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Phoenix Glass ready to rise again

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: February 11, 2014

  • Colour ad showing the best in Phoenix ware

  • The Phoenix trademark

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NATALIE Cole at the Bilston Craft Gallery is keen to hear from Bugle readers who have memories of Phoenix Glass, a company that had a factory in the town from the 1930s to the 1960s.

She asks, "Do you have any memories of Phoenix Glass, a company that first came to Bilston in 1938 under the rather long-winded name 'The British Heat Resisting Glass Company'? Because if you do we would like to hear all about them.

"In July 2014 we at Bilston Craft Gallery are planning an exhibition in conjunction with the Black Country Memories Club to celebrate the history of the Bilston based company.

"Phoenix Glass was established to exploit a patent for oven proof glass, similar to the well known brand Pyrex, but made under a different patent. The company is probably best known for the wide range of domestic wares they produced such as casserole dishes, gravy boats, dinner plates, and cups and saucers.

"Although the company no longer exists, examples of Phoenix's domestic items are easy to find, often still in use in people's kitchens. The exhibition will bring together a large range of these familiar pieces from the kitchen as well as people's recollections of the factory and its products.

"So I would like to ask the following questions. Did you or your family or friends work at the factory in Bilston? Did you have Phoenix glass at home and do you have any memories of how and when it was used?

"If you are willing to talk to us about your memories please contact the gallery by Friday February 21 and leave your name and phone number so that we can arrange a time to speak to you.

"The number is 01902 552507, or you can contact me via email: natalie.cole@wolverhampton.gov.uk."

The history of Phoenix Glass began in 1934 when Colonel P. V. W. Jell established the company in Lodge Road, Winson Green. Early success meant expansion and an additional site was acquired at Loxdale Road in Bilston in 1938.

Although known as the British Heat Resisting Glass Co. Ltd., a Christmas message sent to the work force from the directors and staff of Phoenix Heat Resisting Glass in the same year suggests the simpler name had been adopted.

The company's address was now officially Loxdale Road, and from 1938 onwards the new site in Bilston became the company's head office.

As already mentioned the products made by Phoenix Glass were very similar to the American invention Pyrex. Colonel Jell had also been very clever in using the name Phoenix which had a similar ring to Pyrex. Also the trademark, a stylised phoenix bird, had the same overall shape as the trade mark used by J. A. Jobling of Sunderland, the British manufacturers of Pyrex glass.

By 1941 Phoenix Glass had to stop normal production and revert to war work, which at the time was top secret. But thanks to recollections recorded in the local press back in 1964 from the company's former sales manager, Miss V. Freestone, we now know it was work being carried out on the newly created radar system.

Because of its unreliability due to poor insulation, the Colonel came up with an improved method using glass as an insulator with corrugations that gave a greater surface area.

Because of the high security around the production of this new glass insulator, just one man was charged with the responsibility of blowing the insulators.

He was master craftsman Ralph Brown who worked non-stop over fifty hours to ensure enough were made and in place at radar stations before the start of the Battle of Britain.

The company also blew the cathode ray tubes for the radar system, and pressed glass insulators for submarines, which were needed to avoid the corrosion the earlier versions had suffered from.

From 1935 to 1964 the company increased its workforce from 100 to 750 employees, but suddenly closed down its whole operation in August 1970.

Reasons for the company's closure have never been very clear, though it has been suggested that Phoenix domestic glassware discoloured quicker than Pyrex, and therefore fell out of favour with customers. Perhaps the true reason will forever remain behind the closed doors of the board room.

The factory in Loxdale Road has now been replaced by the Phoenix industrial estate, so the company's name lives on, and the legacy of this Bilston glass firm will be in the exhibition for all to see at the Bilston Craft Gallery this coming July.

Do you have memories of the Phoenix works, or of their products? Let us know: pay us a visit at Bugle House, give us a call, write to us or email jworkman@blackcountrybugle.co.uk.

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