Saturday, 16 July 2011

Stourbridge Busman's Holiday

Last week I went on a Busman's day out to Stourbridge to meet up with some fellow lampworkers from Frit Happens Forum, and for a whirlwind visit of some of the glassy attractions there. Stourbridge was (and still is to some degree) the centre of glassmaking in England, and is jam packed with studios, factories, workshops and museums.

Of course it's no short haul for me, so finding I could get a bargain room at £15 for a night in a nearby hotel in Dudley I decided to go up the afternoon before so I'd be fresh for the 9 am start, then amble back the day after and give myself a little break in the process.

Despite the confusing buses, and a change at a bus depot, I managed to find my way there. I think Dudley must be one of the Midlands best kept secrets, I took a wrong turning coming out of Dudley Port station; one minute I am in the middle of houses, noise and traffic, next minute I'm standing by a canal with nothing in site either way!
View left, view right!

The hotel was similar; it was right on a main road, but when I wandered off looking for dinner I found this;

Next morning was then a ten minute bus ride into Stourbridge, and meeting up with about 24 lampworkers and jewellers who'd travelled from all over for the day. We started at Ploughden and Thompson's, a glass factory that still makes raw glass, using a traditional cone chimney kiln as their factory (although the top of the chimney was removed in the 1920's). However they use modern techniques and kilns now, while we were there the glass blowers were making very high grade glass for a neutron detector array that's being built under the alps.
Neutron array detectors freshly made!
They explained how they have to use a low background radioactivity sand from Norway that costs about £4,500 per tonne, unlike the normal sand which is about £400 a tonne! Most of their work is producing glass for scientific, medical and military use; they showed us an array of goods from light covers that go in submarines, on fighter aircrafts, high power microwave generators for cancer treatment machines - it was quite an array! They even showed us what looked like flecks of glass, but were tiny glass tubes with a 12 micron hole for use in IVF treatment!
An array of their wares, top right is the finished neutron detector with a selienum internal coating, bellow that the cover from a fighter jet wing indicator lamp, centre is a high power microwave generator from a cancer treatment machine.

They do also make some decorative glass, and include Tudor glass which makes cut lead crystal.
Lesley has a go at glass cutting under the expert eye of Tutor Glass's lead crystal cutter
After chatting to the cutter and sandblaster, and having a go (I had a go at sandblasting, and was way too heavy on the controls! But I still want a sandblaster for xmas!) we had just enough time for a quick look around the storage rooms.
Sadly they'd had rain damage recently as thieves had taken the lead off their roofs, and at this point we just ran out of time. Probably a good thing, as I'd have gone shopping for glass at this point!

From here next stop was a tour of the Cone Museum, the last remaining intact glass cone in the UK.
This was a fascinating tour, seeing how glass was originally produced in what look an almost lethal environment! There was so much to see, and a chance to watch Charlotte, their resident glass blower, in action,
before being whisked off for a much needed sit down and lunch!

And that's only halfway through the day! I'll continue this in the next post, as I have some amazing pictures from the next two stops to come, of both old and new glass, and more from the Cone too!

In the meantime I am refilling my Etsy shop at the moment, and there should be a few more bits going in there, including some new marbles and paperweights, over the next few days.

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