Chances Glassworks, Smethwick
Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number: 1021387
Date first listed: 30-Jun-2005
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
District: Sandwell (Metropolitan Authority)
National Grid Reference: SP 00440 89792
Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.
Reasons for Designation
Glass has been produced in England since the Roman period, although field
evidence is scarce until the late medieval period. Wood was the main
manufacturing fuel up to the early 17th century, so the industry was located
in woodland areas, particularly the Weald. From about 1610, production shifted
to the coalfields.
Glass production requires three major components: silica, alkali and lime,
together with colouring material for certain products and decolourisers for
clear glass. Lead was also used in the production of certain types of glass
during the Roman period and after the 17th century. The manufacturing process
involves three stages, fritting, melting and annealing. Fritting was a common
practice before the 19th century involving heating the main glass constituents
to produce an unmolten material for grinding, melting and annealing. Melting
involved the remelting of previously formed glass, and the production of new
glass from raw materials. Until the late 19th century, glass was normally
melted in pre-fired crucibles of refractory clay, on stone benches called
sieges, within the melting furnace. Use of coal as the preferred fuel and
automatic bottle-making machinery in the 1880s led to changes to the melting
furnaces and the use of larger furnaces, hitherto conical structures over
circular furnaces. Regenerative furnaces were developed in the 1860s, and tank
furnaces for bulk melting quickly followed. Flat-glass production methods were
made obsolete by the Pilkington float-glass system of 1959. The third process
is annealing. Because the rapid cooling of molten glass can give rise to
internal stresses, glass was treated in furnaces designed to heat the glass to
a point where deformation begins, then cooled gradually. In the 19th century
conveyors were introduced to take glass through a hot zone into cool air.
Features on glass manufacturing sites include various types of furnaces,
producer-gas plants for the making of gas from coke at 19th century
glassworks, bottle-making machinery, blowing irons or pipes for blowing glass,
glass residues and various buildings used as stores or warehouses. A total of
135 glass production sites (representing about 25% of the estimated national
archaeological resource for the industry) have been identified as being of
national importance. This selection, compiled and assessed though a
comprehensive national survey of the glass industry, is designed to represent
the industry's chronological depth, technological breadth and regional
diversity, and to include all the better preserved glass sites, together with
rare individual component features.
Chances Glassworks was responsible for considerable technological innovation in several major areas of glass manufacture including plate glass, scientific glass and coloured glass. Significant areas of archaeological survival are known to exist within the site, including the bases of up to six furnaces and the major tunnels and flues, providing potentially the most extensive area of survival of 19th century glass manufacture in the country. These buried remains, together with artefacts such as tools and glass waste products, will illustrate the development of the British glass industry during the period which saw the majority of developments leading to modern manufacturing methods. Together with documentary sources located in the Pilkingtons archive these remains will illustrate the history of the glass industry from the early 19th century until modern times.
Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.
The monument includes the below ground remains of the former North Works of
Chances Glass Company. Adjacent to the M5, the site is located within the
Smethwick Summit/Galton Valley Conservation Area, between the Birmingham
Canal Navigations Old Mainline Canal (Wolverhampton level) to the north, and
the Birmingham Canal Navigations New Mainline Canal (Birmingham level) to the
south. There are eight listed buildings within the glass works site, which
are excluded from the scheduling.
The company was founded in 1824 when Robert Lucas Chance, a glass merchant
with expertise gained at Nailsea (near Bristol), bought an existing works,
the British Crown Glass Company, established by Thomas Shutt in 1814. An
early major achievement was the introduction into this country of the
cylinder method of production of `German' sheet glass. Initially the company
employed French and German labour to provide the specialised skills and
technical innovation not available in England. In 1839 James Timmins Chance
joined the partnership and was responsible for solving the problem of
grinding and polishing sheet glass to a transparency hitherto only seen in
plate glass. Known as `patent plate', this glass was highly sought-after;
28,000 square feet were supplied for glazing the Houses of Parliament. In
1840 Chances installed eight polishing and 20 smoothing machines driven by a
Bolton and Watt steam engine. The company also supplied the glass for the
1851 Great Exhibition building, the `Crystal Palace', producing over 956,000
square feet of glass, with a further 750,000 square feet when the building
was later moved. Many other inventions were patented by the company,
including furnaces for the manufacture of glass, machinery for toughening or
preparing surfaces of glass, and furnaces for flattening glass. Chances were
also responsible for the development of the British manufacture of lenses for
lighthouses. Their first lighthouse was exhibited at the Great Exhibition of
1851, and Chances lighthouse works became pre-eminent globally in the design,
manufacture, supply and erection of lighthouses. At the outbreak of the First
World War Chances began the production of optical glass for military
applications previously imported from Germany such as gun-sites and
binoculars. Government grants in the inter-war period allowed specialist
research and development of optical glass for military applications,
extending production to include range finders, periscopes and airfield
lights. The company's military products played an important role in World War
II. From the 1920s they produced specialised heat-resistant glass vessels
used in scientific laboratories. The majority of the specialised functions
were carried out at the South Works, the North Works concentrating on
large-scale production of flat glass. Chances was taken over by Pilkingtons
in the 1950s and the site of the North Works has remained unused since
Pilkington's ceased production there in the 1980s.
With the exception of extant listed buildings the majority of the site has
been levelled to a concrete slab. A survey carried out in 1984 discovered the
survival of a number of buried structures including furnace bases, tunnels,
gas flues etc. When originally established the glassworks lay within an area
of open fields, bounded only by Spon Lane and the Old Main Line Canal. When
R.L.Chance bought the site in 1822, there was only a single glass house. By
the 1830s the site occupied over 14 acres and an illustration of 1857 shows
eight furnace cones at the site. Other structures recorded at the site
include 40 cottages for workmen; one single and two double crown houses; one
house for working German sheet glass; lead chambers and alkali works; acid
works; carpenter's shop; a smith's shop; engines for grinding tools;
warehouses; cutting rooms and pot rooms. Additional land was purchased for
the expansion of the South Works, but by the 1850s the confined North Works
had been developed to capacity. There were eight glass houses as well as the
office range and a seven-storey warehouse. With buildings constructed even
upon the embankment of the canal, development concentrated on the
modification and up-grading of furnaces and associated structures within the
confines of the extant buildings.
In the 1950s there was a wholesale clearance of the northern side of the
works, to the west of the central canal basin, and the infilling of the basin
to facilitate the erection of the rolled plate warehouse served by Number 3
and Number 4 furnaces at its eastern end. Rolled Plate manufacture ended in
the 1970s and the final phase of glass making on the North Works was in the
micro glass department.
The eight listed buildings, all modern paths, surfaces and all modern extant
features, are excluded from the scheduling although the ground beneath these
features is included.
MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
Legacy System number: 35143
Legacy System: RSM
Sandwell MBC, Upson, Anne, Chances Glass works Spon Lane Conservation Statement and EIA, (2004)
This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
End of official listing