The Portobello Factory (1966)

The Portobello Factory


H. A. Basterfield

{Glass-Study Notes 2008:
From “UNITED GLASS IN SCOTLAND. 2. THE PORTOBELLO FACTORY” Scottish Goodware, June 1966 pages 6 to 8, a short lived (1965-?) trade publication. We are unable to trace author H. A. Basterfield and would be grateful if anyone can help us to make contact. With additional thanks to Martin Brown who discovered this article.

Coverage of article:
1829-1966 Portobello Glassworks (Still active 1966 date of article)

1829-1848 Cut glass crystal and flint glassware, from 1849 only bottles.
1856-1866 as Messrs. Cooper and Wood (Partnership split)
1866-1926 as Richard Cooper & Co. End of Cooper dynasty.
1886-1920 (New buildings) Thomas Wood then as:
1920-1937 Woods Bottle Works
1937 Works taken over by United Glass Bottle Manufacturers Ltd.

The Portobello Factory June 1966 H. A. Basterfield

The boundaries of the Portobello factory were defined several hundred years ago by the meandering Figgate Burn, by the old Leith-Dalkeith road and by the old Fishwives Causeway, a historic road between Edinburgh and the coast, used by soldiers of the Roman Empire and by Somerset’s troops after the Battle of Pinkie in 1547.

This 15-acre triangle of land, known during the 18th century as Adam’s Laws was part of the estate of the Earl of Abercorn who laid out Duddington Park and built Duddington Hall. From the causeway the land sloped steeply to the burn, leaving a smaller triangle of land in the north-west corner which was developed towards the end of the 18th Century for the production of sulphuric acid and other chemicals and also for the production of brick and tiles. In the 1820’s the chemical works were owned by a Mr. Arkley and owing to the secrecy surrounding early methods of making chemicals, were known as “The Secret Works”.

Brought up in the flint glass trade in Newcastle, Mr William Bailey came to Portobello about 1826 and in 1829 bought the chemical works as a site for the manufacture of cut glass crystal and flint glassware. With the help of his chief clerk Mr John Ford, later on to leave him and found the Holyrood Flint Glass Works, a flourishing business was developed in tumblers, decanters and other household articles but owing to increasing competition from glass factories in Leith and Edinburgh, Mr Bailey decided in 1848 to convert the works to the more profitable manufacture of green bottles, at that time in increasing demand by the wine merchants, brewers and whisky blenders of Edinburgh and Leith.

Mr William Bailey did a great deal for his adopted town. In 1833 he was made the first Provost of Portobello and the old Leith-Dalkeith road was renamed Baileyfield Road after his house, Baileyfield, built about 1836 and now in use as the Factory Office.

Mr. Bailey died in 1859 and the business was taken over by his partner, Mr Richard Cooper, who had joined him about 1856. Mr. Cooper was then joined by his brother-in-law, Mr Thomas Wood.

Both men had been brought up in the flint glass trade in Staffordshire and the business continued to flourish as Messrs. Cooper and Wood until in 1866 the partnership ended owing to a disagreement. Mr Cooper remained in control of the old factory and Mr Wood built new furnaces in and around the gardens of Baileyfield House, the Carton Assembly Shop, the old No. 61 Furnace and the warehouse recently converted into the Mould Shop. Like Mr Bailey, Mr Thomas Wood was a prominent public figure And was Provost of Portobello on and off for many years from 1867. He travelled widely in Germany and Sweden and introduced more competitive Methods of making bottles and melting glass. He brought German and Swedish bottle makers to work in the factory and built furnaces fired continuously by producer gas. Before the end of the 19th century he was working three continuous gas fired furnaces, employing 200 men and 70 boys and making about 56,000 gross of bottles per year.

Mr Richard Cooper was also active in the pursuit of improved methods of production and before the end of the 19th century, he too was employing a few German specialists and with 230 men and 50 boys was producing 42,000 gross bottled per year from one large continuous gas fired furnace and two intermittent coal fired furnaces.

Both factories would have to deal with the problems associated with the melting of batch and with the refining and homogenizing of dark green glass and we have a record of some of their thoughts although we have no record of their trials and disappointments. In a ledger book of batch recipes dated from 1856, several suggestions for research are neatly written in the back pages and one of these pages, revealing extraordinary wisdom about the likely effect of bubbling is reproduced in the photograph.


Suggestion for a research project at Portobello one hundred years ago.

Both factories struggled through the years of the Great War but the furnaces of Richard Cooper & Co. were closed down for all time in 1926 during the General Strike, unable to survive the disruption of Business caused by the years of prohibition in the United States and by the economic depression at home. The business of Thomas Wood, directed after his death in 1910 by his sons, William, Albert and Victor was rescued in 1920 by The Distillers Co. Ltd. and formed into Woods Bottle Works (1920) Ltd. Under their control, with Victor Wood in charge, Automatic bottle making machines were introduced, first Lynch LA machines and later Monish Machines And by 1930 two furnaces were in use, the old Primrose Furnace making dark green, later known as No. 61 until shut down in 1960, and a new Simplex oil fired amber furnace, known as No. 62 Furnace.

After the death of Victor Wood in 1935, the old Family connections ceased and in 1937 Woods Bottle Works (1920) Ltd. was taken over by The United Glass Bottle Manufacturers Ltd. A new batch house was built in 1937 and a third furnace, a Teisen Recuperative Furnace, was built alongside No. 62 Furnace at that time known as the oil tank. At this time the only gas producers in use were three small hand-fed producers attached to No. 61 Furnace. To fire No. 62 Furnace as well as the new Teisen Furnace, a Power Gas Mechanically Fed Producer was installed in 1937 and a first step was also made in completely automating the manufacture of bottles by Installing a Hartford Batch Charger and a Hartford KU feeder mechanically linked to drive a Charlton Stacker and deal with the bottles conveyed from the Lynch 10 machine installed on the new furnace.

This bold start to modernize the factory and improve its productivity was halted again by war and the years which followed. In 1950 a start was again made, by removing the old glasshouse cone above No. 61 Furnace and installing a second Lynch Machine. During the following years a sharp increase in output per machine station was obtained from the five machines but owing to a general decrease in business No 63 Furnace with its one Machine was shut down in 1957 and in 1958 the semi-automatic production of bottles on Sweeting Hardman Machines from No 61 Furnace was abandoned. Other measures for improving the productivity of the factory were nevertheless continued and in 1958 forklift trucks were introduced and a start made to improve conditions of employment.

Owing to an improvement in business by 1959, a decision was taken to rebuild No. 63 Furnace and concentrate production under the one roof above No. 62 and No. 63 Furnaces. No. 61 Furnace was shut down for all time in April 1960 and No. 63 Furnace was continued with three Lynch 10 machines. The furnace was built to a metal level of 12ft 6in with Mitchell feeder forehearths and double gob operation, making beer bottles, was carried out for the first time during October 1965, During 1967 it is planned to rebuild the No. 63 Furnace to a higher glass level and all six machine stations will then be able to take the most modern bottle making machines and a start made leading to a substantial increase in productivity from the present level of 8,000 to 10,000 gross per week.

Other improvements have continued during recent years. A substantial warehouse, 25ft high to the eaves, 300ft in length and 112ft wide was built in 1961 at the back of and in line with the No. 62 and No. 63 lehrs. The old warehouse building, adjacent to Baileyfield House, built for the binning of bottles was converted into a modern canteen and offices and another old warehouse, built on the site of an old furnace, was converted into a commodious and well-equipped mould repair shop. New buildings include a Quality Control Laboratory completed in 1963, And for completion during this summer, a modern Amenities block including washrooms, shower rooms and rest rooms. Also in hand at the present time is the conversion of the old laboratory retorts into modern technical and instrumental laboratories and the remaking of the main road from the new gatehouse to the new warehouse.

Improvements have also been made in the supply of gas, water, oil and electricity. A 2,000 KVA substation was installed during 1962 and during recent years most of the electric cables in the factory have been put underground either in trenches or within clay pipes. During 1962 electric boost was installed on No. 63 Furnace and during 1965 on No. 62 Furnace. Both furnaces are small about 260 square feet, but owing to improvements made in recent years, they are now rebuilt to last four years at a melting rate of about 50 tons per day. For firing the furnaces, an oil tank and pump house were installed during 1961 and during 1960 a medium pressure gas supply was fed into the factory to replace the old low pressure supply, Preparations are also in hand for the installation within a few months of a modern steam raising unit.

When all these changes are completed it will be possible to demolish many of the old buildings around No. 61 Furnace and another part of the old look of the factory will be lost forever. Then will remain the old buildings along Fishwives Causeway, used mainly for the storage and assembly of cartons and temporarily as accommodation for the Warehouse and Transport Staff. The factory remains on the small triangle of land determined by nature many years ago but not now isolated from the rest of the ground at the lower level, patchily filled up over the years with ashes and other factory rubbish was filled up and levelled with demolition stone, rubble and earth during the summer of 1963 and has since been used for outside storage. Only two small areas of land remain at the low level, one at the west end and the other at the east end with the historic Figgate Burn as its boundary. And overlooking the burn on this site is an old once shabby hut which during the last ten years has been converted into a lavishly decorated and furnished Social Club with a succession of devoted members for the benefit and pleasure of all who by their labours earned a living within what was known 200 years ago as Adam’s Laws, part of the desolate sand dune waste on the outskirts of Edinburgh.