Harry Brearley Remembered
Many names are now etched upon the glinting steel leaves that descend from the Tree Of Life, Rotherham Hospice’s striking monument to the memory of loved ones lost.
But it is even more apt that one in particular now has a place on a tree made from stainless steel.
Nestled on high, next to that of his grandson and his great-nephew, is the name of Harry Brearley, the Sheffielder credited with inventing the everlasting metal in 1913.
The leaf was bought in his memory by Ann Humberstone (pictured) , the wife of Harry’s great-nephew Peter, a patient at Rotherham Hospice who died in November 2015 aged 85.
Ann, of Wickersley, had decided to buy a Tree Of Life leaf in memory of Peter and thought that Harry, and Peter’s distant cousin Basil Brearley, deserved a place up there too.
Said Ann: “Basil was the grandson of Harry Brearley. The family was extremely proud of its famous relative. Peter attended Sheffield celebrations for the centenary of Harry’s invention and donated the first set of stainless steel knives ever to be made, a family gift from Harry himself, to Kelham Island Museum so they could be shared with the city.”
The three metres high stainless steel Tree Of Life sculpture was created by Yorkshire Man of Steel designer Steve Mehdi and built thanks to the generosity of South Yorkshire companies.
It stands in the hospice gardens, was officially launched in May after three years in the planning and has already raised over £35,000 thanks to bereaved relatives, whose loved ones received hospice care, purchasing engraved leaves and sections of bark in their memory.
Said Ann: “I wanted to give back to the hospice for the care Peter received from its occupational health and Hospice At Home care teams in the two weeks before he died. They became our comfort blanket and helped me to deal with the desperate time leading up to Peter’s passing.
“I decided to have a steel leaf engraved in Peter’s memory, then thought it would be a lovely idea to have the names of Harry and Basil up there too,
“The hospice is a very caring place and I think the inventor of stainless steel would be very proud to have his name on the tree, which exists because of his invention.”
Harry was born in 1871 into a poor family who lived in one room at the back of Spital Street. His father was a steelworker at Thomas Firth & Sons and his mother took in washing to support their nine children.
At 14 Harry landed a job as a bottle washer in the chemical laboratory at Firth's and later began to study metallurgy. He quickly excelled and in 1913, whilst working at Firth Brown's research laboratory, he discovered that adding chromium to molten iron produced a metal that did not rust. The process gave new life to Sheffield’s steel industry.
“This was a wonderful gesture from Ann. We are very proud of every name on our stainless steel tree but to also see it bear the name of the man who invented the metal over 100 years ago is really something,” Said Peter Bradley, hospice director of fundraising and marketing.