The Diary: He’ll be Brearley big

Harry Brearley with his wife, Nellie
Harry Brearley with his wife, Nellie
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WHEN an elderly Sheffielder was shown a picture of Harry Brearley last week and asked by a TV reporter if she knew who it was, her answer was different to say the least.

“Is he a famous murderer?” she wondered.

Others questioned in the city centre were similarly unsure. “A politician perhaps?” guessed one.

Now, however, a new project should (quite literally) draw attention to the achievements of this Sheffield scientist who - keep up at the back - discovered stainless steel exactly 100 years ago.

A massive 24 foot high mural of the bottle washer turned chief chemist will be painted bang in the city centre. Brearley, who was born and raised in Spital Hill, will look down from the side of The Howard pub, in Howard Street. It comes after an alliance of city leaders, marketers and businessmen commissioned the mammoth work to commemorate the centenary of his ground-breaking discovery.

“This was a Sheffield man who changed the entire world as we know it,” says Master Cutler Neil MacDonald. “But I don’t think we always shout about him enough. That’s perhaps in our nature as a city, and that’s perhaps why not everyone knows who he is. But this should certainly raise his profile.

“It’s on the walk down to the train station so hopefully it will interest people enough to have a look, discover a little more about him and then go to the Millennium Gallery or Kelham Island Museums where there are special exhibitions for the stainless steel centenary.”

A fine ambition, certainly. And, it seems, a much needed one...

“I’m not entirely sure what he did, actually” admits Sarah Yates, the Penistone artist who will spraypaint the vast black and white image. “He didn’t invent steel, obviously. But he did something to make it way better than it was. I just paint. I’ll find out before I start.”

That start will be towards the end of this month. It had been planned for sooner but bad weather postponed play.

Mr MacDonald again: “The idea came about at the start of the year. We set up an alliance of businesses and organisations, called The 100 Club, to co-ordinate the centenary celebrations and, at the launch, we were approached by the landlord of The Howard who said he thought the pub would make an excellent place for a mural of Brearley.

“As soon as the idea was put to us, it was something we were keen on.”

Whether it becomes permanent or not remains to be seen.

“It will stay there throughout the centenary year but then we’re not sure about after that at the moment,” says Mr MacDonald. “It would be a fitting tribute but there are other considerations too.”

As for Sarah, she’s just keen to get started.

She’s done dozens of murals around the world but it always feels special when she’s doing one back here in South Yorkshire. Among her previous local work was the colourful hoardings which surrounded the site of the new Moor Market.

“It’s a real honour to be asked to do this,” says the 26-year-old. “We want to get it just right so we’ve been practicing on canvas for weeks.”