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:
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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