Shining examples of Wearside’s glassmaking heritage

RAISE A GLASS: Pyrex in March 1966.
RAISE A GLASS: Pyrex in March 1966.
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IT has often been said that millions of people across the globe have a little piece of Sunderland in their homes - in the form of Pyrex glassware.

Now memories of the workers who manufactured the distinctive dishes, jugs and bowls between 1921 and 2007 are to made available worldwide too - via an internet archive.

GLASS ACT: Duke of Edinburgh at Pyrex in July 1963.

GLASS ACT: Duke of Edinburgh at Pyrex in July 1963.

Curiosity Creative, a North East social enterprise company, has been working with former Pyrex staff to preserve stories and reminiscences of their glassmaking days for the future.

The digital tales - taking the form of short films - are to be included in a regional on-line digital story archive, and have been placed on show at the National Glass Centre as well.

“Our films are made up of people’s own photographs and memories. This will help preserve important information about Sunderland’s glassmaking heritage,” said founder Alex Hendry.

Gerald Gustard, who worked at Pyrex between 1967 and 1976, and Freda Ford, whose late husband Harry was a draughtsman, were among those interviewed for the digital project.

The day came when tank could be opened. Inside this magical cavern was a wonderland of colours, shapes and textures unlike anything seen elsewhere.

Gerald Gustard, ex-Pyrex worker

Seaham man Gerald, who worked his way up from apprentice engineer to superintendent of the engineering department at JA Jobling, still has vivid memories of his time at the firm.

“Making glass is a fabulous process and we used all kinds of different techniques for making different types of glass,” said the 66-year-old.

“The huge glass tanks working at 1,100 degrees centigrade were a wonder to behold. The aggressive nature of the heat and gases caused erosion and formations of stalactites.

“I was fortunate to witness the replacement of these internal linings. After days of cooling down slowly, so as not to collapse the structure, the day came when tank could be opened.

PYREX MEMORIES: Freda Ford's late husband Harry (right).

PYREX MEMORIES: Freda Ford's late husband Harry (right).

“Inside this magical cavern was a wonderland of colours, shapes and textures unlike anything seen elsewhere. The stalactites had formed for years as the tank produced glass.

“Many employees took pieces of it home with them. Standing on the bottom of the tank, and witnessing this spectacle, is a memory I hold over 40 years later.”

Sunderland’s patron saint, Benedict Biscop, is credited with bringing glass-making to Wearside in 674 - after hiring French craftsmen to build stained-glass windows for St Peter’s Monastery.

“Modern” glassmaking then began on Wearside in the 1690s, when the first glasshouses opened at Ayres Quay, Deptford. By the mid-19th century, the glass business was booming.

Wear Flint Glassworks quickly became a leading firm and, when it later became James A. Jobling and Co Ltd and started producing Pryrex in 1921, it also became a household name.

As the 20th century progressed, however, so the glass firms started to fade away. Even the hugely successful Jobling’s was bought up and sold on. It eventually closed in 2007.

Memories of the business live on, however, through the Curiosity Creative archive project and Freda Ford, whose husband Harry worked at Joblings, was delighted to take part.

“Harry worked at Pyrex in the 1960s and 70s,” said the 74-year-old, from Pittington. “He worked in a drawing office as a draughtsman from the late 1960s.

“Later he was sent by Joblings to Olivetti in Switzerland, to learn how to programme computers for designs to go into the machines on the shop floor.

“His job description went from draughtsman to computer programmer. After he passed away I found some of the floppy discs he had used with the very large computer under his desk.

“Along with discs were his pay slips and a letter saying he had got a promotion and a pay rise for his achievements.

“One of these tells him he’d the princely sum of 20p a week rise!”

The stories told by Freda and Gerald, as well as glass workers, artists and collectors, form part of the Re: Collections exhibition on show at the National Glass Centre until April 19.

The digital stories can also be viewed at www.curiositycreative.org.uk and Alex added: “Each person made their own digital story, giving their unique perspective on glass.”