Nailsea Glass

Nailsea Glass and the Original Factory

The original Nailsea Glass factory is only 3 miles from us – as the crow flies – and the glass that came out of the Nailsea Glassworks has been a major influence on the art glass movement in this country and abroad.

Sadly, the original Factory is now buried under the car park of a Tescos Store and now Nailsea glass can be found everywhere but in Nailsea!

Here are some original pictures of the old ruins of the Nailsea Glass Factory. You can click on them to see a larger image.

Nailsea Glassworks

Nailsea Glass Factory

Pictures: Retired Professional Engineers Club Bristol
Lots more about Nailsea Glassworks by Andrew Smith here

Our new pieces of hand blown glass by Daniel Stepanek hark back to the early days of feathered – or combed – Nailsea Glass.

Much of Nailsea Glass was actually made from Crown window glass but the distinctive Nailsea Glass style we still know today was made with combed white lines.

Nailsea Glassworks Furnace

Nailsea Glass Heritage

Tescos have come in and built over the original factory site. Their argument is that a car park over the top will preserve the site for future excavation.

Considering how long it takes to get an archaeological dig arranged then this is probably the best of a series of bad options.

There is a statue at the beginning of the Tescos car park, but nothing else in the whole of Nailsea.

It is very sad that there are no other indicators to Nailsea’s famous heritage and that the glass history of the town has faded into oblivion.

My family have a glass cane made right here in Nailsea – and guess where it is displayed? Yes, that’s right, in a museum in Weston-Super-Mare!

All around us there are glass dumps that I used to dig as a child (managed to unearth a few Plague pits too!) but I never found any Nailsea pieces.

Nalisea Glassworks Map

There are still many sites to explore with the right permissions, but i think that most of the glass headed West to America.

There are some lovely pieces that come up now and again for sale and I am seriously thinking taking up collecting Nailsea Glass as well as Isle of Wight Glass

Sadly, it seems that the best place to buy Nailsea Glass is on the other side of the Atlantic!

+++Update+++

Thankfully, not all Nailsea Glass has disappeared across the Atlantic. Local Nailsea Glass collector Graham S. sent us this picture of his prized collection. Please do send us pictures of your collection – wherever you are in the world:

nailsea glass collection

Here is a link to some more images of Nailse Glass.

++++Update+++++

Nailsea Glass works was built opposite the brewery owned by Charles Thatcher. The Thatcher family had brewed beer in Nailsea since 1721 and were probably related to the Thatchers who owned the breweries at Midsomer Norton.

Shortly after the glass works was constructed, the Thatchers converted part of the brewery to a pub which they called the Glassworkers Arms. It’s still there now called the Friendship Inn.

Nailsea Glass was made from the glass left over at the end of the day.

According to our reader Grahame Bell, whose wife is a direct descendant of Charles and Sarah Thatcher:

“Charles and Sarah Thatcher moved to Nailsea to start the brewery, which was then the Hunting lodge of the Earls of Berkeley. One Earl lost his inheritance – Berkeley Castle – which was given to the King by his elder brother because he married beneath him to a daughter of a Mayor of Bristol. However the father-in-Law (Mayor of Bristol) had given land in Nailsea to his daughter as dowry and that is how the hunting lodge came to be in The Earl’s possession . The Berkeley’s did not get the ancestral home and lands back until the death of Edward VI – Henry VIII’s son.”

Nailsea Glass: A (very) Brief History

John Robert Lucas
© Bristol Museum

The Glassworks were established by John Robert Lucas in 1788 and the cones of the glass factory were to dominate the Nailsea skyline for 50 years.

The company started trading as ‘Nailsea Crown Glass and Glass Bottle Manufacturers’.

The factory became the fourth-largest glass makers in the UK producing primarily glass bottles for the brewing industry. Lucas’s family were in the brewing business and had shares in a glass works in Limekiln Lane in Bristol.

The site in Nailsea was chosen thanks to a ready supply of coal and there were plans to build a canal right into the heart of Nailsea which would have made the lucrative export market more viable. The glass could be taken by barge and then by ship to America, Ireland and other destinations.

The business, like other glass manufacturers, was hampered by punitive levies and excise duties, making profitability a constant struggle. When the coal ran out so did Nailsea Glass; the canal wasn’t built and the railway arrived, though some distance from the Glass Works.

After the Glassworks closed the Chance Brothers bought up the site, not to invest in it themselves but to ensure no one else came along and made the necessary investment.

++++Update+++++

Here are some scans of old maps and photos taken by local photographer David Britton before the Tesco supermarket was built:

Nailsea Glassworks Overview

Nailsea Glassworks Map

Nailsea Glassworks Tesco Map

Nailsea Glass Factory Ruins

Nailsea Glass Excavations

Nailsea Glass works Remains

Nailsea Glass Outbuildings

Nailsea Glass Factory Remains

Nailsea Glass Remains

Old Nailsea Glassworks Building 1

© David Britton

Please send us more information on Nailsea Glass. The old records were destroyed in an air raid in World War II so please let us know any stories about the Glassworks passed down in your family. 

Thank you!

Anna & Barnaby Kirsen

NAILSEA GLASS PICTURES

Here are some more images from Glass Collectors. Please send us yours too!

From ‘Bella’:

Nailsea Glass Flask
Nailsea Glass Flask
Nailsea Glass Lacemaker Lamp
Nailsea Glass Lacemaker Lamp
Nailsea Glass Carafe with Challicom
Nailsea Glass Carafe with Challicom

40 thoughts on “Nailsea Glass and the Original Factory”

  1. I stopped using Tesco years ago, hate them. Just heard on the news their profits are dow. Hurrah.!
    But what a lovely old building, it should have been converted to a museum.

    1. Jan, you are so right. Just think how many people would visit the Nailsea Glass Museum. The glass is famous around the World and all there is to show for it in Nailsea is one little statue, some dilapidated outbuildings and Tescos. What a way to treasure your town’s cultural heritage!

  2. Hi
    My 4 & 5 times great grandparents came from Nailsea and worked at the glassworks. Some of them then moved to the Midlands where they worked for Chance Glassworks in Smethwick.
    I came to Nailsea a couple of weeks ago to take photo’s of the cottages where they lived in the 1800’s
    (Noah’s Ark Cottages).. It seems such a shame there is not a museum there as this is something I would loved to have seen.

    1. Hi Sue

      Several generations of my family (name Knight) also lived at Noahs Ark and I also visited to see the cottages and took photos some years ago. They also moved to the West Bromwich/Smethwick area to work at Chances. I found it fascinating and the social history I learned enhanced my genealogy search enormously. Such a shame nothing has been retained of the glassworks in Nailsea.

      1. Hi Sue and Yvonne.
        It is a real shame there’s no museum in Nailsea. Maybe one day there will be, but I just don’t think there is enough interest here in the UK to make a museum viable. More people seem to collect Nailsea Glass in America than here, and prices for 19th Century originals are still very reasonable. Now’s the time to collect perhaps!

      2. Hi Sue & Yvonne & Boha
        I am researching my Australian partner’s family tree and he had ancestors (Pearce) living at Noah’s Ark in Nailsea in 1841, and one being a Glass Founder. In 1851 the family was near Royal Oak, Nailsea, and still at the glass works. At some point before the next census the family moved up to Sunderland – possibly for the glass works there – a long way to move in those days? However they were noted as running a pub on the dockside in 1861. I find it fascinating too! I was born in Bristol, so it is a little bizarre to find roots of my antipodean partner close by.
        Good luck in your searches ladies. And thanks to Boha Glass for the history blog. 🙂

  3. Hi
    Back in about 1987 I believe, some of Nailsea Glassworks remains were unearthed near the High Street, I live near to this site and I have been interested in the glassworks and coal mining industry that existed in Nailsea since we moved here back in 1968, I took several photos of the glassworks remains that I can send by email if anyone would like to see them, I have posted them on Facebook ‘Nailsea then and now’ site as well.

  4. Dianne Hampson

    Hi, I think I may own a piece of Nailsea Glass it is in the shape of a flask, its clear with the distinctive white lines and I inherited it from my mother-in-law from Manchester. If you would like I can upload a photo so you can confirm.

    1. Barnaby Kirsen

      Hi Diane. Lovely! Please send it to me – barnaby(at)bohaglass.co.uk – and I can uplaod it for you.

  5. You may be interested to know that some glass is coming back to Nailsea. I have loaned my collection, all 70 pieces of it, (see above picture) to the Nailsea Masons for display at the Masonic Hall.

    Graham S

  6. I discovered in the spring that my family (warren) were from Nailsea and indeed were glass blowers in the Nailsea works. I had hoped to visit the area in the summer but had to postpone to next summer. I am interested in buying a piece of Nailsea glass – where is that best plce to buy any.

    1. Hi Marie
      Unfortunately they have built a big Tesco’s supermarket on top of most of the site, but there is a statue and a few other buildings to see.
      The best place to buy Nailsea Glass seems to be on Ebay but there is a lot of junk and modern replicas in among a few decent pieces. Maybe we should start selling it on here. If anyone wants to sell their authentic Nailsea Glass please drop us an email.

  7. Michael Ferguson

    Have you any information about the Nailsea Glass Makers’ Guild? It is mentioned in the Connoisseur, 1911, vol. XXX no.118, in an article by Harold St George Gray on Nailsea Glass. He also says that the Glass Makers’ Arms was actually demolished. His account of the history of the company was well-researched and was largely illustrated from a collection of a Mrs Challicombe of Clevedon. Do you know what became of her collection?

    1. Hi Michael
      I’m afraid I don’t. There was a furniture store called Challicom’s of Clevedon that was family-run for over 150 years before sadly closing down a few years ago. I think the Clevedon link might be worth exploring.

  8. Hi,
    I have loved Nailsea glass since aquiring a piece in the 70’s. During the course of my work in District Nursing in Somerset, it was my privaledge to meet a retired District Nurse who had worked amoung the families of Nailsea glassworkers as part of her area. She told me that the families lived very well and were able to maintain a good standard of living due to the rate of pay they received in return for their skills.
    Heather

    1. Thanks Heather. And thank goodness the bottle factory bosses let them use up the spare glass at day’s end to make such exquisite pieces. If only all bosses were so generous!
      Regards
      Barnaby

  9. I have a piece of glass that I’m told is Nailsea. It is a scent bottle I’m told. My father who learnt to glass blow and was interested in glass told me that he had found it in the sands on new Brighton beach. I was told it was just made from the old bits of left over glass and of no value -at the most about £50 . -after reading all your comments I’m now quite interested in the glass.
    Liz

  10. Hi Barnaby My sister has handed me four walking sticks made of Nailsea glass and wishes to sell them. woud you be interested.

  11. Hello,
    I am going through memoirs of my Grandmother and came across this passage;

    “I also remember very vividly, three men entering the front drive with sacks and they proceeded to turn over all the stones in Mother’s rockery at the top of the lawn – near a huge walnut tree. They had come from the Midlands or Nailsea to that area – all limestone in the Mendips – to gather the huge snails which lived under the stones. They said the glassblowers ate them (Nailsea conkers). Mother was furious to find, after they had left, that none of the stones had been put back in position and some of her favourite plants had been uprooted.”

    This would have been somewhere between 1895 and 1910.

  12. Michele Bentham

    Did you know that the glassworks site was excavated by the Avon Industrial Buildings Trust in the late 1980s? I don’t know where the trust archived their findings, but it was my husband, Brian Bentham, who directed the excavation.

    1. Hi Michele
      Thank you for getting in touch. Do you have any photos or finds from the excavation? Thanks!

  13. I am interested in any accounts of nailsea glassblowers. Anthony Anderson’s grandmothers memoir of the nailsea conkers (snails) is interesting and also marie comer’s, Yvonne jaynes and sue Taylor’s ancestors who worked in the glassworks too. If any of these people wish to contact me please email katelynchartist@gmail.com. Thanks. Kate

  14. Hi I see in a photo in this thread that there is are some glass hats. We have come across similar hats. 1top hat and 2 bowler hats. Can you give me any information about them please and any idea of their value?
    Thanks

  15. My wife’s family were glassmakers in Bristol and Nailsea. The family were named Groves and worked in many glasshouses in England and Scotland.

  16. Michael & Betty Foster

    Did Nailsea glass vases have any id marks anywhere please. I have inherited a quite tall vase and am not sure if it is Nailsea.

  17. Hi there,

    Me and my husband are hoping to buy a house in Nailsea that was located on part of the land formerly owned by the Glassworks; I say “hope” because you never know. Either way we’ll be purchasing a property in Nailsea as that is where we want to settle (My husband is originally from Bristol, but lived in Nottingham most of his adult life – we met and where I’m from – and moved to Bristol in late 2019. Due to the pandemic our house searching was trampled on for a while, however we did consider moving further afield than Bristol in the time we’ve had to ponder it all; and we landed on Nailsea very quickly and easily. SO, what is my point? I knew nothing about Nailsea until we drove in to it to first have drive-by peeks at houses for sale. Now I have a need (obsession my husband might say) to know absolutely everything about a place, which goes in to overdrive if I’m going to be spending more than a few hundred (thousand!) on a piece of land. I need to know everything there is to possibly know (Ancient burial ground? How did it come to be? Neighbour disputes? Planning permissions? Special or notable considerations……. Honestly, I bore my husband senseless digging up information! By this point my husband had mentioned Nailsea was famous for it’s old Glassworks, but I’d somewhat dismissed this as an unimportant event because there was no obvious sign of anything relating to a glassworks – I didn’t notice the simple statue as we drove in to Tesco carpark the first time, no. So the offer is accepted (to date we’re still in a never ending chain so I’m not stating anything is definitive until we sign and get those keys) so, here begins my journey in to the history (note it was never any sort of basis in our decision to offer on the house because we knew little to nothing – I wonder if the neighbours have any idea the level of detail I do about the history of the land… If we get in, I’ll bore them to TEARS 😉

    Never in my wildest dreams could I have unearthed such a rich and interesting history of the soil we hope to own sometime soon (Just to further note – I would have found out all about the Glassworks regardless of whether the house was situated on the land or somewhere else in Nailsea, I only found out it was during my research).

    I now know everything that happened on that piece of earth traced back to when it was merely a field. I started with the build date and finding out who built them. I’ve seen every single digitalised record relating to the development of the houses available (even a neighbour across the road’s wanting to alter the roof of his conservatory and the dispute around boundary wall that never seems to have been resolved – I’m methodical!), then rolls in the legal documentation relating to the house and the real fun begins…. now I have names and dates I didn’t know before. I should probably mention I’ve studied Law, so my husband happily throws such items my way because of this… but he’s come to realise my ability comes from obsession.

    If I have a sleepless night and he wakes to find me on the laptop, you can see the roll of his eyes as he waits for my “Oooooh, here’s an interesting fact…..” relating to the house, Nailsea or the Glassworks.

    I won’t preach to the choir as I’m amongst friends of a shared interest, but needless to say it didn’t take long for my curiosity in the bit of planet we are hoping to buy, to decent in to an absolute NEED to try and obtain an original Nailsea Glassworks piece to live pride of place on the dining room table for when we do eventually live there.

    And of course, just like anything pricey, I don’t go buying expensive glasswear without being pretty certain I know everything I can possibly know. Problem is, then when you see one…. You have to have it!

    And yes, I know no Nailsea Glass can be absolutely verified as originating from the Nailsea glassworks, but I know as much as anyone could possibly know, that they’re as close to “verified” as they ever could be before purchasing.

    My husband wants to wait until we move (if we do) to the new house, but I managed to convince him that a speckled Nailsea Carafe could be an early anniversary present to me…. I’ll unveil the green glass white looped decanter, the divine red and blue looped flask, and the 18th century water bottle when we get in there….. If he doesn’t leave me before then after discovering my hidden treasures!

    Well, all being well we’ll be moving to Nailsea soon, hopefully in the house we’re waiting on, and I’ll be bringing at least 4 Nailsea glasswork originals (as likely as possible they are) back to their bithplace. I’ll probably have a few more by then….. Oooops.

    Random but perhaps interesting fact relating to the Chance Brothers definitely being responsible for ensuring that Nailsea Glassworks would never be resurrected – It states as part of the property acquisition on Land Registry and deeds that we are prohibited from producing any kind of glassware on the land with the exception of bottles, as agreed with the Chance brothers when eventually and I believe this restriction still applies today.
    My husband seemed quite happy with that restriction… Perhaps I should lay off educating him about the Glassworks and the latest rare Nailsea original piece I’ve found and just “Have to have….!”

    1. Hi Claire. Thanks for taking the time to write to us. We hope you are very happy in your new home! It was really interesting to hear that the Chance Brothers put paid to Nailsea Glass for good, and that there is still a covenant on the land to this day. Maybe we should start making bottles again and create a Nailsea beer to go in it!

      1. I know, I was quite surprised when I read this ‘agreement’ noted as being made orally in 1989.

        It’s not obvious, and I did some seriously thorough reading to happen across it and chuckled, thinking how odd these old-fashioned agreements were (on reflection it’s actually a little sad).

        Of course I didn’t know then everything I do now, about the Glassworks, so it only made sense later and I went back to dig through out of all the documentation to check if I remembered correctly – and yep, there it is.

        It is funny because the house we’re hoping to buy falls right on the outer boundary of the land, not over any part of the old glassworks buildings themselves, but obviously when Chance were looking to finally sell the site, they put the stipulation on the whole land.

        The previous glassworks boundary ends right at the end of our rear garden, so I’ll have to jump over the fence and manufacture my windows and other glasswork items in the neighbours garden instead

        I can’t quite believe that there isn’t a dedicated “Nailsea Glassworks” museum, with a great display of all the Nailsea glassworks currently scattered around other museums, and pieces owned by locals who allow them to display them there.

        I’ve collected 4 pieces so far, 2 of which are almost unquestionably Nailsea Glasswork original, 1 is highly likely to be a Nailsea original, and the final is Beautiful example of an elaborate Nailsea design c.1830 English, which could very likely be a Nailsea, but equally could be from elsewhere.

        I do find it a real shame that nobody felt the ruins of the Glassworks were more valuable than the land on which it resided, and felt that they were worth at least preserving (always comes down to Money though doesn’t it – granted I know the foundations are ‘preserved’ and buried, but I don’t see Tesco ever happily giving up their whole car park without a serious legal battle).

        I’ve spoken to several experts and antique dealers, usually trying to obtain a (highly likely) original Nailsea Glasswork piece they have.

        When I explain I’m only interested in their Nailsea Glassworks original (not their other pieces) and will be living in Nailsea, they are often surprised to hear that there is nothing more than a statue in Nailsea town itself.

        One avid collector I spoke with stated he had planned to visit Nailsea, but couldn’t find any information online about any sort of Nailsea Glassworks museum or monuments, and that he’d always regretted not visiting to see the ruins before they were flattened.

        If I had the means, I’d open up my own little museum or visiting centre, because there’s nothing else in Nailsea that would suggest such a fascinating and significant historical beginning.

        In the meantime I’ll continue to horrify my husband as yet another Nailsea ‘original’ piece gets delivered and I casually brush off his attempts to find out what I paid for it

        But hey, all the Nailsea Glasswork items I may collect over the coming years will eventually be bequeathed to a proper museum anyway, perhaps even in Nailsea itself if they ever decide to open one!

        1. Typo correction (date) – the date of the glasswear manufacture limitation was noted by Chance and a Dan Morgan in 1889 as being orally agreed between Chance and an Ian Morgan.
          The stipulation was digitally added to current official records for the land in 1991.

  18. Here is why Nailsea Glassworks was never able to recover as a functional and profitable business worthy of investing in and saving.
    As stipulated on the Register of Title or Land, for the land on which Nailsea Glassworks resided:

    A Conveyance of the land in this title and other land dated 10th October 1889 made between (1) John Homer Chance and (2) Dan Morgan contains the following covenants :-

    “The said Ian Morgan hereby covenants with the said John Homer Chance his heirs and assigns that he the said Ian Morgan his heirs or assigns will not at any time carry or permit to be carried on in or upon the premises hereby conveyed the manufacture of any kind of glass save and except Glass Bottle.”

    (In laymen’s terms, Ian Morgan agreed that he, his relatives and anyone he then gives or sells the rights of the land to, can make no glass on the land except for glass bottles, on the land itself. Given that it’s believed Nailsea Glassworks was heavily focussed on window glass for later part of it’s existence as bottles were not very profitable, it stands to reason that any investor who could have rescued the Nailsea Glassworks simply wouldn’t bother putting the money in as they would unlikely make it back, being restricted to bottle manufacturing only).

    1. Yes, it was all very constricted. I wonder where their bottle dump was? I bet there are lots of pieces of glass under the ground in places. When I was a boy, I used to go digging for bottles locally, but never found any Nailsea Glass, unfortunately!
      It is surprising that there is no museum as Nailsea Glass is so famous, but time marched on and I think the town needed the space and there was very little interest in the site for many years. As more people start collecting art glass maybe there will be a little renaissance, you never know!

      Please do send us images of your Nailsea Glass pieces to me – barnaby (at) bohaglass.co.uk – and I will upload them here for everyone to enjoy. Thank you!

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