The glass industry in the Stourbridge area dates back to the 17th century when refugee 'gentlemen glassmakers' from Lorraine settled here attracted by the abundant supplies of coal and clay for their melting pots. At first they made window glass and bottles but in the 18th century following the invention of lead glass they began producing the tableware and ornamental glass for which Stourbridge has become world-famous.
The site of the Coalbournhill glassworks was occupied in the 1770s by two cone shaped glassworks, but they were demolished many years ago and what was then a modern glass house was erected after the First World War. The golden age of the Stourbridge glass industry was the 19th century when many new firms were established and new colours and decorating techniques pioneered locally. Today the glass industry is much less extensive than it was, with a handful of factories still operating on their historic sites. These include Royal Brierley Crystal, Royal Doulton Crystal and Stuart Crystal.
Webb and Corbett
Webb and Corbett Ltd was founded just over a century ago at an old cone shaped glass house called the White House at Wordsley, a parish adjoining Amblecote. The partners were a Thomas Webb who was connected with the important decorative glass manufacturing firm of Thomas Webb and Sons of the Dennis glassworks, Amblecote. The family business produced magnificent glass, tableware, etc and exhibited at the Great Exhibition of 1851 at the Crystal Palace, but the family had to sell out as the quality of their ware was such that it was too expensive to buy.
The glassworks however, continued operating in other hands, but closed down less that 10 years ago, and the glass house and warehouse were demolished. Houses have been built on much of the site and the handsome Georgian Dennis Hall has been vandalised and it is going to rack and ruin. Thomas Webb and George Corbett, the founding partners of Webb and Corbett had both been employed by Thomas Webb and Sons. Their business at the White House glassworks flourished, but in 1913 the gave up their lease of the White House and moved to the Coalbournhill works which they continue to occupy.
In 1969 the Webb and Corbett business was taken over by the Stoke-on-Trent pottery makers Doulton and in 1980 the name was changed from Webb-Corbett to Royal Doulton Tableware Ltd. Royal Doulton Doulton found it expensive to maintain the old glass making furnace and gradually the actual glass melting was reduced, decorating being continued on blanks imported from abroad. Doulton pottery and glass businesses have been doing badly during the past few years and in February 1999, it was announced that the glass melting would be discontinued at Coalbournhill but that cutting would continue. About 40 employees involved in glass making were made redundant. About 40 decorators have been retained.
Visitors can still visit the Coalbournhill works but can no longer see the fashioning of the molten glass. The company's main local sales outlet is not the Crystal Glass Centre in Amblecote, 300 yards from Coalbournhill. There they sell Royal Doulton crystal, Edinburgh crystal, foreign glass (mainly coloured) and china tableware and ornaments. At the centre, some studio glass makers named Blowzone have started up a small glass melting furnace and produce decorative ware, all handmade. Webb & Corbett supplied the glassware used on the Concorde aircraft. In the old days, they had some highly skilled craftsmen, but nowadays much of the domestic glassware is made by machine and is imported to be decorated.
There have been many changes in the lead crystal glass industry of the Stourbridge area in the last 20 years. Because of the high cost of running the old pot furnaces and replacing them and the cost of labour, all but one (Stuart Crystal) have closed down. Some small businesses employing about a dozen craftsmen, usually ex-employees of the old businesses, have started up and produce some excellent quality glass, and glass making training centres have been opened at Wolverhampton University to continue to produce craft men and women, and teach new glass making techniques.
Broadfield House Glass Museum
The museum tells the story of the historic Stourbridge glass industry. The displays show glass from Roman times but the emphasis is on the cut, etched, engraved and coloured glass which made the name of Stourbridge world famous. The fabulous cameo vases carved by Alphonse Lechevrel can be seen together with the work of other renowned craftsmen. The technology and techniques of glassmaking are explained and illustrated.
Red House Glass Cone
This museum is on the same site as Stuart Crystal and is centred on the 87 foot high cone which was the original glassworks and has graced the area for over 200 years. These were once common in this district but now this is one of only four left in the entire country and it is open to the public. Restoration as a working glass museum is under way but the restored cone and the adjacent canal wharf can be explored.
Royal Brierley Crystal
Another famous glassmaker, was established in 1776. Visitors can enjoy fully guided factory tours showing the traditional blowing and cutting skills. There is a large shop selling their crystal.
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"The Glass Industry of Stourbridge, 1557-1850" by Aileen Heathcote