Early Years


New Steel making process

At the Denmark Works, Birmingham, Webster evolved a new and more effective process for the manufacture of iron and steel. A syndicate was formed to exploit patents under the title of the Globe New Patent Iron and Steel Company Ltd with a capital of £260,000. The Company agreed to pay Webster for two patents and the plant. Payments totalled £96,000 - half in shares and half in cash. It appears that more shares were issued at a later stage.

A personal insight

The following is an extract from a report that is referenced in the biography. However the original report has not been found.

“For nearly four years experiments have been conducted by Mr James Webster of Birmingham to test the practicability of producing with rapidity best steel from the commonest material wholly without preparation and at a cost considerably less than that of Bessemer steel.”

The report concludes:

“Steel and refined iron are being produced by Mr James Webster at the rate of 300 tons per week, suitable for for every use in the world where steel is required, and at such a cost that it will become a boon to the world at large.”

In the biography written by Arthur Shaw a chapter is devoted to looking at the personal attributes of James Webster. This includes the outcome of a court case concerning the above steel process. It is an example in the biography of Arthur Shaw wishing to, as he says, “let the other fellow tell the story”.

The following letter to the editor from an eminent Birmingham solicitor, Mr J Lilly-Smith, was published on the 12 June 1877 in the Daily Post.



The notice of this case in your issue of the 9th inst., is inaccurate. The facts are shortly these: The defendant, Mr James Fern Webster, is patentee of a process for refining cast iron (including the very lowest classes), and also for converting it into raw steel, and another process for carbonising wrought iron, both processes effecting large savings in time and money. After having seen the process in operation at the defendant’s works, Freeth Street, Birmingham, plaintiff bought shares in the patent rights. Afterwards, in September 1873, he bought the works, and almost immediately sold them, at a large profit, to the Globe Iron and Steel Company Ltd. of which he became chairman. The Company, formed ostensibly for working Webster’s processes, abandoned them early in 1874 and substituted other processes patented by the plaintiff and the Company’s manager; but, nevertheless continued to represent the Webster process as being at work and very valuable until June 1875, when the Company was brought into compulsory liquidation. In February 1876, plaintiff began this action charging Webster with misrepresentation as to the value and capabilities of his processes. The trial commenced before Mr Justice Fry on the 2nd inst., and continued until the 7th, when plaintiff’s counsel, Mr Aston, Q.C., addressing the Court said “I have had an opportunity of considering the evidence and observations which your lordship has been good enough to make; which, of course, had very great weight with my friend Mr Brown and myself, and they led us to conclude that it would be hopeless to go on with that case which I, upon the instructions I received, felt myself justified in opening”. The action as against Webster was then dismissed with costs and Mr Justice Fry observed that “on the case, as far as it has gone, and as it stands in my mind from that I have heard, I think that the charges of fraud have been carelessly, thoughtlessly and improperly made”. Webster had counter claims to a large amount, but his character and his processes having been thoroughly vindicated by plaintiff and his witnesses and ‘being desirous not to be thought hard upon plaintiff’ he generously waived those claims.