‘I’m so proud’ says great-great-granddaughter of Sheffield’s stainless steel pioneer Harry Brearley

The great-great-granddaughter of Sheffield’s stainless steel pioneer Harry Brearley says she is ‘so proud’ of his legacy.

By Robert Cumber
Thursday, 11 April, 2019, 14:24

Hannah Brearley is one of the last surviving descendants of the great man, who is credited with discovering the alloy which would revolutionise the metal industry in 1913.

She joined Harry’s great niece Anne Brearley on a tour of his old stomping grounds, including Portland Works where Ernest Stuart forged the first rustless cutlery for him, and the street in Burngreave where he grew up in a cramped Victorian slum house.

Harry Brearley's descendants Anne Brearley and Hannah Brearley at Portland Works, which is described as the birthplace of stainless steel manufacturing (pic: Steve Ellis)

The 19-year-old, who grew up in Queensland, Australia, but has spent the last two years living in the UK, told how the tour had given her a fascinating insight into her famous ancestor.

“It was surreal standing where he would have done more than 100 years ago and seeing the places where he did his amazing work,” she said.

“I learnt more about his impoverished working class background and how there was so little space that he and his eight siblings had to stand around the dinner table at meal times.

Harry Brearley

“I’m so proud of him, not just because of his accomplishments but because of what he did with his success and the wealth that came with it.

“He wasn't interested in fancy cars or grand houses. He just wanted to lead a simple life and to help others, which is why he used his money to set up a trust to improve people’s lives and give them opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have had.”

As well as Portland Works in Highfield, Hannah and Anne visited Spital Street, where Harry grew up; Kelham Industrial Museum, where they were shown old photos and documents from the archives, including his passport; and the first factory in which he worked.

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Hannah Brearley, pictured with Anne Brearley (left), believes she has inherited some of her great-great-grandfather's entrepreneurship (pic: Steve Ellis)

The tour was organised by Robin Fielder, who gave a speech at Portland Works about the great man’s life.

Harry Brearley left school at 12 to begin working as a cellar lad but a couple of years later got a job as a bottle washer for the steelmaker Firth’s and began studying metallurgy.

It was while working at Firth Brown’s research laboratory that he discovered stainless steel, which was initially called rustless steel.

He used his wealth to set up the Freshgate Trust Foundation, with the aim of making life ‘more bearable, cheerful and attractive’ for those of limited means, and the charity today awards grants of around £100,000 a year for projects around South Yorkshire.

Hannah told how she had particularly enjoyed meeting some of the businesses operating out of Portland Works today and producing goods from stainless steel.

The teenager, whose dad is a sleep psychologist, revealed her great-great-grandfather was a big inspiration as she decides what to do next.

“I’d love to start my own business one day and I think part of that comes from the entrepreneurship he showed," she said.

“I don’t have any interest in pursuing a scientific career but I do enjoy reading about science and how things were invented, so perhaps I get that from him too.”