Thursday, 19 August 2010
Although, despite the title of this post, I do not see this as the end. It is more the closing of the first chapter of the collection's life here at CHAS. The rest of the collection will be gradually catalogued over the coming years and I hope that the interest in the company will continue to grow as it has done during this project. If you are interested in accessing the catalogue it is now available to view online on the Black Country History Website at http://blackcountryhistory.org/collections/getrecord/GB146_BS6/. Please keep the history of this amazing company alive by visiting CHAS to take a look at the records yourself or by contacting the archive with your enquiries at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finally, I would like to say thank you to you....yes you, reading this post right now. Whether you became an official follower of this blog or just accessed it from time to time to read about my progress, I am extremely grateful for your interest and support. It has been a real challenge but I feel that you were there with me at every stage. Thank you for taking a Chance on me and my blog!
Friday, 11 June 2010
Thursday, 3 June 2010
Following my last post, I am pleased to announce that Sylvia Brookes kindly forwarded copies of her wedding photos to me. If you remember, Sylvia and her friend Margaret worked for Chances and Margaret made Sylvia's wedding dress. As you can see, Sylvia looked beautiful on her special day and her dress is a symbol of the close bonds and friendships that were often forged at the works. During the course of this project I have enjoyed nothing more than meeting Chances' ex-employees. Their stories are so real and vivid and they have given me a much more rounded view of the company than just the records could ever provide on their own.
Thursday, 20 May 2010
The second talk I gave was at a day school at the University of Birmingham regarding glassmakers in the West Midlands. I was one of four speakers and each speaker had a very different facet of the industry to talk about. Jennifer Davies talked about the rise and fall of the Stourbridge glass industry and gave us an idea of the very interesting work happening at Broadfield House Glass Museum. Sally Hoban introduced us to the famous stained glass artists who worked across the region and described the way that artists were trained at the Birmingham Municipal School of Arts. And Karamdeep Sahota, a project archivist, introduced us to the fascinating records of the Hardman collection at Birmingham City Archives. The four talks that were given and the discussions that followed provided a very broad and varied sweep of the industry across the Midlands and it was an extremely stimulating day, culminating in questions about the future of the glass industry. It seems that whilst the times of large mass-producing glass companies is over, there are many successful individual artists still operating across the region and their more bespoke work offers a view of what the future holds. To get a sense of this future I would advise you to visit Broadfield House Glass Museum to see some of the more contemporary work on display and I was also informed about the International Festival of Glass 2010, which runs from 27 to 30 August at Stourbridge. There will be events, exhibitions, displays and workshops including opportunities to have a go at glass blowing and glass bead making. For more information, check out the website at http://www.ifg.org.uk/.
Friday, 30 April 2010
Wednesday, 14 April 2010
2) They were the exclusive producers of a very thin glass for use in microslides for over 100 years
3) They were the first company to produce interchangeable barrels and plungers for syringes, revolutionising modern medicine
The records testify to this desire to create new products and improve on others. There are mixture books and reports recording experiments in the laboratory for producing the perfect coloured and textured glass. There are also over 150 patents in the collection for inventions and improvements to glass making processes granted to Chance and its employees. Amongst these are around 20 original letters patents dating from 1842 to 1860 with their original seals and boxes. Letters patents are a legal instrument in the form of an open letter issued by a monarch or government, granting an office, right, monopoly, title, or status to a person or to some entity such as a corporation. These documents are very large and beautifully illustrated with a large decorative seal attached (please see below). A particular form of letters patent has evolved into the modern patent granting exclusive rights in an invention.
It is also clear from the records that Chances could be ruthless when it came to gaining the trade secrets of other firms. In 1887, Chance director Kenneth Alan Macaulay corresponded with an agent in Belgium called Achille Charlot who had found an ex-employee of a glass manufacturer called Baudoux who would sell their knowledge on how to re-produce Baudoux's ruby glass. Initially, the ex-employee wanted £120 but Charlot managed to bring his price down to £70. This equates to approximately £4,000 in today's money. A bargain for a trade secret, I'm sure you will agree!
Monday, 29 March 2010
It is now my duty to encourage any interested researcher to actually dive in to these records, rather than tentatively considering them from the safety of the paddling pool. Financial records provide the main evidence and measure of how successful a business has been. And let's face it, the main aim of business is to make a profit. But the records can tell you so much more than just the income and outgoings of a company. The interesting bits are contained in the finer details, for example, the journals and ledgers could possibly tell you how much an individual spent on their boiled egg at breakfast on a business trip, enlightening you to their eating habits or a ridiculously cheap payment for a new piece of machinery might provide an insight into the cosy relationship the company has with its suppliers. The possibilities are endless and if you are brave enough to read between the lines of the grids containing those scary figures, you may just discover something completely unexpected.
Wednesday, 17 March 2010
One such person is Alan Taylor. He worked in the Drawing Office of the Lighthouse Department and he trained at Chances' Technical College as an Engineering Technician. He has a website that provides more information and Alan's contact details at the following URL:
I have been reliably informed that Alan is happy to recieve any enquiries you might have about Chance lighthouses and his time working at Chances so please do get in touch with him.
Thursday, 11 March 2010
In my last week of working through these records I had two very interesting finds. The first was a large bundle of correspondence labelled 'Stevenson'. I am sure that this has already rung some bells with the lighthouse experts amongst you but as a novice, it was really interesting to find out that this bundle contained many letters written by a very famous family of Scottish lighthouse designers - the Stevenson brothers. The letters included are written by Thomas, David and Alan who were all sons of the esteemed civil engineer and lighthouse builder Robert Stevenson. It also turns out that Thomas Stevenson's son, who happens to be the author Robert Louis Stevenson, caused great disappointment by not following in his family's engineering footsteps and instead decided to write such masterpieces as Treasure Island, Kidnapped and the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. So CHAS now has a link (however tenuous) to the great Robert Louis Stevenson.
The second find came in the file of correspondence I introduced at the start of this post. The draughtsman was dismissed by Chances following a heated argument that broke out between him and one of James Timmins Chance's assistants in the Lighthouse Works. The argument was caused by the draughtsman's earlier retort to a letter written by the assistant that he deemed insulting. The retort came in the form of the following unflattering notice posted through the gatehouse door:
Transcription: NOTICE/FOUND DROWNED in the Liverpool Docks, on the Evening of the 28th inst., a man apparently not highly respectable, height about 5ft 8 1/2 in, weight about 13 Stone, being badly marked with the Small Pox, having a bad set of teeth, with little hair on the top of his head, and seeming to have been recently suffering from the effects of past indiscretions. From letters found in his pocket (but nearly illegible) it is supposed that he is from Great Arthur Street SMETHWICKThe correspondence does not, however, stop at this incident. Over the next seven years it becomes apparent that the draughtsman attempted to sell Chances' trade secrets and lied about his involvement in the construction of Chance lighthouse apparatus in a paper he delivered to the Institute of Civil Engineers. So, if you are having problems with your employees, watch out for a notice posted on your office door...
Tuesday, 23 February 2010
History has since told that this was not to be the case and in 1866 Chance were still attempting to promote their lighthouse work in America. In an additional small envelope I found correspondence between Chances, Fred Burdus of the Cosmopolitan and H Fuller, an American Naval official, regarding a Chance lighthouse advertisement in the paper. Fuller writes to Burdus charismatically, 'If your Birmingham friends want to let them Lights shine in America, they should send a copy of last Saturday's Cosmopolitan, to the Secretary of the Navy - to the members of Congress, the Naval Board, Naval Schools, Admirals, etc.'. He also claims that he can get a Bill introduced for the adoption of a Chance eclipser for a fee as 'we cannot turn the Grindstone to sharpen other men's axes for nothing'. It is unclear whether Fuller managed to turn the Grindstone but one thing is certain, not many Chance lights are shinning in America.
One light that does continue to shine in America, however, is a third order middle lens, lovingly restored by Ellen Henry, MFA, Curator at Ponce de Leon Inlet Light Station in Florida. She contacted me recently with an enquiry about the light and one of Chances' agents. She also sent me a link to a website dedicated to the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse that describes all of the wonderful work the Association is doing to preserve it and make it available to the public and she has offered me a red carpet tour of the station next time I visit Florida. If you would like to read about the light station and pay a visit yourself, take a look at the website at http://www.ponceinlet.org/
Keep that light shining Ellen!
Tuesday, 9 February 2010
Me and Sarah (the Borough Archivist) made a trip over to MACE a couple of weeks ago to drop these films off and Phil kindly projected some of the films for us there and then. First up was a black and white film with a soundtrack about the glass industry in Britain. After a loud blast of the orchestral soundtrack music and the clipped Queen's English commentary, it became apparent that this film may have been a professional mini-documentary that could have been screened at cinemas in the 1940s/1950s during the interval of a feature film , for example. It is unclear whether any of the filming took place at the Spon Lane or Malvern glass works but it seems very likely, given that Chances were the main producers of most glass products.
We then viewed a silent documentary/instruction style film specifically on the manufacture of Chances' laboratory glass Hysil. The tin container had a large sign 'DO NOT OPEN' and it soon became apparent why. This particular film was in quite a bad state with a few tares and at one point the projection was upside down due to an earlier careless repair. After a few tweaks and repairs from from Phil, the film was back to normal and could be projected with hardly a noticeable trace of the damage. There were many films specifically related to production at Chances including continual footage of machines operating and of female workers doing specific tasks when making and packaging laboratory glass. Whilst performing these tasks, a tiny clock was displayed at the bottom of the screen to show how long it was taking. Aside from a shy glance up at the camera and an occasional re-adjustment of their curls and Marcel waves, the ladies showed no sign of nervousness, even though their work was being scrutinised.
The main treat of the day, however, was the aforementioned footage of the King and Queen. Whilst this footage was also silent, we were all surprised to see that half of the film was done in colour. According to Phil, this kind of colour footage of royal visits is quite rare and I have to say, I was quite pleased to see Elizabeth sporting a very fetching shade of Lavender! We were happy to leave these films in the capable custody of MACE, where they will be cared for properly and can be accessed in the future. We are also looking in to having some of the films transferred on to DVDs so that we can access the footage on-site here in Smethwick. After crossing the film reels off my mammoth to-do list I had a nasty shock last week whilst cataloguing the lighthouse records. Hiding under some catalogues and brochures was a 16mm sound reel titled 'Lighthouse Story 1', pictured below. It looks like I might have to make another trip up the M69!
Friday, 22 January 2010
As I said at the end of the talk, the most enjoyable aspect of the job so far is to hear the stories and experiences of people who used to work for the company or grew up in the area and have fond memories of the glass works. After the talk, one gentleman told me that he used to work for the firm that supplied Chances with the coal delivered on the nearby canal. Another lady told me about a sweetshop that the Chances used to own and the very strong smell around the site of the glass works that she can still subconsciously smell sometimes when she is walking round the Spon Lane area.
This week I also received a very lovely letter from a lady who used to live by the glass works. She said that she remembered the visit of the King and Queen very well and actually manged to get a very good view of them when she was 7 years old with the other children from her school. Her grandfather worked on the furnaces and his three sons also worked for the company, one of whom lived in the Chances gatehouse. I also received an email from Alan Dean. Four generations of his family worked at Chances starting with his great grandfather who worked there from 1859 to around 1919 and was awarded a long service medal; followed by his grandfather William Timmins, his uncle Roland Timmins and his cousin Anthony Timmins. There is a picture of Alan's great grandfather's medal below (please note the engraving of the tiny lighthouse at the top of the medal).
Thank you so much to everybody who managed to attend the talk yesterday. For those of you who could not make it, please find a link to the PowerPoint presentation that accompanied the talk below.
Monday, 11 January 2010
Hyper-radial single flashing light
Chance lighthouse exhibition stand
Marketing catalogues, plans and illustartion books
I have just started to catalogue and re-package the marketing records and I hope to have all of these records catalogued within the next few weeks so that we can start to answer enquiries and provide visitors with a draft catalogue.