The Stourbridge area has been a major glassmaking centre for 400 years and there is still a thriving industry in Stourbridge today.
1700 saw Daniel Tittery at Holloway End glasshouse, Amblecote. Later in the century the occupants were James Keir and his partners who primarily made flint glass. James Keir was a member of the Lunar Society and was principally a chemist who made scientific glassware for fellow Society members as well as experimenting with glazes for Josiah Wedgwood, nitric acid production for Matthew Boulton etc.
Pressed glassware was developed in the USA and the Richardsons, at Wordsley Flint Glass Works used pressing in 1832. Joseph Webb, at Coalbourn Hill registered designs for pressed glass in the 1850’s. The removal of the excise duty levied on glass production in 1845 provided the impetus for the industry to develop new products and production methods. Foremost in these new developments were the Richardson Brothers at Wordsley Flint Glass Works and Thomas Webb initially at the Platts and later at Dennis.
Thomas Webb won a gold medal for his glass at the 1851 Great Exhibition and the company won the Grand Prix at the 1878 Paris Exhibition when Thomas Wilkes Webb was also awarded the Legion d’Honneur. Thomas Webb & Sons were able to attract skilled workers from around the UK and Europe amongst whom were guilders and painters from France and Bohemian engravers, some of whom settled here and their descendants remain in the Stourbridge area to this day.
1860 John Northwood of Wordsley was a pioneer of glass engraving technique; he was developing equipment for glass decoration which can now be seen in the British Science Museum.
1876 saw John Northwood complete the first glass replica of the Portland Vase, the original is housed in the British Museum and was made by the Romans 2000 years ago. John Northwood’s work went on to inspire other glass workers: Thomas and George Woodall went on to become legendary glass engravers and their work is now displayed in museums around the world.
At the start of the 20th century, the Coalbourn Hill site was used for the production of lenses for railway lamps and maritime navigation lights as well as decorative glass wall tiles. Ultimately this venture was not a commercial success.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries local companies: Thomas Webb & Sons, Mills & Webb and Stuart Crystal were successful in securing contracts for supplying glassware to the major shipping companies and the Royal Navy. Stuarts even supplied the ill-fated Titanic in 1912.
During both world wars the major glass factories contributed to the war effort by making utilitarian glass products such as light bulbs, searchlight lenses, Aircraft runway landing lights, and Cathode Ray Tubes.
1940s saw a major change with glass manufacturing converting the furnace fuel from coal to gas and oil.
1960s saw the opening of the Stourbridge Glass College at Brierley Hill, where top skilled glass workers from the major crystal companies were employed as tutors, and passed on their production skills which were then transferred into a new form of glass making known today as Contemporary Glass.
1980s saw the peak of Stourbridge crystal production with the 4 major manufacturers: Royal Brierley Crystal, Stuart Crystal, Thomas Webb & Sons and Webb Corbett Ltd. employing in excess of 1500 workers. With the many smaller size companies and sole traders the figure would have been closer to 2000 workers employed along the crystal mile.
There were many factors which have contributed to the decline of a once great industry, Environmental issues, Health and Safety, rising energy costs, European competition, life style tastes and changes, all of which have sadly impacted on the trade.
2004 The First International Festival of Glass took place in Stourbridge with artists from around the world showcasing and demonstrating their skills in glass. The Festival takes places every two years. For more information visit www.ifg.org.uk
2012 saw the 400th anniversary of the Stourbridge Glass Quarter.
2014 An archaeological dig was carried out at what was known as Coalbourn Hill Glassworks now Glasshouse College, the dig revealed a time capsule of not only Stourbridge glass making but British Glass Making.
The finds from the dig are a representation of glassmaking that has been carried out on the site over the past 400 years.
The French Huguenots from Lorraine in Northern France arrived with their glassmaking skills in the 16th century and settled initially in the Weald of Kent. In 1615 an order of King James I which prohibited glass makers from using wood (charcoal) as a fuel meant they were forced to find alternative sources of fuel. Members of three families: the Tyzacks, Henzeys and Titterys were attracted to the Stourbridge area to set up glass works to take advantage of the large easily available deposits of coal and fire clay which are essential resources for glass production.
In the first instance, they would have been making window glass and bottles, tableware and more decorative items were not made until much later.
2015 There has been much investment within Stourbridge over the last decade by means of grants from Heritage Lottery Fund, Arts Council, European Regional Development fund and Dudley Council and now we are starting to see signs of a new generation of glass making emerging, most of it within the tourism sector with projects such as the Ruskin Glass Centre, Glasshouse Heritage Centre and the redevelopment of the White House Cone Museum of Glass that will become the new home for the Stourbridge Glass Collection.
In addition Plowden and Thompson have just announced major new investment into new products and technology which may result in new jobs being created at the Dial Glassworks. There are also many glass studios that produce some of the finest crafts that can be found in Britain and many of the studio artists are achieving worldwide acclaim.
The White House Cone Museum of Glass is being developed and will eventually become the home of the Stourbridge Glass Collection. It's location is opposite the Red House Glass Cone in Wordsley. For more information visit www.britishglassfoundation.org.uk
The Glass Quarter is part of the Black Country Global Geopark.
Stourbridge Glass Museum opened on 9 April 2022.
If you are looking to take a self guided walk around the Stourbridge and Dudley Canals please check out the below.