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A touch of glass with Royal Brierley Crystal memories

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: June 09, 2014

By Keith Fenton

  • The Foundry design

  • Jill Devine design

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SINCE 1776 Royal Brierley Crystal has been one of the UK's better known manufacturers of high-quality glass.

The company had its origins at the Moor Lane glassworks in Briar Lea Hill, which later became Stevens and Williams; then, in the early 20th century with a Royal Charter, Royal Brierley Crystal.

The early years of the company and its decorative coloured and cut glass are well documented in The Crystal Years by R. S. Williams Thomas. But, from 1978 with the decline in the popularity of traditional cut glass, Royal Brierley moved towards a more modern style of design with its Studio range.

Michael Harris, a well-known character in the world of glass and responsible for Mdina and Isle of Wight glass, was approached for some ideas. He produced a design for them based on an Isle of Wight design known as Ribbons and Lace.

Rumour has it that Michael was disappointed that Royal Brierley was more interested in fast, commercial production than an art-based studio design and had nothing further to do with the company.

There are many variations of Michael's original design but finding other makers and designers associated with this range has been almost impossible, with one exception: Gwyneth Newland

So far, I have discovered 21 shapes of vase, most in three sizes; 8 bowl shapes, 3 types of paperweight, 3 atomiser types, one scent bottle with stopper and lampshades. There may be many others. Considering how recent this range was, with production occurring in Brierley and Tipton, there seems little information available.

In 1985 David Williams (from the Stevens & Williams family) and Arlon Bayliss (ex-Stourbridge Art College and now a senior lecturer at a university in Indiana, USA) set up a small studio on behalf of Royal Brierley in a disused furnace close to the works using equipment from the old Stevens & Williams factory and hired out the studio to various artists to "do their own thing".

Then another designer called Jill Devine ran the studio until 1990 producing her own work. Some of the pieces from this period are marked 'The Foundry'. This account does not include Royal Brierley 'Art Glass' of which there are many forms probably and enough to require a separate article.

Royal Brierley was purchased in 2005 by Dartington Glass who ran the visitor's centre and factory until 2007 when it closed and production moved to Devon. Dartington Glass still sends blanks (undecorated glass) to Brierley Hill to be cut or acid dipped by a team of ex-Royal Brierley workers before they are returned to Devon for finishing.

Hopefully with the work being done at Broadfield House Glass Museum, The Ruskin Centre and the International Glass Festival, the rich history of glass making in the area will not be forgotten.

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