Foley, Thomas (1617-1677) (DNB00)

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FOLEY, THOMAS (1617–1677), founder of the hospital at Old Swinford, Worcestershire, was eldest son of Richard Foley of Stourbridge, by a second marriage with Alice, daughter of William Brindley of Hide, Staffordshire. His father was engaged in the iron manufactory near Stourbridge (four miles from the town), died 6 July 1657, aged 77, and was buried in the chancel of Old Swinford Church. His mother died 26 May 1663, aged 75. There is a legend (cf. Smiles, Self-Help, ed. 1877, pp. 205–7) that Richard Foley the father was originally a fiddler. On perceiving that the supremacy of the Stourbridge ironworks was threatened by the competition of ironworkers in Sweden, who had discovered the process of ‘splitting,’ he is said to have worked his way to a Swedish iron port and obtained access to the factories, where he learned the secret of the successful process. On his return home he induced some friends to join him in erecting machinery for the purpose of working the process. The first experiments failed, and Foley paid a second secret visit to Sweden to perfect his knowledge. His second attempt at Stourbridge succeeded, and he thus laid the foundations of his family's fortune. The splitting machine introduced by Foley is still in use in the neighbourhood of Stourbridge. Coleridge tells the story as ‘the best attested instance of enthusiasm existing,’ but unfortunately confuses Richard with his son Thomas (Table-talk, ed. Ashe, pp. 332–3).

Born 3 Dec. 1617, Thomas actively pursued the iron industry of his native place, and amassed a large fortune, which was increased by a wealthy marriage. He acquired much landed property in the neighbourhood of Stourbridge and Old Swinford, and secured valuable church patronage at Kidderminster and elsewhere. His association with Kidderminster brought him the acquaintance of Richard Baxter [q. v.], with many of whose opinions he strongly sympathised. Baxter describes Foley as ‘a truly honest man … who from almost nothing did get about 5,000l. per ann. or more by ironworks, and that with so just and blameless dealing that ever he had to do with that ever I heard of magnified his great integrity and honesty, which was questioned by none.’ As a church patron he always chose, according to Baxter, ‘the most conformable ministers that could be got.’ Foley was also on good terms with Baxter's friend, James Berry [q. v.], a well-known major-general under Cromwell's régime. When Cromwell urged that Foley should become high sheriff of Worcestershire—an office which few country gentlemen were ready to undertake—Berry wrote to Thurloe (17 Nov. 1655): ‘Mr. Foley I know to be an honest man, but I fear it would be much to his prejudice to have the place, he having no conveniency in the country, and being a friend, I hope my lord will favour him a little’ (Thurloe State Papers, iv. 211). A day or two later Berry wrote more emphatically in the same sense (ib. iv. 215). Although no avowed enemy to Cromwell's government, Foley, like Baxter, had royalist leanings, and desired apparently to have as little as possible to do with the Commonwealth. He none the less seems to have been high sheriff in 1656, when Baxter preached a sermon before him, and in the same year was one of the commissioners for levying the property-tax in Worcestershire. In 1659, while the Rump was sitting at Westminster, Foley and John Bridges presented a petition, drawn up by Baxter, ‘in favour of tithes and the ministry.’ He sat in the Convention parliament of 1660 as member for Bewdley. In later life he settled at Witley, where he had a fine estate, now the property of the Earl of Dudley, whose trustees purchased it for 900,000l. In 1667 he founded a hospital at Old Swinford, endowing it with land producing 600l. a year. Sixty poor boys between the ages of seven and eleven, selected in fixed numbers from different parishes in Worcestershire and Staffordshire, were to be fed, clothed, and educated there free of charge, and were to be afterwards apprenticed by the trustees. The hospital is still standing, and the endowment now produces 5,500l. a year. There are 160 boys in the school. Foley died at Witley 1 Oct. 1677, and was buried in the church there, under a monument with a long Latin inscription. He married Anne, daughter of George Brown of Spelmonden, Kent, by whom he had four sons: Thomas, Nathaniel (1647–1663), Paul [q. v.], afterwards speaker of the House of Commons, and Philip. Foley had also two daughters: Martha, wife of William Jolliffe, a London merchant, and Sarah, the wife of (1) Essex Knightly of Fawsley, Northamptonshire, and (2) of John Hampden, grandson of the patriot. A portrait of Foley is in the Old Swinford Hospital. It was painted by William Trabute, and is engraved in Nash's ‘Materials.’

A grandson, Thomas (heir of Foley's eldest son), was M.P. for Stafford for eighteen years, from 1694 until he was raised to the peerage on 1 Jan. 1711–12, being one of the twelve peers made by the tory administration of Harley and St. John to secure a majority for their peace negotiations in the House of Lords. He died 22 Jan. 1732–3. This peerage became extinct 8 Jan. 1766. It was revived in the person of a kinsman [see Foley, Paul, ad fin.] in 1776, and is still extant.

[Nash's Materials for Hist. of Worcestershire, ii. 210–12, 464–6, App. 82–4; Baxter's Reliquiæ; Chambers's Biog. Illustrations of Worcestershire, p. 187; Noake's Worcestershire Notes and Queries, p. 264; Noake's Guide to Worcestershire, p. 331; Official Lists of Members of Parl. i. 517; Collins's Peerage, viii. 364 et seq.; information kindly communicated by P. H. Foley, esq., Prestwood, Stourbridge.]

S. L. L.