James Horsfall
James Horsfall


In 1708, wholesale ironmonger John Webster of Birmingham together with his heiress wife founded an enterprise that has lasted for almost three hundred years!

By exploiting connections with the Staffordshire iron trade, John acquired local mills and began bar iron and wire manufacture. His son, Joseph, extended the business into steel and, after the death of his father in 1761, was the first British manufacturer to successfully develop crucible steel into steel wire. This marked the beginning of an enduring reputation for music wire, associated with the name Websters of Penns.

Troubled times over the years, including the French Revolution and war with France, challenged the company but a knack for product development and an ability to find heiresses to finance the operation kept things afloat. In 1855 the Websters also found a certain Mr James Horsfall whose heat treatment processes revolutionised wire making, and thereby maintained global pre-eminence.

Purity of materials in the steel making process was, and still is, crucial to the success of the company. Finely machined crucible pots and accurate charging yielded ingot quality that still remains unsurpassed. From 1816, experimentation with additives continued apace, and in 1825 high manganese steel wire was produced that ousted German competition for twenty years.

By 1850, James Horsfall's hard drawing, heat treatments and quenching produced wire that had twice the tensile strength previously known. This so-called "patented wire" is now a term in worldwide use. The subsequent partnership of Webster & Horsfall is as much based on friendship as a commercial development of common interests.


1860 saw a burgeoning marketplace for high-grade steel for oceanic telegraphy, specifically for the laying of thousands of miles of cables. The failure of the first Transatlantic cable due to inept business practices gave Webster & Horsfall the opportunity to help make the second attempt succeed. By 1865, the company had provided the necessary 1600 tons of crucible steel wire for the project, delivered within a tight twelve months. The loss of this cable within the final stages of laying realised a repeat order! This overall third attempt was successfully laid by Brunel's leviathian, the steamship Great Eastern, in just fourteen days!

With letters patent to their name, and the Atlantic cable project behind them, Webster & Horsfall consolidated their ongoing success by expansion into a growing British light engineering revolution. The advent of the internal combustion engine had wrought a sea change in the market for high-duty springs of all types. This change of tack was accelerated by the two World Wars, demanding wire for radar and electronic equipment, parachutes, armament springs, instrumentation and so on.

The need for speciality wire continues to grow apace, with Webster & Horsfall not only remaining at the forefront but also involved in a continuous programme of product and process improvement.