Fox Bros. was established in 1787 by Thomas Fox, a prominent Quaker and serge maker in Somerset. Fox married a daughter of a partner in the renowned London banking firm of Smith, Wright & Gray, and five years later he established his banking firm in Wellington, Somerset. Fox Bros. began its existence as woollen merchants that offered banking services. Its early business reflected the prominence of the agricultural trade in the largely rural Somerset area.
The bank remained solely based in Wellington until the 1870s, and continued to serve as a woollen merchant until this period. From the 1870s onwards the bank began to expand rapidly with branches being opened throughout Somerset and Devon. It was able to capitalise on the failure of the West of England & South Wales District Bank in 1878, taking up much of their business. In 1879 the business was renamed Fox, Fowler & Co. It continued to grow acquiring several smaller private banks in the region and was able to establish itself as a giant of private banking in the West Country. Interestingly, they were advised to expand in this period by Howard Lloyd, a senior director of Lloyds Bank, whose sister had married into the Fox family.
Following the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 the bank's senior partner, John Fox, feared that there would be a run on the bank. He travelled to London to bring back necessary funds to cope with the prospect of mass withdrawals, returning to the West Country with £100,000 in gold and coin. He packed the money in three wooden boxes which he took with him and stored in his railway compartment on the journey back. Fortunately, the bank survived the war unscathed.
The bank issued their first banknotes in October 1787, soon after its establishment. It was fairly common for country banks to issue their own notes at this time, but, by the latter part of the 19th century, most banks had given up these rights. However, Fox, Fowler & Co. continued to issue them, becoming the last English bank to do so. It continued printing its own banknotes right up until it was absorbed by Lloyds in 1921.
By 1921 Fox, Fowler & Co. had a network of 56 branches. Unfortunately, the First World War had taken its toll on the Fox family and they came to the decision that they should devote their energies to their other business interests. The partners were also conscious of the extreme difficulties of steering a relatively small private bank through the increasingly difficult post-war period. The Lloyds’ amalgamation offer was accepted in 1921; John Fox, senior partner at the bank, would join as a director of Lloyds, and Lloyds Bank would establish a strong presence in Somerset, Devon and Cornwall.