During the late sixteenth century the Were family of Wellington began producing serge as a cottage industry. In the early seventeenth century, Edward Fox married Hannah Were and soon took over the serge trade. Typically, the wool industry thrived in areas used for sheep farming, such as Somerset, and Taunton serge was particularly popular. The Were family established the Tone Mills in 1754, and over the next seventeen years, expanded rapidly. Thomas Fox, after learning the textile trade abroad for three years, entered the business as a partner and in 1772, formally founded the company as Fox Brothers. In the 1790s, Fox Brothers purchased a complex of buildings in Tonedale known variously as the “Old Town Mills” or the “Old Flour Mills” allowing them to bring their production under one roof. This move facilitated an increase in both quality and quantity, while cutting costs as other production was brought in-house; basket weaving, joinery, book binding and metalworking was all carried out on the site. A full history of the Fox Heritage can be found here.
The main mill complex at Tone Mill was developed between the early 19th century until the early 20th century. Whilst the sister mill, Tone Mill, was able to use the River Tone for power generation; the Tonedale Mill complex had to make do with smaller watercourses, the Westford Brook and Rockwell Green Stream. In order to ensure that they had a constant supply of water, and that it was used as efficiently as possible, Thomas Fox had water basins excavated between 1801 and 1803, establishing a series of waterways, weirs and sluices to manage the water supply. In 1821, the original timber mill burned down and was replaced by a four storey brick mill. The site was developed to integrate all of the processes required to manufacturer Wool; including the support processes such metal and woodworking required to support such a site. The Tonedale Mill complex is complete with power house, with boiler house, economiser house, fan engine house, and turbine house for generating electricity. The power house is complete in-situ Lancashire boilers, diesel engine and ‘Billis Morgan’ type steam engine, water wheel and fire pump. The power house represents the full evolution of water, steam and electrical power generation.
Photographs from the sister mill can be found here.