Robert Forester Mushet (1811–1891) was a British metallurgist born April 8, 1811, in Coleford, in the Forest of Dean. He was the youngest son of Scottish parents, Agnes Wilson and David Mushet; an ironmaster, formerly of the Clyde, Alfreton and Whitecliff Ironworks.
In 1818/9 David Mushet built a foundry at Darkhill, in the Forest of Dean. Robert spent his formative years studying metallurgy with his father and took over the management of Darkhill in 1845. In 1848 he moved to the newly constructed Forest Steel Works on the edge of the Darkhill site where he carried out over ten thousand experiments, in just ten years, before moving to the Titanic Steelworks in 1862. The remains of Darkhill are now preserved as an Industrial Archaeological Site of International Importance and are open to the public.
In 1856 Mushet was given a piece of steel, made using the Bessemer Process and asked if he could improve its poor quality. Bessemer himself had realised that the problem of quality was due to impurities in the iron and despite spending tens of thousands of pounds on experiments, he could improve it. Mushet’s solution was simple, but elegant; he first burnt off, as far as possible, all the impurities and carbon, then reintroduced carbon and manganese. This had the effect of improving the quality of the finished product, increasing its malleability – its ability to withstand rolling and forging at high temperatures.
Whilst others made fortunes from his discoveries, Mushet failed to capitalise on his successes and by 1866 was destitute and in ill-health. In that year his 16 year old daughter, Mary, travelled to London alone, to confront Henry Bessemer at his offices, arguing that his success was based on the results of her father’s work. Bessemer, whose own process for producing steel was not economically viable without Mushet’s method for improving quality, decided to pay Robert Mushet an annual pension of £300.
Robert Mushet died on January 29, 1891 in Cheltenham.
In April 2011 we celebrate the 200 anniversary of Mushets birth with a series of events in and around Coleford.
Friday 8th April
09.30 Street Market in Coleford town centre.
10.00 School Children will arrive in costume. They will sing and play music at the Clock Tower and other points around the centre. The Town Crier will announce the birth of the baby Robert at Tump House (now the Forest House Hotel). The children will visit The Main Place exhibitions and return to school in time for lunch.
15.00 to 1700 Fresh cream teas available at The Forest House Hotel. By ticket only £3.95 per head.
Saturday 9th April
10.00 Town Centre Market with local producers
10.45 Talk on the Mushets by Ian Standing at The Main Place. Teas and coffee available
1.00.pm: Dancers on the Town Centre
Sunday 10th April
At 11.00 and 15.00. Walk from Coleford to the site of the Titanic Steel Works and Dark Hill Ironworks. Led by Jon Hoyle of the Gloucestershire County Council’s Archaeology department. Two groups of 20 maximum. Booking required. Phone -01594 836469.
At The Main Place: Exhibitions by the Coleford Area Partnership, Forest of Dean Local History Society, Gloucestershire Geology Trust, and the “Above the Wye Project” 10.00.am to 4.00.pm daily.
At Dean Heritage Centre, Soudley: Exhibition prepared by Centre Staff and Volunteers.
Why not visit the family graves over the weekend or at some other time?
Staunton Church, near Coleford: David and Agnes Mushet, Daughters Henrietta and Agnes, and William Jarratt, grandson. Staunton Church has Norman origins and is well worth visiting.
Cheltenham Cemetery: Robert Forester and Mary Ann (nee Thomas). Daughter Lisowna who visited Bessemer at the age of 16 to ask for his financial help for her poverty stricken father.