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An 18th Century Voyage of Discovery


Goldney Hall in Bristol

Thomas Goldney I, Thomas Goldney II and Thomas Goldney III

In 1637, Thomas Goldney was sent by his father from Chippenham in Wiltshire to Bristol as an apprentice. At the time Bristol was a corporation town, which meant that anyone who wished to practice a trade had to be a freeman first. To become a freeman, Thomas Goldney had to serve as an apprentice for seven years. In fact, he served his apprenticeship for almost nine years. On 22 June 1646, therefore, he paid his fee and became a freeman of the city. In the same year, Goldney married Mary Clements, set himself up as a grocer and moved to High Street, near Bristol Bridge.

In time, both Thomas Goldney and his wife Mary joined the Society of Friends, better known as the Quakers. They were both active in the society, suffering fines and imprisonment for their beliefs. Nevertheless, Goldney prospered as a trader. In 1674, he bought a country estate at Elberton, Gloucestershire. Situated about ten miles from Bristol for £700, he derived income from it in the form of rents. Financial difficulties, however, forced him to lease out the estate in 1681 to his son-in-law, James Wallis.

In 1688, Thomas Goldney built four houses on land that was formerly known as Castle Precincts. He took one of these houses for himself, leaving his house in High Street for one of his sons, Thomas Goldney II and his wife. Thomas Goldney I died in 1694 and Mary died in 1709.

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Thomas Goldney II

Thomas Goldney II was born in Bristol in 1664. In 1687, he married Hannah Speed, the daughter of Richard Speed, a Bristol merchant. In the following year, 1688, Thomas achieved the freedom of the city by virtue of being the son of a free burgess. After his father moved to Castle Green, Thomas and Hannah moved to the Goldney home in High Street, near Bristol Bridge where, like his father, he prospered as a grocer. Thomas Goldney II also derived income from other business interests. He owned shares in ships, held land at Clevedon, farmland at Elberton, and acted as an agent for the Collector of Customs for the port of Bristol. By 1694, Goldney was able to lease a country house in Clifton, now known as Goldney Hall.

Lease, 20 April 1694. Goldney deeds,

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Lease, 20 April 1694. Goldney deeds, University of Bristol

When his father-in-law, Thomas Speed, died in 1703 the Goldneys were left properties in his will, which boosted their personal fortune. In 1705, Thomas Goldney II was able to buy the country house in Clifton for £100.

Lease, 20 April 1694. Goldney deeds, University of Bristol  - opens new window

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Lease and release 15 to 16 June 1705. Goldney deeds, University of Bristol.

Over the next few years, Goldney was involved in a number of lawsuits, one of which led to his imprisonment from 1708 to 1710 for alleged non-payment of a debt. Before his imprisonment, however, Thomas Goldney II had become the principal shareholder in a voyage from Bristol, led by Captain Woodes Rogers. The voyage, from 1708 to 1711, was a privateering enterprise by two ships, the Duke and the Dutchess. It was extremely successful: in return for his initial investment of £3,726 Goldney received £6,800, a huge amount by today’s standards.

Account book of Thomas Goldney - opens new window

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Account book of Thomas Goldney, 1708 to 1713. Special Collections, University of Bristol Library, reference to payments re: Duke and Dutchess dated 13 December 1708, 11 February 1708, 14 February 1709 and 28 April 1709.

In 1713, Thomas Goldney made a large investment in the iron works at Coalbrookdale in Shropshire, about 80 miles from Bristol. Abraham Darby I had been experimenting at the works, smelting iron with coke instead of charcoal. The costs involved in this process, however, were beginning to worry Darby’s backers. This problem was partly solved in April 1713 when Abraham Darby I mortgaged half of the Coalbrookdale works to Thomas Goldney II for £1,700.

Abraham Darby’s security to Thomas Goldney - opens new window

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Abraham Darby’s security to Thomas Goldney. Wiltshire CRO 473/156, 14 April 1713.

After Abraham Darby I died intestate in 1717, Goldney moved quickly to protect his assets. He acquired outright 8 of the 16 shares in the Coalbrookdale works.

Mary Darby’s Agreement to Thomas Goldney -

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Mary Darby’s Agreement to Thomas Goldney, Wiltshire, 20 June 1717.

In 1718, Thomas Goldney II assigned two more shares to his son, Thomas Goldney III. The Goldneys, therefore, had the controlling interest in the works, now renamed the Dale Company, which allowed it to continue developing the ironworks.

The assignment of two shares from father to son - opens new window

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The assignment of two shares from father to son. Wiltshire, 20 March 1717.

From 1723, Thomas Goldney II put some time aside to rebuild and enlarge his house in Clifton. In 1725, he left for a two-month tour of Europe, returning with new ideas as to how his house should be decorated. Thomas Goldney II remained in Bristol as the ‘banker’ for the new company until his death in 1731.

Thomas Goldney’s Will - opens new window

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Thomas Goldney’s Will


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Thomas Goldney III

Thomas Goldney III was born in 1696 in the country home at Clifton. He was given a good education, after the completion of which he was apprenticed to his parents in 1711. From this time on, he received first hand experience of the family business and learned to keep accounts. After Abraham Darby I died in 1717, Thomas Goldney II took the younger Thomas with him to the Coalbrookdale works to manage the accounts. The younger Thomas’ task was to: make sure the production of both pig iron and cast iron goods was maintained to existing customers; to make sure the goods were delivered; to collect payment; take further orders; procure more raw materials; to safeguard the cash and to keep the books.

Goldney himself was involved in a number of business partnerships and investments that greatly increased his reputation, wealth and influence. He was a backer of the Willey furnace, across the River Severn from Coalbrookdale, which produced quality pig iron. Goldney was also a partner in the Bersham furnace near Wrexham, which supplied iron to the Chester and North Wales trades. The iron works at Coalbrookdale not only produced pig iron but also hollow ware, mortars and pestles, railings and parts forNewcomen engines, cannon and shot. Another venture at Warmley produced copper, brass, spelter and utensils.

In 1750, in partnership with William Champion, Thomas Goldney III invested in a mining enterprise at Gronant in Flintshire. The mine was primarily intended for the mining of lead, copper ore and calamine. The mines proved to be a successful venture, leading to other mining investments at Kellyn, Whitford and in Devon, Cornwall and Ireland.

In 1751, Goldney expanded into the shipping business. He bought shares in three ships, which brought iron goods from Coalbrookdale to Bristol and then onto Ireland, Devon and Cornwall. The shipping side of the Goldney business served to transport, supply and integrate the various industries he had investments in. It is also for this reason that Thomas Goldney III ventured into the banking business. In 1752, he entered into a banking partnership with five associates, founding a bank called Goldney, Smith and Co. This was one of the first six banks established in the whole country. After the deaths of the partners, the bank went through a series of amalgamations. First, it became Miles’ Bank, then Harford’s Bank. It later merged with Old Bank before merging with the National Westminster Bank, which is today part of the Royal Bank of Scotland.

In 1754, Thomas Goldney III provided the finance for Abraham Darby II’s construction of a new furnace at Horsehay, two miles north of Coalbrookdale. This proved such a success that a second furnace was opened at Horsehay in 1756. In the same year a new furnace was built two miles north of Horsehay at Ketley. The need for Thomas Goldney III and Abraham Darby II to integrate their industrial enterprises led to the development, in 1757, of a railway network to transport goods between the works. By 1757, five miles of wooden railway for wagons with cast-iron wheels had been laid.

The Iron Bridge Thomas Goldney III died in 1768, ending a 50-year association with the Coalbrookdale works. He died leaving no son or heir but left his shares in the works to his surviving family. They retained their interest in the company until 1773 when they sold their interests to Abraham Darby III for £10,000. The Goldney shares in Ketley and Horsehay were brought in 1775 by the manager of Coalbrookdale, Richard Reynolds, ending the long association of the Goldney family with the Darby family and Coalbrookdale. In the same year, 1775, a group of subscribers formed a company with the intention of building a bridge across the River Severn. Abraham Darby III proposed that a bridge made entirely of cast iron be built at Coalbrookdale. The proposal was accepted and in 1779, the world’s first iron bridge was completed. On New Year’s Day in 1781, the bridge was opened to the public.

The gardens of Goldney HallAs well as his long association with the Darby family and Coalbrookdale, Thomas Goldney III is also know for enlarging and improving both the grounds and interior of his home in Clifton. The house, known as Goldney Hall, is today visited by thousands of people every year. The Grotto, built at enormous expense by Goldney to entertain his wealthy friends, is a grade 1 listed building. It is a unique construction and is one of many follies in the superb landscaped gardens. The gardens also contain a gothic tower which houses a steam pump produced at Coalbrookdale that was used to irrigate his estate. There is also a bastion, a rotunda and an ornamental canal.


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