Nailsea Glassworks, from Archaeological, Technical and Social Viewpoints

A Talk by Andrew Smith
July 14th 2010

The Nailsea Glassworks, in its time regarded as one of the most significant glassworks in the UK, was established in 1788 and was operated under a number of owners until 1873, when it ceased production, formally closing the following year.

There has been a number of development proposals for the site between the later 1980s and the turn of the twentieth century, with varying degrees of sensitivity to the historical value of the site, and archaeological interventions were carried out in response to each.

The one that came to fruition was that by Tesco Stores, Limited, who sponsored a comprehensive study from Avon Archaeological Unit, which had been involved with the majority of the interventions. In turn, Andrew Young, head of the Unit, asked the present writer to undertake the project.

The results of this reasearch are available in PDF format by clicking

The Nailsea Glassworks, Nailsea, North Somerset
A Study of the History, Archaeology, Technology and the Human Story
Andrew F. Smith, 2004
at the Archaeology Data Service (ADS)

Nailsea Glass Rolling Pin
Here are some quotes from the introduction to the main document:-
"The intention from the outset has been that this whole study would be made freely available on the worldwide web. It is hoped that it will have achieved its purpose to illuminate as much as possible what has been done in, by and to the Nailsea Glassworks."

"What became very clear was that the early part of the nineteenth century was an extremely vibrant time for the glassmaking industry, even though it was in many respects hamstrung by Excise regulations, and handicapped by punitive duties. These do not always appear logical at this remove, some two hundred years later, but presumably they made sense to the legislators at the time."

"Readily available coal is commonly given as the reason for the glassworks coming to Nailsea. It is also suspected that Lucas maybe wanted to be away from Bristol to avoid industrial espionage. It is probable that there were attractions in a greenfield site, but there were difficulties in the way with respect to extending enclosure on Nailsea Heath. It is regarded by the writer as significant that the proposed canal to Taunton from the River Avon, which would also connect to the south coast had an arm proposed not only right in to Nailsea, but right up to the glassworks, 'to serve mines and works'."
And from the Conlusion we have:-
Glass is such a ubiquitous material, of great use and convenience to man [unless you stumble on it inadvertently in its broken form], and its use predates that of iron. The period of existence of the works at Nailsea was an insignificant time span compared with that of the history of glass, but it was of significance in its time to a lot of unknown and unrecorded people as well as to those who are known and recorded. For whatever reason Nailsea will for long be associated with the forms known as 'Nailsea Glass'. It is only to be hoped, therefore, that the reader will find in this study something of interest, and maybe something new that encourages him or her to explore the subject further, be it through the archaeology, the technology, or whatever.
In many ways it is the Human Story that is of the greatest interest. The technological comparison between the different ways of making glass, the people employed, the difficult times and some of the personality of the owner are all items that appear in the study.

Andrews talk was a substitute for the originally planned talk "A Century of Small Steam Locomotives" by member Andrew Dick which had to be postponed due to illnes. It turned out to be propbably the best talk of 2010.I do not propose to summarise it furher - Visit the above site from which the pictures below are obtained with permission.

Nailsea Glass Map Nailsea Glass kiln Nailsea Glass Nailsea Glass