Chances Glassworks, Smethwick


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:


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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Sandwell (Metropolitan Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SP 00440 89792

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.


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:
Legacy System:


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

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