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Story of Sir Henry Bessemer


Price: £5.00


“Onward Ever”: the motto of Sir Henry Bessemer, born 200 years ago this year, is fitting for a man who displayed phenomenal energy, creativity and invention throughout his life. From a young age Henry dabbled in inventions. As well as the most famous of these, the Bessemer converter which, for the first time, enabled large quantities of quality steel to be cheaply produced from pig iron, he was responsible for many others including a method for ensuring that revenue stamps could not be re-used (1833), gold paint using bronze powder (1843), a sugar cane press (1849), a process for making plate glass (1850), rotating projectiles fired from canon (1854) and, less successfully, a paddle-steamer incorporating a suspended saloon designed to keep stable in rough weather.

Henry became very wealthy and was able to lease 40 acres of land stretching from Denmark Hill down to the railway. On this estate he built a palatial mansion. The house was on the site now occupied by Swinburne Court and the grounds included the land now occupied by Bessemer Grange School.

The house was demolished after the Second World War and was replaced by the current housing estate. As well as an ornate grotto, lake and model farm, Henry also owned the second largest telescope in the world. Sadly all this has disappeared.

All this and far more was provided in an absorbing talk by Dr Susan Mossman, from the Science Museum, at the Society’s April 2013 meeting. If you would like to see an example of a Bessemer converter, there is one dating back to 1865 in the museum in South Kensington.

Henry and Ann Bessemer were buried at the South Metropolitan (West Norwood) Cemetery. For more history of Sir Henry Bessemer see also

To mark his 200th anniversary year, the Herne Hill Society has published a revised biography of Bessemer, with extensive material on the house and estate on Denmark Hill where he lived for the last 35 years of his life.

The book is such a professional presentation, and the photographs and images work so very well. The additional material, including the references to Mushet, Göransson and Gilchrist Thomas, and details of Bessemer House and Grange and their history, are so well researched and written. I had yet to see a picture of Hillcrest Lodge! The expanded section on SS Bessemer is also very impressive, and it was fascinating to see a picture of the saloon on location at Swanley.
Paul Bessemer.

52 pages paperback 47 illustrations