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Lumley Castle Hotel
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Chester-le-Street, www.lumleycastle.com
 
 
Tuesday, 13th May 2008

 
LOOK AT GLASS

An 1869 presentation rummer

THE first glassmaking in Sunderland dates back to the seventh century, when Benedict Biscop brought Gallic craftsmen from France to create stained-glass windows for the monastery he was building at Monkwearmouth.
And with few concessions to modern technology, craftsmen at the famous Hartley Wood glassworks whose glass adorns churches and great buildings all over the world, were using the same hand-blown techniques and vivid individual colour mixing until the end of the 20th century, when the works in Portobello Lane closed down.
However, the "modern" glassmaking industry on Wearside began 300 years ago, in the 1690s, when the first glasshouses opened at Ayres Quay, Deptford.
Most of the glass made at the works which proliferated along the banks of the river during the 18th and 19th centuries was used to make windows and bottles, but ornamental glass and tableware was also produced.
The late 18th and early 19th century glass in the Sunderland's Glorious Glass display has been cut into shape and many of the items were made to commemorate local and national events, such as the time an American sailor who had missed his ship, jumped off Wearmouth Bridge to raise money for the passage home.
The large drinking glasses on show would not have been used for drinking at all, but as ornaments and they became known as rummers.
The most spectacular example of the fact that craftsmen on the Wear could hold their own against the best glassmakers anywhere is in the Londonderry glass service. This was made for local landowners the Marquis and Marchioness of Londonderry. There are more than 200 pieces in the service, each one individually blown from molten glass to get the basic shape, and then cut and engraved with the family's coat of arms.
The Wear glassmaking industry reached its height of production in the mid-19th century when the introduction of a new technique called pressing made mass production possible. Before this, glassmaking was highly labour-intensive, and each piece had to be individually blown into shape.
The new technique involved pressing molten glass into a mould and meant that glassware could be sold relatively cheaply and came within the range of ordinary people.
There were two main pressed glass firms in Sunderland – Turnbull's Cornhill Flint Glassworks at Southwick, open from 1865 to 1953, when the loss of a large order for Woolworth's led to closure, and the Wear Flint Glass Works, known from 1921 as James A. Jobling and Co Ltd. During the 1930s, Jobling's made a range of pressed glass in the fashionable art deco style and after the Second World War its Pyrex ware became a huge hit with housewives. It was taken over in 1973 by the American firm Corning.
Finally, there are the friggers, designed and made by glass workers and often given as presents. Frigger is an old English word probably meaning to mess around, and the unusual-looking pieces on show were made for fun, often with glass left over.

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