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A cut above the rest; INTERIORS Jo Ind looks at the Black Country's contribution to glassware in the past century.

Glass was one of the most exciting and creative media of the 20th century. Ever since glass-makers broke with tradition and established the dynamic and sinuous Art Nouveau style, glass designers have been at the forefront of developments in modern design.

And far more than our fair share of those developments have happened in the West Midlands.

Lesley Jackson, in her book 20th Century Factory Glass, records the factories that made the most significant difference to glass design - and despite the fact that her trawl took her all over Europe and to the USA, she still included no less than four factories from the Black Country in her account.

Stevens & Williams

In 1819 the Moor Lane Glasshouse at Briar Lea Hill near Stourbridge was leased to Joseph Silvers of Silvers, Mill and Stevens.

A tireless inventor, the artistic director John Northwood developed a device for the mechanical application of acid-etched patterns in 1861. While at Stevens & Williams he patented many new gadgets, including moulds for producing crimped rims and another for pulling the threads upwards to create a herringbone pattern.

The factory also excelled in cold decoration techniques such as enamelling, gilding, silvering, cutting, engraving and acid-etching.

During the 1880s, Stevens & Williams took the lead in the development of rock crystal - thick-walled sculptural vessels decorated with polished engraving popular until about 1907.

One of the distinctive features of Stevens & Williams intaglio glass was the range and subtlety of its colours. During the early 20th century these included auburn, cinnamon, sapphire blue and wallflower.

Stevens & Williams changed its name to Royal Brierley Crystal in 1931, at which date the factory employed around 380 people.

Over the next eight years designer Keith Murray created more than 1,000 designs which established the company's reputation as a pioneer of Industrial Art.

Murray himself favoured undecorated glass, and his designs in this idiom included plain vessels in dark-green glass, often with swollen or rippling profiles.

In 1988, Royal Brierley was sold to Epsom Activities which celebrated the year 2000 with a limited-edition Millennium champagne flute.


The Red House Glass Works at Wordsley near Stourbridge was established by Richard Bradley in 1787.

A wide range of coloured glass was made including machine-threaded glass, richly ornamented vessels with applied furnace-worked decoration and cameo glass, including Medallion Cameo, patented in 1887.

A speciality of the factory around the turn of the century was clear vases and bowls with applied tears or trails in the Art Nouveau style, often decorated in two shades of green, resembling the eyes on peacock feathers.

In 1918, Ludwig Kny was appointed as chief designer, a position he held for 19 years. Kny's style was very wide-ranging, encompassing dynamic, stylized plant imagery, geometrised Egyptian revival patterns and offbeat Jazz Moderne motifs, such as dashes, zigzags, and festoons.

Geoffrey Stuart, who joined the company in the late 1920s, initiated a more modern range of shapes and patterns including fashionable new products such as cocktail sets.

The company remained in the hands of the Stuart factory until 1995, when it was sold to Waterford Wedgwood.

Thomas Webb

In 1829 Thomas Webb formed a partnership with Benjamin and William Haden Richardson of the Wordsley Flint Glassworks near Stourbridge.

Congreve William Jackson became managing director until 1920. Although cameo, rock, crystal and other forms of elaborate ornamental glass were still made during this period, Jackson realised that the market for this kind of luxury glass was declining rapidly.

He steered the factory towards simple wares, such as Art Nouveau vessels decorated with applied coloured ribs, tears, or 'cat's eyes'.

After the war Sven Fogelberg designed the plain, practical Connoisseur stemware range, which had a bucket-shaped body and fine drawn stem. This won a Design Centre Award in 1957.

Another post-war tableware range was the Envoy suite designed by Robert Goodden, commissioned by the Ministry of Public Works around 1966.

In 1978 Thomas Webb was absorbed into the Coloroll group. The factory closed down suddenly in 1990 after Coloroll went bankrupt.

Webb Corbett

In 1897 Thomas Webb, Herbet Webb and George Harry Corbett acquired the White House Glass Works at Wordsley near Stourbridge.

During the early 20th century, Webb Corbett produced some impressive examples of rock crystal and intaglio engraving, sometimes using clear crystal cased with ruby or green.

In addition to these luxury wares, the factory produced some simpler machine-etched and dip-moulded tableware, including a service called Venetian Twist and a spiral-ribbed and dented service from a pattern book of around 1924.

Enamelled glass was introduced just before the First World War, often decorated with fruit and flower motifs, painted in translucent colours, sometimes etched beforehand.

Another Webb innovation during the 1920s was Agate Flambe marketed as New English Art Glass, which took the form of plain vessels with either orange/red or blue/opaque mottled colouring.

In 1946, Irene Stevens was appointed as chief designer. Stevens was inspired by the restraint and simplicity of a late 18th century and early 19th century English cut glass and often restricted her patterns to one type of cutting.

Her patterns were intended to complement the form of the vessel, such as jugs and tumblers with ringed grooves, a spherical vase decorated with large, circular cuts and the Witch bowls and vases with spiralling mitre cutting.

In addition to cut glass, Stevens collaborated with David Smith, chief designer at Tutbury, to extend the application of sandblasting beyond frosted lampshades.

Together they evolved the Pearlstone range of vases decorated with raised, polished, cut circles contrasted against a matt sandblasted ground.

Other one-off experimental pieces designed by Stevens in the 1950s included vases decorated with motifs such as stars, rosettes, trailing ivy and stylised leaves.

After the firm was taken over by Royal Doulton in 1969, Webb Corbett's output became more traditional. The Webb Corbett name was dropped in 1986, since when its products have been sold as Royal Doulton Crystal.

20th Century Factory Glass by Lesley Jackson in published by Mitchell Beazley and costs pounds 40.00.
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Author:Ind, Jo
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:May 31, 2000
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