Wednesday, 16 December 2009

A very Happy Chance-mas to you all!

This is my last week working on the Chance collection in 2009 but before running off to finish my present buying and gorge myself on all of my favourite Christmas food, I wanted to do one last December post to put everyone in the Christmas spirit. Unfortunately, it has been quite difficult to find much information in the Chance collection about Christmas but this week I stumbled upon a description of the annual pensioners' social gathering, which occurred once a year around Christmas time and was inaugurated by the cashier George Lewis in 1905. The pensioners would invite the Directors to tea and one of George Ferguson Chance's or Henry Stobart's sons would impersonate Father Christmas and hand out presents including tea, tobacco and fruit on behalf of the Directors.

I have also found a mention of children's parties that were held by all of the departments of the company. Joyce Taylor, Alan Taylor's wife who is also an ex-employee of Chance, describes in an interview available on the Chance Encounters website how they would put Charlie Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy films on in the cinema room for the children and that they also had clowns and conjurers for entertainment.

I would now like to send the readers of my blog some festive Chance greetings and the best way I could think of doing this is to send you all a real Chance Christmas card. I have found a very pretty card originally sent in 1951 with the message 'With the Season's Greetings from Hugh and Cynthia Chance'. The picture on the front of the card and the inscription inside commemorate the centenary of The Great Exhibition which was held in the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park. This was an extremely important event for Chance as they not only glazed the entire building with their sheet glass, but their first lighthouse optic ever made was also displayed there.

All that remains for me to add to the delightful little card above are my own Christmas greetings. I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas and I will be back in the New Year reporting on my progress with the lighthouse records.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

It's a wrap

As Christmas is approaching, I thought I should get some present wrapping practice in at work. And before you protest and argue along the lines of "they pay these people good honest taxpayers' money to wrap their presents whilst they should be grafting", you will be relieved to hear that it was archival and all in the name of Chance. Way back in October, I posted a description of the Chance ledgers afflicted by red rot and gradually decaying. I mentioned that John Everall, the conservator at Wolverhampton Archives and Local Studies offered to spend a day showing us how to consolidate these ledgers and slow the effects of the decay down. Well that day was Monday and two of my colleagues and I met John at West Bromwich Town Hall, armed with brushes, newspaper and empty glass jars. John bought along a vat of pva glue and made a very watered down, milky version of the glue to paint on to the leather bindings of the ledgers. Between us we managed to paint all of the worst offenders by the afternoon, helped along by a cup of tea and one or two mini rolls (thanks Sarah!). I couldn't believe how quickly we got through them and they are now clean to the touch and shining like new (well almost). So a big thank you goes out to John for his expertise and Sarah and Keith for their painting skills.

Another big thank you goes to 'origami' Sophie who started to help me with the more fiddly task of wrapping the ledgers in acid free paper and tape. We wanted to wrap the ledgers in a way that enables them to be opened and read without having to remove the wrapping. This meant that we had many fiddly folds to make and as the books are so big the two of us had to wrap each book together to prevent causing any further damage to the books (and ourselves). We managed to wrap an entire shelf of books in the time we had yesterday. There are, however, another 32 shelves left to do so I think we will be wrapping for quite some time yet.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009


This week I have been arranging and cataloguing the health & safety records of the company. Whilst it never really occurred to me before, it should not have come as much surprise that accidents were a common occurrence in a glass works. As Robert Wilkes, a previous employee of Chance, commented in an article called 'Chance Brothers 1950/1' published in Glass Circle News (N0. 109, December 2006) glass, 'is one of the nastiest, most dangerous materials on Earth'. He describes the hazards faced every day at the glass works from third degree burns in the 'hot end' to 'drawing blood or taking out an eye' in the 'cold end' as the glass can 'fly without warning' when it resists being shaped.

Chance kept an accurate record of the accidents that took place at the works. There is a series of 7 accident books from 1898 to 1942 that record every accident at the Spon Lane Works following the Workmen's Compensation Act 1897. The books read like a grizzly catalogue of every possible injury you can imagine from the expected cuts, burns and severed fingers associated with glass work to the more unexpected head and back injuries caused by falls into the blowers hole and crushed feet caused by dropped shells (a common occurrence in the book recording accidents in the shell department during the First World War). Whilst the accident books only go back to 1898, Chance had been concerned about the health of their employees from as early as 1841 when they set up the Provident Society, which provided benefits to the employee and their family in the event of sickness or death. The first surgeon was appointed in 1843 to prescribe to the workmen, attend to their wives and families source all medicines and appliances for the dispensary and report regularly to the Board. The only records I have found relating to the Provident Society and healthcare from 1841 to 1898 include the surgeons' correspondence and reports up to 1849 and blank application forms and medical cards.

Aside from the individual injuries recorded in the accident books, there is also a newspaper cutting of a report written in the Birmingham Mail dated Tuesday 8th December 1953 about a major incident that occurred at the glass works and surprisingly, this accident had nothing to do with glass. Four men died when the archway of an underground vault collapsed during demolition work of old buildings near the canal. A further nine men escaped with either mild injuries or shock. The accident was considered to be on the same level as a 'war-time incident' and the Civil Defence squad of the glass works, comprising many volunteers experienced at removing bodies from bombed buildings during the Second World War, was called in to help the 'chains of workers [who] removed bricks one by one in a feverish bid to reach [the bodies]'. It took over two hours to recover the first body. It must have been horrendous for the men desperately trying to recover their dead colleagues from the rubble but they persevered as 'cups of tea were bought out from the factory canteen but the workmen stopped only a matter of seconds to gulp it down before resuming their grim task'.