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Stourbridge glassworks apprenticeship of 1903

By dan shaw  |  Posted: July 28, 2011

Glass workers at Thomas Webb and Sons, c.1925

Glass workers at Thomas Webb and Sons, c.1925

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STOURBRIDGE glass was famed around the world and hundreds of men were employed in the dozens of glassworks that clustered around Stourbridge, Amblecote and Wordsley.

Peter Barker of Amblecote has kindly brought to the Bugle a reminder of those glory days of the industry — the indenture papers of his father William, who was apprenticed to the firm of Thomas Webb and Sons in May 1903.

William followed in his own father’s footsteps, as Thomas Barker was a glasscutter. Thomas died when he was only 46, so it was William’s mother who signed his indenture papers. The document is printed in a copperplate script and the text is difficult to read, but is as follows:

“This Indenture Witnesseth That William Barker with the consent of his Mother Mercy Elizabeth Barker of Brettell Lane in the county of Stafford doth put himself Apprentice to Thomas Webb & Sons of Dennis Glass Works in the parish of Oldswinford in the county of Worcester to learn his Art, trade or business and with them after the Manner of an Apprentice to serve from the Fifteenth day of May 1903 until the full End and Term of Six Years and five months thence next following to be fully complete and ended.

“During which term the said Apprentice his Masters faithfully shall serve, their secrets keep, their lawful commands everywhere gladly do, he shall do no damage to his said Masters, nor see to be done of others but to the best of his power shall prevent or forthwith give warning to his said Masters of the same, he shall not waste the Goods of his said Masters, nor lend them unlawfully to any, he shall not do any act whereby his said Masters may have any loss with his own goods or others during the said Term without Licence of his said Masters, shall neither buy, nor sell, nor absent himself from his said Masters’ service day or night unlawfully. But in all things as a faithful Apprentice he shall behave himself towards his said Masters and all there during the said Term.

“And the said Thos. Webb & Sons Ltd. agree to instruct their said Apprentice in the Art, trade or business of Packing and Warehouse work which he uses by the best means that he can, shall teach and Instruct or cause to be taught and instructed. Finding unto the said Apprentice in lieu sufficient Meat, Drink wages as follows, 6/- weekly until Oct 27th, 1903. 7/- until Oct 27/04. 8/- until Oct 27/05. 9/- until Oct 27/06. 10/- until Oct 27/07. 11/- until 27/08. 12/- per week until Oct 27th/09 the last year.

“And for the true performance of all and every the said Covenants and Agreements either of the said Parties bindeth himself unto the other by these Presents In Witness whereof the parties above names have herewith set their Hands and Seals the fifteenth day of May in the year of Our Lord One Thousand Nine Hundred and three.”

The indenture is signed by Mercy Elizabeth Barker and William Barker and witnessed by Arthur Horton. For the company the paper was signed by Congreve Jackson who became managing director in 1899 on the retirement of Charles Webb, the last of Thomas Webb’s sons connected with the business.

Peter Barker has loaned to the Bugle a second memento of Thomas Webb and Sons, a photograph of some of the workers, taken around 1925. Peter has named as many of the men as he can.

Front row, from left: H. Saunders, H. Charnock, unknown, unknown, C. Burrows, F. Saunders.

Second row: E. Sutton, A. Saunders jnr., unknown, E. Mills, J. Griffiths, unknown, A. Bridgens.

Third row: A. Saunders, A. Jones, S. Wall, E. Jones, F. Farmer, unknown, unknown, unknown, F, Male, F. Bridgens.

Two men at the back: F. Harper, W. Hicks.

Thomas Webb was born in Stourbridge on 6th January, 1804. On Christmas Day, 1829, he went into partnership with Benjamin and William Haden Richardson at the Wordsley Flint Glassworks, with Webb holding 50% of the company and the Richardson brothers 25% each. The firm introduced new machinery from America for making pressed glass and within three years had become the biggest glassmakers in the area.

Thomas’s father, Benjamin Webb, was a partner in the White House Glassworks and on his death in 1833 Thomas inherited his share of the business. This led to Thomas withdrawing from his partnership with the Richardsons to take full control at the White House.

In 1836 Thomas Webb began to build himself a new glassworks on adjoining land at Platts House, Amblecote. This was completed by 1840 and ten years later his second son, Thomas Wilkes Webb, joined the business as an apprentice.

In 1851 Webb exhibited at the Great Exhibition, winning a medal for his cut glass. In 1853 Thomas Webb entered partnership with his cousin Edward Webb, Richards Mills and Frederick Stuart, to form Mills, Webb and Stuart.

The new company bought the Wordsley Iron Foundry and renamed it the Albert Glassworks. Thomas Webb was not involved in the day-to-day running of the new firm but still concentrated on his own Platts House Glassworks.

One year later Thomas Webb resigned from Mills, Webb and Stuart and bought five acres of the old Dennis estate to build a brand new glassworks. He moved his operations there and leased the old Platts House Glassworks to a number of tenants before selling it in 1867.

Thomas Wilkes Webb became a partner in 1859 and his father retired in 1863. Over the next forty years Thomas Webb and Sons would employ some of the finest glass artists from around the world and developed new styles and techniques in glassmaking, winning many awards at international exhibitions.

In 1886 it became a public limited company with younger brothers Walter Wilkes Webb and Charles Webb becoming managing directors on the retirement of T.W. Webb. Walter and Charles retired in 1899 and Congreve Jackson became managing director.

In 1920 Thomas Webb and Sons merged with the Edinburgh and Leith Flint Glass Company to become Webb’s Crystal Glass Co. Ltd., and in 1964 that company was acquired by Crown House Ltd. In 1971 Webb Crystal Glass merged with Dema Glass Ltd., and in 1987 Coloroll Group Plc. took control of Webb Crystal Glass. Coloroll went into receivership and in 1990 operations at Dennis Glassworks ceased with all production moved to the Edinburgh Crystal glassworks. The equipment from the Dennis glassworks was auctioned in January 1991 and a year later the land was sold for housing redevelopment.

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