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Whitefriars Glass Company

Whitefriars Glass Company

English, founded 1680

In 1834 James Powell (1774-1840), a London wine merchant and entrepreneur, purchased the Whitefriars Glass Company, a small glassworks off Fleet Street in London, believed to have been established in 1680.

During the latter part of the 1800s the firm formed a close association with leading architects and designers such as T G Jackson, Edward Burne Jones, William De Morgan and James Doyle. Whitefriars produced the glass that Philip Webb used in his designs for William Morris. The firm’s production diversified in the 1850s to include domestic table glass after supplying the glassware for William Morris's Red House.

In 1875 Harry James Powell, grandson of the founder and an Oxford graduate in chemistry, joined the business. His training, which led to more scientific production and innovations such as previously unattainable colours and heat-resistant glass, for applications in science and industry, like X-ray tubes and light bulbs.

The firm's name was changed to Powell & Sons (Whitefriars) Ltd in 1919 and the growth in business demanded new premises. In 1923 the new factory was opened in Wealdstone.

In the 1930s the firm started production of millefiorie paperweights, characterised by shallow domes and wide bases. This period of prosperity was ended with the onset of World War II. Glass manufacture was restricted to that aiding the war effort. Cessation of hostilities found the company in a desperate struggle for survival, aggravated by the loss of key personnel who had enlisted and not returned.

The Festival of Britain of 1951 led to a much-needed financial infusion for the economy. Whitefriars was selected as an outstanding example of modern British industry. The following years saw austere and functional Scandinavian design sweeping Europe, and dominating stock purchases by major outlets such as Selfridges and Fortnum & Mason. The arrival of glass bricks which were cheap, thick slabs of coloured glass set in concrete bricks, dispensed with the need for expensive stained glass in new churches. In 1962 the company name was changed back to Whitefriars Glass Ltd. and specialised in freeform domestic glass ware until its purchase in 1981 by Caithness Glass.
(Information from: Whitefriars Glass - James Powell & Sons, Wendy Evans, (The Museum of London)