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'.


  1. Hi , My Grandad Mr George Sloan worked for Chance Bros , I think as a lorry driver , I am in possesion of a clock that was presented to him in 1945 for 25 years service

  2. Hi! That's a wonderful possession to have from your grandad. Working at Chance Brothers must ahve been a very important aspect of his life. If you would like to consult the Chance Brothers collection please do get in touch with Sandwell Community History and Archive Service at http://www.sandwell.gov.uk/info/200253/archives_local_and_family_history/596/visit_the_archives_service