Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Fox, William (1736-1826)

FOX, WILLIAM (1736–1826), founder of the Sunday School Society, son of J. Fox, renter of the Clapton Manor estate, Gloucestershire, was born at Clapton 14 Feb. 1736. The youngest of a large family he was left fatherless in early childhood. He had extraordinary resolution, and at the age of ten formed business plans which were afterwards completely realised. He ultimately became lord of the manor of Clapton. Fox was apprenticed to a draper and mercer at Oxford in 1752, and before the expiration of his indentures his master gave up to him his house and shop and stock of goods, valued at about 4,000l. Fox married in 1761 the eldest daughter of Jonathan Tabor, a Colchester merchant. Three years later he removed to London, and entered upon a large business in Leadenhall Street. Impressed with the degradation of the poorer classes of the population, he endeavoured unsuccessfully, by the aid of members of both houses of parliament, to move the government in their behalf. About 1784, when he became the proprietor of Clapton, he began his humanitarian work unaided, not only clothing all the poor of the parish—men, women, and children—but founding a free day school. Writing to Robert Raikes in 1785 he stated that long before the establishment of Sunday schools he had designed a system of universal education, but had met with little support from the clergy and laity, who were alarmed by the magnitude of the undertaking. A meeting was held at Fox's instance in the Poultry, London, on 16 Aug. 1785, when it was resolved to issue a circular recommending the formation of a society for the establishment and support of Sunday schools throughout the kingdom of Great Britain. Fox was cordially supported by Raikes, Jonas Hanway, and other friends of education, and the result was the foundation of the Sunday School Society, with a body of officers and governors, and a committee of twenty-four persons, chosen equally from the church of England and the various bodies of protestant dissenters. The Earl of Salisbury was elected president. Before eight months had elapsed from the first meeting in the Poultry, thirty schools had been established, containing 1,110 scholars, and by the following January (1787) these had been increased to 147 schools with 7,242 children. In 1797 the Baptist Home Missionary Society was formed, with Fox as treasurer. Five years later Fox left London and went to reside at Lechlade House, Gloucestershire. He remained here till 1823, when he moved to Cirencester, where he lost his wife, a lineal descendant of Sir Harbottle Grimstone [q. v.] Fox died at Cirencester on 1 April 1826, and was buried at Lechlade beside his wife and daughter. Among the friends and supporters of Fox were Granville Sharp and William Wilberforce.

[Ivimey's Memoir of Fox, 1831.]

G. B. S.