Benjamin Huntsman (1704-1776), a Quaker clockmaker from Doncaster, was dissatisfied with the inconsistent quality of the blister steel manufactured in cementation furnaces. He needed consistent quality in the steel he used for the springs of his timepieces.
He evolved cast steel during the 1740s by melting bars of blister steel in closed fireclay crucibles and went into commercial production in 1751.
Huntsman’s process generated steel of far higher, more consistent quality, but it was expensive.
He moved to the outskirts of Sheffield to be nearer to collieries, first to Handsworth, and then to a larger site at Attercliffe before 1763, by which time he was producing up to ten tons of cast steel a year.
Hunstman did not patent his process and Sheffield cutlers at first refused to use cast steel. He sold his entire output to French cutlers, and in the face of competition his neighbours surreptitiously spied on his works and stole his expertise.
His business nevertheless prospered and was passed to his son, William Huntsman (1733–1809).
The site of his Attercliffe works was commemorated in the name of the now-demolished Huntsman’s Gardens Schools.
The only remaining reminder on the site now is the cast numerals which form the date 1772 on the Britannia Inn, Worksop Road.
Benjamin Hunstman is buried in the graveyard of Hill Top Chapel, Attercliffe.
The Britannia Inn and Huntsman’s grave at Hill Top Chapel are included in the itinerary of the Sheffield’s Heritage (October 2nd-6th 2017) tour. For details, please click here.