the lecture showed the interest and stimulation of the members attending with general agreement that Samson Fox is a true local great who should perhaps be more lauded than he has been.
An appropriate and fitting Vote of Thanks was given to Malcolm Neesam By His Honour Judge Derek Clarkson on behalf of the forty attendees. (40 at the 40th Anniversary Lecture!!)
NEIL RAMSHAW SECRETARY