The story of Stourbridge glass begins some 400 years ago when glass makers, originally from Lorraine in North-Eastern France, settled in the area. They were attracted to Stourbridge by the abundant supplies of coal for their fuel and refractory fire clay used for building their furnaces and making their melting pots.
Initially, the glass makers focused on fairly utilitarian products like window glass and bottles. Towards the end of the 17th century however, following the development of the new lead glass formula in London by George Ravenscroft, the Stourbridge glass makers introduced table glass to their repertoire.
For the first couple of hundred years there was nothing particularly distinctive about Stourbridge and its products, but this all changed in the Victorian period. Between 1830 and the start of the First World War, factories like Richardson’s of Wordsley, Thomas Webb & Sons of Amblecote and Stevens & Williams of Brierley Hill introduced a great variety of new styles of glassware including; cut, etched and engraved glass, cameo work and rock crystal and a whole kaleidoscope of exotic colours. Quite suddenly Stourbridge became not only the leading glass centre in the UK, but a centre of international importance rivalling Venice and Bohemia.
This golden age in Stourbridge glass came to an end with the First World War, and from then on the factories concentrated increasingly on the production of cut crystal glass. This was exported around the world and for most of the century it proved quite a profitable business. Over the last 20 years however a combination of rising production costs, increased competition from abroad and a decline in the popularity of cut glass has devastated the industry, and Thomas Webb’s, Webb Corbett and Stuart Crystal have all closed.
In spite of these setbacks Stourbridge glass is far from finished. Companies such as Brierley Hill Crystal still fly the flag for traditional crystal manufacture, while a new generation of glassmakers, trained at colleges like Dudley College are beginning to set up studios in the area, breathing new life into the old traditions and taking glass into exciting new areas. The days of large factories making glass by hand may be limited, but there is no doubt that Stourbridge will remain a centre of innovation and creativity in glass for many years to come.