History of Thomas Webb and successor companies
Wordsley Flint Glassworks (T. Webb 1829 – 1835)
Wordsley Flint Glassworks was built in 1781 by John Hill. Hill hired a local furnace builder Joseph Richardson to build a new ten-pot furnace. Hill ran into financial problems and the works was sold to Richard Bradley, a wealth local industrialist. Bradley and his brother-in-law, George Ensell had experience in glassworks, namely the Harlestones Glasshouse in Coalbournbrook. On February 23, 1796, Bradley died and control of his properties passed to his heirs in the Ensell family. The Wordsley Flint Glassworks continued to be operated by the Ensell family until 1810 when operations were discontinued. A legal dispute took place over ownership. The property was divided into six lots and sold in 1827.
The old glassworks had been converted into a “Steel House” when it was purchased by George William Wainwright, who returned it back to a glasshouse operation. George took his brother Charles into the business and they hired Benjamin Richardson, then the Manager of Thomas Hawkes, to manage their new firm. In July 1828, the furnace was relit. After a year, the Wainwright brothers decided to sell the business. Benjamin Richardson and his brother William Haden Richardson jumped at the chance to own and operate their own glass business. William Haden Richardson, 44 yrs. old, was oldest of 11 children; his brother Benjamin was only 27 yrs. old and the ninth child. William was knowledgeable in glassmaking from working for several Midlands factories and also furnace building from his father. Their father was Joseph Richardson, a master furnace builder and their grandfather was a bricklayer. Joseph was the same Joseph Richardson who built the glasshouse furnace to begin with in 1781. Benjamin had learned the trade at Thomas Hawkes where he had move up to the Manager’s position.
Thomas Webb, then 25 yrs. old, joined their partnership with an investment of £3,000, most likely supplied by his father, John Webb. Thomas Webb held a 50% ownership in the new company with each of the Richardson brothers owning 25%. It appears that Thomas Webb or his father John supplied the needed capital to make the partnership work, because the Richardson brothers contributed only £1,200. The new firm was known as Webb & Richardsons.
In 1832, Webb & Richardsons were doing pioneer work by introducing a machine for producing pressed glass, a relatively new invention, which was developed in the USA. Their success was documented by tax records in 1833 showing Webb & Co. paid £5,745 excise duty. These records prove they had become the largest of 16 Stourbridge / Dudley glassmakers only three years after the company founding.
In 1833, John Webb died leaving his share of Shepherd and Webb to his only surviving child, Thomas Webb. Thomas withdrew from his partnership with the Richardson brothers. He received over £7,000 for his interests.
Whitehouse Glassworks (T. Webb 1835 – 1840)
Whitehouse Glassworks was built at some point in time between 1779 and 1785 with the exact date currently unknown. It was built on the banks of a canal and fronted a road from Stourbridge to Wolverhampton. The property, then owned by Comber Raybould, was sold to a partnership of Bradley, Ensells & Holt on January 22, 1819. The deed listed two glasshouses being erected on the land. One was known as Wordsley Flint Glassworks and the other was the Whitehouse Glassworks. John Holt died in 1820 without a proper will. Undated papers expressed his wishes that his one-third share of the business go to his only child, Mary Holt.
In 1827, a new partnership was formed out of necessity to straighten out the legal ownership problem. The partnership was unworkable and the property was auctioned.
In 1828, Richard Bradley Ensell, the younger son, purchased Red House Glassworks and White House Glassworks. It is speculated that Richard the younger intended to run Red House Glassworks and have his uncle Richard Bradley Ensell, the elder, run White House Glassworks. Two months later, the elder Ensell (his uncle) died and his widow was forced to continue to run the White House Glassworks. At some point between 1828 and 1833, Sarah Ensell became the sole owner of White House Glassworks. Exact details of why and how are unknown.
In 1833, Sara Ensell, the widow, “let” White House Glassworks to John Shepherd and John Webb, father of Thomas Webb. The new partnership was known as Shepherd & Webb. John Webb was a successful farmer and butcher, while his partner John Shepherd had worked for Rufford and Walker at the Heath Glassworks as well as supplying sand to various Stourbridge glasshouses. John Webb, the father, died in 1835 leaving his share of Shepherd & Webb to his only surviving child, Thomas Webb.
At that time, Thomas Webb was in partnership with Benjamin Richardson operating the Wordsley Flint Glassworks. Thomas Webb left the partnership with Richardson and formed a new partnership with John Shepherd known as Shepherd and Thomas Webb. In 1836, John Shepherd retired from active operations. The partnership of Shepherd and Thomas Webb was dissolved. Thomas Webb bought out Shepherd for £2,500. However, the company continued to operate as Shepherd and Webb.
The ownership of White House Glassworks is somewhat clouded. In 1840, Fowler & Sons map shows the White House Glassworks as owned by Sara Ensell. Shepherd and Webb did not own the site. It appears they rented the facility but owned their business. This would explain why Thomas Webb moved the business to Platts House. Legal ownership of the property ended up in court in 1841 and 1842.
Platts House Glassworks (T. Webb 1836 – 1854)
In 1704, Thomas Henzey built the Dial Glasshouse to make broad-glass. Thomas also set up his son John to make flint glass at Coalbournbrook. At some point in time prior to his death in 1712, Thomas Henzey built a new bottle works for his son, Joshua III, at Platts Leasow. In 1738, Joshua Henzey III died and due to his remarriage and inheritance, the ownership and history of the Dial Glassworks and Platts Glassworks became indistinguishable. His Nephew John Pidcock inherited both businesses and Platts House. Sometime before 1769, Pidcock built a new Platts House replacing the original home of Joshua Henzey III. John Pidcock, Sr. died in 1791; his son John Pidcock, Jr. inherited the property and business. John Jr. died in 1833, and his son John Henzey Pidcock continued the business. J.H. Pidcock stopped production at the Platts Glassworks soon after taking over control of the company.
In 1836, John Pidcock sold the Platts House and glassworks to Thomas Webb. Webb moved into the Platts House and began building a new glassworks adjoining the Platts House. By 1840, the new glassworks was completed and thus was the beginning of Thomas Webb Glassworks. Webb transferred his work from White House Glassworks between June and November the same year where he produced plain and cut flint glass.
In 1836, Thomas Webb also dissolved his partnership with his retired partner John Shepherd at White House, and in December of the same year, he resigned the Richardson & Webb Partnership at the Wordsley Flint Glassworks.
Webb continued to developed new products. In 1847, Webb was making opalescent glass decorated in an Etruscan style.
In 1850, Thomas Wilkes Webb, second son of Thomas Webb joined the firm as a clerk. He began his apprenticeship under his father.
In 1851, Webb exhibited a wide range of table and decorative glass at the 1851 Great Exhibition held in the “Crystal Place” in Hyde Park. Webb won a medal for his cut glass.
In 1853, Richard Mills, Edward Webb, Frederick Stuart and Thomas Webb formed the firm of Mills, Webb & Stuart. Richard Mills purchased the Wordsley Iron Foundry, which was behind the Red House Glassworks and changed the name to Albert Glassworks, Wordsley. Richard Mills married Elizabeth Webb in 1834. Edward Webb was a cousin to Thomas Webb. Thomas Webb’s overall involvement appeared to be less than a year. Webb’s financial investment was £500. Webb continued his work at Platts House Glassworks and was not involved in the day-to-day activities of Albert Glassworks.
Dennis House Glassworks – (T. Webb & Successors 1854 – 1990)
In 1854, Thomas Webb resigned from Mills, Webb & Stuart and purchased 5 acres of the old Dennis estate to construct a new glassworks. The glassworks was built at the rear of the old manner house. At this time, Webb moved his business from the Platts Glassworks to Dennis House and used the same company name of Thomas Webb Glassworks as he used at the Platts Glassworks.
After Webb moved his company to the new Dennis House location, the old Platts Glassworks had a series of tenants who operated the glassworks. In late 1867, J. Hartley & Co. purchased the Platts Glassworks.
In 1854, Webb was granted an English patent for the Circular Lehr. The lehr had the advantage of saving work space and was comparatively simple. It basically consisted of two large circles made of iron plates, which revolved horizontally one within the other acting as a conveyor. As per the patent, the new lehr was for annealing glass or firing pottery. Half of the lehr was in the Glasshouse and the other half was in the Shrawer where the glass was removed. The new lehr first operated August 1855.
The 1850s were not kind to Thomas Webb. First, there was the Crimean War. Then in 1858, Webb suffered from a National Glassmakers strike and lockout that took place after the strike. In 1859 after the strike, the claims for the manufacturer’s defense fund suggest the firm was the smallest of the 13 in the Midlands Association. The total site for Thomas Webb occupied just over four acres.
In 1859, Thomas Wilkes Webb, the second son, became a partner with his father Thomas Webb. After two years, Thomas Webb retired in 1863 and moved to Cradley and became a farm owner. At some point prior to Thomas Webb death in 1869, his oldest son Charles became a partner. The firm also changed its name to Thomas Webb & Sons. Upon Thomas Webb’s death, his fourth son Walter Wilkes Webb also became a partner.
Thomas Webb & Sons - Dennis House Glassworks, 1869
Thomas Wilkes Webb was a progressive thinker. He hired the finest craftsmen recruited around the world. He hired Bohemian engravers to his firm. One of the first was William Fritsche, who joined T. Webb & Sons in 1868. Fritsche was known as one of Stourbridge’s finest engravers and he was credited with introducing Rock Crystal engraving.
In 1874, Thomas Woodall joined the T. Webb & Sons and shortly afterwards his Brother George also joined the firm. George was a draftsman, glass engraver and cameo carving artist. He is known today as a brilliant cameo sculptor. George began his career at John Northwood’s etching shop in approximately 1862. While he was there, he also attended Stourbridge School of Art.
Thomas Wilkes Webb patented Sidonian or Allasents glass on June 9, 1876. In this type of glass, colored threads of glass are attached to the glass articles and then the expansion of the glass by heat would cause the glass threads to form into various beautiful shapes.
Also in 1876,
Frederick Englebert Kny and William Fritshe, both
Also in 1876, Philip Pargeter of Red House Glassworks rediscovered the “Holy Grail” of glassmaking by his reproduction of the Portland Vase. Webb would not be outdone. They commissioned John Northwood to produce the Pegasus or Dennis Vase, which was not finished until 1880.
In 1877, T. Webb introduced Bronze glass. The patent was applied for on August 29, 1877 and granted on February 27, 1878. Bronze glass was a form of iridescent finish made to compete with Bohemian products of that time. This treatment was to mimic Roman and other ancient glass, being excavated at the time, which had a natural iridescence due to soil contact. Bronze glass is a close cousin to American carnival glass. It is produced by exposure of the glass in a semi-molten state to fumes of chloride of tin, alone or mixed, with the nitrates of barium and strontium.
Also in 1878, at the Paris Exhibition “The Elgin Claret Jug” was shown wheel-engraved by Frederick Englebert Kny. Thomas Webb & Sons also won the only Grand Prix of Glass and Thomas Wilkes Webb was awarded the Legion d’Honneur by the French Government.
In 1879, Jules Barbe, the French gilder, was persuaded to set up a workshop on the Webb premises and he remained there until 1901. Afterwards, Barbe set up shop with his son and worked independently until 1925.
The early 1880s were the greatest years for Webb’s inventiveness and fame. In 1883, Ivory glass was produced and decorated with raised gold and silver or enameling by Jules Barbe imitating the appearance of porcelain. The same year Sanguis Draconis or dragon blood, a rich maroon red opaque glass, was introduced.
In 1884, Thomas Woodall was awarded a Bronze Medal for glass vases and bowls at the International Health Exhibition in London. Also this same year, Daniel Pearce took over Webb’s design and production of epergnes and flower stands. Daniel and his son gave up their own business to join the Webb firm. In 1881, Daniel Pearce employed 26.
On September 11, 1886, Thomas Webb & Sons acquired the rights to produced Burmese glass in England from Frederick S. Shirley of Mt. Washington Glass Co. (USA).
In November 1886, Thomas Webb & Sons became a public company. Walter Wilkes Webb and his brother Charles Webb became joint Managing Directors. Charles F. Wedgwood joined the Board of Directors. After the restructuring of Thomas Webb & Son Ltd., Thomas Wilkes Webb, the eldest brother, retired due to bad health.
In 1887, John Nash, then Manager of Edward Webb’s White House Glassworks, was tempted away to work with Woodall’s team at T. Webb & Sons. A patent was granted on Old Ivory in November 1887. Old Ivory was a cameo glass carved in Chinese and Japanese styles to simulate old ivory. Thomas and George Woodall used oriental and East Indian objects d’Art as models. The Woodall team consisted of the Woodall brothers, Jules Barbe, Jacob Facer and Arthur John Nash.
In 1888, Old Roman design was introduced. The same year a complaint from James Couper & Sons of Glasgow alleged that T. Webb & Sons were deliberately copying and infringed their copyright of Clutha Glass. While the two glasses are similar, there are distinguishable differences. Clutha had speckles of aventurine in the glass while Webb’s did not.
Also in 1888, T. Webb & Sons won the Gold Medal at the Melbourne Exhibition in Australia for Zoomorphic enameled, decorated glass by Jules Barbe.
In 1889, T. Webb & Sons patented the acid polishing of cameo glass designs. This same year, T. Webb & Sons won the Grad Prix for a ninety candlelight based chandelier, at the Paris Exhibition.
On January 21, 1891, Thomas Wilkes Webb, the eldest brother died at his home at age 54 yrs. old after many years of illness.
In 1893 at the Chicago Exhibition, Thomas Webb & Sons displayed a fantastic array of cameo glass.
In 1895, Arthur John Nash left the Webb firm and migrated to the USA. Nash set up shop in Boston and then latter joined Louis Comfort Tiffany with his sons, Arthur Douglas and Leslie Nash. Their technical abilities were certainly beneficial to Tiffany.
In 1897, Thomas Wilkes Webb’s oldest son, Thomas Ernest Webb, left the family firm of Thomas Webb & Sons, to start his own firm of Thomas Webb and Corbett at White House Glassworks. His younger brother, Charles Walter Herbert Webb, followed his older brother.
Walter Wilkes Webb retired in 1899 due to ill health.
Charles Webb, the last of the Thomas Webb’s three sons, retired in 1899. With Charles Webb retirement, Congreve William Jackson became Managing Director of Thomas Webb & Sons.
The 1900s were a period of change for the Webb firm. Gone were the Webb family ownership and management; in came the investors and new non-owner management.
From 1902 through 1904 there were extensive problems between Webb management and the labor union.
In 1907, Thomas Webb & Sons Ltd. supplied lead crystal for HMS Dreadnaught since the previously used soda-lime glass shattered the first time the ship fired a salvo.
In 1908, T. Webb & Sons Ltd. staged a spectacular show at the Franco-British Exhibition.
In 1911, T. Webb & Sons Ltd. received praise for their cameo vases and plaques of George Woodall and their collection of cut-glass electrical fittings.
Also in 1911, George Woodall retired. He continued to work out of his workshop at the back of his house until his death in 1925. Some feel his best work was during this period. Little quality cameo glass has been produce since his death.
On July 8, 1919, Walter Wilkes Webb died as his home at age 75.
With the ending of the First World War, the private company of Thos. Webb & Sons Ltd. merged with the Edinburgh & Leith Flint Glass Co. and became a new company of Webb’s Crystal Glass Co. Ltd. on June 29, 1920.
In 1922, John Thomas Fereday turned his attention to engraving crystal glass and introduced the Dynast crystal range. He made this change due to the decline in demand for cameo glass. Fereday worked for Webb for 40 years and then retired in 1922.
During the First World War, the firm of T. Webb & Sons Ltd. produced electric lamp bulbs, glass tubing and rods. By 1923, they were producing 400,000 lamps per month in addition to six to eight tons of tubing and glass rods. Special chemical ware, such as funnels, test tubes, beakers was also produced.
In 1930, Webb Crystal Glass Co. Ltd. acquired the business of Hendry G. Richardson & Sons. The Webb firm continued to make Richardson patterns until the death of Ben Richardson in 1956.
In 1932, Carl Gottwald Sven Harald Fogelberg was appointed General Manager of the Webb firm. He was later appointed Director in 1955.
In 1933, some modernization occurred when the furnaces were switched from coal to oil firing.
In 1964, Webb Crystal Glass Co. Ltd. was acquired by Crown House Ltd. Roy S. Uffindell became Chief Executive.
In 1966, a second round of modernization happened when a new cutting shop and warehouse were built and the factory was reorganized onto one floor on a flow line basis.
In 1971, Webb Crystal Glass Co. Ltd. merged with Dema Glass Ltd., which was the major table glassware subsidiary of Crown House Ltd.
In 1978, Webb won the supreme Award at the International Spring Fair held at the National Exhibition Center.
In 1984 Ufindell retired.
In 1987, Coloroll Group Plc took control of Webb Crystal Glass Co. Ltd.
Coloroll Group went into receivership and in 1990 the operations at Dennis Glassworks ceased. All production was moved to the Edinburgh Crystal Glassworks.
On Thursday, January 24, 1991, the equipment at the former Thomas Webb & Sons Dennis Glassworks were auctioned off. Some of the equipment was purchased by ex-Webb employees who formed a new company called Dennis Hall Co-operative Crystal Ltd. The Dennis Glassworks stood empty. The unsold furnaces were dismantled and the five acres site–the former Dennis Hall at the center was for sale.
In 1992, the property was sold to be subdivided for housing. As of 2002, Dennis Hall, the former Webb mansion, remained unsold and was falling into ruins.
Thus we have the sad ending of a great glass house, the history of Thomas Webb and Successor Companies.
Thomas Webb Family and Dates
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