Thursday, 24 September 2009

Take a 'Chance' on me

Sandwell Community History and Archives Service (which will from now on be referred to as CHAS) took a chance on me with my appointment as Project Archivist almost two months ago at the end of July. Since then I have been trying to get my head around the collection and the history of the company. From its inception in 1824 as a humble manufacturer of crown glass for windows, Chance grew to become one of the premier glass manufacturers in Britain. In his Walks in the Black Country and Green Borderland (1868), Elihu Burritt comments on the Chance glassworks that, “In no other establishment in the world can one get such a full idea of the infinite uses which glass is made to serve as in these immense works”. This entirely sums up my impression of Chance since starting my research. Chance produced crown, sheet and rolled plate flat glass; a very thin glass for use in microscope slides; laboratory glass; ornamental coloured glass; decorative domestic glass; optical glass and perhaps most famously, lenses and apparatus for lighthouses all around the world. The list is endless, making for an extremely rich collection, which will appeal to a myriad of users both locally and internationally. It also makes for an extremely complex collection to catalogue (and a headache for the archivist!)

The collection is around 30 cubic metres in total and consists of minutes, letterbooks, financial and share records; employment records including salaries and pensions; legal records associated with patents, trademarks and agreements; catalogues and other publicity material; and extensive production records, such as mixing books and drawings. The first step before any cataloguing can take place is to list all of the material. This involves going through each of the approximately 300 records management boxes and 400 ledgers transported over from Pilkingtons to see what items/information they contain. Whilst this can be a time consuming activity it does enable me to get physically stuck in to the collection and find some really interesting items.

Over the next year I intend to use this blog to report on my experience cataloguing the collection and I hope it will be of interest to anyone who happens to stumble upon it. I will highlight any interesting records I come across, describe the process and challenges of cataloguing and comment on any events that take place associated with the project. So if you're interested in the history of the company, glass production in general, lighthouses or fiestaware please do take a chance on this blog.


  1. Hi Laura,

    Congrats on the job your collection sounds very interesting. I'm at the Ballast Trust now and we have lots of technical collections from businesses like shipbuilding and railways. I don't think we have anything from lighthouses but I shall keep a look out for any mentions of chance glass in the collections I'm working on.

  2. Are there any Chance Bro's company records from the 1860's onwards that would indicate where shipments of their glass products went around the world?


    The reason I ask is that my ancestors Australian Stained Glass company, "Ferguson & Urie 1853-1899" regularly imported boxes of stained glass pieces from "the old country" to Melbourne between 1861-1899 and I suspect that they may have come from Chance Bro's.


    The Ferguson & Urie company was started in 1853 by three Scots as a plumbing, slating and glazing company. The founders were brothers James & David Ferguson and James Urie. David returned to Scotland in 1856 but the company name remained the same between James Ferguson & James Urie thereafter. In 1861 they employed a Scottish stained glass artist named John Lamb Lyon and later an English artist named David Relph Drape and the company from that point on became a purely glazing and stained glass manufacturing company.


    The stained glass border designs, some canopy elements, and the various designs such as Fleur-de-lis, passion flower etc, for the in-fill diamond quarries are what was mass imported as well as small pieces depicting northern hemisphere birds, bowls of fruit and other repeating patterns and these were used in conjunction with a custom stained and painted central image for ecclesiastical and secular windows between 1861 and the company closure in 1899.


    There are no known Ferguson & Urie company records that could help with ascertaining where they imported their glass from but various vague statements that they made to the tabloids indicated that they only imported the best glass "from the old country" which was a blanket term used for England, Scotland & Ireland.


    If there is anything in the Chance Bro's historic company records (if such records exist) that indicate any regular shipments of glass products to the Australian company named Ferguson & Urie of North Melbourne (also known as 'Hotham') in Victoria between 1861 and 1899 it would certainly add a new research direction for not only my research of Ferguson & Urie, but no doubt also for the Chance Bro's company history.


    Any information would be greatly appreciated and properly acknowledged.


    My web web site contains over 2,500 detailed images of Ferguson & Urie stained glass and over 350 articles on where some of these windows were erected on the east coast of Australia and even as far as New Zealand. It is not complete and never will be in my lifetime and I still have over 40 research articles and hundreds more photos to add to it.



    Ray Brown

  3. Hi Ray
    Thank you for your message. The Chance Bros collection is very comprehensive but by no means complete. There are some very detailed financial records and you might find some references to Ferguson & Urie. I suggest that you contact Sandwell Community History & Archives Service at as they can advise you on how to make a research enquiry. Cheers, Laura