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.