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Glassware Made and Produced by Barron’s Glassworks in 1899




The ‘boys' of Barron’s Glassworks. It is believed that this photo was taken at approx the same time as the article appeared in Cassell’s Magazine.



In 1849 Joseph Barron(Sen) Benjamin Rylands, John & James Tillotson and Joseph Wilson, all working glassblowers, signed an agreement to take over the small but high class flint-glass bottle works, owned by a man by the name of Millishe in Mexborough.
Also as Thomas & Joseph Barron (Jun) do not appear on neither the agreement, or the 1851 Mexborough Census Returns, we conclude that they were not involved in the early creation of the works and it may have been following the dissolving of the partnership between Joseph Barron (Sen) and his partners in 1852, that they came to Mexborough.
Whatever the truth, by the 1880’s the Phoenix Glassworks was making the staggering number of 144,000 bottles by hand per week.  
A few weeks ago pages taken from a magazine came into the hand of our society, written in 1899, which threw light on the expertise of the glassworkers and vast variety of products made by the Phoenix Glassworks (Barron’s Glassworks).
These pages have been enlightening, to say the least, as previously we had believed that the works just made bottles, such as the famous Codd Bottle, but to discover that they also made: high quality goblets, vases and drinking vessels of fine cut lead crystal; sheet glass for windows; plus plate glass; was a surprise.
I would therefore like to share with you the contents of that magazine:

Cassell’s Magazine
The History and Mystery of a Glass Bottle
By F.M. Holmes

A big glass works is a veritable cave of wonders. Look first at the unlikely materials of which glass is made. Here it lies - sand and soda and lime; very often red lead is used also;, and for the commoner kinds, waste products from other factories, such as refuse from gas, soap, and alkali works – also slag from iron furnaces, and salt and rocks having Feldspar in them. All these can be used; while if you want to make the glass very transparent and white, you may cast black oxide of manganese into the mixture. Could you a greater contradiction? – black stuff put into the glass to make it white!
 
Now, although the varieties of glass-making are infinite, yet the essential principles are very few and are always the same. In the first place, you must have a mighty and overwhelming heat – a heat which nothing will withstand except the most refractory fire-clay.
 
Look in here – at this furnace-mouth, which is like a hole in a wall; but, before you look, take down that blue-coloured piece of window-glass, otherwise the tremendous heat and glare may injure your eyes. The workman pulls a chain, and the door rises from the furnace-mouth; instantly you are face to face with a cave and core heat which you had before no conception. White-hot hardly expresses the fiery appearance and fervent heat; nor do the words “12,000 degrees Fahrenheit”. You vaguely remember that 100 degrees in the shade is quite swelteringly hot enough for you, and dimly wonder what 12,000 degrees must be like.
 
But it is that fierce fire that the sand and soda, the slag and feldspar, are melted and fused and run together to make glass; it is through such overwhelming heat that the new substance is born. This tremendous heat is one of the fixed and immutable laws of the manufacture, and transforms the unpromising materials into transparent and even brilliant glass.
 
There are different kinds of furnaces for glass-making. Thus we have crucible furnaces and talk furnaces. In the first, the glass is melted in huge crucibles – or pots as they are called; and in the second, the melting takes place in huge tanks surrounded by fire-bricks, while the heat is supplied by immense gas-flames intensified and purified by steam hot air.
 
The heat obtained by a Siemens’ gas tank furnace is extraordinary. Let us visit one at the extensive bottle-works of Messrs. Thomas Barron Ltd., Mexborough. Outside, the furnace consists of strong walls of fire-brick with openings to the furnace, but within the furnace we see no crucibles; we see a lake of fire there. That lake is of molten glass with gas-flames incessantly playing over it. The end of the furnace, where the materials are fed into the ‘lake’, is hotter still, for here they are melted and fused into glass. The furnace is divided by a bridge, through which – or under which – the melted glass passes, the bridge being also useful for keeping back impurities. This arrangement is necessary for bottle-glass, which is made of materials often containing many impurities. Sometimes a tank has two bridges, although in a small furnace none is necessary, any scum being pushed aside before the molten glass is taken out.
 
Now descend below the furnace. Here we see the huge pipe supplying the gas, and also the valve-box for regulating the supply. Just above is the hot-air chamber; and the two – the gas and the hot air – entering the furnace together in great quantise, flame and burn with fearful heat. The flames can be turned, now this way and now the other; they play all round the furnace and all over the glass materials, melting and fusing them together. A tall chimney creates a draught and sucks up the fumes of the tremendous fire. If the brick floor above us should fall as we stand here, down would rush a torrent of molten glass, burning and burying everything in its fiery flow, like a miniature burying of Herculaneum and Pompeii by a small Vesuvius.
 
Such a tank-furnace as this can be worked continuously – that is, the materials can be filled in at one end whenever required, while the molten steam of freshly-made glass incessantly passing the bridge maintains a constant supply for the glass-workers at the other side.
 
Standing now over these workers, everything at first seems in confusion. A number of men and boys, stripped to their shirts in the great heat, are all busy with long iron rods. But gradually, as we watch, order and method appear, and we find that the operators are divided into sets of five, called ‘chairs’, and all working into one another’s hands with careful organisation, like a piece of machinery. One takes an iron rod from the stock lying ready to hand, satisfies himself that the end is sufficiently warm – perhaps by popping it into an aperture in the furnace,
called the ‘glory hole’ – dips it rapidly into the lake of fire, twists it round quickly, and with a swing brings it out, twisting the rod meanwhile. He is the Gatherer, and he has ‘gathered’ a small quantity of the red-hot, treacle-like glass, which is technically called ‘metal’, on to the end of his rid. He must continually twist it, or the red-hot glass would drip off the end on to the flooring. Then the red-hot glass is rolled by another man on a block of stone nearby, called a ‘marver’ and then he blows down the rod – for it is really a rube – and the bottle is commenced. The blowing puffs out the glass and makes it hollow.
 
With a swing of the rod the half-made bottle is next popped into a cast-iron mould placed conveniently nearby on the floor. Formerly the bottle was finished by hand, but now moulds are used. The mould is divided into two pieces, which work on a hinge at the bottom. The hot-glass bubble – for such it is, though not very thin – is placed against one side of the mould; the other side is brought sharply up by pulling a chain, or, in some cases, by pressing a small treadle; and the mould being now joined, the bottle-maker blows smartly down the tube. The red-hot glass fills out the mould, and is pressed up over the top; the second half is released again and falls back, and the newly-made bottle – its red-hot colour dying rapidly down – is swung over on the rod to an iron shelf near the ‘Gaffer’ – as head man of each set is called – and by a smart movement struck off the rod against the side of the shelf.
 
The rod is returned to the rest near, when, as it cools the glass which adheres to its cracks and falls off and in its turn it is used again. Meantime the ‘Gaffer’ scoops up the new bottle in a sort of square shovel, leaving the bottle-neck projecting, and with and iron rod ‘gathers’ a trifle of glass from the lake of fire, twists it on the bottle to form the lip, and, if it appears quite satisfactory, pops it down on another self. Here a boy inserts a long iron rod into it, and carries it off in triumph to annealing oven nearby. Should the bottle be one of the ‘marble sodas’ – i.e. a soda-water bottle containing a glass marble to act as a stopper – the ‘Gaffer’ pops the little glass ball into the bottle, gives the neck the final squeeze with a simple instrument to prevent the ball from coming out again, and finishes the bottle completely. The finishing always rests with the ‘Gaffer’ and for some glass goods he is provided with compasses to measure the sizes, or a small mould to twist round neck and lip. Scales also stand near and boys weigh the bottles now and again to see that they are up to the standard.
 
But the essential process lies in the blowing. It is the blowing which hollows out the bottle, while the mould assists in giving it its shape. Almost all glass is blown, and machines have lately been introduced for blowing glass bottles by pneumatic power.  Even sheet glass for windows is first blown, and the large cylinders thus formed are swung round to elongate them, the hot glass being quite tenacious enough to stand this treatment; they then slit down the side with a diamond, and afterwards subjected to such heat in a flattening oven as causes the cylinder gradually to fall down as a flat sheet on the floor; the workman then smoothes it out with charred wood fixed to a handle.
 
Blowing however is not employed in making plate glass. In this process the white-hot pot is drawn from the furnace by huge forceps on to a trolley; then it is wheeled to the casting table, where a powerful crane lifts it up. When tilted, out pours the thick liquid like red-hot treacle on to the table. Instantly it begins to spread, the iron sides to the table preventing it from poring over; a roller is passed to and fro over the cooling glass, which is thus smoothed into a plate. After being annealed the plate is ground first by rubbing sand and water over it, and afterwards coarse emery paper, the result being the smooth and brilliant surface belonging to fine plate glass. The whole process is so delicate, and requires so much care, that the workmen become usually quite silent while they are busy, forming a striking contrast to the ‘chairs’ of men and boys turning out bottles by the million, at Barron’s; here the lads sing and shout to their hearts’ content as they run about with the iron rods and newly-made bottles.

A somewhat similar process to that of making plate glass, though on a smaller scale, is that of making glass tiles for roofing; these tiles may also be seen at
Barron’s side by side with the bottles, the glass being poured on a small curved table, then rolled, and hurried away to the annealing oven.
 
Thus then while the essence of ordinary glass-making is blowing – or blowing in combination with moulding – there is a special process for plate glass and glass tiles. Another method must be added – that of glass-pressing, by means of which cheap articles, such as small dishes, tumblers, etc., are made. In this process the red-hot glass is poured into a mould, frequently with patterns cut in it, and a reverse-mould, called a ‘plunger’, is pressed down upon the molten glass, and squeezes it into shape. But it is clear that such a process could not be used for narrow-necked articles such as bottles. The glass marbles, however, for aerated water bottles are moulded.
 
On the other hand, many fine glass articles are blown and shaped without moulding at all. To make a drinking-glass – unmoulded, the metal is gathered in the usual way, rolled on the ‘marver’, to make it round, and then blown. A piece of iron dipped in water and passed over the centre of the glass bubble will cause it to crack, and the rod, with half the bubble adhering, being handed to the ‘Gaffer’, he rolls it backwards and forwards on his knees or chair-arms with his left hand, while with his right hand he moulds it to any shape required by means of simple instruments, such as shaped pieces of wood which will smooth and equalise the sides.
 
It is however, the ‘cutting’ which causes one remarkable difference between simply moulded or pressed glass and the finer forms. The ‘cutting’ of glass is really accomplished by ‘grinding’. Vessels that are ‘cut’ are blown with thick walls, and are usually of ‘flint’ glass. The first grinding-wheel is of iron, about a foot in diameter, and hung perpendicularly like a knife-grinder’s wheel; over it is suspended a cylinder, from which flows on to the wheel a mixture of sand and water; the workman holds the glass object to the revolving-wheel and grinds out roughly the pattern intended; another wheel is of stone, and assists in perfecting the pattern, while other wheels are, some of them, very small and have a cutting edge. For some patterns small copper wheels, a quarter of an inch in diameter, are used, and lubricated with oil and emery powder. The final polishing is sometimes given by a wooden wheel and moist oxide of tin – popularly known as putty powder. By means of these various wheels a skilful workman will ‘cut’ any pattern on flint glass, and the facets so produced will flash like diamonds in the light.
 
Before cutting, however the glass is annealed. All glass must be annealed, or, like some ill-tempered people, it would ‘fly’ at the slightest touch. In annealing the glass it is first placed in a low heat, which is gradually raised to a much higher temperature and then gradually cooled. This process is sometimes accomplished by means of ‘liers’ (pronounced leers) – that is, long ovens with travelling floors, which carry the glass slowly through the requisite temperatures. At Barron’s the bottles are fed into travelling furnaces. These are built of brick on iron frames placed on wheels and containing a fire; when filled, the travelling furnace can be dragged away on rails from the glass-making furnace to other parts of the extensive yard and left to cool down.

 


Buffalo Bill Did Not Come to Mexborough
In my newsletter entitled ‘The Hippodrome’ dated 29.01.2013 I stated that research showed that Buffalo Bill came to Mexborough with his Wild West Show in 1902. 
On
Friday 1st March 2013 a gentleman came to Mexborough Library bringing with him a medal, awarded to his grandfather Mr. J. Seven at the Wild West Show in Mexborough, for shooting. 
This medal proves, without a shadow of a doubt that it was not Buffalo Bill that came to Mexborough but Samuel Franklin Cody, who is believed to have been a relative of Bill Cody. 
The medal was presented by S.F. Cody, who’s name is engraved on the rear of the 9ct gold medal, and is accompanied by newspaper clippings.  These have now been copied photographically of members to view.


Copyright: This newsletter may not be copied, in part or in its entirety, without the permission of J.R. Ashby