In Barnsley, where there’s muck, there’s glass

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WHERE there’s muck there’s brass, as they used to say in Barnsley.

Not so long ago the old Yorkshire expression about dirty jobs and making money aptly summed up the nature of coal mining.

Exhibitions officer Alison Morton with a ruby epergne. Picture: Scott Merrylees

Exhibitions officer Alison Morton with a ruby epergne. Picture: Scott Merrylees

But in Barnsley they also know a thing or two about another skill that was dirty work and relied on strong arms - glass making.

The town and the wider Dearne Valley’s industrial past is strongly linked to coal mining but glass making was once a very important industry.

If you look closely at Barnsley’s coat of arms, it depicts both a miner and a glass blower.

The history of glass making, which began in Barnsley in the 17th century using the skills of French migrants, is reflected in a new exhibition at the Experience Barnsley museum at the Town Hall.

It reveals that early glass producing was almost as tough as hewing coal.

And the workers could be just as militant, judging by a strike over wages by 2,000 bottle makers which went on for months in 1893.

The men and women who put Barnsley on the map for bottles and other glass products are celebrated in the exhibition.

Dan Rylands (1849-1910) succeeded his father as partner at the Hope Glass Works in Stairfoot, Barnsley in 1881.

His business partner, Hiram Codd, had famously invented the Codd bottle in 1872, causing a revolution in the industry by allowing fizzy drinks to be contained using a glass marble to seal the bottle neck.

In 1893 Rylands ran into money trouble and tried to take his own life when declared bankrupt.

His sympathetic workforce raised £300 so his family could hang onto their possessions.

Rylands then moved to London to work as a mineral water firm but struggled with mental health problems before taking killing himself in his sister’s bedroom in 1910.

The industry was not just about bottles and jars.

Barnsley-born Adeline Jackson (1883-1952) was reportedly the first woman in the country to qualify as a glass technologist. She became MD at Wood Brothers in the town in 1948.

“News of her sudden death in 1952 put an industry into mourning,” said an exhibition spokesman.

“Wood Brothers stopped production for six hours on the day of her funeral and several hundred staff attended the service at St Edwards, Barnsley.”

The glass tradition continues to this day at the Ardagh Group whose training manager, Bernard Holt, remembers five decades of change.

“The machines that I first worked on produced around 25 bottles per minute; now we are producing up to 500.

“I remember when bottle making was a dart art and people were reluctant to share their knowledge in case you pinched their job.”

Glass collector and artist David Walker Barker, of Elsecar, Barnsley, who acted as exhibition consultant, said: “The glass works of Barnsley and the Dearne Valley gained a national and global reputation for their products, which were exported around the world.

“This exhibition presents a fascinating and important range of glass bottles and objects made in some of those glassworks covering over 350 years of glass making from the 17th century to the present day.”

‘Our Glass’, which runs until March 15 and is free, features items from Wood Brothers that featured in the Great Exhibition of 1851.

* One firm, Redfearn Brothers, which was founded in 1862, moved to a new site at Monk Bretton in 1946.

By 1967 the firm employed 1,800 people, making it the second largest individual employer in the Barnsley district after the National Coal Board.

The company is currently owned by the Ardagh Group who continue the town’s glass producing tradition.

Collecting antique glass and bottles remains a popular hobby. Many bottles have been found on old waste sites. Rare specimens can fetch thousands of pounds.

A Codd & Rylands bottle was for sale for £1,150 on one website yesterday. Another from Barnsley from 1912 was up for £1,450.

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