by archivist J R Ashby.
Mr Thomas Barron And His Involvement
In The Glassworks Of South Yorkshire
A little while ago I copied an article from the Mexborough and
Swinton Times dated 19th August 1887, it was the obituary of Mr.
Thomas Barron and it wasn’t until I came to study it in detail I
found that it wasn’t just an obituary but told the story of both
Thomas Barron and his glassworks.
It starts by telling us that he lived in Glasshouse Lane (this is
now under the Indoor Market) and his death was indirectly caused by
the carriage he was in colliding with a dray at Barker’s Corner
(where the General Post Office now stands and the Junction of
Swinton Rd., Main St,. and High St.) we think of road accidents as
being a product of the motor car and the twentieth century but this
proves that the Victorians had their problems too.
Mr Thomas Barron was born at Ratcliffe Bridge, Lancashire on 18th
Sept. 1812, but left for Huslet with his parents at the age of two
years, and was later apprenticed to Mr John Bower of the glassworks
there. After his apprenticeship he than went to work at “The Aire
and Calder Works” in Castleford, then owned by Messers Breffit and
Co. He also for a time worked for Mr John Kilner at Thornhill Lees,
this being the father of the owner of Kilner Bros. Glassworks at
In 1835 he married Miss Armitage at Lees Old Church, and during
their married life they had no less than seven sons and five
daughters (some did not survive).
After working at Thornhill Lees Mr T. Barron came to Mexborough with
his father Mr Joseph Barron (Jnr), Benjamin Rylands, John and James
Tillotson, and Joseph Wilson, they were all practical glass-blowers
and all were determined to start up in business, and in 1850 did
just this, in an old house which stood on the site where the Don
Glass Works once stood (now under the by-pass behind York Square.)
calling it the Don Glass Bottle Works. All the members worked very
hard until they had a weekly output of 130 gross (18,720 bottles per
week). In 1852 Messers Benjamin Rylands, John and James Tillotson
and Joseph Wilson left to start their own firm in Swinton.
In 1856 Mr Joseph Barron (Snr.) died leaving the glassworks to his
two sons, and the first extension was started soon after this in
1857 when a second glass house was thought necessary, which started
production in September 1858. But in 1864 the two brothers argued
and they dissolved the partnership, Joseph taking the new building
and Thomas the old giving it the name of “The Phoenix” (in 1865 The
Phoenix Glassworks opened officially according to John Goodchild).
After only a couple of years his brother went bankrupt and the
property was bought by Andrew Montagu, Mr W Roebuck, Hartley Barron
and Joseph and Chas. Bullock, Mr Peter Waddington being later taken
into the company.
In 1873 the first old Flint House was pulled down and a new one
erected on the site, and in 1874 a third house was built, and
extension followed extension until it became one of the largest
glassworks in the area.
In 1883 he heard of a better way of producing glass this being by
the Siemens Process (invented in 1866 for the production of Steel)
and on Feast Day (24th June) 1883 a start was made on the
foundations for the chimney of the new furnace, and the production
of glass by the “continuous system” of Siemens Process started in
April 1884.But by 1885 business was such that another furnace was
needed and a second gas fired furnace was erected. By this time
Thomas Barron was employing three hundred men and boys.
Next in this article comes a comment on the mode of the times (don’t
forget that when this article was written out country was in the
grips of the Great Depression, which took from 1870 to 1900 to
clear) and this was that other countries had put a levy on all goods
imported into that country from Britain, to give priority to their
own manufactured goods, but the
British Government had refused in their turn to put a tax on
imported goods, and as a consequence it had hit the British
manufacturing industries, in particular those which had a large
export trade, such as glass industries and Thomas Barron in
particular, who exported to Australia who in 1886 put a tax of 1/6
(71/2p) a gross (144) on imported bottles to encourage their own
emerging glass works in New South Wales. It also Comments that a
British Trades Mark Act had been brought out, and that Mr Barron
thought that the death of the British silk and sugar industries were
as a direct result of the tax put on British goods by foreign
The article then goes on to tell us about Mr Barron himself. In 1882
when he was 70yrs. Old he blew one of his last bottles, at the
opening of one of his furnaces, a Mr James Rogers told him that he
would fill with whisky any bottle he could blow and was astonished
when he blew a gallon bottle.
Mr Barron was one of the founder members of Mexborough Local
Board, first sitting when it was a District Sanitary Board (this
must have been in 1866 when they were first started) and eventually
became overseer of the poor. A Congregationalist by religion he gave
frequently to Mexborough Congregational Church. He was an “old
fashioned” Conservative, believing it to be his duty to look after
his employees and started “The Phoenix Sick and Divided Society” to
enable them to obtain financial aid in times of hardship. In Jan.
1885 at the Montagu Arms, where they held their annual meetings, Mr
Barron was presented with a
The founder of the glassworks,
Joseph Barron senior. Here photographed
with his wife around the middle
of the 19th century. He died in 1856.
Glassmaking around 100 years ago at Phoenix.
pair of gold spectacles in a silver case
and a silver mounted Malacca walking stick with solid Ivory handle,
his wife at the same meeting was presented with a pair of gold spectacles
enclosed in a case inlaid with pearls, she also received a Victorian
lady’s workbox. The cane and spectacle case being inscribed with
“Presented to Mr T. Barron Esq., by his workmen 2nd Jan. 1885”.
There was after the presentation a speech given by Mr Liversedge,
who comments that Mr Barron had seen the glass manufacturing
industry in Mexborough grow from the old methods of glass bottle
manufacture to the latest, and they could at that time not be
bettered for quality, or colours, and that it was one of the finest
buildings in Britain or the continent.
The writer then made an interesting comment that when Mr Barron
first came to Mexborough there were only about sixty families in the
whole of Mexborough, but by 1887 the population had increased to the
point that the writer thought it about time that Mexborough and the
surrounding district should be represented by an MP in parliament,
and that it seemed silly that the Lord of the Manor James Montagu
could try and sit for Pontefract but not for his own town, and its
area, also that his neighbour Mr Wrightson of Cushworth Hall should
have sat for Northallerton for so many years. The writer also makes
a comment that if Mexborough kept on growing the way that it had
over the past few years, it would not be long before it outstripped
the nearby towns of Rotherham and Doncaster in prosperity and
population, and that Doncaster had just acquired a stroke of luck in
that Mr Edmond Beckett had just sited his “Plant” there.
At the funeral the High St. and the vicinity of Glasshouse Lane
where Mr Barron had lived was crowded with mourners and people who
had come to pay their last respects. What follows is then a list of
people in the funeral cortege which starts with 230 workmen and then
ten coaches in which were Mr Barron’s relatives, here I found the
most interesting to be that the article told you just how they were
related to Mr Barron, such as Mrs John Kilner wife of the proprietor
of Kilner Bros. Glass Works Denaby Main, who was Mr Thomas Barron’s
sister. A procession of the business people of Mexborough then
followed the cortege. At 3p.m. that day all business was suspended
in the town, as two thousand people assembled at the newly opened
cemetery, the coffin was carried into the chapel there by some of
his workmen, the Congregational Choir sang under the leadership of
Mr A Popple and he was buried in a vault on the Nonconformist side
of the cemetery. The writer then makes the comment that it was the
largest funeral ever seen in the town.