Glassmaking In Broseley             By T.C. Hancox.

Originally published in the Wilkinson society Journals 3&4 1975-6


It is not generally known that glass was made in Broseley, and the evidence for it is slender. The earliest mention of the possibility of such an undertaking is in the memorandum that John Weld of Willey compiled in 1631[1] describing the potentialities of his estates. Here he indicated that he was undecided whether to invest in “a sopeworks or in a Glasshouse” in Broseley or Willey but it is not known what came of this.[2]


We do know from John Houghtons “Periodic Letters on Husbandry and Trade” that in 1696 there was only one glasshouse in the whole of Shropshire, situated at an inconsiderable hamlet called Oakengates.[3] The fact that this hamlet was claimed by Wellington, Wombridge and Shifnal parishes might indicate that the glassworks was situated on a common strip of land where the three parishes adjoined. In fact, between the years l673 and 1676 one Abraham Bigod a glass-maker from Amblecote near Stourbridge, had built a glasshouse at Snedshill and presumably used coal from the adjacent mines.[4] (A little earlier, ironworkers throughout the land had petitioned the Crown to forbid glass makers to use timber for their furnace fires.) It is possib1e that the glass-maker Bigod had been brought to this area by one of the Foleys (Lords of Amblecote) who at that time operated an iron furnace at Wombridge; for they had certainly taken glass makers from their Amblecote manor to work in conjunction with a furnace at Stanton Drew, in the Forest of Dean.


The majority of the early g1ass makers were refugee Huguenot Lorrainers who had fled to England to escape religious persecutions. These craftsmen were officially admitted into England under licence granted by Queen Elizabeth I, though others made illegal entry by ‘working their passage’ from the continent. Most of them had to pay for ‘protection’ in one way or another. It was an understanding that the Lorrainers should each take an Englishman as an apprentice and teach him their trade. Such English volunteers were few and far between, for they, like their masters, feared the wrath of the English Trade Guilds who feared foreign competition in any form whatever. This fear was not so much that the foreigners would use up all, the available timber for their fuel needs as the foreigners ability to operate an iron furnace equally as well as a glass furnace.          The foreigners were chiefly accepted into England via the Weald of Sussex and Kent, and their product was what came to be called “Waldglass”.  This was much inferior to the glass of the few Venetians or Italians who practised their arts chiefly in the cities.


Meanwhile, the Lorrainers and their assistants were ‘encouraged’ by one means or another to move on elsewhere. They gradually moved to the west and north-west of the land. Their early requirements were simple, being heat resisting clay for their melting pots, lime, sand and potash. The potash was obtained by burning brakefern of which there was plenty growing wild in the woodlands, though later certain kinds of seaweed came to be used as a substitute. Choice of the best kind of sand was not always their lot, for the more iron contained in the sand, the more blue-tinged was their glass.


By around the l680s a number of Lorrainers had moved to the woodlands not too far removed from Market Drayton. They settled on the Shrops-Staffs. border for a few years in what was then called the Bishop’s Wood, which lay beside the Burnt Wood (as indication perhaps that not all of these people were as careful in making charcoal as they might have been.)  When, as a result of the fuel embargo, the foreign workmen had to fall back on the use of coal, this fuel had to have the same slow-burning and calorific values as had been provided by wood fuel, and with a minimum of ash. Such coal came to be found at a mine near Amblecote (Stourbridge); and, what to them was more important, it was discovered that the clay thereabouts was eminently suitable for the making of their ‘pots’ or crucibles. So something of a mass exodus took place in that direction.


However, at a place then called ‘The Songles’ to the east of Bishop’s Wood, near Market Drayton, there dwelt in 1602 a Lorrainer glass-maker given the name of Leggeye, who took as his wife the daughter of another glass maker. Either he or members of his family seem to have taken up residence in or near Broseley though by now they had abbreviated the family name to ‘Legg’. The Legg family first appear in the Broseley parish registers around the year l589. The Leggs appear to have earned their reputation in making clay pipes but that would not exclude their making some glass if need be.


Broseley was already noted for its manufacture of clay pipes. The early small pipes were used in the smoking of leaves and herbs, perhaps under the impression that this practice had some medicinal value; and this bears out the fact of their use before tobacco was imported into the land. They were called ‘Farishes’ or fairy pipes, and are to be distinguished from the later and larger clay pipes. The manufacture of clay pipes was a simple operation; a straw was incorporated at the onset to make a hole through the stem, and this straw would be consumed in the process of final baking. A glass-maker, whilst his ‘metal’ was becoming molten, could have used a small amount of the clay with which he lined his kilns or vessels, and surplus heat from the kiln to bake the pipe or pipes. An outlet for the sale of these pipes might well have presented itself when the glass-maker went to market.


Somewhere around the year 1700 it has been claimed that a man by the name of Benbow was making glass in Broseley; and this might explain why the aforementioned Leggs specially concentrated on clay pipes. The Benbows were an old Broseley family (and are also found in Shrewsbury), and they appear to have made their mark in a number of directions.

The Bettons

A Shropshire family connected with glassmaking was that of the Bettons. One has but to search the Shrewsbury Burgess Rolls for evi­dence of a good cross-section of a family which had roots not only in Broseley but also in Shrewsbury, and other places. A Betton was knighted for his work in the manufacture and installation of cathedral glass, and in the year l72l no less than four members of the family were made burgesses of Shrewsbury:  John of Broseley was one,[5] and his son Michael of Wellington was another.


Further evidence of the family can be found in the Broseley Registers. Michael Betton is shown as baptised on 11th October 1692, the son of John and Parnell, who continued to have children up to 1702. However, a difficulty with tracing this family is the repetition of Christian names through its various branches. A Benjamin Betton married to a Sarah was raising a family between 1731 and 1736, but he himself is not shown as born in the parish, nor are the antecedents of a Benjamin who was buried on 11th July 1727.


In another source (1745), one Betton is described as ‘Gent’ and related to a Thomas Betton of Shrewsbury[6] This pair were mining pitchrock, among other things, and manufacturing a medicine sold far and wide as ‘Betton’s British Oil’ and a ‘Bishop of Cloyn’s elixir’, both of which were concoctions of pitch and water which might at best have served as blood purifiers. A horse-mill, similar to that used by a glazier to grind his flints, was used to grind the pitchrock. In 1747 Michael Betton of Wellington is described in a deed as glazier and plumber, a combination which might be required to enable ‘diamonds’ of glass to be set in lead strips. Having members of the family in the glass trade came in very, useful to all for the reason that the ‘Oil’ would use up a considerable number of glass bottles, none of which were returnable in their whole state but possibly acceptable in the form of cullet for remelting and re-use.

Benjamin Batchelour

Somewhere around the year 1730 a Benjamin Batchelour came to Broseley. Particulars of his family and trade can be found in a num­ber of records. Firstly, in the Broseley Registers baptisms are rec­orded in 1731, 1734 and 1736, the last being of his only son, also named Benjamin.


Benjamin Batchelour appears to have moved to Broseley from Amblecote, near Stourbridge[7].  In 1691 one Benjamin Bradley of Oldswinford, glassmaker, demised a glasshouse and lands situate in Dennis, Amblecote, to a Benjamin Batchelour, glassmaker, for 999 years. Benjamin was probably the son of that Elisha Batchelour who, with Ananias Menzie, in February 1697 presented an appeal for the repeal of the excise on glass, which had been introduced by the Glass Act of 1695[8].


Thirty years later Benjamin was in financial difficulties. On 24th August 1723 the London Gazette reported that one Benjamin Bache, a glassmaker of Amblecote, was insolvent. From a later Stourbridge newspaper report it appears that when Batchelour became insolvent the lease to the property reverted to the Bradleys. There seems to have been no particular disgrace in Batchelour’s insolvency of 1723, as several Stourbridge glassmakers suffered the same fate. A general view seems to be that there had been over-production against a falling market. This state of affairs was later remedied when the Society of Glassmakers purchased certain glasshouses in order to close them.


To return to Benjamin Batchelour: according to Dr. Pococke, [9] “there was a glasshouse in Broseley in 1732 where they made both flint glass and bottles . . . The glassmakers, Benjamin Batchelour and Co., probab1y came from Stourbridge way”. The source of this information was probably the notice in the London Gazette of 30th May 1732:    “Whereas John Barnett, alias Jackus, a pale, thin faced slender youth, a white glass servitor and bottle blower, eloped from his master, Benjamin Batchelour and Company, at Broseley glasshouse in Shropshire, the 8th May last, where he is a hired servant; this is to require all masters of that business and others not to employ him, upon their peril”.


Possibly from these sources, many authorities on the subject have mistakenly assumed that the Broseley glasshouse was founded in 1732[10]; but quite obviously there was a glasshouse in being in Broseley before that date and, as subsequent events prove, Benjamin Batchelour leased from George Weld, the landowner.


Batchelour eventually absconded because of his debts. In the process of time Weld, who was losing money due to his inability to ‘set’ the glasshouse anew because he had no deeds to prove ownership, caused an inquiry to be made as to his whereabouts. Batchelour was in hiding in the London Docks, but could not be prevailed upon to return to Broseley with a copy of his glasshouse deed. He stated that he had lost this and, since Weld could not produce his deed, it was agreed to raise an entirely new lease in duplicate so that these might be endorsed in cancellation, and a person appointed to watch Batchelour’s interest, if he had any. In the Forester Papers there is a surrender dated 19th February 1742/3 of a previous lease of 21 years to Benjamin Batchelour of Broseley, glassmaker, of a messuage in Broseley called a glasshouse.[11]  Batchelour had absconded for debt and the premises were stated to be in a ruinous state for want of repairs when he surrendered, to George Weld.


One can surmise as to the cause of Batchelour’s second business failure. Presumably if the concern had paid, or the buildings had been in good repair he could have sold the remaining years of the lease. Possibly, in addition to the main premises being out of repair, the annealing oven was defective. Failure to anneal glass properly resulted in breakages of glass in the oven, through cooling too quickly, or in handling. However, when so many objects had been allowed for by the Excise man, as time would come when he would allow no more refund, placing the blame squarely on bad workmanship.

The Glass and the Glassworks

In the 1732 advertisement above, mention was made of “white glass”. This was probably ‘flint glass’, which had a greater clarity than bottle glass[12]. The latter was usually made from a more infer­ior sand, and according to the degree to which it was impregnated with iron, and the redder the sand, the deeper the hue of the blue-green appearance of the glass. The writer was shown a glass bottle purport­ing to have been made in Broseley. In shape it resembled a present day Johnnie Walker whisky bottle, which would savour more of a moulded rather than a blown bottle: it was 8-9 inches high, dimpled at the base, slightly square for some 6 inches of rise, and decreasing round to its termination in a short collar for cork; in capacity it would hold something like 3 pints. An attempt had been made at some stage to put a light gild on part of the bottle.


In inquiring of some of the oldest inhabitants of Broseley whether they could remember their grandparents mentioning a glasshouse, nothing came to light; and it seems fair to assume that after the failure of Batchelour the glasshouse fell into ruin and the workpeople found employment in local mines, potteries and clay pipe manufactories.


A few years ago a mound stood forlornly in Broseley, and one might have been forgiven for thinking that it was a coal-pit tip, for dust had settled on it for a century and a half and more, and vegetation grew from this. It was only when workmen came to remove it that it was found to be made up of broken glass, or cullet, which might in other circumstances have been melted down and made into glass objects of utility though not of great worth. The glass was taken down the Coalport Road and tipped into an old pond (where some­time it may be discovered to form a. local mystery!) Turning from ‘Duke Street down Cockshutt Lane to near a Georgian House named ‘The Mount’, one is near to where Broseley glasshouse once stood. Council houses now stand on the site.



[1] Memorandum of John Weld, Salop Record Office, 1224/163

[2] M.D.G. Wanklyn, ‘John Weld of Willey’, in W. Midlands Studies, Vol.3 (1969), p.97

[3] John Houghton ‘Periodic Letters on Husbandry & Trade”, No.198 15 May 1696, Staffs. Record Office, D641/2.

[4] Barrie Trinder, ‘The Industrial Revolution in Shropshire’ (1973) p.14 and. 22.

[5] According to the Rev. W. A. Anden, Shrewsbury Chronicle, 3rd September 1957, this John Betton was ‘a glazier at Broseley in the early 18th century.

[6] Pitchford, Hall Deed No.  908, 7th September 1745.

[7] For glassmaking at, Amblecote, see Part 1 of this account

[8] See W. A. Thorpe ‘A history of English and Irish Glass’, p.156 and F. Buckley ‘The Glass Trade’, p.53

[9].‘Travels through England’ (1851). Pococke referred to the closure of Oswestry glasshouse:

 “A man from Stourbridge bought this glasshouse in order to close it.”

[10] Thorpe and Buckley, amongst others.

[11] Shropshire Record Office: 12214 (Willey Estate)

[12] See F. Buckley ‘A History of Old English Glass’, p.9