This conference celebrated the fact that on the 20th August 1913, local metallurgist Harry Brearley made his first arc furnace cast of stainless steel in Sheffield.

100th Anniversary of Stainless Steel

HMS Annual Conference 2013

19th-20th October

Cutlers’ Hall, Sheffield
Eleanor Blakelock

Another anniversary to celebrate this year. On the 20th August 1913, local metallurgist Harry Brearley made his first arc furnace cast of stainless steel in Sheffield. Therefore to mark this occasion the 2013 Annual Meeting was held over two days in the Cutlers’ Hall in Sheffield. There were presentations on the Saturday and field trip on the Sunday to Kelham Island, this included an opportunity to see the River Don Engine in action.

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Review

The magnificent Cutlers’ Hall in Sheffield was the setting for our HMS Annual Conference. I cannot think of a more fitting location to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Stainless Steel than in the city of its birth. The conference was a reflection of the history of HMS and the story of stainless steel, its conception, its development, through to modern day industrial practices and contemporary uses of this dynamic material.

The delegates included a diverse mix from the worlds of industry, academia and amateur. This made for a multi-faceted perspective which was highly informative and thought provoking. The day began with an overview of the history of the Historical Metallurgy Society, which was given by two of the journal’s editors, Justine Bayley and David Crossley. This presentation included a diverse collection of images which provided a fascinating look at how the society has progressed over its fifty years. This presentation served as a fitting introduction to an exciting programme of talks to follow.

The day continued with a presentation by David Dulieu, the author of ‘Stay Bright: A History of Stainless Steels in Britain’. This presentation provided a thorough introduction to Brearley and his discovery of stainless steel in 1913. The presentation provided an excellent overview of the early development of the stainless steel industry in Sheffield, as well as discussing some controversial moments within its history. This was followed by John Beeley of Outokumpu Stainless, who discussed the stainless steel industry 100 years on. He explained through various company mergers half a million tons of the metal is still being melted per annum.

After lunch we were invited to the Muniments Room. This gave us the opportunity to view a selection of historic knives, in particular the multi-bladed Norfolk Knife by Joseph Rodgers and Sons’ Norfolk Street Works. This display consists of a comprehensive collection of 72 knives constructed in a Swiss army like form for the Great Exhibition of 1851. In addition, copies of ‘100 Years of Stainless Steel’ were made available for purchase.Joan Unwin took us through the history of the knife drawer, including an overview of the progression of the domestic knife set and the changes that are evident in the design of blade and handle type. She discussed how the stamping out of cutlery rather than the traditional assembly method changed the industry in the 1960s. She highlighted the fact that the local industry changed irrevocably due to the importation of less expensive metal from developing countries. This was followed by an informative discussion by Peter King who gave an in-depth analysis of the statistics of the iron and steel industry 1860-1886.

After refreshments the afternoon session began with a presentation by Mick Steeper and Jonathan Aylen on rolling mills and their development from the steam-powered (the Rive Don engine being a prime example), to electricity and finally to the modern computer mechanised. The paper ended with an overview of today’s metal-forming industry and the effects on Sheffield.

The day ended with a stimulating paper from Robert Booth, a sculptor in stainless steel and an avid performance caster. The paper displayed his work (http://www.robertbooth.co.uk) and showed the aesthetic beauty of the material rather than focusing purely on its functional use.

An interesting and informative weekend culminated in a field trip to the Kelham Museum on the banks of the River Don on Sunday morning. For the first time visitor this really is a thrilling experience. The visit was topped off by viewing the River Don Engine fully operational, complete with reverse gear change at full speed (this is worth the journey alone. On a final note, HMS would like to take this opportunity to thank all delegates for participating in what was a thoroughly enjoyable weekend. In particular the society owes a great debt of gratitude to Ellie Blakelock for producing yet another first class meeting. A special thanks should also be noted to Joan Unwin for her contribution throughout the day.

Written by Vanessa Castagnino for The Crucible 84
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