Celebrity genealogy series. Emilia Fox sets out to learn how far back her acting roots go, and uncovers an extraordinary rags-to-riches tale about a Victorian ancestor.
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Emilia Fox is one of Britain's most popular television actresses.
Best known for role as Dr Nikki Alexander in BBC One's Silent Witness.
Knife comes from a height, she flings her arm up,
knife travels through the hand, down into her chest, defence wound.
-Is that the fatal wound?
-Hard to say without opening her up.
Emilia is eight months pregnant and is about to move into a new house with her partner Jeremy.
Well, there's quite a lot going on in life at the moment, which is just how I like it.
That looks great, doesn't it? Emilia's going to love it.
Jeremy and I are having a baby and we've decided to,
in true typical pregnant form, erm, try and make a nest together.
-Hello. Oh, my God. Have you just taken that out just now?
-I've just taken the fireplace off.
I feel really, really ready for it, but I'm sort of in total denial about it as well
that it's about to happen so soon!
-This is the baby's room, isn't it?
The baby's going to be born into a bucket(!)
People are saying, "Have you got this? Have you got that?"
And I'm like, what? No! I haven't got anything!
'I really am ashamed I know so little about my family history,
'and the pregnancy has really made me want to go on this journey.'
It couldn't be a better present that I could wish to give to our baby, to find out who they are.
Emilia Fox is 36, and a member of one of Britain's most famous acting families.
My dad is an actor, my mum is an actress,
Uncle James is an actor, Lydia is an actress, Laurence is an actor,
married to an actress, Billie, and my brother Fred was an actor.
'I don't know where this passion for acting has come from,'
but if our child wanted to do it, I would...
I would take a deep breath, but I would be as supportive as I possibly could be
because I would understand how exciting it is.
To uncover her family's theatrical roots,
Emilia has come to her parent's house in northwest London, where she grew up.
She wants to know more about her paternal grandfather, Robin Fox,
a West End theatre agent who died of cancer in 1971,
three years before Emilia was born.
My dad's dad died at quite an early age,
and I suppose out of sensitivity to him, I haven't wanted to explore that too much
because I know it's still a tender area.
But perhaps we have Robin to thank that we've all chosen to go into this profession.
Brilliant... See you.
Hello. It's lovely to see you.
Hello, look at you with your beard!
-Very handsome. Very different, Dad.
How's the bump?
Good bump. About to come out bump, it feels like right now.
-Do you want a cup of tea?
Come in. Lovely to see you.
Emilia's father, Edward Fox, is the oldest of Robin Fox's three sons.
He was 33 when his father died.
So what I really wanted to ask you about was your dad.
-Yes. What was your relationship with him?
Was he sort of a hands-on dad or...?
No. No, he... He was a father who didn't really have time to be hands-on.
He would never dream of doing the washing up, for instance.
-Do you dream of doing the washing up?
-I dream of NOT doing the washing up,
-..but, but I do it.
Now, in order of youthfulness,
that is my mother and father before the war.
Sweet, isn't it?
-He's very well dressed, isn't he?
He was always like that he wouldn't of dreamed of, er, playing the hand any other way.
That's after the war and that's Robert in his arms.
SHE LAUGHS Is that you, there?
Yep. By that time he was a successful agent.
Who were his clients that I'd know?
Robert Morley, Paul Schofield, Dirk Bogarde, Vanessa Redgrave.
He was very good at it. I mean he... People wanted to be represented by him.
So, was he your agent?
Never. I don't think he really, really liked being an agent.
He had an amazing smile as well.
Yes, I mean, you can see really from those pictures why he could have been an actor.
What, he wanted to be an actor?
I'm sure he would liked really to have been an actor.
His mother was an actress.
-I didn't know HIS mother was an actress.
-Yes, Hilda was an actress.
Not a very good one, I think. Very beautiful.
Do you think he would have thought that it was insane
how many members of our family have gone into acting?
-No, he would have loved it.
-He would have loved it, yah. He'd have been very proud, yes.
He wouldn't have thought it at all insane.
Ah, she really takes a well aimed kick. There she goes.
You will take it easy these next few days, won't you?
I had no idea really that Robin ever wanted to be an actor.
I mean, he had sort of film-star looks, I can see that.
And Dad said that Robin's mother was an actress.
Now, I don't know anything about her, and I feel like I need to know more.
Emilia has discovered that her theatrical roots go back beyond her grandfather Robin Fox,
to her great-grandmother, Hilda Hanbury.
To find out more about Hilda's career,
she's come to the archives of the Victoria and Albert Museum's theatre collection,
to meet archivist Kathy Hale, an expert on 19th century English theatre.
Have you been able to find out anything about Hilda Hanbury, my great-grandmother?
Well, we've got the, er, UK census up,
so if we fill in Hilda Hanbury, and search...
Right, there's only one Hilda Hanbury.
There we are, birth 1875, Holborn.
So this is the 1891 census.
-There she is.
-So there she is.
There's Hilda, and there is her sister, Lily,
and you see Lily is 17 and Hilda is 16.
It says there that Lily, Hilda's sister, is already an actress.
Mm, yes, she was, and she was... she was only 17.
That wasn't uncommon, actually.
A lot of girls left school and started on the stage quite early.
Is there any way of finding out how Hilda became an actress?
Well, yes, we certainly can look at the records of the London stage.
The V&A's archive holds a record of every performance
by an actor on the London stage between 1660 and 1959.
-So the first reference to her is...
-In 1891, what was that?
1891, so we have a look at this.
Here we go.
-This one here?
At the Vaudeville theatre.
Yeah, in the West End, and there is Hilda Hanbury.
Playing Nancy Ditch.
And actually this is a review from a wonderful newspaper called The Era.
"Miss Hilda Hanbury made an agreeable representative of Nancy Ditch."
I've had worse! THEY LAUGH
-It's not rave, but...
-No, no, no, it's not rave!
And here we've got some photographs of her.
These would have been sold in photographers' shops.
-She really was beautiful, wasn't she?
-Yes. Got lovely, lovely eyes.
This shows you Lily and Hilda in the illustrated magazine, The Sketch.
So that's Lily, that's Hilda.
-Yes. Hilda isn't 20 yet.
They look very close, I don't know whether that's reading too much into it,
but they look like they were close sisters.
No, I think... I think they were very close.
Hilda Hanbury followed her older sister Lily onto the stage
at a time of significant change for women in theatre.
For much of the 19th century, being an actress was considered
an indecent profession by polite society.
But a late Victorian boom in the popularity of theatre was changing attitudes.
Rising prosperity and a shortening of working hours
saw a vast increase in demand for evening entertainment.
And between 1850 and 1890, the number of theatres in London more than doubled.
Actresses like Ellen Terry
became huge stars with middle-class audiences, making the stage
a respectable career choice for young women like the Hanbury sisters.
-We've also found out something which is even more exciting.
In your... In your lineage.
Hilda and Lily were not on their own on the stage,
they were part of another acting dynasty, the Neilson-Hanbury family.
Look at what all the cousins were doing.
Actress, actress, actress.
All the cousins.
They're all actresses.
We've all been infected by the same bug.
Strong family gene.
-That we've got.
-Yes. And there are some extraordinary names.
-Olive Terry, Fred Terry, who was Ellen Terry's...
-Ellen Terry's brother.
Emilia has discovered that she is descended from another famous
acting dynasty, related to Ellen Terry,
the greatest English actress of the Victorian era.
For the young Hanbury sisters, these connections proved invaluable,
and helped Lily Hanbury, in particular, to become one of London's rising stars.
Here we have Lily Hanbury, now she's actually a cover girl on The Sketch.
So, if you've made it to the cover of The Sketch does that mean you're...?
Oh, Hello and OK rolled into one.
She's doing very, very well.
So, what's happened to Hilda?
Well, if you look up 1894.
-At the Haymarket.
We've probably got a programme, would you like to come and have a look?
You bet, definitely.
These boxes are runs of London's theatre programmes going back to the 17th century.
Haymarket... Here we are, 1893 to 1894.
Let's have a look.
-Here it is.
-Here it is.
And there as Hamlet is Herbert Beerbohm-Tree.
One of the finest actors of the day,
and well known for always having a very good company around him.
Herbert Beerbohm-Tree had already turned several young
actors into stars, and for Hilda Hanbury, joining his company
represented a step up to the top rung of English theatre.
Is this Hilda sort of blossoming, erm, out from underneath Lily's wing as an actress?
-The fact that she's working with Beerbohm-Tree?
-Yes, she's got a blossoming career here.
And once she is in that company, does that mean that she went on working with him?
Well, Tree's archives went to the Bristol theatre collection,
so I think you'll need to go to Bristol.
To discover that we're part of this even larger family of actors
than I could possibly of dreamt of, just totally blows my mind,
and Hilda seems to be coming out from under the shadow of Lily's success and I just wonder
whether she went on any further.
To find out more about her great-grandmother's career as an actress, Emilia has come to Bristol
where the Beerbohm-Tree archive is held as part of Bristol University's prestigious theatre collection.
-Hi, Emilia, I'm Katherine. Welcome to the collection.
-Lovely to meet you.
-Nice to meet you, would you come on through?
Dr Katherine Hinton is one of the leading experts on Tree's life and work.
-Thank you very much.
So here's Herbert Beerbohm-Tree in Hamlet.
You get a real sense of the power of him as a performer from this image.
Do you know whether it was Hilda's sort of big break working with Beerbohm-Tree?
-We know that she went on his first tour to the United States.
Erm, in 1895.
So that's a big thing to have been chosen by Beerbohm-Tree to go with him.
Yes, it must been a huge experience.
Doing a month's season in New York at the Abbey Theatre.
At only 20 years of age, Hilda Hanbury had been chosen to go
on one of the most celebrated theatrical tours of the 19th century.
In the 1890s, English theatre companies were fashionable
with middle-class New York audiences, who admired the sophistication
and culture of the West End.
Beerbohm-Tree's reputation as one of Britain's greatest actors
ensured packed houses and huge press coverage across the US.
Hilda and her fellow actors were treated like superstars,
and even received an invitation from the White House to meet President Cleveland.
Do we know what plays they did?
-We do. Shall we sit down for a moment?
-Yeah, good idea.
-Have a look at these.
Don't want to get too over excited at this stage.
The one production that we know Hilda was in that they took to America, was The Red Lamp.
This is the set of prompt books, erm, from The Red Lamp.
And we can have a look in here and see the lines that Hilda would have spoken.
We can see that she appears on stage right at the beginning of the production.
Mm-hm, good sign.
"Every evening an announcement that the report is unfounded."
So there's her first line.
And here is her second and final line.
We're only on page three! Page two of the...
I'm afraid that's it for Hilda in this, er, in this particular play.
In this particular play, what about other plays?
We don't have much evidence of parts that she played in others, she's not being listed
really within, erm, press listings or press reviews.
Which suggests that she's very much working as a bit-part actress,
for Herbert Beerbohm-Tree at this time.
So this was by no means a big break for Hilda? As an actress.
No, not in terms of the size of role or scale of role.
Oh, I feel really sorry for her -
she's suddenly gone back into the shadow of Lily.
By the turn of the century, Hilda's older sister Lily was firmly established as one of the most
popular actresses on the London stage.
But the two sisters remained close.
Records show that they lived and worked together,
with Hilda taking minor roles in productions in which Lily starred.
In 1905, at the height of her fame, Lily Hanbury married
and retired from the stage.
Less then six months later, Hilda announced her own marriage.
And here's Hilda's marriage certificate.
So Hilda, in 1905, marries...
One Arthur William Fox.
Ah, so Mr Fox appears, this is the first time
-that you come across the Fox name.
And he was of independent means.
But Hilda isn't listed as being an actress.
No, very much as the match would suggest, she retired professionally,
but we know that she stayed in contact with the theatre industry.
Erm, Herbert Beerbohm-Tree died very suddenly
and this is the letter that Hilda sent to Tree's wife.
"My dear Lady Tree, I can find no words to express my grief
"and deep, deep sympathy with you, in your terrible loss.
"I know only too well all you are suffering."
What does that refer to?
Well, Hilda had been through an extremely painful loss herself,
-and that was the death of her sister Lily.
And this is from The Stage.
"The untimely death of Miss Lily Hanbury, following two days after that of her infant son,
"has saddened all those who knew her in the profession."
-So she died as the consequence of having a child?
Yeah, she died two days after her, after a stillbirth.
Oh, that's tragic.
I don't even like to think of that now.
At this moment.
Lily Hanbury died on the 5th March, 1908, at the age of 34.
She and her baby were buried together, in the presence
of friends from the theatrical world and her devastated family.
Do you know what happened to Hilda after Lily died?
Well, we don't hold many more archival records about Hilda having retired,
but what we do have is a 1911 census.
So this is the household of Arthur William Fox and Hilda Louise Fox.
-Who's now 35.
And we can see a rather sad parallel between Lily and Hilda's lives,
in that Hilda had had three children, two of whom were still living
-and one who had died.
These are the two surviving children.
-This is Kenneth Fox.
And Mary I know, Mary's alive now!
So this is the beginning of living relatives.
-Yes, yes, and quite unusual to have one at that...
-..exists from the 1911 census, so you're very lucky.
'Following Hilda's journey has taken a bit of an about turn.'
I thought that we were about to come across the blossoming
of Hilda's career as she went on tour with Beerbohm-Tree and that obviously didn't happen.
She didn't, erm... She didn't have great success as an actress.
Also to find out that Lily had died
and Hilda lost her child, I really felt that.
'I felt that, erm, that loss of a child,
'albeit mine was a miscarriage.'
'Of course, you know, you're, erm, you're emotionally affected by it.
'So that hit home hard.'
Now Emilia wants to find out what happened to Hilda later in her life
and she's come to Cornwall, where Mary Fox lives with her sister, Pam.
Emilia's great aunts, Mary and Pam,
are the sisters of her grandfather, Robin Fox,
and the only surviving children of Hilda Hanbury and Arthur William Fox.
Emilia has not seen her great aunts since she was a teenager.
-Darling, how marvellous to see you.
-I can't believe it.
-Nearly 20 years, Pam.
-I can't believe it.
-You look no older.
-Neither do you.
-Come on in.
Pam is 90 years old, but her older sister Mary is now 104
and has been blind and partially deaf for some years.
Here's Melly Mare.
-How are you?
-I'm OK, you?
-I'm so happy to see you.
Mary, I'm about to have a baby in three weeks.
-She's having a baby in about three weeks.
-This might amuse you, old photograph, that's Robin.
Yes, it's Robin. Rather a fat little boy.
And Hilda and Willy.
Do you remember how, er, Willy and Hilda met?
He was mad on the theatre and Hilda was on the stage,
it could be that he lurked round the stage door,
I don't know how they met.
-But Willy had pots of money.
-POTS of money?
Pots of... Well, they had this huge house in Stratton Street
and the theatre, and Paris, and the South of France -
you can guess the sort of lifestyle of a rich Edwardian.
Willy Fox was part of a new and wealthy upper middle class
that emerged in England at the beginning of the 20th century.
Having inherited a multi-million-pound fortune,
he was a gentleman of leisure,
and he and his young family lived a life of considerable luxury.
That's one of Mary as a little girl with her pony
-and Hilda holding the bridle.
I've got a wonderful photograph of you here, Mare, with your pony.
You loved riding, didn't you, Mare?
-And was that your childhood?
No, because I was born, I think I was only two
when Willy went off to re-marry.
Why did they split?
Well, because he fell in love with another woman.
He ran off with an American tart.
-The silly fool!
He was a very selfish, self-indulgent man.
Hilda and her children's wealthy lifestyle disappeared overnight,
when she and Willy were divorced in 1923.
What was the emotional impact on Hilda of Willy leaving?
Oh, I think a bad one, I think she was...
-I mean, as one would be, furiously jealous.
Terribly unhappy, erm,
daunted a little by the thought of bringing up four children.
-She was still fond of Pop at that time.
I never forget it anyway.
No, you remember it, I don't, but you remember how dreadfully unhappy Mum was.
Despite her anguish over the broken marriage,
Hilda spent the next 20 years raising her four children as a single parent.
During the Second World War,
Pam and Mary moved to Cornwall to work as land girls,
young women who volunteered to take the place of farm workers away at war.
After the war, Hilda, now in her 70s, came to live with them
and never returned to London.
This now is a picture of Hilda in the garden.
-She looks happy again there, doesn't she?
-Yes, she is happy.
Oh, yes, when she was old, it was all part of the past.
And still those amazing eyes.
I think they're like your eyes, too.
How old was Hilda when she died?
I think, Mare, she was 89.
-And what happened to Willy?
-He was about...
nearly 90 when he died.
And there, that is a copy of his will.
He seems to have only left £889.17.
I know, after being a millionaire, really, from his father.
-So he'd spent the lot?
-He'd spent the lot.
I must show you this picture.
Now, er, that's Willy and that is Samson.
-Now Samson is Willy's father?
-Samson is an incredible character.
-Isn't he marvellous?
And he always had this massive beard.
He was a self-made man,
but he must have been quite cultured in a funny way,
because he had an awful lot to do with the Royal College of Music.
-Samson, this is?
-Yes. And there's a bust somewhere of him.
-At the Royal College of Music?
-At the Royal College of Music.
'Obviously it was another sadness, really, for Hilda, the break-up of her marriage.
'On top of the trauma of losing Lily,'
I feel rather cross with Willy Fox.
As cross as Mary.
Erm, but I'm just relieved that she ended her life
happy in Cornwall, with the love of her children.
I feel very proud of her.
Having uncovered the theatrical roots of the Fox dynasty,
Emilia has decided to trace her ancestry back further,
to her great-great-grandfather, Samson Fox.
'It was intriguing to see that photograph of Samson Fox,
'a millionaire, whose fortune had been squandered,
'and now I want to know more about Samson.'
She's come to Kensington in London,
as she knows from her great aunts that Samson was connected
to the Royal College of Music, which has been based here since 1894.
-Welcome to the Royal College of Music.
-Thank you, are you Paul?
-I'm Paul and you must be Emilia.
-Good, well if you'd like to...
-Professor Paul Banks is an expert on the history of the college.
-What an incredible room.
-Extraordinary, isn't it?
As you can see, we've got a lot of old musical instruments here
-and I've got some documents that I think might interest you.
This building was opened in 1894,
and we can get a sense of how big an event it was from this photograph.
-You can see the street is decorated with bunting.
Bedecked. It's so beautiful.
-It's almost like a theatrical set, actually, isn't it?
The Royal College of Music was one of several institutions
established in Kensington, by the Royal Family,
to ensure the cultural pre-eminence of the British Empire.
These included the Natural History Museum and the Royal Albert Hall.
Edward the Prince of Wales, personally oversaw the fund raising drive
for the new Royal College of Music building.
What we've got here is a printed schedule of what happened
when this building was officially opened by the Prince of Wales,
and, as you can see, Samson Fox played quite an important role.
"Address to be read by Mr Samson Fox to HRH The Prince of Wales.
"The cost of this handsome and commodious edifice has been defrayed
"by our colleague, Mr Samson Fox,
"whom we have deputed to read this address."
So this implies that there was only ONE donor?
That's absolutely right. The whole of the cost of the new building
was met by Samson Fox.
-My goodness! Do you know how much it was?
Er, because of these two objects.
These are the cheques written by Samson Fox for £45,000,
which is in today's terms, close to 2.5 million.
But what's interesting is that it also gives a clue
to his background, that he came from Leeds.
-Would Samson have personally given these cheques to the Prince of Wales?
-Yes, yes, we know that he did.
Isn't that amazing, to think that he was holding this?
Is there a thank you letter?
-We do also have the erm, er, speech that the Prince...
-Oh, do you?
Oh, it's on the next page.
"It is with great pleasure that on behalf of Her Majesty,
"I am to thank you, Mr Fox, for the discerning munificence
"to which we owe this noble and fitting home,
"for the honour and advancement of the study of music."
Why does this make me so happy? It makes me very, very....
It's so wonderful.
Here we have a couple of photographs from the time
and here is the Prince standing, and there in the middle
is somebody who I think could be Samson reading the address.
Well, from the picture I saw the other day,
he was bearded and you can just, just see.
-That's so exciting.
My, er, great aunts said that there was a bust of Samson somewhere.
I might be able to help you with that.
If you'd like to follow me, we'll go back to the entrance hall.
Don't want to leave those cheques behind.
Here he is!
That's amazing, seeing him like this.
And his spectacular beard.
It is pretty impressive, I think.
I think he never trimmed it because he didn't want to lose his strength.
-He's certainly an impressive figure, I must say.
But I think there is something slightly odd here,
because looking at what Samson had done - he'd given all this money,
he worked closely with the Prince of Wales -
and yet he never got a knighthood.
Why is that?
That is something of a mystery.
One certainly would have expected Samson Fox to have been knighted.
'Well, it is astounding that my great-great-grandfather
'is the sole donor of the Royal College of Music.'
Imagine what the value of that building now is.
Erm, I mean I'm totally, er... I am gobsmacked
that anyone in our family had made that sort of money.
'And I'd love to know more about Samson's background.
'So that's the next step of the journey.'
-'This is the East Coast service to Leeds. Ten minutes, 17:55.'
To find out how her great-great-grandfather made his fortune,
Emilia is heading north to the Yorkshire city of Leeds.
She's ordered a copy of Samson's birth certificate to discover more about his background.
Samson Fox was born on the 11th July, 1838
at New Road, Bowling.
His father was Jonas Fox,
married to Sarah Fox, formally Pierson.
Occupation of father, overlooker.
I don't know what that is.
Signature of informant, "the mark of Sarah Fox, mother."
That must mean that she was illiterate.
So this is the 1851 census,
and it looks like the family have moved to Leeds.
"Jonas Fox, Head.
"Power Loom Overlooker."
Samson Fox, his son, was Power Loom Weaver.
So that means he worked in a textile mill at the age of 13.
So they weren't a wealthy family at all.
In the 1850s, Leeds lay at the heart of Yorkshire's road and canal networks,
and was one of the centres of Britain's Industrial Revolution.
Its traditional textile mills competed with newer engineering works and foundries,
which had sprung up to supply goods to the growing British Empire.
For child workers like Samson Fox, conditions were often brutal,
but Leeds was also a city of opportunity,
where new steam-based technologies were thriving.
To learn more about her great-great-grandfather's life in the city,
Emilia has come to the Armley Mills Industrial Museum
to meet curator Neil Dowlan.
-Lovely to meet you.
-Lovely to meet you. Neil?
-Welcome to Armley Mills.
-Do be very careful on the rails...
-Yes, no tripping.
Do you want to come this way?
Gosh, I go to the most extraordinary places every day now.
-I found out that my great-great-grandfather Samson...
-..was a power loom weaver.
-Samson Fox worked in a mill very much like this one, from the age of eight.
-That was quite normal to start work at the age of eight, as well?
-Yes, very normal.
He doesn't actually stay here long.
By 15 he's an apprentice in an engineering works.
They're producing locomotives, tools, agricultural vehicles, everything you can think of.
Despite his humble origins and lack of formal education,
Samson rose quickly through the ranks, from apprentice engineer to skilled worker.
Here, we have his marriage certificate. Erm, so this is 1861.
-So Samson is 22 years old.
-Listed as a mechanic.
So he's a sort of shop-floor mechanic at this point.
-Yeah, he's working with machines.
But if we look at the next census, ten years later, we can see how much has changed.
There they are.
-So Samson Fox is now 32.
He's got three children now, and Arthur W Fox, Willy Fox, is one.
-Willy Fox is my great-grandfather.
-It's all coming together, isn't it?
-What does that say?
-Master employer of 11 men and six boys.
-So this has all happened in the last ten years.
But within the next three years, things are going to change again.
He's not going to change business this time, but he's going to expand,
because by 1874, he founds the Leeds Forge Company.
-It sounds very impressive.
This is where his career and his life really takes off.
I will show you what he achieved.
Emilia's great-great-grandfather, Samson Fox,
found himself at the forefront of the world's fastest-growing industry.
Advances in British engineering were radically changing the way the world worked,
and creating vast fortunes.
At his new metal works, The Leeds Forge Company,
Samson decided to produce parts for the rail and shipping industries on a huge scale.
-If you'd just like to come this way.
This is our open-air store.
And it's where we tend to keep a lot of the larger industrial objects that we've got here.
-Looks like we're going into the wilderness.
-It does, doesn't it?
It looks a bit of an elephants' graveyard, doesn't it?
The important thing about Samson Fox is, he's an innovator, so he adapts technology.
It's all about making machines faster, cheaper, more efficient and that's where the money is.
So I've come to show you something very important.
And I would like to present to you the corrugated boiler flue.
-The corrugated boiler flue?
-What does it do?
It doesn't sound much on it's own, does it?
Probably one of the most important inventions of the late 19th century.
I've got a small model here, which will show you how the idea works.
If you take that piece of brass there and squeeze it.
-See, you can squeeze it with your hand, can't you?
Now take that and try and squeeze that.
-Much more resistant to pressure, isn't it?
The flues in a traditional steam engine were the furnaces in which coal was burned to heat the boiler.
As the flues were subjected to intense heat and pressure,
they would eventually crack, causing the boiler to fail.
Samson Fox's corrugation of the boiler flue, strengthened it
and enabled steam engines to work at a higher pressure and produce more power.
The impact of this simple innovation was enormous.
The first Fox corrugated boiler flue was sold to a Barrow shipyard in June 1877.
Two years later, a steam ship fitted with the new flue
sailed from Britain to South Africa in record time.
By the 1880s, Samson's flue had been installed in factories, locomotives and shipping across the world
and, at only 40 years of age, had made him a multi-millionaire.
It seems like such a simple idea, but it was a revolutionary idea.
Simple ideas are often the best and, boy, is this a good idea.
It made him a very, very rich man.
-So that's your ancestor.
I can't believe it.
He's got an innate mechanical brain.
I wish I'd inherited that. I've got an inert mechanical brain.
I've brought you to different part of the museum.
Erm, a bit more affluent-looking, to show you one final object.
And, what I would like you to look at, this portrait here,
this is a portrait of Samson Fox, commissioned after the corrugated flue was developed.
"Presented to Samson Fox Esquire, by the employees and friends
"of The Leeds Forge Company Limited."
Is that inscription on the flue?
I've never noticed that before, but I think it is, that is a corrugated boiler flue, isn't it?
We know Samson Fox is a popular employer.
The reason he was so popular is he's very hands-on.
He'll be down on the shop floor, he'll have his sleeves rolled up, he'll be working with them.
That's because of where he started.
Yeah, but, within a few years, he moves to Harrogate and leaves Leeds.
-For business or for personal reasons?
-For personal reasons, I suppose.
-When you make a lot of money in Leeds you do go to Harrogate.
-You take the waters.
By 1882, at the age of only 44,
Samson Fox had transformed himself from a child worker in a mill,
to one of the wealthiest men in Britain.
His son, Willy, was now at public school and Samson's family were about to take their place
in the upper echelons of Victorian society.
Well, this is a whole new element to my family background that I didn't know about.
To know that there is that sort of brain in the family
who could deal with mechanics and engineering and understand them.
I'm really hoping the baby took this in today, please, please note, engineering, mechanics, good move.
Emilia has decided to follow her great-great-grandfather's trail to Harrogate in North Yorkshire.
But with less than three weeks till her baby is due,
she is finding it increasingly hard going.
There's a lot to take in and the baby's obviously feeling it too.
Yesterday I was a little bit worried we might be making a hasty trip to hospital.
I'm not quite sure who's going to get to the finishing post first.
When Samson and his family arrived in Harrogate,
it was already a well-known and affluent spa town.
The area's natural sulphur springs were thought to have significant healing properties,
and people came from all over Britain to take the waters and recuperate from illness.
Only 15 miles from Leeds, it was a far more refined and sophisticated world,
which attracted the cream of Yorkshire society.
Emilia has come to Grove House, a large mansion on the outskirts of the town,
at the invitation of the local historian Malcolm Neesam.
-What an amazing house.
-It is rather grand, isn't it?
Samson came to Harrogate in 1882 and he settled here at Grove House.
-In this house?
-Yes, this was his home.
I didn't realise.
There are signs of this, if you care to look around.
-See here, for example, this magnificent fireplace...
-..which he had built. And you can see his initials up here, SF.
There's a splendid photograph which I have here.
This is the outside of Grove House.
Now there's Samson and members of the family.
This is Willy, his eldest son.
Willy's turning out to be a bit of a dandy.
You can tell that from the posture, yes, and the costume.
While still the Managing Director of The Leeds Forge Company,
Samson spent more and more of his time in Harrogate,
using his wealth to transform Grove House into a stately home,
fit for a member of the landed gentry.
Here's the main salon, here's the fireplace, where we're seated now.
Gosh, it's hardly changed at all, has it?
-This is the art gallery of Grove House.
Samson described it as the music room and if you look at the end of the photograph
-you can see the piano.
And Willy was noted to be an accomplished violinist.
Here are the stables, with a fox, of course, on the weathervane.
They're magnificent. I'd be quite happy living in the stables.
Oh, these are the carriages.
Today you've got to imagine a garage full of Ferraris, Porsches and Rolls-Royces.
Here, this is an interesting feature, the Turkish baths.
-This is for horses.
-How... What?! It's for horses?
-A Turkish bath?
-Yes, the only one in the country that we know of.
I'd definitely apply for the job of Samson's horse in a next life, I think.
At the heart of Samson's renovation of Grove House lay an underground workshop
where he was developing his next big industrial innovation.
This is the photograph of the laboratory.
He never rested, he was constantly improving things,
but this time he was working on his water gas experiments.
-You know about water gas?
Well, it is a really powerful new form of energy that Fox developed.
Samson had come across water gas during a business trip to the US.
A mixture of hydrogen and carbon,
it was made by passing super-heated steam across red hot coke.
Water gas burnt brighter and hotter than conventional coal gas,
which in the 1880s was used to light homes and streets across Britain.
Samson realised that water gas could potentially replace coal gas,
and 20 years before the spread of electric lighting,
he built water gas plants at The Leeds Forge Company, and at his new home in Harrogate.
Grove House was lit by water gas.
There were about 250 outlets here in Grove House - mostly chandeliers, but also in the kitchens.
So the whole house was powered by water gas.
-So he found a new energy source?
-He thought he had, yes.
But this was in 1890 - by then, Samson was Mayor of Harrogate.
-He had become Mayor in 1888, yes.
The first thing he did as Mayor was to offer to light the centre of Harrogate
with this new invention of water gas.
-I have some newspaper cuttings - would you like to see them?
"This week will see the water gas plant up and then, I am told, the public,
"dazzled by the bright beams of the new illuminant,
"will hold up their hands in amazement and cry, 'What a gas!'"
-There's another extract here.
From The Advertiser of the 9th August, 1890.
"Wednesday night last, furnished a sight hither to we venture to assert,
"unseen in England or the continent.
"The utilisation of water gas as an illuminant for public street lighting."
Apparently it gave off an absolutely magnificent light.
They used to say, "Come and see what the Mayor of Harrogate has done, he's bottled the sun."
Oh, my goodness.
They put trains on from all over the north of England to bring in tourists to see it.
If you look at this column there...
"We shall be greatly mistaken if the report of this successful experiment does not attract
"to the town many hundred gentlemen interested in public lighting from neighbouring boroughs.
"If such a report could reach the foreign press,
"no doubt we might see the foreigner in our streets.
"This success cannot but affect favourably the interests of those
"who have had the courage to hold onto their water gas shares, undismayed by panic."
And what's this last bit about?
With those holding onto their water gas shares, undismayed by panic?
Samson believed in this product thoroughly.
He really believed that it was the way of the future,
and so a syndicate was set up to sell shares to the public.
Unfortunately, there was a problem with that when the shareholders began to show signs of panicking,
because they weren't certain how this was going to turn out,
-and you really ought to consult with a financial expert on this, but it was a very big matter.
Well, thank you so much for enlightening me about Samson's life in Harrogate.
Oh, it's been a real pleasure.
To find out more about the water gas project, Emilia has come to Harrogate Gentlemen's Club,
where Samson Fox himself was a member.
She's arranged to meet Professor Sarah Wilson, an expert on 19th-century financial history.
So what happened, then, with the water gas shares?
Samson was convinced that it was the future of energy,
but there were some problems with water gas,
and I wanted to show you this report from the Manchester Weekly Times.
"Action for the loss of a husband.
"At The Leeds Assizes on Saturday, an action was brought for damages
"for alleged negligence from The Leeds Forge Company, of which Mr Samson Fox is the Managing Director.
"The deceased and another workman had died from suffocation, owing to the use of water gas
"which is a frightfully dangerous thing if not properly used."
Oh, my goodness.
There's a real sense of concern that if this can happen in the setting of a factory,
-what issues there might be putting water gas into people's homes.
Even if it could be made safe, and suitable for domestic consumption,
-there's a big distribution problem.
All the pipes and infrastructure, for distributing to domestic homes,
belongs to the coal gas companies.
-So he was really up against the big boys of industry?
Despite concerns over the safety of water gas,
and the opposition of the powerful coal gas cartel,
Samson heavily promoted water gas shares to the public.
Millions of pounds was raised, much of it from smaller investors attracted by Samson's past success.
But this time, he had made a huge misjudgement.
If water gas was successful,
the coal gas companies would lose control of a profitable business.
Through their political allies, they managed to deny Samson access to their distribution pipes
and the water gas share price collapsed over night.
In 1890, he's got investors wanting to know where their money is.
By 1894 there are a lot of accusations from investors that, basically, he's robbed them.
-This is from The Today Magazine on the 12th May, 1894.
"In the course of a few months in the spring of 1889,
"Samson Fox and his associates brought out the following companies -
"British Water Gas Syndicate, Yorkshire Water Gas Syndicate,
"Northern British Gas Syndicate.
"The public were induced to subscribe the huge capital by gross and deliberate misrepresentation,
"as to the value of the patents and the processes sold."
The Today article accused Samson Fox of deliberately exaggerating
the potential of water gas to defraud his investors.
It was published under the editorship of Jerome K Jerome,
the well-known author of Three Men In A Boat, and a formidable critic.
His campaigns against financial corruption were respected and widely read.
Jerome actually chooses a very significant date to publish it
-and that is the day that Samson hands over a cheque to the Royal College of Music.
There he is presenting it to the Prince of Wales.
There's a very, very clear implication that Samson was using
the money that he'd collected through investors to bankroll his philanthropic activities.
-The Royal College of Music will have been very embarrassed by it.
Also the Royal Family will have been reading these accusations along with everyone else.
That does explain why he hadn't received a knighthood.
-Yes, this will have caused him a great deal of harm.
Samson Fox always denied that he had defrauded his investors,
but it took him several years to prove his innocence through the courts.
By then, the water gas affair had irreparably damaged his standing in London society.
To his friends and supporters in Harrogate, however, he remained a hugely respected figure
who had been unfairly tarnished by the press.
This is written by Samson's solicitor in the wake of the water gas scandal.
"For a man of such genius, he was most simple-minded in business affairs.
"His delight and confidence in the great service of which water gas was capable
"blinded him to the insuperable difficulties which prevented its general utilisation.
"During the years in which I acted as Samson Fox's legal advisor,
"I cannot recall a single instance in which his views and actions in his business affairs
"were not entirely straightforward, honourable and fair to those with whom he had dealings."
How does that make you feel?
I don't know why I'm crying now,
I do cry at the most extraordinary moments, but I genuinely am relieved.
He just doesn't seem like a negligent man.
He was really trying to do everything for the best and he just got it wrong,
he sailed a bit too close to the sun.
After the water gas scandal, Samson Fox retired from business life.
Still a rich man, he devoted himself to charitable causes.
In 1899 he undertook a final project for the people of Harrogate.
A campaign to build a world-class concert hall, to rival any venue in London.
How absolutely astonishing.
The Royal Hall was officially opened on the 28th May, 1903,
but the Royal Family declined an invitation to attend.
Look up there! Foxes with the corrugated boiler flue.
Really, really beautiful.
Samson Fox died at the age of 65,
five months after the opening of Harrogate's Royal Hall.
Edward VII, the former Prince of Wales, sent a telegram with his condolences.
Looking back through the generations of my family,
they've all had success, but it hasn't been without its problems.
What I've really discovered is that there are qualities in my family
that I really hope will be passed down to the baby.
With Hilda, you saw that incredible love between her and Lily
and the family love that she inspired.
With Samson, his enthusiasm for life, his inventiveness
and that little touch of genius.
Those are the qualities that I would hope and wish would be passed onto our baby.
In the 1920s, Samson's belief in water gas was vindicated
when it became a common supplement to domestic coal gas across Britain.
It remained in widespread industrial use until the 1960s.
Samson's great-great-great-granddaughter, Rose, was born safely in London.
She and her parents are doing well.
Celebrities trace their family trees to reveal the lives of their ancestors. Emilia Fox, who was heavily pregnant while filming this episode, was intrigued to find out what family traits her baby might inherit. Part of the Fox theatrical dynasty, Emilia wants to find out just how far back the family's acting roots go.
Emilia also discovers, in an extraordinary tale of rags to riches, that her great-great-grandfather Samson Fox made one of the most important inventions of the 19th century. Born into an impoverished family, Samson started work in a Leeds textile mill when he was just eight years old, but ended up becoming one of the richest men in Victorian Britain. As Emilia investigates further, she discovers how her illustrious ancestor was later touched by scandal.