Glass and Glassmaking: Places to Visit
'Glass and Glassmaking’ the subject of these places to visit provides the opportunity to explore local glassmaking traditions, uncover the work of individual entrepreneurs, inventors and artists, and reveal the variety of products they created from decorative glass to lighthouse lenses and bulb vases.
Visit Broadfield House Glass Museum, which reveals the technically accomplished decorative and utilitarian products of the Stourbridge glass industry and wonder about the skills and lives of the individuals who had made them.
The name ‘Stourbridge’ became synonymous with the glassmaking industry in the nineteenth century, although technically it was in the adjacent towns and villages - Amblecote, Brierley Hill, Dudley, Hagley, Lye, Oldswinford, Wollaston and Wordsley - that glass was made. The graveyards of local churches contain poignant memorials to deceased glassmakers and artists. Glassmaking still exists in the area and the British Glass Foundation is promoting the preservation of a rich history as well as the work of contemporary businesses and designers.
Smethwick Heritage Centre
The other major regional centre of nineteenth- and twentieth-century glassmaking was Smethwick where the Chance family ran a technically innovative business which manufactured glass for the Crystal Palace, precision-made lenses, stained glass for Victorian homes and, finally, mass-produced but well-designed household glass for the twentieth-century consumer. These inexpensive and visually attractive items are widely available for the collector in the twenty-first century. The company was international, exporting many of its products overseas. A full history of Chance Glass is still to be written using the vast archive which was recently deposited at Sandwell’s Community History and Archives Service in Smethwick. You can visit Smethwick Heritage Centre to see some of the glass collection and find out more about this once great glassmaking company Chance Brothers of Smethwick
Visit Great Malvern Priory, Coventry Cathedral, Wightwick Manor, Wolverhampton, Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, Shropshire and Ashbourne, Derbyshire to view some of the finest examples of stained and painted glass spanning some 700 years.
Medieval churches throughout the region present religious messages in stained glass, but also insights into patronage and family life as well as the technical skills of the artisan. There is more to be learned about how this glass was made and the extent to which it was manufactured locally. The discovery of evidence of thirteenth- and fourteenth-century glassmaking on Cannock Chase is just one example of a medieval industrial site. The Stour Valley witnessed a take-off in glassmaking in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Huguenot migrants, Protestant refugees who originally came from France, were the key entrepreneurs, but the area was rich in essential raw materials, including quartz sand, lime and fuel - wood then coal. It became the silica valley of early modern England.
Birmingham had a major glass industry in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and archaeology has been especially significant in revealing its hidden history. Francis Eginton was an artist and entrepreneur who saw the potential for decorative painted glass at the end of the eighteenth century. His work and that of his successors survives in local churches, including St Paul’s in Birmingham and St Alkmund’s in Shrewsbury. The firm of Hardman was famous for reviving the art of medieval stained glassmaking in the nineteenth century and its products can be seen in churches and public buildings around the world. The business still exists and a rich archive in Birmingham Library. Birmingham Museum (BMAG) also provides opportunities for the researcher.
The role of local nineteenth- and twentieth-century schools of art is only now being researched. The Municipal School of Art in Birmingham was particularly innovative in teaching stained glass design through the work of a teacher and artist, Henry Payne. Florence Camm was one of his students who acquired an international reputation for the quality of her work. Stourbridge School of Art was smaller, but its links with local glassmaking were important.
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