GLASSMAKING IN KNOTTINGLEY
by RON GOSNEY
Glass making in Yorkshire dates back to the seventeenth century, but
it was not until the nineteenth century that Yorkshire became the
dominant area of glass producers. During the latter part of the
nineteenth century the West Riding became the most important
manufacturing area in the country. It exercised leadership not
only in the actual production of glass products, but also in the
movement of men and employers, and in the invention and development of
In an address to the Yorkshire Section of the Society of Glass
Technology in 1953, Dr. F. W. Hodkin a director of Bagley & Co. said:
"The earliest definite knowledge of glass making in Yorkshire takes
us back no further than the middle of the seventeenth century. As
a seeker after truth I freely admit that glass making flourished in
London, Newcastle, Stourbridge and Bristol before it did so in
In 1827 Dr. Stanley Bertram Bagley's grandfather James was
apprenticed to the Bower family works in Hunslet, and it was here that
quite a number of locally based glass makers began their careers.
Glasshouses flourished in Castleford in the first half of the
nineteenth century, and then in the late 1860's Edgar Brefitt who owned
the Aire & Calder Bottle Company took the lease on the glass house at
Ferrybridge (opposite the Golden Lion). Being on the opposing bank
of the River Aire it was in actual fact in Brotherton. Anthony
Thatcher had established the Yorkshire Bottle Company here before moving
to the North East.In 1869 Brefitt persuaded William Bagley to take up
the position of works manager. Two years later in 1871 William
Bagley in partnership with his cousin John William Bagley established a
single pot furnace on a site next to the canal in the Bendles,
Another artisan glassmaker John Wild together with John Metcalfe and
John Curtis were also associated with the business.
William Bagley (or Mr. William as he became respectfully known) was
born in Hunslet in 1842 and began his association with the glass
industry in 1850 at the age of 8 when he was employed at Pilkington
Bros. of St. Helens. As a young man he went to Castleford and
during the 1860's was known to be living in Welbeck Street. It was
here that he made his mark and on 13 July, 1867 he became secretary of
the Yorkshire Glass Makers Trade Protection Society.
In the Lord Mayors Show of 1875 in London, William Bagley witnessed
the flag belonging to the Glass Makers Trade Union being carried at the
head of the Coopers Co., of which company Edgar Brefitt, Sheriff of
London, was a member.
The employees were strongly organised within the Union and it was
impossible to be employed in the industry without being a member.
In 1876 William Bagley made great efforts that led to the formation of
the Yorkshire Glass Bottle Manufacturers Association, and later in 1891
the Yorkshire Flint Glass Manufacturers Association was formed in Leeds.
In 1866 Josiah Arnall, the postmaster at Ferrybridge, submitted an
idea to Edgar Brefitt for the mechanical production of glass
bottles, but it was either too crude or revolutionary to prove
convincing. Some twenty years later, H. M. Ashley, the manager of
the iron foundry in Ferrybridge, went to live with Arnall and together
they patented the first mechanical device, known as the 'plank machine'
on July 2 1886.
Traditions and fixed habits were tenacious and machines were totally
opposed by the Yorkshire Glass Makers Society, indeed on of the rules
'Bottle making machines shall not be put into the bottle house
amongst the bottle hands and members shall not be displaced for
Plank machines were installed at Sykes & McVay of Castleford and the
Leeds Mercury of December 18 described its first sight of the machine
"Another familiar landmark is going. The Glass Bottle Trade is
in process of being melted down into new parisons without blow pipes and
blowers, and instead of five men being necessary to evolve an imperial
receptacle for beer or aerated water it almost looks as if five
innocently occupied adults might discover pastime in watching the
conjoint labours of a machine in placing bottles at the service of good
liquor as fast as they can be counted. Never since the days of the
Pharaohs has anything so clever in glass making been designed, nor
anything so simple. It has remained for a Yorkshireman, Mr. H. M.
Ashley of Ferrybridge to revolutionise the trade."
By around 1882 Ashley had ten 3 header rotary machines at work in
Castleford. Each machine required two men to operate and was capable of
producing 180 dozen bottles per day. Those companies that failed
to accept the importance of the machine and the fact that mouth blowing
was about to disappear simply fell by the wayside.
Following the death of John William Bagley in 1897 the company
embarked on a programme of modernisation which was to place it at the
fore-front of glass making for many years.
In June of 1898, Bagley & Co. registered as a private limited
company with a working capital of £60,000 in shares of £10 each and
William Bagley was appointed Chairman and managing Director. The
following year they purchased the patent rights of the Ashley-Arnall
bottle making machine, and later sold half the shares in the machine to
a Lancashire firm.
Probably the most outstanding advance was achieved around 1905 when
the Owens Automatic Bottle machine was invented in America. the
European rights to the Owens machine were purchased by Bagley's.
It was considered to be one of the most wonderful inventions of the age,
being entirely automatic and resulted in the ultimate decline of mouth
blowing. In 1913 Bagley & Co embarked on a new enterprise making
white flint confectionary jars, which at the time were being imported
from the continent. During the war this work was suspended and
they were making electric light bulbs, tubing and rod as well as
tumblers for canteens. After the war production was adapted to
cover a variety of domestic household ware, both utilitarian and
decorative. Craftsmen from the North East came down to Knottingley
and passed on their knowledge to a locally recruited workforce and this
subsidiary business opened under the trade name of 'Crystal Glass Co.'
William Bagley died on Wednesday January 16 1924 and was remembered
with great respect and undoubted affection by the last generation of his
workmen. Some of them recalled his way of using his walking stick
upon naughty boys and his breaking and emptying of bottles of beer when
he had given instructions that they should not be brought into his
factory. He had been an active elected member of the Knottingley
Urban District Council and on January 1 1894 had been appointed Justice
of the Peace for the West Riding, a position he held for the next 30
years until shortly before his death.
By the 1930's the company was run by Percy and Stanley Bertram
Bagley, sons of the founders John William and William Bagley.
Percy was regarded as the practical glassmaker whilst Bert was the
businessman and administrator. This progressive company had
committed itself to automatic production with the Owens machines and
undoubtedly these massive ten-arm machines some 12 feet in diameter,
gathering glass by suction from a revolutionary refractory pot were
their pride and joy. Bagley and Co. became one of the principal
employers in Knottingley, at one time having some 800 employees.
During World War Two there was little opportunity for capital
investment but after the war ended new markets began to open and there
was a rush to modernise and install new equipment to cater for the
increased demand Fusion cast refractories ensured longer life
furnaces and there was a move from coal to oil fired furnaces. The
Independent Section (IS) feeder fed machines were being widely used, but
Bagley A Co., having established its reputation with the Owens machine,
were slow to realise its potential. There was no 'settle wave' in
bottles produced on the Owens machine and the general appearance was
considered superior to the bottles made on IS machines. However,
the Owens machine compared unfavourably with IS machines on three
i) Because the Owens was a suction machine there was an unsightly
cut off scar on the base which was also an area of potential weakness
when subjected to thermal shock.
ii) The suction machine blank mould had zero over capacity and a
significant counter blow. The resulting bottles tended to have too
much glass in the base and not enough in the shoulders.
iii) Because the temperature of glass entering the blank mould was
approximately 100 degrees centrigrade higher than feeder fed machines
the relative machine speeds were lower.
It was not until 1947 that Bagley's installed their first IS
machine. Further trials and experiments in the early 1960's saw
the introduction of double gob (dual moulds) and coupled with the
constant light weighting of containers it was possible to increase the
machine speeds. Now in the 21st century, triple gob production has
developed and small 25cl continental beer bottles are being produced at
the rate of 570 bottles per minute. What would the old flint hands
have made of this!
In 1962 the Bagley Company was taken over by Jackson Brothers,
another concern built up and owned by local industrialists.
Jackson's in turn was taken over in 1968 by Rockware Glass, and a
succession of National and International mergers or take-overs saw the
disappearance of local founders.
A new era dawned in 1994 when the Bagley factory in Knottingley was
acquired by Austrian based company Stolzle Oberglas AG who formed
a subsidiary of this group under the name 'Stolzle Flacconage'
They commenced a huge investment programme and no expense was spared in
installing the most advanced regenerative furnace with a capacity of 108
tonnes and a life span of 8 years. Production commenced in 1995
and today they operate four IS machines, a combination of both double
and single gob, producing between 55 and 60 thousand bottles each day
with a labour force of 180-200 people. Emphasis is concentrated on
producing high quality ware and the company proudly claims to be the
leader in the manufacture of superior quality glass mainly for the
cosmetic industry. Their impressive list of associates includes
Revlon, L'Oreal, Christian Dior, Yves St. Laurent and Bourjois.
In 1874 a partnership was formed between three glassblowers and a
blacksmith. Isaac Burdin, George Popplewell, G. W. Barton and T.
Bilsbrough. Together they built a 'round house' on a site at Low
Green, Knottingley adjacent to the canal. The partnership lasted
only for a short time and was sold in 1876 to Andrew Mooney of
Pontefract. Isaac Burdin set up his own business at the Headlands,
Knottingley where he made carboys.
A story is told that Mooney found himself in financial difficulties
and wagered all his assets on a horse called Robert The Devil to
win the St. Ledger at Doncaster in 1880. After the horse had duly
obliged he was able to continue his business until 1893 when he sold the
concern to Samuel Addingley. It was at this time that 'Hope Glass
Works' appeared. It was sold to Peter Gilson, J. W. Chadwick and
Jabez Gregg, three glass makers who had operated in Hunslet. In
1905 it became known as Gregg's Glassworks with three of the four
partners being Jabez, Henry and Alfred Gregg. Production of glass
continues at the site to the present day.
Tom and John Jackson both served apprenticeships at the Bagley
factory and in 1893 with very little capital they decided to embark on a
manufacturing base of their own. Their code of 'blood, sweat and
tears' enabled them to continue through a bleak initial period.
Mr. John, as he was affectionately known, once recalled having seventeen
meals in succession sent to him on site as he worked continuously
On one occasion there was a complaint by the men to the union and the
secretary came to see Tom and John one Saturday evening. He found
them making stoppers and realised that not only did they work alongside
the men, they also worked longer hours and the complaint was duly taken
no further. Mr. John also recalled that the coal slack being used
to heat the glory holes proved difficult to obtain the required
temperatures, so boys were sent to the railway sidings adjoining the
premises. Here they would annoy the engine drivers who would
respond by throwing large lumps of coal at them which were gleefully
collected and returned to fire the glory holes.
In 1912 the firm was formed into a private limited company and
investments were made in modern machines such as the Schiller from
Germany and the O'Neill (christened the Peggy) from the USA. the
adjacent concern of Burdin's was taken over with a view to continuing
production of carboys but the plant was obsolete and never worked again.
After World War Two, Jackson's were ambitious and anticipated new
markets with increased demand, so realising the potential of the IS
machines they built the new works and eventually took over the concern
of Bagley & Co. in 1962. John Jackson was actively involved in
local affairs and served continuously as an elected member of
Knottingley Urban District Council for 62 years, a remarkable
A new machine with two parisons and a finishing mould was developed
and by reason of the new type mounting became known as the pillar and
In 1897 Thomas Turner's of Dewsbury operated a machine designed by
an American named Haley who entered the service of Jackson's Bros. in
1899 and constructed for them a similar press and blow machine.
Joshua Horne built a number of machines for the Ashley Bottle Company,
made changes in the design and then in 1901 took out a patent of his
own. many of these machines were introduced in the glass industry
in England between 1901-1917 when the firm came to an end. The
Simpson Bradshaw machine was developed by John Lumb & Co. for producing
narrow mouth bottles.