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John (Johan) Baring founded in Exeter, along with his wife, Elizabeth, a merchant's business that made him one of the richest in the city. His eldest son, also John, would continue the family business and become MP for the city.
Born on 5th October 1730 at Palace Street, John Baring was the first of John and Elizabeth's children to survive infancy. By 1744 he had three younger brothers and a sister, two of whom would play a major part in John Baring's commercial life. At the age of seven, the family moved to Larkbeare House, where his parents expanded their woollen business by finishing the cloth on the premises before exporting to the markets in Europe. The young Baring would have been in daily contact with the business and the many processes. When he had completed his education, John Baring was apprenticed to Phillip Moor of Ottery St Mary to learn the fulling trade, probably in 1746. In 1748, his father John Baring Senior died, leaving his mother Elizabeth to run the company.
On completion of his apprenticeship, Baring was sent to Geneva to gain further experience of business and to establish markets for their cloth. On his return he purchased Mount Radford House and 17 acres of land for 2,000 guineas from the bankrupt merchant and Quaker John Colesworthy. Mount Radford was transformed by Baring into a fine Georgian mansion, befitting of one of the wealthiest men in the city. Sir John Bowring described him as "singular, coat, waistcoat, breeches, of a light speckled colour–it was called pepper and salt–silk stockings of the same, small steel buckles at his knees, large steel buckles on his shoes. He was a tall man, with powdered hair, and a sharp, penetrating look, who seemed to measure with his gold-headed cane every step as he walked. The people called him 'old Turkey legs.'"
In 1757, a now established John Baring married Anne Parker, with whom he would have six children. Anne died in 1765, only eight years after their marriage.
Francis Baring, one of John's younger brothers had been apprenticed to a London merchant in 1755 – on Christmas Day 1762 John and Francis Baring and Co was founded in London, with the intention that Francis would find markets for the family's Exeter cloth. Within a few years the London operation had become very successful as Barings Brothers.
On the same day as the founding of Baring Brothers, John and Charles Baring and Co was founded to continue the family business in Exeter. Little is known of the business in the city apart from odd snippets that appeared in the newspapers. In 1763, a fire destroyed a press shop, finishing shop and three presses along goods worth £8,000, at Larkbeare. The loss was uninsured, but the family had sufficient wealth to swiftly recover. It is probable that the process of fulling the cloth was contracted out to the mills lining the leats of Exe Island – in 1765 John Baring constructed a new fulling mill in Exwick, just before Exeter's woollen trade took a swift decline due to changing markets, and above all war.
From this point, John Baring seems to have stepped back to allow his brothers to run the two businesses. In 1773, Arthur Kelly sold the manor of Heavitree to John Baring, and in 1776 with his newly acquired status, Baring was elected to Parliament for the first of five times, to represent Exeter as an Independent, and he served, in the same year, as Sheriff of Devon.
Baring became a founder, of the Devonshire Bank in 1770, which was sited in Cathedral Yard, next to Broadgate. The bank came to grief in 1810 when there was a general bank crash. As a prominent citizen, John Baring was expected to lead in times of crises – in 1779, the French sided with the new American nation, and a combined French and Spanish fleet appeared off Plymouth. French and American prisoners held at Plymouth were immediately moved out of the city, and 1,300 of them ended up in Exeter. John Baring was put in charge of 800 newly formed Exeter Volunteers, who were tasked with guarding the prisoners.
Away from his political and commercial duties in London, Baring liked to play the 'squire' from Mount Radford. He subscribed to Risdon's Survey of Devon in 1785, and was a patron and subscriber for a 100 copies of Benjamin Donn's map of the County of Devon in 1765.
The Exeter woollen business had struggled for many years under the direction of Charles Baring, who had proved to be not such an adept businessman as his brothers. The Exwick fulling mill had ceased working by 1800, and was sold to James Buller and leased for paper making in 1805. John Baring died on the 1st February 1816, aged 85 years. Only two of his six children survived him. Mount Radford was eventually converted into a school in 1826 and then demolished in 1902 for the development of Barnardo Road.
Sources: Discovering St Leonard's by Gilbert Venn, a Flying Post article from 1849 by the, Rev. Oliver, Industry, trade and people in Exeter 1688-1800 W G Hoskins, DRO document 2065M/L2/6 and Tuckers Hall by Joyce Youing.
John Baring II
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