THE FALCON GLASS-WORKS
In one of the most dingy parts of the
banks of the Thames is a great building, whose outside is duskier than the spot
where it is to be found. Black bricks are too common in 'town' to act as
loadstones, except to men in trade. We should, belike, pass by the dull corner
of an out-of-the-way place, with no more to take our eye than a wall that goes
round a tall shaft, like the rampart of an old fort to guard the central keep.
The only sign outside that it is worth while to go in is the board over the door, with the words of gold, 'APSLEY PELLATT'S WORKS.' We will use this door, and dive into the secrets of the place. At once we meet with bright objects. The path, on either hand, is hung with clear shining wares, such as might have crossed Aladdin in the cave of the genius of the ring. The ground is strewed with the same sorts of things. Counting-house and counters display samples likewise. Up-stairs we go, lighted with hues of the rainbow, and on and on we pass, fearful of damage at each step, through store-rooms and narrow lanes, till we reach the centre, and start with wonder. A well-lit hall greets our sight. Thick from the roof hang crystal, drops, such as may be seen in the great caves of some parts of the world, but which prosy folks would call chandelier. All round about the walls, the ceiling, and the floor, the most lustrous diamonds cluster, and send out their shoots of light. For a time we can enter into no details from the brilliancy round about. Like the sun which puts out the stars, so the one blaze hides here the sparkling points. Our eyes, getting used to the tremulous scintillations, begin to trace the walls, and look at the rich stores one by one. Join in our wonder, when the very first crystal we touch is the Koh-i-noor! Here it is, covered only with a glass shade, a solid lump of the first water, sending forth lines of fire, yet never burned up. No iron guard keeps a tingling finger from it as at the Great Exhibition; visitors to this crystal palace are so honest, that the tempting jewel is placed close to the door. We can now boast over our gracious Queen. She (may God ever bless her!) has the precious gem in its fresh cutting, but here we view it, not only thus, but in its pristine ugliness. The hue attendants upon the 'Mountain of Light,' like priceless Indian ear-drops, keep faithful service. The Koh-i-noor is itself but a trifle amongst the decorations of the place. Masses of pure carbon many times outvie this noted gem in size, and would make the queenly brow ache from their very weight
These, again, are only types of the treasures. Rubies and emeralds are commonplace beside brilliants which a king's crown could not buy. The facets, cut by a cunning hand, are made to cross each other through the clear medium, so that their sharp edges seem broken, and flash more numerous rays. One egg-shaped trophy of the diamond-cutter displays the genius of the artist in design, but, being in regular facets, appears as though bands went round. 'Play of light' is thus lost, which the Mentor whose beck has been our guide points out as a fault. Some such stores as these must Aladdin have had to give to the caliph, his future father-in-law, or to stud the windows of his magic palace. . They increase as his did. All the diamond world is here (in copy); 'the Pitt,' 'the Regent,' and 'the Russian.' From this place came also the cases of the same gems in the Museum of Practical Geology. We begin to think that the reign of the genii is not over. Even they could not exceed the beauties above and around. Maybe, after all, it is in truth their palace. Aladdin, who sits at his desk making out bills, could feast a good party if his viands were as bountiful, and splendid, and costly, as the table, services at his command. On his right are decanters and glasses of every fashion, to please the most fastidious taste. Coloured glasses, so giving flavour to some wines that the connoisseur could not endure plain glass again; long-leg negus and punch glasses with a mimic bowl at the top; and others so high and narrow that they seem nothing but spindle-shanks. Salts of 'prism cut,' so that the rays of light, in lieu of going through, may break upon the surface, and dart a myriad little fiery arrows like the diamond itself from every point of view; and spangling ornaments for the mantel-shelf. Some of the crystal wares are engraved, some are covered with a network of mazy line, some have curious, close spirals of two or three colours running up their legs; such would make London boys caper with joy to twist upon their palm, like a gimlet eating its way through their flesh.
Porcelain, too, tries to excel the crystal in lightness and beauty. Tureens and dishes; dinner and breakfast services; china of the finest clay, and most exquisitely painted, are piled on the long shelves and platforms, and on the counters that cross the room, and form graceful stalagmites, rising to kiss the lustres overhead. We pass up and down amongst the fragile elegancies, every moment stopping to admire a triumph of fictile art. Plates, whose rims are the frames of artistic landscapes such as leave the studios of Sèvres; Vases and urns, whose classic shapes might have been cut by the first Etruscan tools, and whose fine reliefs of satyrs and fauns, Vie with old cameos.
The glory of the tables is a grand cut épergne. If it were not 'very like a bull,' and, what is worse, a 'bull in a china shop,' we should call this heavy mass a light and airy vase.
Some time ago, owing, doubtless, to 'internal heat,' a fire broke out, and burned up everything.. Time has not yet been able to restore copies of much that was lost, though good promise is given for it by-and-by. Relics of the ruin, and of the effect of fire upon some of the goods, are kept under a glass shade. So curiously are a 'salt' and a huge crystal twisted and twined, that we don't know at a glance whether fancy or chance designed them. We learn, also, that we must dive down deeper into the mysteries of the earth, before we can reach her workshop, and see her journeymen. For the porcelain, indeed, we should have to travel further than time admits. None of that is made here. It comes from the potteries of counties well known in England.
Several years ago, certain parties in London thought that the potteries might be added to our already huge trade there, and a company was formed to do so. But Staffordshire cried No!' and with parties who heard their doom in the project, resolved that not a pound's worth of clay should leave their district in a raw state. For,' said they, the first porcelain manufactory in London would ring our knell.' So the scheme fell to the ground. To make up for what might appear to the world an undue wish to keep close to what they had, the old potteries gave London men full leave to buy as much clay as ever they pleased after it was moulded, and baked, and made up. So the matter now stands. Every piece of porcelain looking so picture-like, has come by some means or another from a distance.
Prepare for descent to nether realms. We must not expect to find the scene as light and beautiful as the place we leave. But we have been so captivated with what we have seen, that we are ready to undergo anything in the desire to know how the crystal wares are produced.
Down, down, till we reach an underground passage, arched over, and black as night, with a footpath of cinders which crunch under every step. To traverse the darkness is an adventure Io make one quake. We clutch our conductor's hand, and beg him to go first, for fear of pitfalls. Stooping, and taking very short steps, though the roof is not low nor the path uneven, and with the way beguiled by encouraging words, we in a minute or two notice a red glare before us, getting brighter and brighter a~ we near it. Our road would have served Milton for a path to Pandemonium, or Bunyan for his 'Valley,' and the fiery hue at the end would be a good aid. As we pace along, we half expect to meet some unearthly goblin, and just as we reach the fire, there are two bright staring eyes shining upon us like the ghost of a basilisk. We are sure they belong to an elf. It is satisfactory to find that they belong to a stoker. Let us rest awhile, now we have reached the central heat, and collect our wits. The passage we have come along is only one of several that reach to the outer world for the supply of air to the fire.
The fire is above our heads, on a grating of straight bars of iron, which move apart so that the clinkers' can be poked through into the ash-pit, or taken out when burned through by the heat, so that new ones may go in their place.
The ash-pit would hold half a dozen loads of ashes, and were it not cleared out pretty often, it would soon be full. The red cinders pour down day and night, for weeks, and months, and years, a heavy rain of fire. The fierce heat keeps up currents of air along the passages so free and regular, that the furnace roars as a hot blast.
Thus around us we have representatives of the old elements, earth, air, fire, and we may fairly add water, for our guide is an old salt, whose life has been chiefly spent in the service of Neptune. He pleasantly weaves in with his discourse tales of his shipwreck, and how he lost all on board, and how he had a berth kindly offered him under Vulcan, for surely in his realms are we now.
We are at the very foundation of the great chimney to be seen outside. Distance made us deem it a chimney; close to it, we feel, from the magnitude of the fire, that we are at the base of a volcano, a Stromboli rather than a Vesuvius, for it is always burning.
One of the passages leads to a volcano now extinct, hut whose last eruption continued for five years. Vulcan finds such fires to damage his forges, as truly they might, and has only one in play at a time. That now a-light will keep so almost long enough to generate a salamander, the only animal (as old books tell us) that can live in fire, and whose birth combs from one kept up for seven years. The other is meanwhile repairing, and will set for years before use again.
You have been kept long enough in underground darkness. We will ascend towards the crater, taking, however, a winding path round, in lieu of passing up through the fire. Our guide takes us through a room on the route, where we find a man hard at work with his shovel, stirring and mixing a troughful of powdered matter, in which a red colour predominates. He calls it 'new glass.' It has been put into the trough in layers of beautiful fine white sand, alkali, and oxide of lead (which gives the bright, red tinge), nitre, and sometimes arsenic. It is to the presence of the oxide of lead that the Pellatts attribute the clear bright crystal lustre for which their wares are famous. Without it, they could never produce the models of precious gems that sparkle in their show-rooms, and in the cabinets of the curious. No one is even second to them in this branch of art. Indeed, the spangling drops forming their chandeliers are brilliants of the first water.
The lead itself is prepared with the very greatest care. In German glass, of which great quantities are used in this country, there is seldom or never any lead. For some purposes it is not fit there should be. Many chemical experiments could not be done with lead in the substance of the retort. Apparatus of this kind is of German glass, or made a special manufacture. Great care is required and much practical knowledge in the proportions of the ingredients used. The sand must be even and small in grain, or it would take too much alkali and fuel to melt it; and yet not too small, or it would form into a lump, and stay in the glass as white specks. Only pure potash is used for flint glass-two-thirds of carbonate to one-third of nitrate. If the first is in excess, it gives a light-green tint; if the last, the glass verges to a purple, and if the cheaper substance, soda, is used, it imparts a dull gray.
The usual formula for flint glass is one part, by weight, of alkali, two of lead, and three of sand. Upon the care in the mixing depends the homogeneity of the melted glass. In the case of liquids of different specific gravities being mixed, and resuming their state of rest, it will be found that each liquid is arranged according to its gravity, and while this is taking place, it will present the appearance of cloudiness. This is precisely what takes place in glass, the difference in specific gravity of the materials being very considerable. The cloudiness, or want of homogeneity, is termed striae.
Another cause also exists to produce cloudiness. The back of the crucible in the glass furnace is exposed to a greater degree of heat than the front and sides; consequently a current of the fused matters is constantly passing from back to front, keeping up a partial movement of the mass.
Equal care is required with the other substances. Were too much alkali employed, the glass would sweat, as the technical term is; that is, it would exude moisture; the deliquescence of the alkali seeming to be retained even after it has left the furnace.
The sand is brought from Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire, and Alum Bay in the Isle of Wight. Visitors to the last-named retreat will remember the peculiar sand rocks of Alum Bay, streaked with various bright and gay colours, mementoes of -which they have doubtless brought away, prettily arranged m a glass phial, or glued into a sand landscape.' Before being used, it is well washed and dried in an oven, care being taken that it absorbs no carbon in the process.
Every one knows that the essential components of glass are simply silica and alkali. The first is the constituent of flint, from which the name of flint glass. Chemistry has shown the advantage of introducing the minor ingredients. Flint stone would be rather stubborn in the melting-pots by itself. Even with the company of an alkali, it would take a fiercer heat than coals give out to dissolve it. It is therefore necessary to pulverise it first. The sea kindly takes the hard work of grinding flint stones pretty well out of our hands. Sea-sand is flint already ground to powder. The incessant action of the waves upon the shingle of the shore has elaborated for our purposes an inexhaustible supply. Flint is nevertheless crushed and pounded by artificial means, but more especially hr the porcelain manufacture. If flints are heated to redness, and then immersed in water suddenly, the calcined masses will crumble into innumerable fragments, which are afterwards with comparative ease ground as fine as you please.
We call our good pioneer's attention to a tub full of old broken bottles, and bits of glass in lumps, bottoms of decanters, stopples, and a little multitude of different things.
'Oh,' he cries, I forgot to say that we mix up with the new glass a good deal of that sort of stuff.'
We step outside of the door at his hint, and find a long, open-air passage pretty well stopped up with tubs and boxes of these odd fragments. At one end also two old women are at work, washing and sorting them.
'We buy a great deal of old glass,' the man says; and we can't get enough of it.'
Does it improve the metal?' we inquired, using his own terms quite knowingly.
'Oh no,' he answered; but it is much cheaper. Glass is never so good the second time of me1ting, but if we used nothing but the new glass you saw in the trough, it would make everything very dear.'
It is to supply this demand that we see the bills and boards of the marine store-dealers in the back streets of London, announcing the best price for old bottles and broken glass.' For the very best glass, virgin materials only are used. All the substances we have named, well mixed together, form what we are taught to call a batch. All of them are opaque bodies, yet by their transfusion become crystalline and clear.
During the melting the glass assumes different appearances. After ten or twelve hours, it is a very white and perfectly opaque honeycomb. In a few hours more it becomes transparent, but filled with thousands of air bubbles; white gives place to a light purple, arising from a small quantity of the oxide of manganese, which is also added to the batch, that, by parting slowly with its oxygen, it may in the end take all trace of colour out of the glass. This purple vanishes in turn. As the melting goes on, the air bubbles get fewer and larger, and at length quite disappear. The glass is now a molten mass, fined, as the workman has it, and ready for his manipulations.
We will go to the laboratory, and see what sort of a place it is. Having reached the higher story, for which we were bound, we discover ourselves in a dimly-lighted, lofty-roofed area, filled with busy functionaries. Twenty or thirty demon-like beings, with ruby red faces, are puffing away at long iron pipes, or 'blowing irons,' with fiery molten matter at the end. Surely they are Vulcan's forgers, for here is one blowing out hollow bomb-shells as large as a man's head. We know they will be filled with combustible matter as soon as they form the globes of gas lamps. Another is making cannon-balls or thunderbolts of a size that would do for cricket, if that be a game in vogue amongst the gods. The huge furnace is in the middle, glaring from a dozen holes, and the flames roaring with the smoke up a dozen flues. Streams of fiery air issuing from each hole diverge as from a policeman's bull's eye, and make effects of light and shade that would have rejoiced Rembrandt to see. The workmen have a slab of iron to roll and work their melted metal upon, and an imp in waiting to vanish with each product of their skill.
Changes take place like magic in the process. What was a moment before hanging from the workman's blowing iron, an opaque, semi-fluid, reddened lump, without form, grows lucent, colourless, solid, and symmetrical. The conjuror sits easily in his chair,' turning the metal in the simplest of all lathes, welding one piece to another by mere contact at red heat, cutting it with scissors as easily as cloth, or breaks it in straight and even fractures with the simple touch of cold iron. A diamond could not give a cut so clean. At a higher temperature it is more ductile than any other metal, and may be spun to the finest hair, or blown to an almost impalpable film. It is beyond description what beautiful shapes are formed with tools as rude as a battledore, and pincers and shears.
Darting in and out of the fiery rays, the imps and their demon masters have, as is only quite proper, a most unearthly look. Next to the fabricators of the missiles of death, we come to the making of, what sly wits will say is akin, doctors' bottles, and sample phials for the spirit merchant.
These bottles are all cast. A small thick bulb of the metal is dipped out from the port-hole by means of the long iron tube, and then dipped in an iron mould of the shape and size of the bottle. The man blows through the tube, and spreads the soft metal as he would a soap bubble, till it fills the mould with a thin inner film. He then lifts it out and presents it to the imp, who stands ready with another iron rod, into the hollow end of which the new-made bottle fits. The man pokes the bottle into this hole, and severs his connection with it by one gentle tap. lie rims off for more metal from the melting-pots, while his imp has further to do -with the bottle. The place of severance is where the neck comes. 'Casting' has made the glass cool and hard. It is therefore held to a small hole til it is red again, when it is removed, and by means of rolling and clever use of tools the neck soon comes. Glass when heated, as everybody knows, is very sensitive to cold.. If taken into the outer air, it would break into a thousand bits. The strange network of some of the wares which ere now we stopped to look at in the showroom, was produced by dipping the vessels into water, when they were flirt made. The sudden contraction of the surface caused it to crack in all directions, before the inner surface was affected, making crevices for dust and dirt, which most vex the maid.
Would you not like to view the interior of the furnace? Step inside with us. We have the word of Munchausen that he leaped down the crater of old Etna, and saw what was going on below We, always sceptical of that story, despite the baron's threats to unbelievers, defer a walk amongst the lurid melting-pots. The extinct fire which we have spoken of must have had a like place to kindle in. To it we hie. Like mice under a mountain base, we can at leisure examine the details of its construction We stand upon the siége or floor, in the middle of which is a new iron grating, true assurance that the fire long thought to be dead may one day again become active, when through the apertures all round we may see the troubled lava seething with an atmosphere as heated and angry as itself. Our guide says, 'there is no danger of its being in action for several years.' Through the grating come the breezes from the subterranean lanes we traversed. Rushing upwards in a wild blast, they would, were the fire a-light, send the flames blazing round us, over our head, curling around the domed roof above us, down the sides again a little way, and rushing up the flues which take turn with the openings. We can see this going on in the other furnace; here we can probe for the cause. There is no direct connection with the large shaft overhead. That would be a waste of much heat. An arched roof serves to hold the fire, as it were, in a box, and makes the furnace many times hotter than it -would otherwise be. In the burning furnace a little way oft; melting- pots are ranged all round, with their mouths gaping wide at the regular apertures, and displaying down their wide open throats nearly a ton each of liquid fire: a faint cloudy circle distinguishes the glass from the pot. In the dilapidated furnace we can best understand the position of the pots. Even with the wall, they look like so many Egyptian sphinxes with their heads cut clean off; fat examples, albeit their growth has been breadth-wise at the expense of length. Nine of them form a ring, with a little one in near the teasing hole. Workmen have the oddest ways of calling things. You would not guess, at first, that teasing the furnace means feeding it with coals. The man who does it is called a teaser. The teasing-hole takes up part of the room, and prevents a larger pot being placed there. Advantage is taken of this, to put a small pot holding only six hundredweight of blue metal. The object to be looked after in a glass furnace is, the greatest amount of heat at the least cost for fuel. It must be of the smallest area, yet so large that the cold air from the grates cannot strike upon the crucibles. It would not suit to use the common method of getting a draught of air, for which reason the tunnel passes below. The force of the current always flowing in depends upon the height and bulk of the chimney, and upon the good luting up of all the cracks round the furnace.
Stepping out of this strange abode, we survey the exterior. We find that the flue bends over and forms a quadrant to the shaft. The shaft itself is midway between the two furnaces. How struck the world would be, we think, with an eruption, the blended fury of both fires! But here, again, we are told that this is not likely. One fire is never lighted till the other is put out.
The arts and ingenuity of man have penetrated even these queer regions, for close by us is a ladder quite like a New Road manufacture. We will mount it for a few minutes, and enter the warm chamber above. There we find a collection of melting-pots, newly made, and waiting their turn to be used. The date is on them, by which we find that they need much nursing before they are fit for use. One of them has been kept warm for a year and a half, so the inscription of the workman informs us, while his skill in spelling and writing more surely convinces us that these pots were first meant for sphinxes, and that we are reading off hieroglyphics.
The pots are made on a floor above, and brought down into this room to dry. After a long drying, they go into an adjoining room, which we find, upon going there also, to be much cooler; 'no flues,' so says the man, 'passing under the floor as they do in the other room.' Great care has to be taken, in making the pots, to drive out all air bubbles, for these would expand in the furnace, and burst the crucibles. They are subjected to severe tests before being applied to their final use, being raised, by degrees, to the temperature of the furnace heat. Even then they sometimes fly, to the complete waste and loss of their valuable contents. The searching fire finds out the least flaw.
Owing to the build of the furnace, the result of Westminster wisdom, it is not possible to carry on the melting of coloured glass and plain glass at the same time. The two kinds demand different degrees of heat. The colouring ingredients of some varieties are very valuable; gold being employed to produce ruby glass, silver and copper for other colours, though Bontemps has shown that all the colours may be produced by any one of the metals. It is necessary, therefore, to wait for an accumulation of orders in coloured glasses, that it may pay to regulate the furnace expressly for them.
'If a customer comes in,' so the manager remarks to us, and says he wants some article in coloured metal in a hurry, we are obliged to tell him that we can't do it. He at once says, "Why not ?" for he thinks we make everything; and so -we do, for the matter of that, but we can't make everything just when we like.'
Blue glass is an exception. There is usually blue glass in the pot near the teasing-hole. This colour bears heat. In the earthenware manufacture, we have a good proof of this fact. For a long time, blue was the only colour found to be manageable at the potteries. Even now, the popularity of the 'willow pattern plate,' that eminent triumph of English taste, shows how much it is still liked.
The manager shows us the design of a gorgeous chandelier which he is about to produce. It makes, as a design, a picture worth framing, and we doubt not that it must look princely in a house of equal grandeur. It is to be composed of many thousand drops of bright and valuable hues. Several such have been made already. One was shown in Hyde Park in 1851. It took the eye of the representative of the Pacha of Egypt, who wanted to send to his sublime master a memorial of the Great Exhibition. None but that identical one would serve his purpose, which, according to the rules laid down by the Commissioners, could not be removed till the Exhibition closed. His highness could not wait. Another should be made exactly like it. 'No, that wouldn't be a memorial of the Exhibition.' He had therefore to go without, and Pellatt without a customer.
'Why don't you have smaller furnaces, and more of them?' we inquire.
'For the same reason that many other great trades can't adopt good modem methods!' says the manager. Thousands of pounds have been sunk in our place as it is. That would be all lost, if we were to make radical changes. One thinks that all this ought to have been foreseen from the first. So, truly, it was, and in our day it is hard to explain why such difficulties were chosen, and how they have been borne. The reason is, that even in this dark out-of-the-way nook the blessings of law have come. Not many years ago, before the excise got into disrepute, we should have found about the place, not merely the operatives, but a tribe of officers whose duty it was (to put it in plain English) to see that government was not cheated. Dues were put upon every pound of glass. These dues varied in different reigns, and were at last so cleverly adjusted, that the trade was nearly driven out of the country. Gentlemen at Westminster are first-rate hands at law-making; they express themselves concisely, speak excellent grammar, and generally, are so good as to make an "Act of Explanation for the use of the judges. Yet we must own, that when they become manufacturers also, they step out of their domain, and look rather foolish. One of their deep schemes was measuring the new glass so, that any misadventure in the furnace might fall upon the maker, and not upon them. The articles made, the remnant of metal in the pot, and the broken spoiled glass, were compared, to certify that nothing had been added while melting. The makers might well laugh in their sleeve. Besides the impossibility of successful cheating where so many men must have been in the secret, the makers' eyes were too wide open to cheat themse]ves. If they put in anything, no matter what, while the glass was melting, it would produce striae and air bubbles, and spoil the glass.'
We must not be too hard upon our Commons. If the manufacturers' interest could not be seen, they discovered when their own was failing. Heavy fiscal restriction had not only pressed down the trade, but had kept back improvement. Experiments were too costly with repeated dues, and too annoying with the interference of officers. Dr. Faraday and other gentlemen were appointed, at last, as a commission to investigate the rights of government, and the wants and claims of the trade. A long course of experiments at Apsley Pellatt's, at an expense of 3000l., of which 500l. went to reimburse the proprietor of the works, clearly proved the injury done to the trade by fiscal interference. The duties were obliged to go. Cheap glass is one of the many obligations we owe to Professor Faraday. The furnace at which he worked is now also extinct, and the room is used by the packers, and for old stores. With the continuance of the duties, the number of manufacturers would, by this time, have been reduced to zero; the noble erection in Hyde Park, and its still nobler offspring at Sydenham, would have been abortions. As it is, we see our cities and towns bedecked with the luxury of plate-glass which every year adorns more and more even our private houses. Untaxed plate- glass is less costly than the common crown-glass of yore. it is so beautiful a luxury, that we may well pray Parliament never to lay hands upon it again.
In the course of this tirade against the excise, we -almost forget that our duty is to describe just what we see before us. Some one has been asking us, how the pots get into the furnace at the first, and how they are filled from time to time. Just listen to our hearty guide, who is anxious that you shall be deep in the subject. He says, if we come on Friday morning, we shall find the melting-pots in the course of feeding. They have a fiery appetite. The sides of the furnace are opened, and the compound which by-and-by changes into glass, is poured down by shovelfuls into the stomachs of sphinxes without heads. Why their heads are chopped off is now clear; for their throats are more capacious, and their belly is nearer to the spoon. When all have been well filled, the holes in the furnace are closed, and they are left in a goodly heat to digest their meal. Like the inhabitants of the moon (according to the ipse dixit of Munchausen), these melting-pots have but one meal a week. It takes from Friday to Monday to melt the glass. Jack-tar knows it, now and then, to take much longer, so that, when the workmen come on Monday, they are required to take an extra holiday. Generally speaking, they are not hard to persuade. The temptation to supply waste of moisture, great in their warm work, is yielded to pretty easily. We hope we do them injustice, though we speak not without knowledge. After all, it is a charge that may be only too truly laid to the score of working men. Glass-blowers do not go much beyond their mates of leather or of beaver. 'They drink like fish,' we are told, which -would mean, strictly, that they only drink as much as nature needs.
We are curious to know whether the fire has~ any bad effect upon the sight. The workmen deny it, though the 'industrial pathologists' have of late been crying sympathy for them. One genial, large fellow, with dewlap rolls of fat like a Christmas ox, and whose appearance shows how quickly he makes up for evaporation, says he has worked a good many years in the trade, and can see as well as ever. Nor can he remember an instance of his fellow-workmen going blind. While talking to this sensible and polite fellow, we are interrupted by a man, whose remark runs counter to what we have just been told. He wanted to 'wet his eye' with a drop of beer. Evidently the fire affected him injuriously. His eye, to us, seemed to have been moistened already too many times. We helped him to a pint, yet thought that 'a drop of beer, yer honour!' was a very degrading salutation from an English workman, who could earn, we were told, sometimes 3l. or 41. a week.
We are over and over again hearing of the tyranny and monopoly of capital, and the hard usage of labour. There is a wide-spread fancy, that masters only care to get everything they can out of their men; a dogma which, if ever true, grows less and less so every year.
It is seldom thought that working men may themselves become tyrants. It is only masters who feel that. Yet what are trades' unions frequently, but the incubus of ignorance upon all improvement! What are strikes often, but the effort of obstinacy and ignorance to gain an unjust share of influence and profit! It is only a gigantic capital that can successfully cope with the injustice of labour. Granting that our present system of manufacture is an enormous mistake, we assert that the rights which labour contends for are but a pigmy to the evil which all the claims of working men's ignorance would inflict upon our country. It is not that union is wrong. It is only lamentable that intelligence does not always guide union. Men continually 'bite their nose off, to spite their face.' To show a false and foolish independence, they will throw themselves out of work, or 'get the sack' from those they wish to rule over.
'We are slack of bands just now,' said our cicerone; you don't see us at our busy time.'
'How is that?' we rejoin.
'Oh,' he answers, our Mr. Pellatt has been obliged to send some of the hands about their business. Why, they wanted things too much their own way. They wanted to be master, instead of our Mr. Pellatt, and of course he wouldn't have that. They belonged to the "union", and -wanted to be paid so extravagantly, that it would never do.'
'Have you any union men now?'
'No, sir, not one.'
So here, in the largest glass-works in London, men have cut themselves off from good work and wages, rather than advance with the improving spirit of the age. Thus, too, have men shut themselves out of the Times' newspaper office, Her Majesty's Printers' office, and other large establishments, whose work is so well-paying, constant, and sure, that many a man would now gladly give up his society for an engagement in them.
When glass-ware leaves the blower's hands, it has to undergo annealing or cooling, a process almost as gradual as the melting. The articles are put upon iron' trays, which traverse on wheels a long, arched oven, with open fires on each side of the entrance, which heat at the same time the flues under the floor, where we saw the crucibles. A chimney at the other end causes a strong draught, which draws the fire down the arch. An array of glass-ware as far as the eye can reach, presents a curious sight. There is a forest, of all altitudes and girths-a cylinder, tall as a palm-tree, with a big-bellied apothecary's window bottle; chimneys for gas-lights; glasses of all kinds, for chemists, for victuallers, and for domestic use.
We are now led round to a room which the glass reaches. by a shorter road, too warm for us to encounter. By a turn-handle, the trays travel on a railroad to this room. When the journey is over, they are quite cool. Annealing takes up a good many hours. Every article should be annealed as soon as it is made. This is a very sure safeguard to the owner of glass-works against dishonesty of any one employed by him. It limits temptation very much indeed. No manufactured article could be removed without annealing, so as to be of service. No after-annealing would effect the end desired. The object of cooling by slow degrees is to prevent fracture from any sudden reduction 9f temperature. Glass is a very bad conductor, and chills, contracts, and grows solid on the surface, while the inside is half fluid. Annealing makes the strain or pressure equal. The men receive the produce of the annealing furnace. Every piece is then looked at in turn; a small defect condemns any one of them. The perfect articles are put into large, light wicker- baskets for the time being; the condemned ones are put into a heap for re-melting. There is every reason why a workman should be careful; it is a rule of his shop that he should pay for defects. His work is weighed only after the bad work has been thrown aside. A careless man may often have to work many hours to no purpose.
The bulk of the work has now gone through its last ordeal. It has but to be stored away, or displayed in the show~room, or sent off to order. Some part stays for a few last touches. Our saltwater guide takes us along passages, up and down stairs, in and out of the open air. At last he lands us upon an up-stair workroom, the scene again of many busy operations.
Wheels, and drums, and tubs, all dirty, moving, and splashing, are what first take our notice. Reaching the hole length of the room, a drum-like cylinder is rolling round and round: on each side of it are grinding wheels and busy men, inverted wooden pyramids of sand and water trickling down over the wheels and into the tubs beneath. Leather bands connect the wheels and the cylinder, and all are in motion together. We have come to the glass- cutters. The foreman readily lets us pry into his art; he takes up a tumbler. 'Now,' says he, 'you observe that this is at present quite plain, it hasn't had any cutting whatever.' With two minutes' application to the first wheel, which is made of cast iron, he has produced three facets or cuts, as is seen at the base. Passing it onwards to another man, he begs him to continue the process. The facets are now applied to a wheel made of Yorkshire stone. Of a texture much softer than cast iron, it requires the aid of sand and water to act upon the glass. The effect is, that, instead of the rough, coarse, surface left by the cast iron, the glass exhibits a dull polish. One facet is left for comparison, still rough.
We pass the glass forward again to a third wheel, made of wood. A minute brings the half-polished facet up to its pristine lustre. Thus iron wheels, and sand, and soft stone, and wood, cut, and smooth, and polish. Similar rules respecting damaged articles exist amongst the glass-cutters, as amongst. the glass-blowers. A splendid, cut decanter is shown to us, the defect in which neither we nor our guide can detect; but, as he remarks, the wheel has gone through one of these deep cuttings, ~r it would not have been turned on one side.' Two or three hours expended upon that decanter were lost time to the operative. We wonder if the next decanter will be cut through? A turn of the room brings us to other workmen, who are grinding the interior of the necks of bottles, or grinding the stoppers. To insure a good fit, the one is, last of all, ground into the other, so that they become quite airtight. We cannot describe other occupations of the people here. In the department of the glass-cutters and engravers, are many skilful artisans, or more properly artists. Not only is wonderful skill displayed in the mere cutting of the glass, but powers of design are possessed by many of them. We must only add that these men are at profitable labour, though, from their earnings, it is the custom to charge them a daily rent for the apparatus they use.
We retrace our way through all the maze of the building. Passing the furnaces once more, we think of Pliny's tale of glass being discovered by the shipwrecked mariners, who made a lire of sea-weed on the sands; and feeling the glowing heat upon us, we doubt the fact. We doubt the power of such a fire to vitrify the sand, even if the discovering of glass articles at Nineveh had not already made us doubt Pliny's chronology of the invention.
Our eyes sparkle still with the splendour we have seen. They are the lenses through which the sensitive surface of our brain has been impressed with a photograph. The development of it we present to our readers. Though we have not taken one of the largest places in London for our camera, we have, unless spoiled in the process, one of the most curious, elegant, and beautiful.
The Busy Hives Around Us, 1861