FOSTER, James (1786-1853), of Coton Hall, nr. Stourbridge, Worcs.
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Family and Educationbap. 11 May 1786, 3rd. s. of Henry Foster, ironmaster, of Stourbridge and Mary (née Haden), wid. of Gabriel Bradley, ironmaster, of Stourbridge. unm. d. 12 Apr. 1853.
Sheriff, Worcs. 1840-1
Foster was the youngest of seven children born to Henry Foster, an ironmaster of Cheshire yeoman stock, whose wife had inherited iron works and substantial property in Stourbridge on the death in 1771 of her first husband, a Quaker by descent, related to the Darbys of Coalbrookdale. Henry Foster died in 1793 worth an estimated £2,500, having entrusted his property, tools, stock and articles of trade to his brothers James, William and Thomas, of Nantwich, Cheshire, directing them to pay his wife (d. 1813) £10 immediately and £45 a year, and to ensure that his children inherited in equal shares. He left his stepson, the ironmaster John Bradley (1769-1816), who is credited with bringing up his stepbrothers in the trade, £400, provided he relinquished all claim to his estate.1 Their family partnership, John Bradley and Company of Stourbridge, which traded until 1982, flourished during the Napoleonic wars, and in 1802, when it was worth £8,000, Bradley held a one-third share, the Wellington wine merchant Thomas Jukes Collier another third, and the remainder was held equally by the six surviving Foster children. Bradley and James Foster, who also invested jointly in enterprises at Eardington and Hampton Loade, near Bridgnorth, had by 1813 bought out Collier and their siblings. Foster’s technical treatise on iron production and a second partnership with Collier, who financed the development of John Wilkinson’s former works at New Hadley, also date from 1813.2 The Stourbridge firm, over which Foster assumed sole control on Bradley’s death, and which Bradley’s heir Henry Bradley joined, 1826-37, remained Foster’s largest enterprise, and during his 12-year partnership with the engineer John Urpeth Rastrick, 1819-31, a railway and locomotives, including the Agenoria and Stourbridge Lion, were built at the works. Foster added mines, quarries and the Chillington works near Wolverhampton to his holdings, and by 1830 he was a leading figure at iron traders’ quarterly meetings in Birmingham, Shropshire and the Black Country.3 A pro-reform Whig opposed to monopolies and trade restrictions, he had supported Edward Littleton* in Staffordshire in 1820, and from 1826 he backed the political economist William Wolryche Whitmore* at Bridgnorth, where he became a freeman.4
Amid growing concern at the impotence of the ironmasters’ lobby during the 1830 depression, Foster was requisitioned to stand for Wenlock at the general election that summer ‘by members of the iron trade, and others ... convinced of the necessity of having some gentleman immediately connected with the manufacturing interests of this neighbourhood returned to represent them in Parliament’; a committee established in his interest in Wolverhampton raised £293.5 He desisted in order to muster support for Wolryche Whitmore at Bridgnorth from the East India Association nationally, the Staffordshire and Shropshire iron trades and the manufacturing and commercial interests of Birmingham, Kidderminster, Wolverhampton and Stourbridge.6 Seconding Whitmore’s nomination, Foster, who was heckled with cries of ‘Tommy shops’, said that the notion of separate landed and agricultural interests was ‘absurd’, and he endorsed his candidate’s campaign against the East India Company and the Bank’s monopolies and his support for retrenchment and lower ‘public taxes’.7 Trade remained depressed when Foster, who then employed some 3,000 men, addressed the 16 Mar. 1831 Dudley meeting of proprietors and occupiers of iron works and coal mines which petitioned for the Grey ministry’s reform bill, and he supported similar petitions from Bridgnorth, Brierley Hill and Stourbridge.8 At the general election precipitated by the bill’s defeat, he came in unopposed with Wolryche Whitmore for Bridgnorth, where the Tory patron and Member Thomas Whitmore backed down and the absentee Catholic baronet Sir Ferdinand Richard Acton of Aldenham gave way to him.9 He pledged to vote for the bill, and was fêted on his return to Stourbridge.10 Shortly afterwards he paid the ironmaster Alexander Brodie’s widow £1,300 for the Calcutts estate near Wenlock, which he later worked with neighbouring Madeley Court, purchased from the Whitmores for £1,200 in December 1827.11
Foster stayed at Batt’s Hotel when in London on commercial or parliamentary business, attended the House rarely, made no known speeches and voted consistently for reform. He divided for the reintroduced bill at its second reading, 6 July, and against making the 1831 census the determinant for borough disfranchisements, 19 July 1831. He was one of the ironmasters delegated to present ‘their complaint of the state of their trade’ to Lord Grey, 21 July, of whom Littleton wrote: ‘they took nothing by their motion of course. I was quite ashamed of taking them, and told Lord Grey so’.12 Foster does not appear to have voted personally during the reform bill’s committee stage, but he paired for its provisions for St. Germans, 26 July, Dorchester, 28 July, and Greenwich, 3 Aug., and against giving town and city freeholders voting rights in counties corporate, 17 Aug. He divided for the bill’s passage, 21 Sept., the second reading of the Scottish measure, 23 Sept., and Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. Industrial unrest prevented him from attending and voting for the second reading of the revised bill, 17 Dec. 1831,13 but he divided for the schedule A, 20 Jan., and schedule B, 23 Jan., disfranchisements and paired for the enfranchisement of Tower Hamlets, 28 Feb. 1832. Writing to Whitmore’s brother-in-law, the inventor Charles Babbage, 17 Feb., he remarked:
The distresses in our trade from low prices have compelled me to get my head to work again, and I am going this summer to have my hands tied very full in the erection and contrivance of some additional machinery to economize the expenses of manufacturing iron, for unless that can be done, at present prices (with the determination of ministers not to alter the present currency laws) we ironmasters must all go into the Gazette [be bankrupted] together.14
He voted for the bill’s third reading, 22 Mar., but was ‘absent in the country’ when the address requesting the king to appoint only ministers who would carry it unimpaired was adopted, 10 May. He divided with government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 12 July 1832. That summer, he patented a process he had developed at Chillington for transferring molten iron directly from the blast furnace to the puddling furnaces.15
Foster, who was reputedly brusque in manner and increasingly afflicted by deafness, did not stand for Parliament again, but he remained an active lobbyist for his trade, and from 1834 he was chairman of the Stourbridge and Kidderminster Bank, which became part of the Midland Group.16 He died childless in April 1853 at Stourton Castle near Stourbridge, which he had bought for £10,000 in 1833, and was buried with great pomp at Old Swinford.17 His will, dated 19 Dec. 1849, was proved under £700,000 in London, £20,000 in York, and £14,000 in Dublin. He left his nephew and man of business William Orme Foster† (1814-99) iron works and mines valued at £153,000, and land and property worth an estimated £133,650 in Shropshire, Staffordshire, Worcestershire and Ireland, and provided for his unmarried sister Mary, who resided with him, John Bradley’s daughters and other nieces and nephews. In 1867 Orme Foster, who was worth £2,588,000 at probate, 29 Sept. 1899, bought Thomas Whitmore’s former estate of Apley Park. Foster’s grandson William Henry Foster (1846-1924) represented nearby Bridgnorth as a Liberal, 1870-80, and as a Conservative, 1880-85.18
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: Margaret Escott
Based unless otherwise stated on Dict. of Business Biog. (W.O. Foster) and N. Mutton, ‘The Foster Family: A Study of a Midland Industrial Dynasty, 1786-1899’ (London Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1974).
- 1. PROB 11/798/206; 1604/228.
- 2. B. Trinder, Industrial Revolution in Salop (1981), 144.
- 3. London Univ. Lib. mss AL430/106; W.K.V. Gale, Black Country Iron Industry, 45, 70; Trinder, 143-4, 154; VCH Salop, xi. 292-5; N. Mutton, ‘Forges at Eardington and Hampton Loade’, Trans. Salop Arch. Soc. lviii (1965-8), 235-43.
- 4. Wolverhampton Chron. 1 Mar. 1820, 14 June 1826, 3 Oct. 1827; The Times, 9 Oct. 1826; Salop Archives, Bridgnorth Borough 4001/Admin/3/6, common hall bk. pp. 207-8.
- 5. Wolverhampton Chron. 20 Jan. 1830; London Univ. Lib. (Pprs. of John Bradley and Co.) mss 798/12/2 and passim.; Wolverhampton Archives DX/84/29. See WENLOCK.
- 6. Wolverhampton Chron. 14 July, 4, 11 Aug. 1830; Bridgnorth Borough 7/50, handbills; Add. 37185, f. 289. See BRIDGNORTH.
- 7. Shrewsbury Chron. 6 Aug. 1830.
- 8. London Univ. Lib. mss 798 23/2; Wolverhampton Chron. 23 Mar., 6 Apr. 1831.
- 9. Shrewsbury Chron. 22, 29 Apr., 6 May; Salopian Jnl. 11 May 1831; Bridgnorth common hall bk. pp. 401-3.
- 10. Wolverhampton Chron. 11 May 1831.
- 11. Salop RO 1649 [Alderman Jones’s diaries], 10 July 1831; Apley estate recs. (NRA 11576); VCH Salop, xi. 38, 51-53, 62.
- 12. Hatherton diary, 21 July 1831.
- 13. J. Randall, Severn Valley (1862), 150-1; Trinder, 233-5.
- 14. Add. 37186, f. 254.
- 15. Reg. Patents (1832), no. 6300.
- 16. Add. 40351, f. 201; S. Griffiths, Account of the Iron Trade (1873).
- 17. Berrow’s Worcester Jnl. 14, 21 Apr.; Gent. Mag. (1853), i. 673.
- 18. PROB 11/2172; IR26/1863/298; R.H. Trainor, Black Country Elites, 69, 128, 203.