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Published: November 11th 2018
Woolly says – One of the places on my list that appeared worthy of a visit seemed to be one that Jo kept avoiding, with no idea as to why I put my ‘don’t mess with me face’ on and insisted that today was the day that we would go there, I mean what could go wrong in a glass museum!
The idea of cut glass and my small companion was one that I dreaded, I felt it was time to set some ground rules for the visit. Woolly says – No running, no touching, no getting within five feet of anything fragile …. did she really think I would cause that much chaos!! The Red House Cone is located in an area called Wordsley not far from our former home in Stourbridge. It is a 90 foot (27 m) high conical brick structure with a diameter of 60 feet (18 m) and was used by the Stuart Crystal firm until 1936, it is one of only four complete cones remaining in the United Kingdom which makes it pretty special in my eyes. The one acre (4,000 m2) site on which the cone
stands, was sold by John and Ann Southwell and Rebecca Stokes to Richard Bradley, a wealthy glass-manufacturer, on the 21st June 1788. It is believed that Bradley began construction on the site soon after purchase, meaning that the cone would date to around 1790, originally built to produce window glass it became renown the world over for its glass wear. As we pulled onto the carpark I leapt out of the car to take a good look at the famous building, it looked rather like an upside ice cream cone, maybe there would be ice cream to sample inside!
It seemed unlikely but then I had spotted an ice cream sign pointing in the direction of the café, a good bribe if one was needed! Woolly says – Having admired some of the beautiful glass displays in the shop from the necessary five foot we wandered into the area where the barges would have arrived on the canal network to bring all of the goods required for glass production, once made the finished product would have been transported to its next destination in the same way. The canal system around the area
was central to trading until the late 1800’s which made the site an ideal place to set up in business. Between 1770 and 1930 there were thirty glass factories in the area, sadly today there are none. The Stourbridge glass quarter was world famous proving wares for the international market as well as hospitals and hotels across the country not to mention the titanic. Although originally designed to produce windows by 1796 production had changed to bottle manufacturing until 1827 when tableware became its biggest export.
Strangely I had acquired some of the glass but in a rather roundabout way. On the death of my maternal grandmother I had inherited several boxes of highly fragile glass known as Singapore glass, forty years passed with only an occasional forage into the boxes which always resulted in at least one less being returned to its bed of tissue paper. As we started to pack up our lives to move to Turkey the boxes had been brought down from the attic and along with a few other items was taken for valuation to an auction house. The gentleman in charge studied the glassware as we explained that the
glass had come from Singapore where my grandparents had been based, he chuckled to himself and told us that the glass had in fact been on a very long journey and had returned to it’s roots, it turned out that it had been produced in the Red House Cone and exported, it’s journey continued to Turkey where it still lives in its boxes as everyone is to scared to use it in case of breakages. Woolly says – I laughed as Jo told me the story, before pointing towards some large display cases of finally etched glass and asking if the patterns on those weren’t the same as on the precious glass in our home, pretty much like for like said my friend before adding the boring statement of not getting any closer. As we moved past a long low tunnel the sign told that this was a lehr, a temperature-controlled kiln for annealing objects made of glass. The resulting objects had less internal stress so were less prone to breaking and it is the only remaining one in the world! As we entered into the cone itself, way up above my head was a small spot
of light from the top of the cone far beneath I found myself looking at a large central circular building which had once been the furnace to produce the heat required in the making of the products. Around the floor where trolleys and tools that would have once been in every day use and in some cases were still used for the glass blowing demonstrations that take place, I’m not sure I would have enough puff for trying it and as the demonstration area was empty it appeared that I wouldn’t get the chance anyway.
Hot molten glass and the mammoth probably isn’t the best of ideas although it was a shame not being able to watch the skilled craftsman at work. Woolly says – Outside the rain had started to fall in large drops, plopping into the canal and splattering me in nasty wet stuff, I quickly trotted into a near by craft shop. The site has quite a few of these shops selling all manner of handmade items from the knitted tea cosy through jewellery and ceramics and of course lots and lots of glass. Some 1920’s art deco vases
caught my eye, beautifully decorated in swirls of green, even I didn’t need to be reminded not to get to close as I considered how much these must cost. I’d never realised how many shapes you could make from sand as we admired daleks, dogs, perfume bottles and enough glass wear to cover Everest I could only admire the skill and work that had gone into the making of them. I peered outside and realised that the rain had passed onwards, across the cobbled lane was a small cosy looking café which I had noticed was selling ice cream, maybe I could get a cone as big as the one behind me, just image that filled with ice cream hmmmmmmmm.
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