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The Glass Industry

The earliest traces of a glass making industry in Rotherham were found during the excavations of the Roman fort at Templeborough. The earliest modern style production of glass was at Wentworth where window glass was made but this only lasted about ten years. There was a long pause until the middle of the 18th Century when glass making began in earnest in and around Rotherham. The glass industry in Britain suffered for a long time under a government monopoly followed by a hundred years (1745 - 1845) of prohibitive taxes and regulations. Only after the Glass Tax was repealed in Victoria's reign did glass become the affordable substance it is today. The only glass firm still in production in the 21st Century is Beatson Clark.

Beatson Clark Glass Manufacturers

From about 1751 John Wright was in business at Masbrough in partnership with others. The site of the glassworks was on land belonging to the Earl of Effingham alongside the canal. This meant that coal for the melt as well as the finished products could be cheaply and easily transported. There were two glass houses; one for crown window glass and the other a bottle and flint house. I think that this was generally known as the Rotherham Glass Company but partnerships and names seem to have changed very quickly in the glass trade.

In 1783 the business was owned by William Beatson, and in various partnerships existed as a family business known latterly as Beatson, Clark and Co. Ltd, which became a public company in 1961. The family connection has now ceased.

The company produced a wide variety of bottles and jars together with some very strange articles like cupping glasses, dutch drops, drawer knobs, feeding bottles, confectioners' jars (sweetie jars) and items called antiguglars whatever they may be. By the 1860s Beatsons were operating three kilns, one for bottle glass and two for flint glass and had acquired a reputation for fine pharmaceutical glassware.

The last glass cone was demolished in 1945. Glass was last hand blown at Beatson Clark's about 1954, when the machines finally took over. During my short sojourn as an employee there I remember the single gob and double gob machines for producing the bottles - very noisy, and the lehrs on which the bottles were proved before passing to the checkers, who rejected anything with defects which ended up as cullet (broken glass used in the flux). There was also a small museum with examples of the work produced over the years, but I don't think that this was ever open to the public. I am told that this collection has been given or loaned to Rotherham Museum but I have not been able to confirm this.

Beatsons are major suppliers of glass containers to the cosmetic, pharmaceutical and chemical industries. Next time you get a tablet or medicine bottle from the pharmacists which is a brown glass this is likely to be produced by Beatsons. These are known as 'Roche Rounds' as they were originally produced for the pharmaceutical company Hoffman La Roche. The Beatson sign on the bottom of their products is a double headed arrow which I cannot reproduce here.

Dr. Alec Clark, who was Executive Chairman of the Company, was also elected Master of the Worshipful Company of Glass Sellers in 1969. He also wrote a book "Though a Glass Clearly".

Beatson Clark is now part of the Newship Group. I believe that it is the last glass manufacturer still operating in the Borough of Rotherham.

Catcliffe Glass Works

Catcliffe Glass Works was built for in 1740 for William Fenney. There were two cone furnaces; one of which is still standing although it is only the brick shell. The internal structure has long gone. In 1759 the works were taken over by the May family. From 1833 it was owned by Blunn & Booth. In 1856 the glass works was run by Samuel Blunn and it last operated as Blunn Brothers until 1884. There appears to have been a brief revival in 1901 by C Wilcocks and Co but this did not last.

Visit onsite to see the glass kiln and read some recollections about Catcliffe at Tourism - In & Around Rotherham - Catcliffe Glass Kiln.

Swinton Glass Works

The Swinton Glass Works were built for Messrs Rylands, Tillotson and Wilkinson in about 1852. It was conveniently placed alongside the canal towards Kilnhurst. It became known as the South Yorkshire Glass Company, then Dale Brown in 1933, followed by Canning Town Glass in 1962. It was then part of the United Glass Company under which name it was later known. Some time after 1958 the company moved to the site of an adjacent iron factory and created two glass works. I have looked for them in vain in the Tel. book so I presume they are no more. Des has been in touch " ..... yes canning town glass Swinton was closed in 1988 this was a couple of years after it was bought by united glass. Those of us who worked at the factory believe united glass aquired the factory just to get the order book which was very healthy at the time."

Victoria Glass Works

These glassworks opened in Kilnhurst in 1855. By 1871 the works employed 60 people making a range of glass containers including medical, wine, and soda water and pickle bottles. It was operated by the Blunn Brothers until 1900. The works were closed in 1906.

Waterstone Glasshouse

In 1937 Wilfred Barker set up the Waterstone Glasshouse at Wath upon Dearne to produce crystal glass. The business failed twice and then became Glastics which produced lead crystal cosmetic containers. I can find no trace of them in 2007 under any of these names.

Wentworth Glass Works

In 1631 the Earl of Strafford made a plot of land now called Glasshouse Green in the village of Wentworth available to the monopolist Robert Mansell who had built there a "gudly great house covered by the stone". The glassworks used coal from the Earl's pits and produced window glass. The glass maker was Francis Bristow and the product was of pale green/amber glass of dubious quality. The glass was cut into small panes suitable for fitting into the leaded frames of the time. Bristow was imprisoned in 1642 for non-payment of monopoly dues and there is no mention of the glass house after this time.

The History of Glass in South Yorkshire by Denis Ashurst is the only book I could find on the subject.

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