All posts by Michael Clarke

My Life in Specialist Steels — Bryan Peters — 4th September 2017

With so many mem­bers having been involved dir­ectly or indir­ectly in Sheffield’s indus­trial scene, there was a palp­able fris­son of expect­a­tion as our Chairman intro­duced this week’s speaker, Bryan Peters. We were not to be disappointed.

Bryan was to take us on a jour­ney through a career span­ning fifty-five years and, in so doing, remind us of a world before Meadowhall and Leisure Centres: of com­pan­ies, products and places now in many cases no more (but not for­got­ten). At times we could almost sense vibra­tions from the forges, sniff the smoke of pol­lu­tion and inside, machine shop cool­ing liquid, see the sparks flying from grind­ing wheels and feel the heat of the fur­naces. It was a world where men, typ­i­fied by Bryan, worked their way up and acquired skills and know­ledge through appren­tice­ships and prac­tical experience.

Having com­pleted his edu­ca­tion at Owler Lane Technical and Abbeydale Grammar School. Our speaker’s career com­menced in 1958 when he joined, aged 17, Brown Bayley as a Works Trainee. The firm, based on what became the Sheffield Arena site, at the time employed over 3500 employ­ees. It pro­duced a wide range of both fin­ished products -such as rail­way tyres –to spe­cial­ist sheet, ingot, rod and bar steels which provided the raw mater­i­als for everything from the aero­naut­ical to sur­gical instru­ment indus­tries. Brown Bayley proved to be the ideal com­pany to train, provid­ing a solid found­a­tion for his future career. Over the next six years under the care of Harry Kelford — Training Manager Bryan gained, in six month stints, expos­ure to each of the main pro­duc­tion pro­cesses and to the metal­lur­gical labs (where there was a large pic­ture of Harry Brearley to inspire) test house and creep test­ing lab. He con­tin­ued his edu­ca­tion through day release and even­ing classes, study­ing metal­lurgy at Sheffield Tech. It was Harry Brearley who set up the Freshgate Trust in 1941. Bryan won a place on it in 1963 and vis­ited Mannesman and Mercedes in Germany. In 1964 Bryan was pro­moted to assist­ant to the Chief Inspector, work he found inter­est­ing but his aspir­a­tion was a career in sales.

In 1965 Bryan joined Kayser Ellison & Co to sell tool, high speed, stain­less and engin­eer­ing steels. This was to be his start in tech­nical selling and valu­able fur­ther exper­i­ence. The Company had a strong repu­ta­tion for its tech­nical assist­ance to cus­tom­ers in such areas as alloy selec­tion and heat treat­ment.. In 1966/7 He helped to set up a new ware­house for KE in west London which pro­cessed, stocked and dis­trib­uted tool steels to this import­ant and grow­ing market with its con­cen­tra­tion of spe­cial­ist man­u­fac­tur­ers. In early 1972 KE formed a group sales team. Bryan was expec­ted to sell fin­ished products as well as steel. He had to handle an inquiry for hack­saw blades and files for the work­shop in a large regional prison. One prob­lem: the cus­tomer spe­cified that his order should be packed in saus­age rolls!

Deciding that selling fin­ished products was no longer for him, Bryan seized an oppor­tun­ity later in 1972 to join Detroit based Rolled Alloys Inc , major sup­pli­ers of wrought heat res­ist­ant alloys (espe­cially for applic­a­tions in the 600‑1200 degrees C range) to the US car industry. After six weeks train­ing in America, He became “their man” in UK and Europe. Over the years, ware­houses and offices were to open or relo­cate as the busi­ness expan­ded. The com­pany was to enhance its repu­ta­tion as a pro­vider of tech­nical advice and solutions.

In 2000 Bryan left his facil­ity man­age­ment pos­i­tion to work dir­ectly for the owners who had plans to grow the busi­ness in Europe and SE Asia by acquir­ing other com­pan­ies and new start- ups. Locations were to stretch from the UK to Singapore. Bryan’s activ­it­ies mainly centred around assist­ing with acquis­i­tions, train­ing new sales staff, resolv­ing prob­lems in com­pan­ies that had been acquired and giving tech­nical present­a­tions at conferences.

In the later stages of his career Bryan began to spend more time in areas where the present was giving way to the future. Power gen­er­a­tion and waste incin­er­a­tion were present­ing inter­est­ing tech­nical prob­lems and busi­ness oppor­tun­it­ies. We were shown illus­tra­tions of examples of these. A cus­tomer in France called one day to ask about alloys for use in equip­ment for the incin­er­a­tion of an inex­haust­ible supply of goat’s dung!

In 2013 Bryan gave a paper on nickel alloys at the Harry Brearley Centenary Conference held at Sheffield University. Now at the age of 72 and after over half cen­tury in the spe­cial steels busi­ness, retire­ment was beck­on­ing. Having star­ted his career under a pic­ture of the great man Harry Brearley this seemed as good a time as any to call it a day on a fas­cin­at­ing career. It was a story of which mem­bers much enjoyed as clearly shown by the range of ques­tions and obser­va­tions made at the con­clu­sion of a most inter­est­ing and enter­tain­ing session.

Heavy Goods Vehicles And Stuff — Peter Jackson — 27th February 2017.

Our Speaker this week, our very own member Peter Jackson, clearly had a spring in his step.  His daughter-in-law, Julia, had just given deliv­ery to a baby boy, Albert Joseph, weigh­ing in at 5lbs 4oz.  But proud Granddad was about to cap­tiv­ate us with a talk about some­thing rather weight­ier: Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGV) weigh­ing up to 40 tonnes together with their lighter sis­ters (all Stobart vehicles have female names).

Peter com­menced his talk by giving us a brief resume of his jour­ney through life so far. A Sheffield lad born in the Old Jessop’s Hospital on the 3rd July 1948.  Educated at Wrekin College on the Welsh border. He felt that his aca­demic education-especially chemistry- had been ‘good’ but the careers advice ‘could do better’.

As the motor­way system developed during the ‘six­ties freight was shift­ing from rail to road and vehicles becom­ing larger. Moving with the times, Peter was inspired to become not a train engine driver but an HGV driver, an ambi­tion encour­aged neither by his school or his par­ents.  After one or two minor jobs –includ­ing one in a brewery- Peter found his milieu.  He secured employ­ment in 1975 with DAF Trucks GB Ltd which was to absorb Leyland Trucks in 1987 and become the DAF organ­isa­tion we know today where almost all DAFs in the UK are built at the Leyland plant. Over the next 25 years he worked his way up from what he described as a ‘Tea boy’ to Bus, Military and Government Sales Director.

During these years Peter absorbed both tech­nical and com­mer­cial know­ledge equip­ping him for a higher aspir­a­tion: he was to start his own driver train­ing busi­ness eco­n­oDrive in 2000. With the road trans­port industry facing increas­ing envir­on­mental, safety, effi­ciency and legis­lat­ive require­ments demand was grow­ing (and con­tin­ues to grow) to improve both driver com­pli­ance and com­pet­ence oper­at­ing increas­ingly soph­ist­ic­ated and expens­ive vehicles.

Our speaker moved on to the meat of his talk: the vehicles and their fuel.  Was the Diesel car dead? He asked.  Peter thought that depended on its applic­a­tion: The size and weight of vehicle, the dis­tances to be covered and the type of use.

The Controversy over par­tic­u­late pol­lu­tion (soot) was grow­ing along with the number of diesel vehicles on the road.  The issues were con­fus­ing: encour­aged by legis­la­tion in the 1990s 50% of new cars are now powered by diesel and vir­tu­ally all HGVs.  But while cars had increased from 4 mil­lion in 1970 to over 36 mil­lion today, there are, thanks to greater effi­ciency, actu­ally a third less (at 450K) HGVs (exclud­ing buses).  The shift from petrol had been offi­cially encour­aged by tax incent­ives (to be with­drawn from April when most vehicles will have to pay a min­imum of £140 annu­ally) to address con­cerns over burn­ing fossil fuels and Carbon Dioxide emis­sions cre­at­ing a hole in the ozone layer.

There was increas­ing sci­entific evid­ence which showed these were con­trib­ut­ing to global warm­ing while the issue had become the sub­ject of International agree­ments. But the debate had shif­ted to the impact of soot from burn­ing Diesel and the asso­ci­ated Oxides of Nitrogen (known col­lect­ively as NOx)  on air qual­ity, par­tic­u­larly in con­ges­ted cities,  a sub­ject high­lighted by the VW scan­dal.   All this was to lead to the present devel­op­ment of hybrid (usu­ally petrol/electric) and elec­tric bat­tery powered vehicles. Leaving aside cur­rent (highly sub­sid­ized) cost even these had their dis­ad­vant­ages: their depend­ence on Lithium (a mater­ial in very short supply and with lim­ited sources) bat­ter­ies which required reg­u­lar and access­ible char­ging facil­it­ies, aside from their as yet unknown life cycle.

Peter went on to out­line the the­or­ies behind vari­ous types of engine and their fuels. I am afraid that pos­sess­ing, I am ashamed to admit, only an ‘O’ Level in General sci­ence the chem­ical equa­tions show­ing the molecu­lar con­struc­tions of fuel com­pounds were rather beyond me!  Peter had had to con­sult his old Chemistry teacher (still alive) to under­stand them.  We were showed a number of video clips which  includ­ing one which explained the tech­nic­al­it­ies of vari­ous types of engine and espe­cially how fuel is con­ver­ted into the horse power which thrust a vehicle.  Another showed the effects of adding “Ad Blue” to diesel fuel to reduce NOx.  One video showed lighted matches being dropped into bowls of petrol and diesel to illus­trate their dif­fer­ent com­bus­tions: not to be tried at home!  Another explained how diesel is vapor­ised under pres­sure to encour­age com­bus­tion, and yet another the devel­op­ing scene in self -con­trolled or driver-less vehicles.

Finally, we came to the crunch when shown the effects of a ser­i­ous col­li­sion which radar con­trol (Autonomous Emergency brak­ing System – AEBS) is seek­ing to prevent.

All this research has been stim­u­lated in recent years by a series of six European dir­ect­ives, in turn driven by envir­on­mental and, at times, fuel sourcing con­cerns. Developments, both now and in the future, such as the Electronic Stability Programme (ESP), Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) and Advanced Emergency Breaking (AEBS) and other research has had much of its ini­tial applic­a­tion to heavy vehicles but is being increas­ingly applied to cars, driver-less or otherwise.

Peter help­fully con­cluded by giving some advice to mem­bers think­ing of buying a new car:

  • Diesel, with its higher mpg,  for fre­quent long or con­tinu­ous run­ning which keeps the exhaust system hot and there­fore cleans the emissions
  • Hybrid  or petrol for medium distances
  • Electric for short or stop start jour­neys round the town

Peter was warmly thanked by our Chairman for his most inter­est­ing talk which, as stand in, he had fin­ished pre­par­ing at 4am.  Perhaps Eddie Stobart should give the boy(s) some recog­ni­tion and name one of his vehicles Peter Jackson!


WHY POLITICS” — Dr John Kingdom — 12th December 2016


By any stand­ard in living memory, 2016 has been an excep­tional year.  The Queen’s 90th birth­day, Andy Murray’s second Wimbledon, GB’s per­form­ance in the Rio Olympic Games. But it’s likely that all this will be over­shad­owed by what has been a year of polit­ical tur­bu­lence, which has shattered the estab­lished order.  Brexit, Farage and Trump will have the greater his­tor­ical and polit­ical impact in both the US and UK, where so many long held expect­a­tions have been over­turned.  Our speaker find­ers’ pres­ci­ence  invit­ing John Kingdom to present our pen­ul­tim­ate talk of the year was per­fectly timed.

John Kingdom, a retired Lecturer in Political Science in both the Sheffield Universities and the author of sev­eral books, set him­self the seem­ingly impossible task of trying to distil what seemed like a three year under­gradu­ate course into just over an hour. Drawing from polit­ical quotes and philo­soph­ers from the ancient Greeks to Marx and Maggie,  our speaker began by review­ing the recent polit­ical scene where, for once, politi­cians could not com­plain of apathy by their elect­or­ates.  The recent European Referendum (72% turnout) and US Presidential elec­tions had res­ul­ted in “peoples ver­dicts” which had been unpal­at­able to many in the estab­lish­ment, who con­tinue to be reluct­ant to accept the result. Last week’s Sleaford by elec­tion pro­duced a more normal 32% turnout with a return to what John termed the “demo­graphy of apathy” among the group with the most reason to have an interest in the future –the young.  He quoted from Martha Gellthorn, an American com­ment­ator: “ People will say  “ I’m not inter­ested in polit­ics” but they might as well say “I’m not inter­ested in my stand­ard of living, my health, my job, my rights, my freedoms, or my future” (1984).

To many, the answer given to the ques­tion “why polit­ics?” is “why bother?” For Aristotle, involve­ment in polit­ics was the essence of the good life because, “man by nature, is a polit­ical animal”.  Centuries later, English philo­sopher Thomas Hobbes ima­gined  life without polit­ics as reduced to a  state  of nature “nasty, bru­tish and short” (Leviathan 1651), when con­flict would be inev­it­able over self-interests and the con­sump­tion of resources.

So why are polit­ics neces­sary?  To R A Butler, polit­ics is the “Art of the Possible” (Title of his auto­bi­o­graphy 1971).  To Bernard Crick, polit­ics encap­su­lates “ A way of ruling divided soci­et­ies by a pro­cess of free dis­cus­sion and without viol­ence” ( In Defence of Politics 1964).  Not all would agree.  To Margaret Thatcher, com­prom­ise was a sign of weak­ness.  “If you just set out to be liked, you would be pre­pared to com­prom­ise, and you would achieve noth­ing.”  Yet others saw polit­ics as the exer­cise of author­ity: the right of a King or Government to make decisions apply­ing to a com­munity.  Military dic­tat­or­ships soon seek the appear­ance of civil­ian rule.  The German Sociologist Max Weber (1854–1920) dis­tin­guished three types of author­ity: tra­di­tional (con­ferred by his­tory, reli­gion, or inher­it­ance); cha­ris­matic (where per­sonal qual­it­ies of the leader inspire con­fid­ence: Churchill, Hitler, Mandela) and Legal ( bestowed by con­sti­tu­tional rules and elec­tions).  In recent times John thought that gov­ern­ment author­ity has been weakened by the per­ceived role of ‘Spin Doctors’ and media expos­ure of such mat­ters as  MPs’ expenses, and ‘Cash for Questions’.

John Kingdom con­tin­ued to take us through more of the attrib­utes of polit­ics includ­ing the exer­cise of power, decep­tion and viol­ence. Members enjoyed the ref­er­ences to Shakespeare’s ‘scurvy politi­cians’ and Enoch Powell’s “ the stage used to be called the Court, now they call it the Cabinet, but all the char­ac­ters are in Shakespeare…. Only the cos­tumes date”(1958).  We went on to appre­ci­ate obser­va­tions from the likes of de Toqueville and Machiavelli  “Who the act accuses, the end excuses”.  “Politics is the art of pre­vent­ing people from taking part in affairs which prop­erly con­cern them” (Paul Valery) and “…”the art of gov­ern­ing man­kind through deceiv­ing them” (Disraeli).  John roun­ded off this sec­tion with con­tri­bu­tions from the likes of Karl Clausewitz “War is noth­ing more than the con­tinu­ation of polit­ics by other means”, Chairman  Mao “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun and Plato’s “Might is right”.  While Mrs Thatcher was con­cerned about the “Enemy within” Churchill opined that “Jaw- jaw is better than war- war”.

So do we need polit­ics? There is a con­stant refrain from some quar­ters that we should get polit­ics out of Education, Health and Infrastructure pro­vi­sion. John Kingdom sug­ges­ted that such areas could, as in the past, be provided on a free market or “lais­sez faire” basis. But most people still expect mat­ters of State secur­ity, defence, edu­ca­tion, wel­fare and man­age­ment of the eco­nomy should remain as public con­cerns –as with the cur­rent Southern trains dis­pute. “They should do some­thing about it”.  Someone has to be the “They”.  While experts cannot be relied on to cor­rectly pre­dict polit­ical out­comes, no Minister worth his salt would make  com­plex tech­nical and account­able decisions without ref­er­ence to com­pet­ent people. But as George Bernard Shaw observed “If all the eco­nom­ists were laid end to end, they would not reach a conclusion”!

On that note of humour our speaker con­cluded his talk by draw­ing some of its many  threads together.  He con­cluded that the term ‘Politics’ has many dif­fer­ent mean­ings, that there were many ways of living together and that soci­et­ies varied in their res­ol­u­tion of public issues.  History showed that politi­cians did fail if only due to human frailty, power did tend to cor­rupt and that all men are liable to error or to be vic­tims of events.

Our speaker was thanked for his thought pro­vok­ing talk by David Shaw.  Members can now watch “Yes Minister” with better informed interest!


Last of the Little Mesters — Peter Machin — 24 October2016

Ever heard of Trevor Adlett, Reg Cooper, Harry Double or Fred and his Buffer Girl wife Ivy? Ever wondered what was there before the con­struc­tion of yet another stu­dent res­id­ence or that car park where the ticket machine always jams?  Our speaker this week, retired Headmaster and local his­tor­ian Peter Machin, was to stim­u­late our memor­ies and ima­gin­a­tion about what is now an almost lost world of small scale cut­lery man­u­fac­ture in Sheffield.  Not only were we to be intro­duced to a fas­cin­at­ing range of char­ac­ters from the vari­ous spe­ci­al­ity and craft trades (from shoe knife forger to scis­sor putter together) but to an illus­trated his­tory of many of the lost or defunct build­ings, which were once typ­ical in our city and whose ori­ginal pur­pose has now been trans­formed from cut­lery to per­haps com­puters or consultancy.

Sheffield cut­lery and tools have been made and mar­keted by indi­vidual crafts­men since at least the early Middle Ages. We were shown pic­tures of stained glass win­dows dating from 1360 in the Cathedral’s Chapter House depict­ing scenes of the three main stages of man­u­fac­ture: for­ging, grind­ing and fin­ish­ing. Production typ­ic­ally took place in rural sur­round­ings which provided not only water power and grind­ing stone but char­coal and iron ore.  When water was in short supply, as in summer, crafts­men would rely on their small­hold­ing. Later, pro­duc­tion became more spe­cial­ized where crafts­men cooper­ated to   con­struct and oper­ate the small mills seen in the Loxley, Porter and Sheaf Valleys with their water races and ‘Hammer Ponds’. Abbeydale and Wire Mill Dam date from around 1640.

Transport restric­tions, the vari­at­ing nature of water power and the short­age of char­coal were to inhibit devel­op­ment until the early 19th Century, when coal fired steam power encour­aged move­ment into the city.  Sheffield’s pop­u­la­tion was to double in size every 40 years, reach­ing 500,000 by 1900. The arrival of canals, rail­ways and steam­ships opened up new sources of supply and mar­kets in the Americas and the Empire.  By the 1880’s It also brought com­pet­i­tion„ espe­cially from Germany.  But des­pite the growth of large scale man­u­fac­tur­ing of steel in the flat east of the city with firms often employ­ing thou­sands, cut­lery and small tools remained on a much smal­ler scale. There was still space for the crafts­man and his seven year appren­tice­ship, spe­cial­ising in one aspect of pro­duc­tion and often sub con­tract­ing or ‘out­work­ing’ to a larger firm from whom he also may have rented premises.

These larger firms or ‘Master Manufactures’ with access to out­side cap­ital to fin­ance all stages of pro­duc­tion and market goods were to play  an increas­ingly  import­ant role. The first cut­lery fact­ory in Sheffield, Greaves & Co, opened in 1823. Others fol­lowed, includ­ing Joseph Roberts (Pond Street) George Wolstenholme (River Lane) Butcher Brothers (Arundel Gate) Taylors Eye Witness (Milton Street) and Joseph Elliott (Arundel Street).  But like their smal­ler  brethren these com­pan­ies have felt the winds of com­pet­i­tion and social change, caus­ing the industry to all but col­lapse.  It had become anti­quated in terms of pro­duc­tion, premises, equip­ment and mar­ket­ing. Potential cus­tom­ers com­plained that man­u­fac­tures “will send us a cata­logue but no one to sell”.  By the 1960s Britain had become a net importer of man­u­fac­tured goods and since the 1980s the cheaper end of the market  has become dom­in­ated by imports from the Far East and Pakistan.

Looking to the future the higher end of the market has allowed a number of firms and Little Mesters to sur­vive.  Among the firms ‚Taylors Eye Witness con­tinue to pro­duce high qual­ity hairdress­ers’ scis­sors and will shortly be moving to new premises, while Swann Morton supply arti­fi­cial hips and knees and other med­ical equip­ment world-wide.  Last year they pro­duced 500K sur­gical blades every day.  Meanwhile the remain­ing Little Mesters con­tinue to pro­duce bespoke knives for the American market, sport­ing trophies and present­a­tional items, pen­knives, cork­screws.  Sheffield goods are now better pro­tec­ted by regis­tra­tion and it was to be hoped that the remain­ing char­ac­ter­ful build­ings -so much part of our history- would be pre­served.  But to ensure the sur­vival and com­pet­it­ive­ness of the label ‘Made in Sheffield’ greater atten­tion will need to be given to  such areas as appren­tice­ship, cap­ital equip­ment and marketing.

Peter Machin was warmly thanked for his most inter­est­ing talk.





Sir Barnes Neville Wallis 1887–1979 — Peter Rix — 1 August 2016.

Barnes Wallis - Scientist.
Barnes Wallis — Scientist.

Think of Barnes Wallis and thoughts go to Dam bust­ing boun­cing bombs accom­pan­ied by Eric Coates’ splen­did 1955 film sig­na­ture tune.  Our speaker this week, Peter Rix, opened his present­a­tion by remind­ing us that his subject’s achieve­ments were much wider that those asso­ci­ated with the exploits of 617 Squadron at Mohne and Eder.  Wallis’s port­fo­lio of lead­ing or con­trib­ut­ing to major high-tech  pro­jects was to span over sixty years and was to include ships, sub­mar­ines,  air­ships, air­craft (piston engine to hyper­sonic), tele­scopes, tor­pedoes, heavy bombs and last, but not least, school hot water systems!

Barnes Wallis was born son of a doctor on 26th September 1887 in Ripley, Derbyshire.  He gained a schol­ar­ship to Christ’s Hospital School, Sussex.  At 16 faced with the choice of Classics or more Classics, he opted instead for a marine engin­eer­ing appren­tice­ship at Samuel White’s yard in Cowes Isle of White.  While there he took a London University Degree in Engineering in six months!  Wallis left White’s in 1913 to work for Vickers shipyard at Barrow in Furness. Later, he took Maths teach­ing post in Switzerland when the oppor­tun­ity occurred for him to return to Vickers to work on air­ship design at Howden, includ­ing the R (for rigid) 100. This included the first use of light alloy geo­detic con­struc­tion (integ­rat­ing both body struc­ture and shape) in the largest air­ship ever built -at over 700ft long with eleven miles of tubing.  Despite better than expec­ted per­form­ance and a suc­cess­ful return flight to Canada, the R100 was broken up in 1930 fol­low­ing the crashes of its rival “sister ship” R101 and the German ‘Zepperlin’ Hindenburg.

Following the aban­don­ment of air­ships, Wallis was trans­ferred to the Vicars air­craft fact­ory at Brooklands, Surrey. The air­craft designs of the Wellesley, Warwick, Windsor and Wellington all employed Wallis’s robust geo­detic design in the fusel­age and wing struc­tures. When World War Two began in 1939, Wallis was pro­moted to Assistant Chief Designer. He was about to make his mark on history.

In February 1943, Wallis, con­cerned to find tar­gets which could not be moved or easily replaced, revealed his idea for air attacks on Dams in Germany. ”If the destruc­tion or para­lysis of power sup­plies can be accom­plished they offer a means of ren­der­ing the enemy incap­able of con­tinu­ing to pro­sec­ute the war”. One ton of steel requires 100 tons of water.  From rico­chet­ing marbles in a bathtub he developed a sphere-shaped rotat­ing bomb (Codename ‘Upkeep’) that would bounce over water clear of pro­tect­ive net­ting, roll down the dam’s wall and its hydro­static fuse trig­ger explo­sion at its base. The weight of water would do the rest.

Operation Chastise was car­ried out on the night of 16–17 May 1943 by the spe­cially cre­ated 617 Squadron led by Guy Gibson. What happened next is well known. Perhaps the most sig­ni­fic­ant result was the hugely pos­it­ive effect on Allied morale but Wallis much regret­ted the loss of (espe­cially air­crew) life.

When the decision was taken to con­cen­trate on area bomb­ing, Wallis began look­ing at the design of air­craft that could drop heavy bombs.  The adap­ted Avro Lancaster was cap­able over drop­ping two bombs (which he also inven­ted). The ‘Tallboy’ designed in 1944 (there is an example at Kelham Island) and used to sink the German Battleship ‘Tirpitz’ and the ‘Grand Slam’ earth­quake bomb the fol­low­ing year.  Both were used against major infra­struc­tures such as rail­way tun­nels and via­ducts and heav­ily for­ti­fied tar­gets or pro­duc­tion centres for the ‘V’ rock­ets and sub­mar­ine pens.

After the war, Wallis led aero­naut­ical research and devel­op­ment at the British Aircraft Corporation. He led his team on many futur­istic pro­jects includ­ing super­sonic flight and ‘swing wing’ air­craft.  His work on aero­dy­nam­ics (aided by his ‘Stratosphere Chamber’ now restored at Brooklands) was to influ­ence such devel­op­ments as the TSR-2 and Concorde. But much of his later work was frus­trated by lack of sup­port­ive fund­ing and the increas­ing loss of expert­ise and mar­kets to the Americans. It was to be same story in other areas such as rocket-propelled tor­pedoes, com­mer­cial sub­mar­ines and remote con­trolled air­craft. He was con­sult­ant to the Parkes Radio tele­scope pro­ject in Australia.

Barnes mar­ried his wife, Molly Bloxham in 1924.  At sev­en­teen years his junior, her father had strong reser­va­tions but he allowed them to con­tinue a court­ship through cor­res­pond­ence which seemed more about phys­ics and dif­fer­en­tial cal­cu­lus than romance!  There were four chil­dren and the couple fostered two more. They settled and lived at Effingham for the remainder of their lives.

Wallis became a member of the Royal Society in 1945 and knighted in 1968. He was awar­ded the sum of £10,000 for his war work from the Royal Commission on Awards to invent­ors. A kindly and God fear­ing man, his grief at the loss of so many airmen in the dams raid was such that Wallis donated the entire sum to Christ’s Hospital School in 1951 to allow them to set up the RAF Foundations’ Trust, allow­ing chil­dren of RAF per­son­nel killed or injured to attend the school.


Harry Brearley (1871–1948) — Andrew Messer — 27 June 2016

Think of Sheffield and for most, the next thought is stain­less steel. This revolu­tion­ary mater­ial was to trans­form the pro­duc­tion not just cut­lery but everything from aero-engine com­pon­ents to hygienic sur­gical instru­ments, razor blades, arti­fi­cial hips and much more. Our speaker this week was writer, his­tor­ian and comedian, Andy Messer of Dronfield who, using illus­trat­ive mater­ial from his book “Stainless”, was to deliver a most inter­est­ing and enter­tain­ing session.

Harry Brearley was the young­est of eight chil­dren born into poverty near the Wicker –an unlikely char­ac­ter to make a major metal­lur­gic dis­cov­ery. He left Woodside School Burngreave – which he found unstim­u­lat­ing — at the age of twelve to enter his first employ­ment as a clean faced cellar boy (yes, he did col­lect the beers!) at Thomas Firth’s steel­works. From this humble begin­ning, Harry was to ‘work his way up’ through a number of pos­i­tions includ­ing bottle washer in the firm’s labor­at­or­ies. Here he was encour­aged to improve his pro­spects by the example of his chem­ist boss James Taylor through study at even­ing class and read­ing of tech­nical books. This effort rap­idly developed Harry’s know­ledge of steel pro­duc­tion and its asso­ci­ated chem­ical ana­lysis tech­niques. Having now made his mark, Harry was soon pro­moted to Laboratory Assistant. In 1895 Harry mar­ried Helena Crank being suf­fi­ciently well paid to settle in Dore.

By his early thirties, Harry had earned an inde­pend­ent repu­ta­tion for his res­ol­u­tion of prac­tical and indus­trial metal­lur­gical prob­lems. This led to job oppor­tun­it­ies else­where. In 1901 he moved to Kayser Ellison who had tech­nical con­tracts with the Salamander steel­works in Riga, Russia (now in Latvia). The com­pany was pro­du­cing heavy guns and shells for the Russian mil­it­ary during the war with Japan. Following the shoot­ing of the works man­ager by a revolu­tion­ary, Harry was to over­see the pro­duc­tion of steel from inferior ores the qual­ity of which more than matched Sheffield. Here he gained exper­i­ence of solv­ing cor­ro­sion in gun bar­rels and harden­ing shell cases.

In 1907, Brearley returned to Sheffield to take charge of the com­bined Firth and Brown Research Laboratories. As com­mer­cial and mil­it­ary rivalry with Germany grew, his expert­ise in pro­du­cing mil­it­ary hard­ware –and in par­tic­u­lar steel harden­ing and anti-high tem­per­at­ure erosion tech­niques were much in demand. On the 13th August 1913 Harry cre­ated a steel alloy with chro­mium (which raises the material’s melt­ing point) pro­du­cing a metal that was both hard and rust­less — a dis­cov­ery that, having over­come the scep­ti­cism and received wisdom (“all steels rust”) of his bosses and the cutler fra­tern­ity, was to trans­form the pro­duc­tion of cut­lery and enable the devel­op­ment of many other indus­tries. Brearley was to go into part­ner­ship with Earnest Stewart at the Portland Works (off Bramwell Lane) to make cut­lery which became per­fec­ted with the addi­tion of Nickel to give flex­ib­il­ity to knives. One of the ori­ginal samples that they pro­duced is on dis­play in the Cutler’s Hall.

While man­u­fac­tur­ing pat­ents for stain­less steel were prof­it­ably taken out in the USA, Brearley’s bosses failed to do this in Europe or else­where. This short-sightedness was exploited by such poten­tial rivals as Krupps in Germany. Indeed intel­lec­tual rights dis­putes were to go on for years. His unseen research was to play a major part in the pro­duc­tion suc­cesses of WW2 not least in air­craft engines. But Harry Brearley was to receive recog­ni­tion in his later life includ­ing the Bessemer Gold Award and Freedom of the City of Sheffield.

In 1941, Harry Brearley cre­ated a char­it­able trust, the Freshgate Trust Foundation, to give dis­ad­vant­aged South Yorkshire people the oppor­tun­ity to exper­i­ence travel, the arts and music. He was to write five tech­nical books relat­ing to steel pro­duc­tion. In 1941 he pub­lished his auto­bi­o­graphy “Knotted String”. This self-made and dis­tin­guished innov­ator retired to Torquay where he died in 1948.

Andy Messer con­cluded his talk by shar­ing “His adven­tures with Harry Brearley”. As a keen com­mu­nic­ator with young people in schools and else­where to encour­age them to con­sider careers in Engineering. Andy has got together with others to pro­duce what he described as a ‘graphic novel’ “Stainless” to attract their interest. Several local organ­isa­tions such as Sheffield Vulcan Rotary, Outokumpu, the Assay Office and Kelham Island have acted as spon­sors to meet the £35000 cost of pro­du­cing 14000 copies. These were offered to mem­bers at the reduced price of £8. A PDF of a late draft of the book can be seen here:

Andy’s talk stim­u­lated a wide range of ques­tions and he was warmly thanked for his enthu­si­astic and inform­at­ive presentation.