The map of the Stour Valley in 1750 posted by Distinctly Black Country last week is another excellent example of the differentiation between BC towns that made it such a distinctive environment (compared to say, Burnley, which like the rest of the region around it were massively dominated by one industry). The glass quarter in Stourbridge (well, Wordsley/Amblecote really) is perhaps the best example of this, and unusually one surviving into the present, albeit in an artisanal rather than mass-production vein. That’s certainly more than lockmaking in Willenhall or saddlery in Walsall though.
The Red House Glass Cone is undoubtedly the symbol of the industry in Stourbridge – we visited for the first time yesterday to scout out some Christmas presents, and it’s great fun, absolutely worth the trip (nice cafe too). Cheerfully, on the museum website they give directions to the museum not only by car and rail but by canal – the cone lies directly overlooking the Stourbridge Canal in the midst of the Stourbridge 16 Locks flight. We got there this way, not on a boat sadly, but following the route of Graham Fisher’s Crystal Canal guided walk. This takes you past a number of industrial sites as you walk away from Stourbridge – the big ones are Foster & Rastrick‘s ironworks, the Ruskin Glass Centre and the Dial Works on the Town Arm of the canal.
The main mass of glassworks were on the main road North out of Stourbridge, variously known as High Street, Audnam, Camp Hill then Wordsley High Street. The Red House Works were situated on the cut here, opposite the Whitehouse Works – this building, combined with the former flour mill behind it, remains today and is completely beautiful if you’re into that derelict Victorian factory look (I am). It was owned in its day by the Johns Webb and Shepherd – John Webb was father of Thomas Webb who set up the Platts House and Dennis Glassworks just down the road. This same dynasty was activity until very recently as Webb Corbett, themselves responsible for the Coalbournhill Works in Amblecote. It was taken over in 1914 by the Stuarts of Stuart Crystal. Its cone was demolished in 1940, and all production had ceased here by 2001.
Just over the canal from this build was the Londonhouse Works, which is no more. The conglomeration of an industry stems from a number of factors. In the case of Stourbridge, it was the mixture of people (of all sorts) and locations (all over the place). The industry first took off when skilled glassmakers left the Lorraine region of NE France to come here. Why leave? These were Huguenots, chased out of France for protestant beliefs. Why Stourbridge? Some sort of ideal combination of limestone, fire clay, sand and coal.
A quick delve into the history of these particular buildings reveals another layer of history: the Redhouse cone was erected at Richard Bradley’s glassworks c.1796 (surely a link there with the Bradley’s of the famous Ironworks and steam engine production); we later read of the complex of Red, White and New House works being run by John Webb in 1833; his son set up further glassworks alongside Harry Corbett (cf. Corbett Hospital) to become Webb Corbett. The sites were later taken over by the real big names, Royal Doulton and Stuart Crystal. Family is a massively key influence in construction of an industry in the Black Country.