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It may be a surprise to some that a naturalised German Lutheran of Exeter, would found a dynasty that would lead to one of Britain's most successful, and ultimately, notorious banking firms.
John Baring was born to the Lutheran Rev. Dr. Johan Baring in Bremen, Northern Germany, just ten days after his father's death on on 3rd November 1697. Bremen was an important market forthe undyed, serge cloth that was produced in Exeter – the Bremen woollen merchants would then dye and finish the cloth for their local markets. The 20 year old Johan arrived in Exeter to be apprenticed to Edmond Cock who was a serge-maker. Cock was known in Germany as he had previously exported cloth to Hamburg. In 1723, when his apprenticeship was complete, Baring became a naturalised British citizen, with the proviso that he hold no office of the crown nor own land. He Anglicized his name Johan to John, and commenced his life as a merchant in the city. On the 15th February 1728 he married Elizabeth Vowler (1702-1766) of St Petrock in the church of Holy Trinity, and with a £20,000 dowry, settled with his new wife in Palace Street by Palace Gate, next to his good friend, William Kennaway, who was also a woollen merchant at the time. Elizabeth was the daughter of John Vowler of Bellair, a wealthy dry-goods merchant, or grocer.
In 1730 Elizabeth gave birth to her first surviving child who was named John. She would have another four children by 1744. Elizabeth proved to be a very good business woman and their partnership saw the Baring's enterprise prosper. Elizabeth was responsible for the female 'burlers' in the workshops, while John involved himself in the Continental trade.
In 1837, John Baring purchased Larkbeare House and 37 acres of land in Holloway Street from John Lavington. The house straddled the Larkbeare stream which formed the city boundary with Devon. The purchase included St Leonard's Church and rectory, along with the advowson, or right to appoint the clergyman. The house and land became the centre for a cloth finishing workshop, where the newly fulled cloth from the local mills of Exe Island was sheared, washed, dyed, burled and pressed before folding between sheets of paper for transport to the customer. The land belonging to the house was used as rack fields where the serge was hung to dry.
John Baring died in 1748, leaving his widow Elizabeth to continue running the business, which was now worth £40,000. Such was his wealth, that it was said that only the Bishop of Exeter, the City Recorder and John Baring could afford a carriage in the city. His eldest son John, joined the business in 1752, while his third son, Francis who was released from his apprenticeship in London in 1762, founded John and Francis Baring and Co in London, which would evolve into Barings Bank. In 1996, this old merchant bank was bankrupted by the trading of Nick Leeson – it was purchased by ING of the Netherlands for £1.
Sources: All that Glitters by Gapper & Denton, Industry, Trade and People in Exeter 1688-1800 W G Hoskins, Tuckers Hall – Joyce Youing and the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
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