Historical Manuscripts Commission

Summary report on the records


Webster & Horsfall Ltd, spring steel wire manufacturers, Birmingham

including records of 

Latch & Batchelor Ltd, wire rope manufacturers, Birmingham

in private possession

(reference: GB-800819-Webster)

Listed by N James, January 1991
Historical Manuscripts Commission

Table of Contents



Shelf list

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All enquiries about access to the records in this report should be addressed the Historical Manuscripts Commission.


A full history of Webster & Horsfall Ltd, The Iron Masters of Penns, 1971, has been written by the present chairman, Colonel JHC Horsfall. The surviving early records of the firm were collected together by Colonel Horsfall in the course of his research and briefly described in the book. The following account of the development of Webster & Horsfall is based on his work.

The firm traces its origins back to the business established by John Webster (1687-1757), wire drawer and iron master of Birmingham. Originally trading as an ironmonger, John Webster I entered into partnership with John Turton to produce bar iron at Perry Barr after Websterís marriage in 1718. Webster is reputed to have turned to wire production in 1720. The firm has produced wire continuously since this time.

In 1752, Johnís son Joseph Webster I (1720-1780) obtained a lease of Penns Mill at Walmley, a few miles north-east of Birmingham, but was apparently already established there several years before. This site, together with the neighbouring forge at Plants Brook, Minworth, was to be the centre of the firmís production for the next century and Penns was also the home of successive Webster and Horsfall owners. The business continued to prosper under members of the Webster family until the 1850s, the success of the enterprise being assured by Joseph Webster Iís application of crucible cast steel in his wire production. By the Napoleonic wars, the firm increasingly dominated the domestic market for piano wire and in the 1820s, the use of manganese steel for this purpose gave the Websters the edge over German competitors.

The last of the Websters to be engaged in the business was Baron Dickinson Webster (1818-1860), a younger son of Joseph Webster III (1783-1856). Joseph Webster had safeguarded the firm against competition from the new patent piano wire of a rival, James Horsfall of Birmingham, by arranging for Horsfall to enter into partnership with BD Webster in 1855. During this period of Webster-Horsfall partnership, production at Penns and Plants Brook was abandoned and in 1859 wire production was transferred to Hay Mills on the outskirts of Birmingham. Steel was supplied from a separate plant which had first been leased by Joseph Webster III at Killamarsh, Derbyshire.

When BD Webster died in 1860, the business fell entirely into the hands of James Horsfall. The descendants of his son Henry Herbert Coldwell Horsfall still control the firm today. BD Webster had considerably expanded wire sales and James Horsfall capitalised on this by winning the vital contract for the Atlantic telegraph cable laid in 1866.

In 1895, the firm merged with Latch & Batchelor Ltd, wire rope manufacturers, and control of the combined business was not finally wrested back by the Horsfall family until 1948, when the Batchelor family interests were finally bought out. In 1955, the amalgamation of Webster & Horsfall with Latch & Batchelor ended. Latch & Batchelor now forms a subsidiary and concentrates on the production of wire rope. During this period, JF [Frank] Luckman played an important part in the survival of the company as general manager until his death in 1947, and many of his papers are to be found among its records.

The archive of Webster & Horsfall effectively begins with the private ledger 1801-55 of Joseph Webster III, although this itself preserves earlier production statistics from 1777. The records gathered together by Colonel Horsfall represent a rich business archive for the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, from which he was able to build up a fairly full picture of the companyís activities, despite losses caused by previous company secretaries. There is a major gap in the correspondence for the period 1870-90 and most personnel records were accidentally destroyed in 1950.

The companyís records are supplemented by the papers of the Horsfall family, which are also kept in the chairmanís office. Few original papers of the Webster family have survived, but an important selection from them were published as Notes ... relating to the Webster family, compiled by PCG Webster and privately printed by his wife Frances, 1880. A copy is available at Birmingham Reference Library, from which the photocopies among the Webster & Horsfall records were taken.

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Shelf List

All records are kept in two locked steel cabinets in the chairmanís office at Hay Mills, except where otherwise indicated. The cabinets have been assigned notional numbers, and the shelves of cabinet 1 notional letters from A to D, for ease of reference.

Cabinet 1

Shelf A

Letter book of James Horsfall 1840-49

Letter and memoranda book 1858-66

Letter book 1863-64 including some loose original correspondence 1863~92

Letter books (2) 1890-94,1896-99

Letter book of TC Batchelor 1884-93

Letter book of JF Luckman, general manager, 1892-94

Private ledger of Joseph Webster III 1801-55, including production statistics 1777-1814, stock and other accounts, memoranda, etc

Ledgers (3): 1892-1900, 1895-1910, 1898-1914

Day book 1904-08

Cash book 1898-1903

Bank book of James Horsfall 1873-79

Account book of Charles Cooper, agent of James and HHC Horsfall, 1892-96

Purchase contracts 1899-1906 (1 volume)

Sales and purchase contracts 1905-23 (1 volume)

Index book (customers) 1920

Wire order book of JF Luckman 1890s-c1907

Price calculations for business at Penns Mill and Plants Forge, attributed to William Bedson, manager, 1806-32 (1 volume)

Plants Forge diary, including orders and accounts, kept by charge hand 1856-57 (1 volume)

Joseph Webster IIII's steel production records 1848-51 (1 volume)

Record of steel worked by wire drawers at Penns and Hay Mills 1859-61 (1 volume)

Special test book for wire rope 1870-96

Sample book 1892-93

Steel and wire analysis book 1898-1905

Wire test note book including cost book 1894-1903 (1 volume)

Technical note book no 1 of JF Luckman 1890s

Technical note book of wire specifications 1890s-c1908

Technical note books of AW Fielding including specifications for steel wire and analysis of rods and billets c1900 (2 volumes)

Technical note book relating to spring wire 1930s

Patent specifications and related correspondence 1853-1913 (1 volume)

Patents of James Horsfall 1854-56 (2 boxed items), BD Webster and James Horsfall 1858 (1 boxed item) and Peter Deeley 1864 (1 boxed item), all with attached seals

Price lists, catalogues and specifications c1907-18 (1 volume)

Latch & Batchelor Ltd: inventory 1918 (1 volume) and plant book 1919 (1 volume)

Estate rental for Walmley and Hay Mills, etc and notes on Horsfall and other family annuities 1898-1939 (1 volume)

Photograph album 1939

Correspondence and papers of James Horsfall I 1842-95 (1 box file), including executorship papers and legal accounts (1 file), correspondence and papers relating to the Farquhar family 1861-72 (1 file), miscellaneous personal papers to 1884 (1 file), legal agreements, inventory and valuation relating to Horsfall & Smith 1842-46 (1 file), papers relating to his property 1862-77 (1 file), schedule of deeds and documents relating to his estate compiled by Milward & Co, Birmingham, 1895 and miscellaneous papers relating to the executorship of his estate, his son HHC Horsfall, etc 1849-92

Collected correspondence and papers (originals and transcripts) of the Webster family and Colonel JHC Horsfallís working papers on the Websters to 1986 (1 box file) including original letters from BD Webster, mainly to James Horsfall, 1855-60 (3 packets), original letters from Joseph Webster III to James Horsfall c1856 (cS items) and papers relating to Penns Mill c1823.

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Shelf B

Recent company records from 1945 to date (15 box files), as follows:-

Webster & Horsfall group accounts from 1954 (4 boxes)

Webster & Horsfall Ltd:

directors, accounts from 1957 (1 box)

annual general meeting speeches (1 box)

chairmanís speeches and letters to members (1 box)

staff records from 1945 (1 box)

Canadian correspondence, accounts and staff records from c1950 (3 boxes)

Latch & Batchelor Ltd:

annual accounts from 1955 (2 boxes)

staff records (1 box).


Shelf C

Memoranda, articles of association and related papers of Webster & Horsfall Ltd and Latch & Batchelor Ltd 1892-1954 (1 box)

Correspondence and papers relating to capital reorganisation 1952-55 (1 box)

Papers relating to capital transactions 1960 to date (1 box)

Correspondence and papers relating to deceased members and directors, 1948 to date (1 box)

Statistics (auditorsí and accountantsí analyses, costs, sales, wages, etc) 1905-17 (1 box) .

Correspondence and research papers of JF Luckman and Colonel Horsfall about the production and laying of the Atlantic telegraph cable of the 1860s (1 box) including original correspondence 1864-69 (4 files), miscellaneous printed papers concerning the cable (1 file), Tests of Cable Wire 1868 (MS volume) and C Bright, The Story of the Atlantic Cable, 1903

Technical correspondence and papers of JF Luckman 1924-43 (1 box)

Miscellaneous records relating to plant and manufacturing at Hay Mills from 1851 (1 box), including Colonel Horsfallís transcripts and research papers, plan of Hay Hall estate 1852. inventory of plant and machinery at Hay Mills 1894, legal papers in the case of Webster v Smith 1858. James Horsfallís French and British patent papers 1854-68 and partnership agreements 1882 (2 items)

Records 1895-1914 (1 box), as follows:

        gun wire lists (4) 1904, nd

        wages and salaries books (5) 1898-1904, 1905-13, 1913-21, 1898-1901, 1905-19

        correspondence and papers relating to premises 1914 (1 bundle)

Salaries books (5) 1920-53, nd and printed memoir of TC Batchelor by TH Davies (1 box)

Miscellaneous legal papers, valuations, Inland Revenue correspondence and papers relating to pensions 1947-71 (1 box)

Correspondence and papers relating to Hay Mills and Penns estates 1941 to date (1 box)

Estate and works maps and plans, mainly printed, 20th century (1 box) including Hay Mills works plan 1946 (1 volume)

Correspondence and papers of and relating to Latch & Batchelor 1889 to date (1 box) including papers concerning early patents 1889-93 (3 files)

Papers relating to JF Luckman 1929-46 (1 box) including Colonel Horsfallís research papers and summary of his speech at 250th anniversary banquet of Webster & Horsfall 1970

Photographs and press cuttings 20th century (1 box)

Photographs of paintings of Webster & Horsfallís premises (1 envelope)

Correspondence and papers of James Horsfall relating to the case of JG Farquhar 1849-c1868 (1 box).

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Shelf D

Accounts, costs and data 1920-48 (33 bundles in envelopes)

Sales book 1971-76

Wire sales analysis books (3) 1948-53, 1956-61, 1962-68

Exports book 1970-76

Orders intake book 1954-75

Output analysis book 1948-55

ARP wardensí report book 1940~41

Staff photograph album c1924-29

Amalgamated Wire Drawers, Society of Great Britain: Hay Mills members, subscription book 1893-98

Amalgamated Society of Wire Drawers and Kindred Workers, Birmingham district: members, subscriptions 1929-31 (1 bundle)

Photocopies (2 sets) of Notes ... relating to the Websters, compiled by PCG Webster (privately printed, 1880).


Cabinet 2

Personal, family and executorship papers of Colonel JHC Horsfall, 19th-20th century (9 boxes., 5 volumes) including the will of James Horsfall 1885, with codicils to 1887 (2 volumes).

Records not inspected

Company Secretaryís office

Minute books from 1892.


At Colonel Horsfallís home, Hampton-in-Arden

Diary of Colonel Horsfallís career at Webster & Horsfall since1946. Not available for research.

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