Founder’s rebel history

Mysterious: Harris Leon Brown
Mysterious: Harris Leon Brown
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There is more than a hint of mystery about HL Brown’s founder, Harris Leon Braun.

Born almost 170 years ago in Warsaw, the son of a contractor to the Russian government, he fled the country in 1860 after taking part in an unsuccessful insurrection against Russian rule, which left many dead.

Having been trained in the “Sheffield trades” as an apprentice in Warsaw he headed for the city with an introduction to tool manufacturers Alfred Beckett & Sons and Berry’s & Co, two companies his former employer did business with.

The journey was far from easy – not least because Germany was returning Polish rebels fleeing through its lands to their Russian rulers – and Harris Braun had to travel concealed in farm carts to Hamburg, where he embarked for Hull and finally reached Sheffield in 1861.

Within 10 years the teenage revolutionary, who started out in the city as a travelling watchmaker, had changed his name to Brown, become a diamond merchant, got married, fathered two daughters and set up a business in Burngreave’s Gower Street.

By 1876, HL Brown had moved into the city centre and was trading in Angel Street, before opening in nearby Market Place, where one former member of staff recalled a page boy, dressed in a golden brown suit with the company’s name embroidered in gold thread on his collar, would jump to attention as a carriage drew up and bow the customers in.

And what customers they were.

HL Brown were jewellers “By Appointment” to the Duke of Norfolk – Sheffield’s first Lord Mayor – the Duchess of Norfolk, the Countess and Lady Fitzwilliam and to the then Duchess of York, wife of the future George V, for the duration of her visits to Wentworth.

If that was not enough, the firm also became “Clockmakers to the Admiralty.”

Not long after the start of the 20th century, HL Brown opened its first shop outside Sheffield – in London’s Regent Street.

Other shops followed on the outskirts of Beverley, Doncaster, Chesterfield and Derby, during the First World War.

By the time HL Brown died in 1917, aged 74 and a pillar of the local Jewish and the broader community, the family comprised eight children, including his successor at the firm, son Bernard.