BESSEMER, Sir Henry 1813-1898. Engineer. An engineering genius, whose most notable (and lucrative) achievement was the invention of a revolutionary steel-making process which bore his name. Henry Bessemer was able to retire in 1863, at the age of 50, and devote time and money to building an imposing residence in Dulwich, Bessemer House, complete with outhouses, paddocks, shrubberies, hot-houses, and a lake. Bessemer’s first fortune had been made from the discovery of a cheap and efficient way of manufacturing bronze powder, the profits from which financed all his later research. His steel process, developed in England and Sweden over a four-year period beginning in 1854, increased production of the metal in this country ten-fold, and brought Bessemer honours from all over the world (including having a town in the United States named after him).

Bessemer did not waste his retirement. He created a machine for artificially inducing waves on the lake at Bessemer House, in order to experiment on his prototype ‘Saloon Steamship’, which had hydraulic stabilisers enabling the passenger portion of the ship to remain steady while the outside hull did the rolling. Part of his estate (now at the back of James Allen’s Girls School, across the railway line) was laid out as a ‘Model Farm’. Bessemer died in 1898, and both Bessemer House and Bessemer Grange next door (built as a wedding present for his daughter and later used as an hotel), were compulsorily purchased and demolished in 1948 to make way for the present local authority Denmark Hill housing estate.

Patrick Darby