Chance Glass Works c1871

Chance Glass Works c1871

Article: From The Leisure Hour (A family journal of instruction and recreation) No 1053, March 2, 1872. Pages 140-143.

The authors name is omitted and may have appeared on the missing pages? Or cover?




I now bade farewell to Birmingham, its 200 miles of streets, and 60,000 houses, and proceeded on my tour, taking “Burritt” [footnote: I allude to his “Black Country and its Green Border Land,” an excellent companion to the Midland tourist.] as my guide. Scarcely had we left the Midland capital ere we entered the Black Country. Clouds of thick smoke pouring from tall chimneys, a general appearance of dinginess and dirt, and presently a kind of strag­gling waste with grimy red brick buildings all about it, vindicated its title to the name. On the outskirts of Birmingham we pass Soho, where once stood the famous establishment of Boulton and Watt, [footnote: “The Soho Foundry, established in 1797, to furnish the castings which the parent establishment at Soho required, is still continued by the firm of James Watt and Co., and produces all kinds of engines for pumping water, blowing furnaces, driving machinery, and propelling steam-vessels. Marine and land boilers, mill gearing, sugar-mills, coining machinery, apparatus for pneumatic railways and for sewage works, are also largely supplied. The works cover an area of ten acres, and since 1775 have produced 1,878 steam-engines, having a nominal power of 70,958 horses, and equal to the actual force of 250,000 horses. These consisted of 319 pumping-engines, representing 13,800 horses; 1,090 rotative-engines, for manufacturing purposes, 25,986 horses; 469 marine-engines, equivalent to 31,169 horses. Of these, the largest were those of the 'Great Eastern,' to work the screw propeller, and having four cylinders of the united power of nearly 1,700 horses, but capable of an actual force of more than five times that amount. The early reputation of Soho has thus been not only maintained but extended, by the works which bore till recently the honoured name of ‘Boulton, Watt, and Co.,’ the name of Boulton being removed in 1848, after the death of M. H. Boulton, Esq., the firm now bearing the title of James Watt and Co.” — “Timmins's Industrial History of Birmingham” (1865).] so celebrated for its connection with many most ingenious, costly, and beautiful manufactures; [footnote: We may add that the art of painting on glass was resuscitated at Soho by Eginton, from whose hand came some of the most splendid stained glass in England.] but, above all, for that of the steam-engine. It was once, indeed, an establishment of the very highest national im­portance. Here “princely Boulton” assembled round him, and associated with him in his designs, many of the most eminent of his age, and linked for over Watt's name with his own. Here are Muntz's Metal Sheathing Works, for the manufacture of that well-known alloy of copper and zinc (“one of the great prizes in the lottery of patents”) which has superseded sheet copper in the protection of ships’ bottoms. Here also are the works of Messrs. Tangye, where those remarkable lifts, presses, and other hydraulic machines are made, which are now so largely employed, and are found so useful in launching ships, pressing cotton and wool, punching and shearing metal, testing girders, chains, steam boilers, etc.; where also the differential pulley blocks are manufactured, which are recommended by Garibaldi for remounting artillery thrown down on the battle-field, and are used in the Cornish mines, on board our ironclads, etc., while they are also largely exported; and where, moreover, are made those wonderful “special” steam-pumps (with which the “Hercules” and “Monarch” have been supplied) which have neither fly-wheel, crank, governors, connecting-rod, nor eccentric, require no shafting, gearing, riggers, or belts, and work at any speed or pressure. Passing Smethwick, another scene of industry, where there are great alkali and soap works, and where the celebrated works long associated with the name of Fox and Henderson are situated, we presently come to Spon Lane, the equally celebrated glass works of Messrs. Chance, extending and rising storey upon storey over twenty-eight acres. We stop here, and by special permission are admitted to view them.

The visitor is first conducted to the place where the crucibles are made, in which the sand, soda, and lime — the three chief elements of the whole manufacture — are melted into glass. These crucibles are formed of Stourbridge clay, which is thoroughly kneaded and built up, piece by piece, entirely by hand. The pots thus made are slowly and carefully dried, and, after months of baking, are ready for the stock-shop, where about four or five hundred are generally kept for use, each being worth about £5, and capable of holding some two tons of “metal.” We next come to the glass-house. The great gas furnaces are glowing and roaring, and the workmen passing to and fro before them, thrusting in their long iron blowpipes, on which each gathers a lump of glass and blows it into a globe-like form, which is again and again heated, blown, and worked, till it assumes the shape of a disc or wheel, and is carried away to be annealed, cooled, and cut up into what is then “crown glass.” At other furnaces sheet glass is being made. The manufacture of sheet glass on the continental principle was introduced into this country by Messrs. Chance in 1832, when they secured the valuable co-operation of M. Bontemps, at whose works near Paris they had seen it produced. A better kind of this glass, surpassing even the best foreign, was brought out by Messrs. Chance in 1838: the Crystal Palace was afterwards glazed with it, and it has now superseded “broad” or “spread” glass, the manufacture of which has been abandoned. The sheet glass is blown by the workmen in cylinders, which they lengthen by swinging their rods to and fro, and check from excessive lengthening by reversing in the air, thus giving them the exact regulated size; the cylinder being then opened and expanded, is removed to another furnace, and finally carried off, flattened, and finished. [footnote: By the rectangular shape of this glass, and still more by the absence of the bull's-eye, a great saving was effected. Panes could be obtained of the full size of the sheets blown, and the only limit to their dimensions was the strength of the workmen. ] A patent plate glass which has been recently introduced is obtained from sheet glass by a new process of grinding and polishing. Many other kinds of glass may also be seen, and we note especially the optical glass. In 1848 M. Bontemps joined Messrs. Chance in an attempt to improve and extend this manufacture. They ultimately succeeded in producing flint and crown discs of twenty-nine inches diameter (which were bought by the French Government for £1,000 each), and discs of twenty-six inches for other large telescopes. On the other hand, they make glass for microscopic uses from the 200th to the 300th of an inch in thickness. But the most remarkable and most interesting part of this gigantic establishment is the lighthouse branch, where those magnificent dioptric lights are made that have attracted so much notice in the International Exhibitions, the upper and lower portions of which are rings of prisms, while the centre is a series of refracting lenses; the whole being of brilliantly-polished glass. The manufacture of these is a wondrous spectacle. To this is devoted an area of nearly an acre and a half, a glass-house for casting, a steam-engine of forty-horse power, about forty newly-contrived machines for grinding with mathematical exactness and polishing the lenses and prisms of all forms; as many lathes, planing, and other machines in the fitting-shops, where lanterns, lamps, clockwork, and all metallic acces­sories are prepared; and, lastly, a staff of about a hundred workmen. Here Science and Art are indeed united! In the first shop great circular tables, on which the zones of glass are slowly ground and polished, whirl swiftly and incessantly round and round, — in the fitting shops, these zones are fixed into their frames of iron and gun-metal; and then we come to the erecting house where each optical apparatus is tried before being sent off. And “nothing,” says Mr. Alan Stevenson, “can be more beautiful than an entire apparatus for a fixed light of the first order. It consists of a central belt of refractors, forming a hollow cylinder six feet in diameter and thirty inches high; below it are six triangular rings of glass ranged in a cylindrical form, and above, a crown of thirteen rings of glass, forming by their union a hollow cage composed of polished glass, ten feet high and six feet in diameter.” A single lamp is placed in the focus of one of these, and a blaze of light is thrown seaward, which in some cases may be seen at a distance of thirty miles, either as a flash, with intervals of darkness, or as a constant beam. The weight of the unworked cast glass in a complete revolving light of the first order is about two and a quarter tons, and in a complete fixed light about two tons, assuming the prisms to be eighteen and eight in each light respectively. The value of a first-order fixed light with eighteen and eight prisms, with its accessories, is about £1,500; that of a first-order revolving light about £2,000. About a hundred and thirty sea-lights have been constructed by Messrs. Chance for the British Government and for foreign coasts, as well as a large number of harbour lights. Messrs. Chance presented us with a list of dioptric lights constructed by them since 1855, which gives the locality and description of apparatus for 360 of these lights, and includes the coasts of almost every country. Some of the most remarkable are the Whalesey Skerries’ in the Shetland Isles, a revolving light, described as perhaps the most powerful in the world; the Lundy Island light, also revolving, dis­tinguished by the late Royal Commission on Lights as visible at the greatest distance of all the reported lights at home and abroad; the fixed light at the Orme’s Head in North Wales, and the fixed light at Europa Point, Gibraltar. The Wolf Rock Light­house, near the Land's End, and the Souter Point light, near Sunderland, are also fine recent speci­mens ; the former is a first-class revolving apparatus, showing alternate red and white flashes of equal power; the latter, a revolving light, giving white flashes, and remarkable as having the electric spark instead of an oil flame. It was stated some few years ago that Messrs. Chance had lost more than £20,000 in the manufacture of dioptric lights, which they nevertheless continued to carry on from patriotic motives, and not without the hope of final advantage. They are the only manufacturers of these lights in the United Kingdom, and there are but three others in the world, these being M. Lepaute, M. Sautter, and MM. Barbier and Fenestre, all of Paris. Who can look on these noble instruments without think­ing of the dark night and the tempestuous sea, — the ship approaching the coast, the doubt and the dismay which chill the hearts of her officers and crew, — and the splendid outbursting of these friendly lights to guide the mariners safely to the desired haven?
The visitor is finally led to the warehouses, and sees, in a whole mile of store-rooms, stacks of crown and sheet glass, masses of prisms, crates of coloured glass of varying hue. He learns, also, that eighteen hundred and fifty people — men, women, and children — are employed, and from seventy to eighty thousand tons of coal annually consumed in these works, which have been visited by many individuals of distinction in science, art, and literature, and persons of all ranks, from princes downward.
We have alluded to the workpeople. They are well and kindly cared for. A large library and a comfortable reading-room are provided for their recreation, and a surgeon is attached to the works for their aid in sickness. But, more than all, admirable schools, with playground and gymnasium, are established for their children, with day and evening schools for the workpeople of both sexes. We were told that there are about one hundred and fifty teetotallers employed in the works. Some of the workpeople are Frenchmen, the descendants perhaps of those who came to this country of old from Lorraine. Amid all the convulsions of their native land they have here a peaceful home, where they may not only quietly earn their own bread, but daily witness the triumphs of science and art, and see their children growing up in the love of the country that gave them birth, — of the generous employers who not only provide for the good of their workmen, but for the culture and happiness of their workmen's little ones, — and of those employers' countrymen, once regarded as natural enemies of France, but now acknowledged to be the very best friends she has in all the world!
“Glass,” says Sebastian Evans, “is at once the Prometheus and the Proteus of fabrics.” How strange that this most brilliant and beautiful substance should be so largely manufactured in the Black Country. It is also an odd coincidence that productions so full of ingenious contrivance and elaborate design should be manufactured by Chance!
Having spent an hour or two at Spon Lane, we pass on to Oldbury. And now we are indeed in the Black Country, amid iron and steel works (including the famous “Brades” and “Bromford” works, the former of which mines its own coal as well as the ore that >it sends elsewhere to be smelted), — among locomotive engine works, too, and railway carriage works ; edge tool, brick, drainage pipe, phosphorus, alkali, copper extracting, naphtha, benzine, carbolic acid, and other works. In the ten years from 1851 to 1861 the population increased from 5,114 to 15,615, and is now about 18,000; but Oldbury is sadly notorious for the neglect of all that is healthful.
The people of Oldbury are chiefly miners and workers in the manufactories. The miners number about 600 families, but as the mines are nearly all worked out, very few men get more than two or three “turns” a week, for which some have to walk four or five miles daily. Boys work in the coal-pits in the proportion of about one boy to three men. All the trades of the place are fluctuating, the people being sometimes kept on day and night, and sometimes having nothing to do. Respectable employment for females is very much wanted. Many girls go three or four miles to work in a large screw factory near Birmingham. Others find employment here in the railway carriage works, painting and polishing; in the chemical works, packing; and in the alkali works, sack-making and labelling. Some women are employed at the mouth of the coal-pits, and both women and girls work with boys in the brick-yards, and may be seen returning half-naked from their labour, their faces, arms, and legs thickly plastered with the clay, which the younger girls carry on their heads (round which a rolled cloth is worn like a turban), and the others dash into the moulds so roughly as to splash every one near all over. Burritt tells us it has been estimated that seventy-five out of every hundred persons employed in the Black Country brick-fields are females, and that probably two-thirds of these are girls from nine to twelve years of age. But, incredible as it may appear, children far below this age are said to have been employed in the brick-fields of Oldbury; we have even heard of one little girl of four assisting her sister of seven to carry clay. Happily this is no longer the case. On the 1st January, 1872 (blessed and memorable day!) the brick-fields were visited by the Government Inspector, under the authority of the recent Act of Parliament, and all children below the age of sixteen sent to their homes. And things are not half so bad as they once were, for no women are allowed to go down into the pits, nor any children under ten years of age. The Mines and Collieries Bill, thanks to Lord Shaftesbury, has forbidden all that. Sad, indeed, was the state of things of old. Who has not read of the horrors of the coal mines, incredible as they would be but that they are too well proved? It was common for women, and girls between youth and womanhood, to go below; while at seven or eight, at six, nay at five, and sometimes even at four years of age, little children, both male and female, were taken regularly in the morning to the pit. They went down; the air was hot and heavy; often the water dripped, rained, poured incessantly upon them. They stayed fourteen or sixteen hours below. Some­times the roadways in the mines were but a yard or so high, and along these they crept on all-fours in a state of partial or entire nudity, each wearing a girdle to which a chain was attached, whereby they dragged the coal to the pit’s mouth. In the more roomy places they were crowded together like cattle. In many cases they were subject to the- cruel treat­ment of drivers, who urged them on with heavy blows. And when their work was done, they re­turned from the pits to dwellings only a little less horrible. Things are bad enough now. But the worst is over, thank God. It is pleasant to find, even in this dark region, wild flowers that tell of beautiful nature beyond. Among the pit-mounds there are sometimes, at ail events, butter­cups and marigolds, primroses and pimpernels, and other favourites of youth. But far away as the children are from the sea, and from the banks of the clear-flowing rivers, the mossy brooks and pebbly rills, with only the black and sluggish streams of the barge-laden canals, or stagnant scummy pools, to tell them of the waters, and often with little even of sunshine, or starshine, or blue unclouded sky, with miserable grimy dwellings, and a life of hard toil awaiting them, how we pity them! And here they live, amid
       “the unwearied crash and roar
Of iron powers, that urged by restless fire,
Toil ceaseless day and night, yet never tire:

The mighty arm of mist, that shakes the shore
Along the thronged canal, in ceaseless roar,
Urging the heavy forge, the clanking mill,
The rapid tilt.”
Education is much more sought after for boys than for girls, but there is great need of compulsion here; there should be about 3,000 children at school, there are only about half that number of pupils. It is thought that the Church of England and Dissent divide the population almost equally between them; but fully half the working classes in Oldbury attend no place of worship. Most of them spend their Sundays in simple bodily rest; but a great many go off by train, or get into the public-houses; and dog-racing, pigeon-flying, and cock-fighting, with the reading of the Sunday paper, are the occupations of the Sabbath. And in general drinking habits are common. “Rum is the cream of the Black Country,” and its curse. A bill met our eye as we passed through Oldbury which sufficiently indicated the attraction drink possesses for the people, inform­ing the public that “A glass of fine home-brewed Ale, wine, or spirit would be given away to all customers” at a certain boot-selling establishment.
Let us hope for improvement. Messrs. Chance have just commenced an annual flower show for their tenants at Oldbury, the first of which was held in the schools connected with their works. On the opening day, Mr. A. M. Chance observed that “the object of the firm was really to encourage habits of care, patience, and cleanliness in their work­people; for any one who tended plants with success in such a place as Oldbury would have to exercise those qualities in no ordinary degree.” And flower-culture will scarcely agree with hard drinking.