Within the records held at the Warwickshire County Record Office are those related to the papers of Phelps and Bracebridge & Co., Soap and Alkali manufacturers (CR181c/3). Despite conducting their business in London, the Bracebridge family held property and influence in Warwickshire that would be needed during the collapse of the business.
Due to some sheer bad luck, and, it has be said, incompetence on the part of Mr Phelps and Mr Abraham Bracebridge, the company went into liquidation between 1808-1813 and in order to repay the creditors it became necessary for Mr Bracebridge’s wife to dispense with several of her ancestral homes. Thus Aston Hall in Warwickshire and Brereton Hall in Cheshire were sold to appease the numerous debtors, who included such notable figures as a gentleman called ‘Count Trampe’ who it transpires was a member of the Norwegian nobility.
It is difficult to accurately calculate the total debt of the company by 1813 but evidence gained from the various bundles of correspondence tells us that one individual creditor was owed just over £24,000, which in today’s money equates to a staggering £1.4 million debt!
A debt of millions
A rough estimation can therefore be made that the collapse of Phelps and Bracebridge & Co. resulted in a total debt well into tens of millions of pounds, which begs the question; how could such a debt have been accrued through the manufacture of just soap?! Unfortunately however, while the correspondence and deeds that make up this collection provide insight into the legal wranglings that took place following the company’s collapse, they do not shed much light on the circumstances surrounding the collapse, nor enough details of the accounts to explain exactly why the business failed so spectacularly.