Friday, February 11, 2022

Pet Cemetery and the Great Glass Mood Elevator

Bear with me on the title of this post....all will become clear.  Crystal clear.

Last weekend, after a tip off from Simon, a photographer acquaintance and explorer extraordinaire (check out his incredible recent drone photography on Instagram @sabphotos69), we headed a mile or so from our back door, to a little known Nature Reserve.  I say "little known" as unbelievably, we had never heard of it, despite skirting around, up and over it, throughout the years.  However, on this occasion, our mission was to find evidence of what lies beneath.


Overlooking the Smestow brook in neighbouring Staffordshire (here in Kingswinford, we straddle the border between Staffordshire and the West Midlands conurbation), the nature reserve started life as a 19th century ornamental wood, planted on a hillside close to the Chance residence.  

The Chance family were a West Midlands industrial dynasty. Originating from Worcestershire, they carved out a reputation for pioneering technology in glassmaking (and as hard nosed businessmen) after taking over a factory in Spon Lane, Smethwick in 1822.  Going from strength to strength, Lucas and William's business produced sheet glass for London's Crystal Palace and the Houses of Parliament and the white opal glass on Big Ben's clock face.  The brothers also mastered the sophisticated lews technology which revolutionised lighthouses along the sea routes of the world. In addition, they were known for popularising the vibrantly coloured slumped (kiln made) glass tableware, Fiestaware.

Chance Wood contains an interesting collection of trees from mature beech and oaks to hornbeam horse, sweet chestnut, silver birch and rowans.  The ground cover comes in the form of wood sage, foxgloves, rhododendrons and snowberry.  Ordinarily, this would be enough to keep me occupied with my camera, but having a dark heart, the star of the show for me was the Victorian pet cemetery.  

The graves of long dead, once beloved family pets were scattered amongst the undergrowth and stacked against the silver birches - perfect ghostly companions for all eternity.  

Even more curious were the inscriptions on some of the head stones.  Whisper: a lovely name, but a terrible end. 

Should it need pointing out, I felt that photographs of a Victorian pet cemetery were deserving of appropriate edits and so I created a texture and experimented with tones and contrast, to create a wet plate photography aesthetic (something I am currently a little obsessed with).

I will haunt you!

Venturing down onto more familiar turf, we followed the Smestow Brook a short way...

...and stared in awe at the spectral oak trees,


...before picking up a footpath crossing farmland and back towards Stourton Castle, a medieval hunting lodge dating from the reign of William II.  

During the reign of Henry II it became known as "the King's Houses".  By 1122 it was known as a castle.  

The castle has a long and chequered history, but here are a few highlights.  Skipping a few centuries, by 1475, the castle was in the ownership of the Duke of Clarence who, in that year gave it to Tewkesbury Abbey.  The castle was returned to the crown in 1495. 

Notably, the Castle was the birthplace of Cardinal Pole, whose maternal grandfather Clarence, was the brother of both King Edward IV, and King Richard III.  Pole was the last Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury and his mother Margaret Pole, 8th Countess of Salisbury was beatified in 1886 by Pope Leo XIII.

There are also links to Henry VIII and a forcible change of hands during the Civil War.

The house was remodelled and partially rebuilt in 1832-3.  It was bought by glassmaker, Francis Grazebrook, a relative of the earlier tenant, and remained in the family until the death of his son O. F. Grazebrooke in 1974. The 19th century main front incorporates a late medieval gate tower.

Of course, it's no surprise that links to the glassmaking industry are everywhere in this part of the world.  Wordsley, my birthplace, was once a key player in the glassmaking industry.  Therefore, it only seemed right to finish the week with a visit to another local landmark, the Red House Glass Cone Museum.

There were numerous glassworks in Wordsley from 1776 until 1930, making artisan created cut glass items such as vases, glasses and objets-d'art. The famous replica of the Roman cameo glass Portland Vase was cut in Wordsley.   Read about it and see it here.  Collection Search | Corning Museum of Glass

One of the most famous glass designers was a Wordsley man, William Jabez Muckley. Another was John Northwood, and his son Harry, who helped establish glassware in the USA. Yet another who established glassware in the USA was John Northwood's friend, Frederick Carder. One of the most accomplished glasscutters was George Woodall, whose campaign led to the building of the Wordsley School of Art (sadly demolished in 2001 - much to the outrage of many local residents. 

Only a few foundation stones were saved....by another local Glass Museum.


From our illustrious past, the Red House Glassworks
, a 100-foot high glassmaking cone, survives.  Here are some glimpses of the cone on our approach along the High Street and then via a Wordsley back street.


View of the sixteen locks stretch of the Stourbridge canal towpath and the iconic Glass Cone 



Lead-crystal cut glass from Wordsley's heyday is now rare and collectable. Glassworking continued in the area, albeit at a reduced scale, until the 1990s.

Like most towns in the Black Country, regeneration is needed, but the cone is a huge source of local pride and its newly erected neighbour, the Stourbridge Glass Museum, is scheduled to open in April this year.  Hopefully this will further raise the Glass Quarter's profile.

Perched on a hill next to the Wordsley canal, my visit to the Red Cone was a great mood elevator.  It's so easy to take for granted these relics from the past - literally on our doorstep - and our historical significance worldwide.  With my mother in tow, our visit was impromptu and all too brief, but no matter, we can pop back at any time as the admission's free and it's within a 10 minute walk of my Mom's house.  

I loved the Art Nouveau glass safely hidden behind glass cabinets.


Inside, there are numerous exhibits and information boards, including this one, which featured a woman my Mom immediately recognised as a neighbour from her childhood.



We visited the "Shrower" a room which would have been kept under lock and key so that no goods could be removed.  My grandmother would have once worked inside such a room, checking the glass and inspecting it for faults before sending it to other areas of the factory for decoration and packaging.

Below is the annealing oven or "Lehr".  Incredibly, it is now the only remaining example in the world.






There are aspirations for the Black Country to become a Global Geopark due to the wealth of materials just below its surface and the labours of the people who used them.



Clearly the canal network greatly assisted in the transportation of goods and raw materials.

Outside, there are a number of local artisans operating inside these units, 


like this fine artist, specialising in charcoal portraiture,


and a lovely cafe with canalside seating.  


Don't be fooled by the blue skies.  There was an icy wind that could cut glass all by itself, so we shall make a more leisurely return visit soon.

Here's a view of the majestic Grade II listed Cone.  Unfortunately, high winds and heavy rain have damaged the bricks and mortar, so the cone is currently closed to the public whilst Dudley Council continue to raise funds for reparatory work...



...but it's still perfectly safe to take a peek inside from the safety of the doorway...and what a view!  


The glass furnace at the centre of the cone has a 7m diameter and is 3m high.  It would be brought up to temperature (a mere 1250 degrees centigrade) and held at this temperature for around 30 hours, in order to turn the glass to a honey-like consistency.  It could then be gathered up on the end of a blowing iron.


An unofficial rule of photography - don't forget to look up!


On the walk home, we cut away from the "cut" (canal), 


passing through an estate of 1930s houses.  Through a gap between these houses, we glimpsed another local landmark - Wordsley Manor.  


Readers of my blog might recall my recently produced postcard sets Shop | My Site 15371 (winterpeach.co.uk),  which featured this photograph of a jaw dropping Art Deco cinema, hidden deep within the walls of, you guessed it, Wordsley Manor.  I captured it in all its faded grandeur a few years ago when the Manor came up for auction.  


So there you have it.  A little local exploration, urban and natural and all within 15 minutes of my humble abode.  

I'm off to see Kenneth Branagh's Golden Globe Award and BAFTA nominated film Belfast later.  Have a good weekend all!  Until next time!




12 comments:

  1. I had no idea that the Victorian's had pet cemetaries. That is absolutely fascinating. I was a bit concerned with the inscriptions on some of those graves until you made it clear. What a wonderfully atmospheric place to visit.
    Loving the spooky hat!
    You'll have to take us to the glass museum one of these days, I can't beleiev we've never been, it looks fantastic. Fancy your mum recognising a neighbour! What a small world.
    I managed the staff canteen at Stuart Crystal for a while in the 1980s, they used to leave any seconds in boxes outside to help themselves - every elderly person I knew was given Stuart Crystal for Xmas and birthday presents for years afterwards!
    We passed the derelict Chance glassworks yesterday, I wonder if it will ever be saved?
    Margaret Pole is Jon's 16 x Great Aunt!
    I hope you enjoyed Belfast, we must try and see it next week! xxx

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    1. Fancy you working at Stuart Crystal in the 80s?! I'm sure my Mom has a fair few pieces of glass knocking around in her cabinet. I remember being given a glass bell and being inwardly unimpressed. It's not my thing now either, but at least I can appreciate the work involved. You should definitely come with us some time. I have never visited Chance glassworks, but there are no doubt many places close to being forgotten. It's a real shame. I might have known that Lord Jon would have some connection to Stourton Castle too. :-) I can't wait to find out what you think of Belfast. It was everything I hoped it would be! xxx

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  2. I'm glad to read I'm not the only one being completely unaware of Nature Reserves which are virtually upon my doorstep! Of course, there isn't anything which even comes close to that Victorian Pet Cemetery here. How wonderfully atmospheric and your enhanced photos are definitely doing the subject proud. Loving your spooky self-portrait too, very haunting indeed.
    The glass museum, and the magnificent glass-making cone are fascinating too. Well worth a visit if we ever make it to your neck of the woods. xxx

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    1. I couldn't believe it Ann. I'm wondering what else I'm missing! I'm sure you would appreciate the glass cone museum if you ever do make it. You must give me a shout if you do! xxx

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  3. oh wow! this sounds and looks wonderful!!
    the pet cemetary is very moving and you captured the spirit of the place perfectly in your photos. love the pictures of the woodland too.
    interesting history of glass manufacturing! the brick cone housing the glass furnace is stunning - never saw something like this. special thanx for capturing the beautiful art nouveau glass......
    thanks for taking us with you! xxxx

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    1. Thank you! Wordsley is the kind of place you would drive straight through. It was once a small village and quite rural, but over time, has become part of the urban sprawl that is the West Midlands conurbation. But its place at the centre of the glassmaking industry is so important and it is on the fringes of some beautiful countryside and counties like Shropshire. There's lots to celebrate about this region. I'm glad you enjoyed your virtual visit! xxx

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  4. What an utterly fascinating post Claire! I had to read it twice. I am going to forward it straight onto my Ol' Glass Eye Mumrah, as she'd be like a ferret up a trouser leg in those glass museums. (She has an amazing collection of Chance hankerchief vases, and even donated a couple to David Encill for his book 'Chance Expressions') You have a very rich history on your doorstep. How amazing that your mum recognised her old neighbour in that photo. I eagerly await news on the development of the old Chance factory by the motorway - I just love the fact that they are planning to put a lighthouse there! The cone building is amazing and what wonderful pictures you have captured.

    Those pet grave stones are bizarrely blunt aren't they - 'shot', 'killed' !!! I love the 'wet plate' effect you have applied. Stunning. I think walkers in Chance Wood should be weary of that spooky, top hatted lady though ! :0 I wouldn't like to knock her pint of nettle beer over.

    Just wondering if you have clocked there is a wonderful programme called 'My Canal Boat Diaries' on iPlayer / BBC 4. The chap self films his journey through Staffordshire up to Manchester then across to Liverpool. At one point he goes past the Wedgewood Estate, and through some pretty terrifying tunnels!!! and endless locks as he climbs up the Pennines. Thought you might like it. Lulu xXx

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    1. Hello Lulu! You've completed the Chance story. I wasn't aware of those proposed developments. I hope they come to fruition. There are so many interesting buildings in these parts that never seem to find the necessary funding or even the slightest bit of interest from local councils. We have a couple of those Chance handkerchief vases too. They belonged to Gareth's Mom and we have them somewhere in the loft. We keep meaning to get them down and find a place to display them. Today might be the day! The grave stones were very blunt, yes, but at least we know their stories. They did seem to meet quite violent ends though. I might have to don my top hat in the pet cemetery some time. :-D I shall make a note to check out 'My Canal Boat Diaries.' Thank you! xxx

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    2. … and how kind of your Mom to donate a couple for the book. I would love to see a photo of her collection! xxx

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    3. Will see if I can get some piccies of them Claire x

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  5. Hello. I've been sent over here by Vix. Fabulous photos. I can't resist a pet cemetery either! Arilx

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