Industries
Glass

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Victoria County History

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William Page (Editor)

Year published

1911

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155-158

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'Industries: Glass', A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 2: General; Ashford, East Bedfont with Hatton, Feltham, Hampton with Hampton Wick, Hanworth, Laleham, Littleton (1911), pp. 155-158. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=22168 Date accessed: 25 July 2014.


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GLASS

One of the earliest known references to the purchase of glass in Middlesex is contained in a writ issued by Edward III, dated 28 March 1350. (fn. 1) It recites that John de Lincoln, master for the works in the King's Chapel in the Palace of Westminster, and John Geddyng had been appointed jointly and severally to provide, procure, and buy in the counties of Surrey, Sussex, Kent, Middlesex [and twentythree others], in the most convenient places, as much glass as should be necessary for the said chapel; and also to provide workmen, glaziers, &c. A similar writ dated 20 March 1351 (fn. 2) gives the like commission to John de Bampton and John de Geddyng. The expense rolls give full details of the wages paid to the glaziers and other workmen from 20 June 25 Edw. III, to 5 December 26 Edw. III. (fn. 3) Master John de Chester was paid 7s. a week for working on the drawings of several images for the glass windows, and was assisted by five master glaziers working on similar drawings at 1s. a day each. Other painters on glass received 7d. a day each, glaziers who cut and joined glass for the windows were paid 6d. a day, and workmen who were apparently labourers had 4d. or 4½d. a day. Thomas de Dadyngton and Robert Yerdesle, who ground the colours, were also paid at the rate of 4½d.; and white, blue, azure, and red glass was bought by the 'pondus' and conveyed from London to Westminster. Other examples of windowglass both pictorial and heraldic in religious and secular buildings throughout the country show how great an advance had been made by this art in England by the middle of the 14th century.

We meet with some interesting information concerning a Middlesex glass-house in 1447, when the executors of Richard de Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, who died in 1439, were engaging the services of various artificers for the construction of the magnificent Beauchamp Chapel in St. Mary's Church, Warwick, as a last resting-place for the earl. The contract for glazing the windows was assigned to a Westminster glazier in the following terms:- (fn. 4)

John Prudde of Westminster glasier, 23 Junii 25 H. 6, covenanteth &c. to glase all the windows in the new chapell in Warwick, with Glasse beyond the Seas, and with no Glasse of England; and that in the finest wise, with the best, cleanest, and strongest glasse of beyond the Sea that may be had in England, and of the finest colours of blew, yellow, red, purpurl, sanguine, and violet, and of all other colours that shall be most necessary, and best to make rich and embellish the matters, Images, and stories [histories] that shall be delivered and appointed by the said Executors by patterns in paper, afterwards to be newly traced and pictured by another Painter in rich colour at the charges of the said Glasier. All which proportions the said John Prudde must make perfectly to fine, glase, eneylin it, and finely and strongly set it in lead and souder, as well as any Glasse is in England. Of white Glasse, green Glasse, black Glasse, he shall put in as little as shall be needfull for the shewing and setting forth of the matters, Images, and storyes, and the said Glasier shall take charge of the same Glasse, wrought and to be brought to Warwick, and set up there in the windows of the said Chapell; the Executors paying to the said Glasier for every foot of Glasse ijs. and so for the whole xcjli. js. xd.

For some alterations Prudde received a further payment of 'xiijli. vjs. ivd.' These comprised some additions 'for our Lady, and Scripture of the marriage of the Earle . . . the same to be set forth in Glasse in most fine and curious colours.' Some information as to the relative cost of English and foreign glass appears in 'The reporte of John Bote, glassyer,' (fn. 5) which gives his charges for work done in 1485 at Cold Harbour, the famous London mansion fronting the Thames. The prices of the various kinds of glass were: Dutch, 4½d. a foot; Venice, 5d.; Normandy, 6d.; English, 1d.; it is probable that the English glass was of smaller size.

Macpherson, (fn. 6) quoting from The Present state of England, anno 1683, says, 'The fine flint glass, little inferior to that of Venice, was first made in the Savoy House in the Strand;' nothing beyond this statement is known respecting this supposed manufactory. Other unsuccessful attempts made in Tudor times to set up the manufacture will come more conveniently for notice under London.

Another of these pioneers was one Cornelius de Lannoy who came from the Netherlands towards the end of 1564 and set up a workshop in Somerset House. (fn. 7) He was subsidized by the English Government, and undertook to introduce improvements and instruct English workmen in the glass-makers' art as practised in his own country. A letter from Armagill Waade to Cecil (fn. 8) of 7 August 1565 states that Lannoy could not find suitable materials in England, and that the potters could not 'make one pot to content him. They know not howe to seasson their stuff to make the same to susteyne the force of his great fyres.' He was forced to send to Antwerp 'for new provisyons of glasses, his old being spent.' The English workmen made no progress in learning the art, perhaps through the want of the proper materials; 'all our glasse makers cannot facyon him one glasse tho' he stoode by to teach them.' Lannoy received £150 for 'provisyons,' £30 on his arrival in England, and £30 a quarter, the first payment being for the quarter ending 25 March 1565. The queen and her council were, like the heads of most other countries, very desirous of promoting the glass manufacture, but Lannoy's enterprise proved unsuccessful. He was also an alchemist, and made persistent attempts to induce the queen to take up his schemes for transmuting base metals into gold. (fn. 9)

Among the French Protestant refugees who fled from their country after the massacre of St. Bartholomew in 1572 were some who brought with them the art of glass-making. One of these families of French glass-makers named Bigoe, Bagoe, or Bagg, has been traced by Hallen (fn. 10) in various parts of England and Ireland. In 1623 Abraham Bigoe had a glass-house at Ratcliff and another in the isle of Purbeck. He was probably the founder of the firm mentioned by Lysons in his account of the parish of Stepney published in 1795. (fn. 11) Among the industries of the hamlet of Ratcliff he includes 'Bowles's celebrated manufacture of window glass, established by the great-grandfather of the present proprietor, who is said to have been the first to manufacture crown glass in this kingdom.' Lysons adds, 'it has certainly been brought to its present improved state by his family.'

The number of glass-houses in England in 1696 is said to have been eighty-eight, (fn. 12) but how many of these were in Middlesex cannot be ascertained.

An important discovery in glass manufacture made by Thomas Tilston, a merchant of London, early in the reign of Charles II, gave London glass a great reputation both here and abroad. After many fruitless experiments it was found that by reducing the proportion of lime and adding a small quantity of litharge or oxide of lead a brilliant and practically colourless glass was obtained, which was not only more fusible but brighter and clearer than the old glass. This became known as English flint glass, and Tilston, who made the discovery, applied for and obtained a grant of the whole use and benefit of his invention. (fn. 13) The fine qualities of this new glass struck a severe blow at the Bohemian colourless glass, which had itself beaten Venetian glass out of the field. (fn. 14) Its superiority lay in its great density, which in some cases exceeded that of the diamond; the English cut glass rivalled the diamond in the production of prismatic displays. In 1713 English cut glass began to appear on the Continent. In 1760, on the authority of M. Gerspach, a French writer, England practically supplied the whole of France with glass. It is strange that so few specimens of this important art and so little information concerning it have survived. The earliest known piece of English cut glass is one' bearing the monogram of Frederick Prince of Wales, which must therefore be dated between 1729 and 1751. The best period of this industry is between 1750 and 1790, and it began to decay early in the 19th century. Mr. Powell marks three stages of progress: the first, in which cutting is subservient to form, lasted to about 1790; the second, in which the claims of form and cutting are equally balanced, continued till about 1810; and the third, not yet terminated, in which form has largely given way to cutting. The softness and high refractive power of their glass proved a snare to English cutters, who to please the public strove after still greater dazzling prismatic effects. For this, deeper cutting and thicker material became necessary, and the glass produced bristled with prismatic pyramids which effectually destroyed all beauty of form.

No other records of glass-makers in London outside the City walls are met with until 1760, when William Riccards, merchant, and Richard Russell, glass-maker, both of Whitechapel, obtained a patent (fn. 15) for fourteen years for a new method of making pots and building furnaces for crown glass, plate glass, and all sorts of green glass.

William Tassie, who is best known by his wax medallion-portraits, invented a white enamel composition which he used for reproductions of gems. This was a vitreous paste, the method of preparing which he kept secret; his place of business was from 1772 to 1777 in Compton Street, Soho, and from 1778 to 1791 at 20 Leicester Fields (Leicester Square). A manufactory for the production of plateglass by blowing, the last of its kind, existed in East Smithfield almost down to 1830, before it gave way to the powerful competition of the British Cast Plate Glass Manufacturers. (fn. 16)

The Banks collection of tradesmen's cards in the Print Room of the British Museum has notices of the following firms:-Price, Sherrard Street, St. James's, 1779-89; Stanfield & Co., successors to Orpin, 481 Strand, 1785; Hancock, Shepherd & Rixon, 1 Cockspur Street, 1808. Two makers of stained glass also occur:-Baker's Patent Manufactory, 25 Marsham Street, Westminster, 1792; and William Collins, 227 Strand, near Temple Bar, 1815.

A minor glass industry was carried on by small workers in Bethnal Green and Shoreditch up to about forty years ago. This was the manufacture of glass beads for exportation to native tribes in Africa. Hartshorne, (fn. 17) writing in 1897, says:-'They bought their coloured glass canes from the glass-makers and melted them at a jet, dropping the metal upon a copper wire coated with whitening, the wire being turned during the process, and when cold the beads would slip off. The men were, however, so careless and unpunctual that the trade came to an end.'

Mirror-making is carried on as part of the cabinet-maker's trade, which involves among other operations that of glass-bevelling. The glass, having been made of right size and shape by the cutter, is passed to the beveller, who first presses the edge of the glass against an iron grinding-mill, or wheel, upon which a mixture of sand and water continually plays. The next process is to submit the glass to a revolving stone, upon which water trickles; this removes the roughness left by the first operation. The final polish is then given by a wooden wheel covered with polishing material. The shape workers, who produce curves and other elaborate shapes with their bevelling, are highly-skilled workmen. The glass then goes to the 'sider,' who cleans and prepares it for silvering. It is then turned into a mirror by the silverer, by the application of silver reduced by admixture with various chemicals. By substituting this process for the use of quicksilver, which formerly prevailed, silvering has now become as little dangerous as any other branch of the trade. When the cost of plate-glass became so much reduced, and the use of mirrors in all kinds of furniture increased, the trade grew considerably; but during quite recent years, although the price of glass has still continued to fall, the London trade has remained stationary. (fn. 18)

Our English glass at the present day suffers much from the competition of French and Belgian glass. (fn. 19) The foreign glass is not only cheaper to produce, wages being lower where it is made than in this country, but it is said to be purer and whiter in colour, because of some superiority in the material available.

Through the exertions of Dr. Salviati, a native of Venice, the old glass industry of Murano has been successfully revived, and a London company (known as the Venice and Murano Glass & Mosaic Company, Ltd.) was formed in 1870 for the sale of its goods. One department is the manufacture of enamel mosaics, an excellent example of which may be seen in the mosaic decorations of St. Paul's Cathedral. The firm also largely produces table glass of artistic design and fine quality.

It remains to speak very briefly of artists in stained glass. Some excellent work has been done by firms of the present day. Much of the painted glass produced by Messrs. Cottier & Co., of Grafton Street, is extremely fine, both in design and colour. Messrs. James Powell & Sons, of South Kensington and Bayswater, whose principal works are at Whitefriars, have supplied six windows for St. James's Church, Marylebone. Messrs. Clayton & Bell, of Regent Street, have placed some good windows in Ely Cathedral; and Messrs. Heaton, Butler & Bayne, of Garrick Street, have also executed very fine work.

Footnotes

1 Pat. 24 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 26 d.
2 Abbrev. Rot. Orig. (Rec. Com.), ii, 217b.
3 J. T. Smith, Antiq. of Westm. (1807), 191-6.
4 Dugdale, Antiq. of Warw. (ed. 2, 1730), 446
5 Lansd. MS. no. 59, art. 76; quoted by T. Hudson Turner, Dom. Archit. 78.
6 Ann. of Commerce (1805), ii, 122.
7 Denizations and Naturalizations (Huguenot Soc.), p. xlvi.
8 S.P. Dom. Eliz. xxxvii, 3.
9 Ibid. passim.
10 A. W. C. Hallen, French 'Gentlemen Glassmakers, ' in Engl. and Scotl. 8.
11 Environs of Lond. iii, 473.
12 John Houghton, Coll. for Improvement of Trade and Commerce (1727), ii, 48.
13 Cal. S.P. Dom. 1663-4, p. 266.
14 See quotations from Peligot and Gerspach, French writers on glass, in a paper on 'Cut Glass,' by Harry Powell; Journ. Soc, of Arts, June 1906.
15 No. 744, 12 May 1760.
16 Porter, 'Treatise on Glass,' Lardner's Cab. Cycl, 195.
17 Old Engl. Glasses (1897), 106 n.
18 Charles Booth, Life and Labour of the People of Lond. (Ser. 2), i, 189.
19 Ibid. i, 189 n.