Celebrating a Century of Glass Technology

Presenting Author:
Bill Brookes

article posted 10 Apr 2016

Bill Brookes was drawn to glass through a family interest in astronomy and optical instruments. He is an Engineer who has been a member of the Society of Glass Technology since he graduated from the Department of Glass Technology in Sheffield in 1957.

"A glassman who has only ever melted one kilo of glass"

Having spent over 40 years, mainly in the Electronics Industry, making products ranging from television tubes, glass satellite dishes, "Three D" cameras and Bench top then Desk top computers,

"we never thought that they would catch on" !!!

He finished his career in Academe teaching "Management for Engineers" at Sunderland University.

Having retired he still pursues his interest in the Society of Glass Technology whilst also participating in Local and Regional events.

"To make much better glass ..."
AHG - SGT Joint Study Day

The North East Glass Industry
Its Rise and Demise

Bill Brookes
Glass Technologist

Why did the Glass Industry in "the land of the three rivers" (Tyne , Wear and Tees) go from supplying local demand in the late 1700s, grow rapidly in the mid 1800s and collapse just as rapidly around the turn of the century? What did they do next?

The North East produced the full gamut of glass ware :

Despite punitive taxation the industry grew on the back of the insatiable demand for coal. This in turn drove developments in land transport, materials, infra structure and shipping.

The industry peaked between 1870 and 1880.

So why did it decline?

By 1900 due to competition from home and abroad, failure to invest in latest technology, difficulty in implementing the latest working practices :

The First World War highlighted a desperate need for optical glass and laboratory ware and between 1920 and 1939 North east firms responded, one branching out into borosilicate glasses, "Pyrex" domestic and laboratory ware and others into more technical products

Vestiges still survive, there is still one maker of fused silica still operating in the North East and Sunderland University, based in the National Glass Centre boasts a world class "Glass Art Course".