James Foster (ironmaster) – Wikipedia

English ironmaster and politician (1786–1853)

James Foster (9 May 1786 – 12 April 1853) was a prominent Worcestershire ironmaster, coalmaster and senior partner in the important iron company of John Bradley & Co, Stourbridge, which was founded by his elder half-brother but greatly enlarged under his direction. As well as the Stourbridge ironworks, the business owned a number of coal and ironstone mines, furnaces, forges and other works in the Black Country and near Ironbridge. The business continued long after James Foster’s death, ultimately being incorporated as John Bradley (Stourbridge) Ltd in the early 20th century. In the late 19th century, the company was a member of the Marked Bar Association, whose members were the makers of the highest quality bar iron of the time. Foster was also a partner in other companies including the engineering firm Foster, Rastrick and Company, which built the first steam locomotive to run on rails in the USA. He was also a banker and landowner as well as being elected Member of Parliament and appointed as Improvement Commissioner for Stourbridge, and High Sheriff of Worcestershire.


The Bradley and Foster family home, Lower High Street, Stourbridge

James Foster was the son of Henry and Mary Foster (née Haden). He was born on 9 May 1786[1] and baptised on 11 May 1786.[2] The family house, which still exists, was in an area of Stourbridge then called Digbeth, now numbered 7 and 8 Lower High Street.[3][4] Mary’s first husband, Gabriel Bradley from Stourbridge, had left her his iron business on his death in 1771. John Bradley, Mary’s son by her first husband, founded the company John Bradley & Co., in 1800 taking a lease on land near the canal at Stourbridge with the aim of developing an ironworks.[5] The deed of partnership for the company was drawn up in 1802 which granted a share in the company to Bradley’s six half-brothers and sisters (which included James Foster). By 1813 only John Bradley and James Foster had shares in the company and on Bradley’s death in 1816, James Foster took control of the enterprise, which included the Stourbridge Iron Works.

In 1818, Foster leased mines at Wombridge, Shropshire with an agreement to build blast furnaces there within 18 months.[6]

Foster formed a subsidiary partnership with John Urpeth Rastrick in Stourbridge which traded as Foster, Rastrick and Company. The company was in existence from 1819 to 1831, and at the leading edge of iron technology; producing a wide range of products such as blast furnaces and rolling mill equipment, sugar mills for export to the West Indies, iron ‘bearers’ (beams) for important buildings of the age, wrought iron rails, and four early steam locomotives.

Of these ‘The Agenoria’ worked on the Kingswinford Railway, near Stourbridge and is now in the National Railway Museum, York. The other three were ordered by the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company and exported to the United States. The ‘Stourbridge Lion’ became the first steam locomotive to run on a commercial railway at Honesdale, Pennsylvania. Unfortunately it proved too heavy for the wooden track and after a few trial runs was removed. A few components remain in the Smithsonian Museum, Washington D.C.

The ‘New Foundry’ built in 1821, with a magnificent iron roof structure spanning 150 by 50 feet (46 m × 15 m), produced components for the company and continued working as a foundry until early in the 21st century. For many years standing semi-derelict, the building has now been intelligently restored and is in use again as a medical centre for Stourbridge people.

Foster formed a partnership with Thomas Jukes Collier (Thomas Jukes Collier & Co), which carried out mining in the Hadley area from around 1820.[7]

On 20 February 1821, Foster obtained a patent for “certain improvements in the manufacture of wrought malleable iron”.[8]

In 1820s, Foster entered into a partnership with George Jones and John Barker, both of Wolverhampton, to construct the Chillington Ironworks.[9] The three partners patented an improved method of producing malleable iron in 1832.[10] They invented a method of conveying the molten iron produced in a blast furnace into the puddling furnace without the intermediate stage of producing solid pig iron.[11]

Foster’s first entry into politics was in 1825 when he was appointed an Improvement Commissioner for the town of Stourbridge. He lobbied for a new Improvement Act, passed in 1825, which enabled the Commissioners to construct a market hall for the town.[12] James Foster later became a member of parliament, as a Whig, for Bridgnorth (1831–1832),[13] although he rarely took part in debates.[2] He served as High Sheriff of Worcestershire in 1840.

James Foster’s home from 1833 was Stourton Castle

In 1828, Foster acquired the Madeley Court estate.[14] Here he commenced mining operations, sinking 17 pits in total.[15] Later (in 1843), Foster had blast furnaces constructed nearby.
In 1833, Foster acquired a lease of Stourton Castle for £10,000.[2] He subsequently modernised and added to the building, employing the architect Sir Robert Smirke to provide the designs.

In 1834 Foster met with a number of industrialists to found the Stourbridge and Kidderminster Banking Co. James Foster became the Chairman of the bank, an office he held until 1850.[12] The first branch of the bank was sited at Park House just off Stourbridge High Street, which had been Foster’s previous home.[12]

IN 1844, James Foster was listed as being on the Committee of Management of the company that proposed to build the Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway.[16]

James Foster was buried in the family vault at St Mary’s, Oldswinford

A brief profile of Foster in Griffiths’ Guide to the Iron Trade of Great Britain, describes him as: “a most able and far seeing man, divested entirely of consequential airs and assumed superiority, endowed in a very remarkable degree with common sense; being afflicted with deafness, his manner sometimes appeared brusque, owing to his prompt and decisive answers. He was a decided Liberal in politics, and a truly good, kind-hearted gentleman”.[17]

After his death, aged 66, which occurred on 12 April 1853,[2] it was reported that one thousand of his workers paraded after the funeral cortege. He was interred in the family vault at St Mary’s, Oldswinford.

He was unmarried, and his iron business and estates were inherited by his nephew, William Orme Foster.[2]

Businesses of James Foster[edit]

  • John Bradley & Co. Founded by his half brother, John Bradley, Foster was a partner from 1807 and sole owner from 1836.
  • Foster, Rastrick & Co. The partnership with John Urpeth Rastrick was formed in 1819 and dissolved in 1831 with assets being absorbed by John Bradley & Co.
  • Thomas Jukes Collier & Co. Partnership formed in 1818 and lasted until 1837.
  • Madley Court. Bought by Foster in 1828 who developed mines and furnaces on the site.
  • Chillington Coal & Iron Co. Partnership formed in 1825 with George Jones, who was the active partner.
  • Stourbridge and Kidderminster Banking Co. Foster was Chairman from 1834 until 1850.


  1. ^ Peacock, Roy (2006). Roy Peacock (ed.). James Foster of Stourbridge. Black Country Society. p. 48. ISBN 0904015785.
  2. ^ a b c d e Escott, Margaret. “FOSTER, James (1786–1853), of Coton Hall, nr. Stourbridge, Worcs”. The History of Parliament. The History of Parliament Trust. Retrieved 3 March 2016.
  3. ^ “Stourbidge Urban Historic Landscape Characterisation”. www.dudley.gov.uk. Dudley MBC. Retrieved 18 September 2017.
  4. ^ Peacock, Roy (2006). Roy Peacock (ed.). James Foster of Stourbridge. Black Country Society. pp. 14–22. ISBN 0904015785.
  5. ^ Cockeram, Tom (1989). Paul Collins (ed.). Stourbridge and its Historic Locomotives. Dudley, UK: Dudley Leisure Services. pp. 8–18. ISBN 0900911255.
  6. ^ “Wombridge: Economic history | British History Online”. www.british-history.ac.uk. Retrieved 24 October 2016.
  7. ^ “Hadley and Horton: Economic history | British History Online”. www.british-history.ac.uk. Retrieved 16 November 2016.
  8. ^ The Repertory of Patent Inventions. London: Alexander Macintosh. 1846. p. 149.
  9. ^ “Chillington Co”. gracesguide.co.uk/. Grace’s Guide. Retrieved 11 March 2016.
  10. ^ W. Newton, ed. (1832). The London Journal of Arts and Sciences, and Repertory of Patent Inventions. London: Sherwood, Gilbert and Piper. p. 321.
  11. ^ W. Newton, ed. (1837). The London Journal of Arts and Sciences, and Repertory of Patent Inventions. London: Sherwood, Gilbert and Piper. pp. 356–357.
  12. ^ a b c Peacock, Roy (2006). Roy Peacock (ed.). James Foster of Stourbridge. Black Country Society. pp. 40–48. ISBN 0904015785.
  13. ^ “Archived copy”. Archived from the original on 25 June 2015. Retrieved 11 January 2009.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  14. ^ “Madeley: Manor and other estates | British History Online”. www.british-history.ac.uk. Retrieved 16 November 2016.
  15. ^ “Court Works”. gracesguide.co.uk. Retrieved 16 November 2016.
  16. ^ The Railway Chronicle. London: J. Francis. 1844. p. 616.
  17. ^ Griffiths, Samuel (1873). Griffiths’ Guide to the Iron Trade of Great Britain. London. p. 53. ISBN 9780715341674.


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