Fox Brothers are renowned the world over for their exquisite suiting fabrics, but these very same flannels and worsteds make for exceptional quality ties. In the below post we have outlined some of the incredible history behind Fox Brothers and why their superb fabrics make such incredible ties. You can see the full collection here: The Fox Brothers Tie Collection.
The Origins of Fox Brothers & Co.
As you descend into the small market town of Wellington, in the depths of rural Somerset, you can’t help but notice a tall chimney soaring into the voluminous skies above. The now mostly derelict mid-eighteenth century red brick building, on the site where the chimney rises, is a real showstopper – an immense edifice. It’s a reminder of the heady days when Tonedale Mill, the former Fox Brothers cloth factory, and now Grade II Listed building’s grandiose looms chugged and whirred at the height of the Industrial Revolution.
Spinning Jennies, multi-spindle spinning frames, turned metre-upon-metre of premium yarn into the iconic ‘West of England’ flannel for which the company gained its notoriety, supplying the finest tailoring houses of Savile Row and beyond. Fox Brothers has gone on to develop somewhat of a cult following in menswear circles all over the world. Connoisseurs of the cloth admire its innate Britishness, its authentic old school glamour and undoubted quality.
Wellington has a history and configuration which dates back to Saxon times and has long been associated with cloth making. Established in 1790, at its peak Tonedale Mill was the largest integrated woollen mill of its kind in the South West of England employing some 2000 local residents – pretty much the entire population of the town worked for Fox Brothers and many generations of the same families still spend their entire working lives at the company.
Indeed, the famed cloth merchant has been part of Wellington’s tightly-woven community for more than 250 years – and while the old romantic in me still imagines the weavers plying their art at Tonedale Mill, sadly the extent of the disrepair of the mill meant it was inevitable, that in 2007 the firm would relocate from the industrial unit it had been occupying on the original Tonedale site, to a new more modern premises on the edge of town.
Three times the size of its former unit, it is much better suited to Fox Brothers’ growing customer base, and is also just across the road from The Old Counting House which now houses the retail arm of Fox Brothers, The Merchant Fox.
The company has endured some tough times in its more recent history, but the looms still continue to chatter thanks in no small part to Deborah Meadon, of Dragon’s Den fame, who rescued the ailing company in 2009 – acquiring the business in its entirety along with textiles magnate and current MD Douglas Cordeaux.
Meadon described the business as “an absolute gem” and a true honour for her to be involved with an English company whose heritage can be traced back to 1772. “Fox flannel, entirely ‘Made in England’, has survived the demise of the weaving industry in the South West of England simply because it’s cloth is the best. We want to protect that treasured heritage while securing the future of the Mill and its team of skilled employees. We want to ensure Fox continues to produce the world’s finest woollen cloth for discerning clients here in the UK and further afield in key markets like Japan and the USA.” Meadon has an affinity with the area – she lives close by and her husband went to school with two members of the Fox family.
How Fox Brothers Fabrics are Produced
The spinning of cotton into threads for weaving into cloth had traditionally taken place in the homes of textile workers - which were referred to as 'cottage industries'. But the onset of the eighteenth century saw the emergence of the ‘Industrial Revolution’, the great age of steam, canals and factories that would change the face of the British economy forever. James Hargreaves’ ‘Spinning Jenny’ totally revolutionised the process: the machine used eight spindles onto which the thread was spun, so by turning a single wheel the operator was now able to spin eight threads at once. This increased to eighty with improvements in technology.
The original Spinning Jennies at Fox were replaced with Jacquard looms by 1843, then Hattersley and in time by Northrop and Sulzer looms in the 1960s, to facilitate an ever-increasing demand for competitively-priced larger orders and finer cloths. The mill has six of these Sulzer looms on the go at any one time, charged with weaving the weft through the warp of the cloth. Once woven, the cloth is scrupulously examined for discrepancies and rectified if necessary, before it makes its way to a specialist finishing company, where the flannel has its distinctive finish applied.
What Makes Fox Brothers Fabrics So Special?
Much like a Michelin-starred restaurant, sourcing only the very finest ingredients has been integral to the global reputation Fox Brothers has forged. Namely premium super fine Merino from the doyenne of Australian wool growers, simply because it’s the finest and softest wool in the world.
Its natural benefits are so great that no other fibre - be it natural or man-made - can compete. Australian Merino wool is not only perfect for winter, it’s perfect all year round. The crimped composition of the fibre provides unbeatable insulation by condensing moisture and air inside the fibre and providing heat to your body. This means it draws and keeps moisture away from the skin.
The Fox Brothers range of woven cloths is vast, ranging from 180 gram lightweight worsteds to its classic West of England flannel weighing in at 400 grams as well as heavier cloths over double that weight. As the original creator of flannel, the range has developed over the last two centuries and now includes woollen flannels in rich mélange hues, as well as sophisticated lighter weight worsted flannels. These flannels are produced from the finest wool, woven and milled into cloth with a fabulous fluid hand-feel.
What works for suits, can indeed work for ties, and when searching for the best available fabrics, working with Fox Brothers was an obvious choice for us, utilising natural fibre with its unique qualities of durability and excellence. With an absolute dedication to quality, Fox Brothers have a 250-year-old fabric archive to draw upon - in this case thousands of seasonal cloth vaults which are now stored in the loft of The Counting House, many of which were rescued from the skip by the new owners.
Classic Fabric Patterns
During the late sixteenth century the Were family of Wellington began producing serge (a durable twilled woollen or worsted fabric) as a cottage industry. In the early seventeenth century, Edward Fox married Hannah Were and took over the serge trade thereafter.
Typically, the wool industry thrived in areas used for sheep farming, such as Somerset, and in Taunton, close to Wellington, serge was particularly popular. Fox Brothers, who had produced scarlet serge for the British Army, prior to 1884 were instrumental in 1900 in introducing khaki dye. It is believed the colour was approved by the Prince of Wales and the War Office. During the First World War, a staggering 8,000 miles of khaki cloth were produced for army uniforms alongside 70,000 pairs of Puttees (the spiral leg bindings which were an essential part of the soldier's combat uniform).
In 1860 Fox Brothers developed the Glen Urquart check, now commonly known as Prince of Wales Check. For many men, particularly those not naturally drawn to pinstripes, this check is often their first foray beyond the basic navy or grey flannel suit. It takes its name from the town of Glenurquhart in Invernesshire in Scotland, where the Seafield family has a sporting estate.
In 1840 the Countess of Seafield adopted the large check as her estate tweed, which is how it first came to the attention of the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII – engaging in country field sports as he often did with the Seafields. Bertie, the Prince of Wales, was so enamoured by the cloth that he made a special request to have his suits and jackets crafted from it. His grandson, and oft-revered dandy, the Duke of Windsor himself, was just as keen an admirer - although it’s a common misconception that the pattern is named after him.
Other Fox Brothers milestones include the patenting of Khaki cloth in 1900, with 30,000 yards, personally approved by King Edward VII, woven for the Boer War - fought between the British Empire and two independent Boer states, the South African Republic and the Orange Free State, over the Empire's influence in South Africa.
Four years later in 1904, Fox developed white flannel which was traditionally worn by cricketers. Stylishly high-waisted and front-pleated, these whites would turn in their grave if they could see the polyester elasticated versions of the present day. In 1914 Fox Brothers supplied more than 8,000 miles of cloth to the British and Allied governments during WW1, while in 1920 the Duke of Windsor added more variations to his Prince of Wales Check armoury, which further popularised the pattern throughout the world.
Notable Fox Brothers Customers
Sporting arguably the most famous chalk stripe 3-piece suit in the world, Winston Churchill chose Fox Brothers flannel in 1936 for what has since been hailed as one of the most iconic suits of the century, tailored by Savile Row’s Henry Poole and Co. In 1940 Fox Brothers hit the silver screen as Fred Astaire donned Anderson and Sheppard tailored Fox Flannel in many of his movies. “If it’s not Fox, it’s not flannel” goes the phrase. In 1956 Fox’s cemented their name in Hollywood history when the movie ‘The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit’ - an American drama based on the 1955 novel of the same name by Sloan Wilson, gave the West of England flannel it’s iconic status. Hollywood legend Cary Grant was often photographed wearing Fox Flannel, at a time when it was up to leading men to provide their own wardrobe for the films in which they starred.
Why Fox Brothers Cloth Makes Outstanding Fabric for Ties
Our collection of Fox Brothers ties are primarily derived from super classic fabrics, patterns and colours. Fox Brothers are renowned for producing cloth that reflects its provenance, with a rich depth of character and colour which wear beautifully. Worsted fabrics provide the gold standard when working with wool for crisp, tailored garments such as ties. Worsted wool cloth is resilient and wrinkle-resistant and has a natural recovery, meaning that it always returns to its natural shape, with great longevity. Rather like that great Patek Philippe timepiece, with a Fox Brothers tie, you’re merely looking after it for the next generation.
Rampley & Co Handmade Ties
Of course there are millions of ties out there on the market, and millions more are added to the mix every year. However, only a small proportion of these are actually worth the time of day and money. So what hallmarks should we be looking for in a quality tie?
Handmade is the first thing that springs to mind. Our ties are all handmade in Nottinghamshire, England, overseen by our head tie maker who boasts 30-years experience in the trade. Premium ties are cut on the bias - otherwise the tie will have an unfavourable twist, not hang straight and have a poor drape. The traditional way to cut a tie is referred to as three-fold tie. So called because of the way the tie is folded - three times basically: if you look at the back of the front blade, the silk has been folded in on itself on either side, and one of those flaps has just been tucked under – creating a small, third fold, so that you get a closed seam on the edge.
Handmade ties should also boast a slip stitch running the entirety of the tie – a loose piece of silk thread which ensures the tie will always retain its shape. You should also notice a bar tack on the lower section of the blade of the tie, a heavy single stitch that holds the two sides of the tie together - it reinforces the slip stitching and helps a tie retain its shape.
Recommendations for Individual Ties to Jacket Colours & Patterns
Fox Brothers continues its 250-year tradition as a bastion of iconic British textile manufacture, supplying outstanding natural wool fabrics of the highest quality. This is why we chose to create a tie collection with tie fabrics of such outstanding quality.
While all of our Fox Brothers ties pair well with either a standard navy or grey jacket, they are equally at home with slightly more adventurous patterns such as stripes or checks. The general rule of thumb is the louder the jacket pattern, the more subdued the tie, there’s nothing worse than the two competing against each other. So for a bold, busy check blazer for example, the plainer subtle patterns come in to their own.
It is a great privilege for us to work with such high quality fabrics, producing a truly beautiful product. You can see the full range of ties on the following link: The Fox Brothers Tie Collection.