“Another family which now (1800s) began to exercise influence in the place was that of Webster of Penns Mill” wrote Riland Bedford in his History of Sutton Coldfield 1890. It was hard for tradesmen and manufacturers to become accepted in polite society at that time, but the Websters of Penns Mill had slowly made progress over the previous sixty years.
The first Joseph Webster came to Sutton in the 1740s, succeeded by Joseph Webster II who died in 1788. The third Joseph Webster was only five years old in 1788, so his widowed mother Phoebe took charge of the family business until 1801. Joseph Webster III remained at a boarding school at Birches Green, Erdington, until he was seventeen years old. The next year his mother consigned the business to him, then valued at £27,914.12s.5d., consisting of two wire mills at Perry Barr, Penns Mill, Hints Forge, Plants Brook Iron Works, an office in Digbeth and a warehouse in Mount Street, Birmingham.
For the next forty years Webster was fully engaged in running the manufacturing business, reorganising it, updating the factories and improving the processes, not forgetting to see to the welfare of his workforce - he built cottages for them to a good standard and provided allotment gardens and sports facilities. Nevertheless he took an active interest in public affairs. He was elected Warden of Sutton in 1809 and again in 1810, said to be the youngest Warden there had ever been, aged twenty-six.
The brief entry against his name in a list of the Warden and Society in 1835, “Joseph Webster Esq, wire manufacturer and county magistrate” shows, by the title “Esquire” and his position as a magistrate, that he had been thoroughly embraced by the gentry of the county. Riland Bedford wrote of him “from his own cultured conversation, and the connections which he could claim with men of talent like the Darwins, the Strutts, the Lowes and others nearer home, he occupied no mean position as a representative man.” If he had been born thirty years earlier, no doubt he would have been numbered among the famous Lunar Society as one of the leading men of science and industry in the Midlands.
Joseph Webster III passed the business over to his son Baron Dickenson Webster in 1842 and retired with his wife to Breadsall in Derbyshire. She died in 1848, and Joseph came back to Sutton and lived as a gentleman of leisure at Ashfurlong Hall. In the 1851 census he is described as “Magistrate for two Counties”, his daughters Janet (39, unmarried, probably acting as housekeeper) and Maria Johnstone with her four young children were staying there. There was a distinguished guest, Dugdale of Merevale, Registrar of the Court of Chancery, 35, with his two daughters, and another visitor, Mary Watson. On the staff were butler, cook, coachman, gardener, lady’s maid, two nurses and four other maids, a full house. Joseph died at Ashfurlong Hall on July 7th 1856.