William Clemson was born at Penns
Mill, in Sutton Coldfield, Warwickshire, England on May 27, 1821.
He grow up in stimulating and challenging environment. His father
was skilled wire-drawer, employed by the best in business.
The Birmingham and surrounding areas were famous industrial
center and Webster's family, an employer of Clemson's father, was
known throughout the world for producing highest quality
In the "Graphic illustrations of
Warwickshire" published in 1829 by Warwick County, we found this description of the area:
"The manor of Sutton was
granted by King Henry I to Roger, Earl of Warwick, and continued
in that noble family till the latter end of the reign of King
Henry VI when the Earl siding with the house of York, it was
seized by the King.
In the following reign the town fell much
to ruin, and the manor house was pulled down; and in this
decayed condition did it continue till John Harman, alias Veisey,
Bishop of Exeter, 'bearing a great affection thereto, as being
the place of his birth,' procured letters patent for making it a
corporation, and 'bestowed very great cost, as well for
ornament, as enriching thereof.'
He built a market house, paved
the town, repaired and enlarged the church, and built and
endowed a free grammar school. He likewise built fifty-one
houses, in various parts of the town and parish, for the purpose
of introducing the manufacture of kerseys; but it was shortly
afterwards neglected and is now discontinued, the houses however
In this parish is part of that large uncultivated
tract of land, consisting of nearly thirteen thousand acres,
known by the name of the "Coldfield," for the enclosure of which
an act has lately been obtained.
Among the pleasing and
extensive views which different parts of this elevated tract of
country afford, from the southern portion of it is obtained one
of more than ordinary interest, presenting in the midst of a
rich and well cultivated country, the beautiful spire and the
stately hall of Aston, while the distance is well filled up by
the spires and public buildings of Birmingham."
Penns Hall and lake was originally the home of John Penn who
operated an agricultural mill. The earliest recorded history of
the mill dates from c. 1618 when William Fisher, a Yeoman of New
Shipton, sold his corn mills for £15 to John Penn. The Penn
family occupied the mill for around 50 years.
The lake or mill pond was cut by hand and constructed by damming
the sloping land to the back of the hall and directing water
from the Plantsbrook, to supply power to the waterwheel.
In 1752, Joseph Webster I (1720-1780) obtained a lease of Penns
Mill. Joseph was the son of John Webster (1687-1757), wire
drawer and iron master of Birmingham. Originally trading as an
ironmonger, John Webster entered into partnership with John
Turton to produce bar iron at Perry Barr after Websterís
marriage in 1718. Webster is reputed to have turned to wire
production in 1720. The firm has produced wire continuously
since this time.
Penns Mill site, together with the neighboring forge at Plants
Brook, Minworth, was to be the centre of the firmís production
for the next century and Penns was also the home of successive
Webster and Horsfall owners.
The business continued to prosper under members of the Webster
family until the 1850s, the success of the enterprise being
assured by Joseph Websterís application of crucible cast steel
in his wire production.
By the Napoleonic wars, the firm
increasingly dominated the domestic market for piano wire and in
the 1820s, the use of manganese steel for this purpose gave the Websters the edge over German competitors.
last of the Websters, engaged in the business was Baron
Dickinson Webster (1818-1860), a younger son of Joseph Webster
Joseph Webster had safeguarded the firm against
competition from the new patent piano wire of a rival, James Horsfall of Birmingham, by arranging for Horsfall to enter into
partnership with BD Webster in 1855.
During this period of
Webster-Horsfall partnership, production at Penns and Plants
Brook was abandoned and in 1859 wire production was transferred
to Hay Mills on the outskirts of Birmingham. Steel was supplied
from a separate plant which had first been leased by Joseph
Webster III at Killamarsh, Derbyshire.