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Knottingley and Ferrybridge Local History

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 machinery.

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 Yorkshire."


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, Knottingley.

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 stated:

'Bottle making machines shall not be put into the bottle house amongst the bottle hands and members shall not be displaced for machines'


Plank machines were installed at Sykes & McVay of Castleford and the Leeds Mercury of December 18 described its first sight of the machine thus:

"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 counts:

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.

Gregg's Glassworks

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.

Jackson's Glassworks

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 achievement.

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 table machine.

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.

Ron Gosney


 

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