“Are you going to buy that glass or have you fallen in love with it?” Whenever I go into a store I am automatically drawn to the glass department where unknowingly, I pick up an item and look at it for imperfections then slowly turn it round in my hands, feeling the shape – a throwback to my inspection days at Lemington.
I started at Lemington Glassworks in 1973 to pay for my daughter’s wedding. It was a big culture shock for me as I’d never been in a factory before. I went into the inspection department working alternate weekly shifts, 6 til 2, 2 til 10. I found the work so boring I thought “I’ll never stick this” and would leave at the end my first week. I was persuaded to give it a few more weeks which I did, although I enjoyed the friendly atmosphere with my co-workers, I disliked the work intensely. Once I got into the swing of sorting I took an interest in the production side.
The glassblowers were like little ants going to and fro on the platform surrounding the furnace gathering molten glass from the pot onto a ‘blowing iron’, working it into a mould to create a glass bulb – an amazing sight to see. The hand-drawn tubing I found fascinating to watch – a glassmaker gathering a huge amount of molten glass onto the end of an iron then connect this glass to a post holder and proceed to walk backwards drawing out the glass into tubing. Unbelievable, when you think it was only half a millimetre in diameter when finished.
The most fearsome, yet awe inspiring sight I ever saw was the firemen changing a pot. The molten glass was ladled out of the old pot, a big iron plate on chains was dropped over the furnace, the brick wall in front of the pot was removed followed by the pot itself which was taken away on a long, ladder-like barrow and left to cool. The new pot which had previously been handmade using a special clay and put into a kiln and heated until it was glowing white hot, was then manoeuvred on the same barrow-like construction by the firemen into the furnace and the wall rebuilt around it. These men were extremely brave and worked together as a magnificent team – no protective clothing or safety regulations in those days.
In 1987 we celebrated the 200th anniversary of the glassworks. Each employee was given a glass momento in the shape of the original cone, also a scarf for the ladies, a tie for the men. Sadly, from 1990 the glassworks was in trouble because of imported cheap glass
bulbs. There was a huge drop in the market for handmade glassware which resulted in redundancies etc. over the next six years. After 23 years, four family weddings and a wealth of knowledge about glass, I tearfully watched the doors of Lemington Glassworks close forever.