three hundred years of collectable glass in one day

The Cambridge Glass Fair

Foyer Exhibition:
february 2013

hARBRIDGE AND WATFORD CRYSTAL

The February 2013 foyer exhibition, loaned by Pauline and Maurice Wimpory, will feature two little-known English glass factories: the Harbridge Crystal Glass Company Ltd which was based in Stourbridge from 1928 – 1965 and the Watford Glass Company Ltd (trademark Watford Crystal) which was based in Watford between 1932 and 1992. There is very little known or, perhaps more correctly, published about these companies. It is hoped that this exhibition will stimulate interest and bring more facts to light.

Harbridge footed vase, 1937.

There will be around 90 items in the exhibition, including some large Watford Glass exhibition centrepieces.

The Harbridge Crystal Glass Company was founded in 1928. The name is a contraction of the surnames of the two founders, Mr S. T. Harvey & Mr A. C. Bridgens, to make HARBRIDGE. The factory was called the Platts Works. The factory no longer exists but the site was about midway between the Ruskin Glass Centre and the Dial glassworks, now Plowden & Thompson/ Tudor Crystal.

It is thought that Mr Harvey previously worked for L. & S. Hingley & Sons of Wordsley who were important glass cutters/ decorators and subcontractors. The relationship between the two companies is not known but, as late as 1956, the Harbridge Crystal London showrooms were being run by Noel Hingley. Harvey was the visible face of the company and it is not known what role Bridgens held apart from being a director.

Harbridge had their own furnaces; within a year they had 16 cutters and by the end of 1930 they had grown considerably. The main driver for this expansion was the appointment of an Australian agent. Agencies followed in many Commonwealth countries and it was not long before more than 50% of their glass was exported and this percentage increased over the following years.

They were much smaller than the long-established neighbouring glassmakers such as Webb Corbett, Stuart, Webb and Stevens & Williams and, coupled with their exports, this helps to explain the relative rarity of Harbridge Crystal in the home market and in the secondary market now. Harbridge did have a good business supplying department stores where their name was not used.

Their designs mirror those of the other Stourbridge Crystal factories and covered the full range of vases, bowls, jugs, decanters & stemware. Their work is arguably closer to that produced by Stuarts than the other factories. Nothing is known about who designed their products.

'Madame Butterfly' vase by Watford Glass.

Harbridge embraced a gentle art deco style and had designs registered and in production by 1934; some of these designs are in the exhibition. They also made black-footed items which were presumably inspired by contemporary designs from Orrefors. Although there are references in The Pottery Gazette to coloured and cased glass items they do not appear to have been made. A brochure page for the coronation of King George VI shows some very sumptuous designs. Harbridge were regular advertisers in The Pottery Gazette right up until their closure but they repeated a handful of advertisements rather than producing new ones.

It is unclear when Harbridge discontinued making glass but it may have been around 1957. Links were made with Webb Corbett who presumably now made their blanks. Harbridge continued to make their existing ranges both in Stourbridge and at a factory in Builth Wells at least until Harvey and Bridgens retired in 1965.

Harbridge were no better than the other factories in permanently marking the glass they made. They used an etched backstamp,' Harbridge England', and black foiled labels with silver lettering. Harbridge made a range of blanks that were not copied by others and this aids identification. They also edged vase and bowl rims with vertical 'V' or diamond-shaped cuts whereas most other producers used U-shaped thumbnail cuts.

The Watford Glass Company Ltd used the trade name 'Watford Crystal' on all their products. The company was founded in 1932 by Gus Kiewe who came from a glassmaking family in Frankfurt. The first factory was in Liverpool Road, Watford and in 1960 the company moved to the Holywell Industrial Estate.

Watford Crystal did not make their own glass but bought in blanks from other glassmakers. These suppliers included Whitefriars, Nazeing, Glassexport CZ, Nachtmann & RCR. They had a full range of equipment to make handmade cut glass in the traditional way.

Harbridge and Watford had something very important in common: both started at a difficult time, they were much smaller than their competitors and both turned to exports to survive. Watford targeted the USA and, to a lesser extent, the Commonwealth.

A Harbridge footed vase with intaglio cutting.

Whereas Harbridge followed the other British companies in design and style, Watford's production, not surprisingly, was more influenced by the style and patterns from Germany and Czechoslovakia. This was particularily so in the early days. This began to change in 1957 when Gus Kiewe died and his daughter, Fay Peck, took over the company. She had already worked there for several years in all departments and she was able to move the company forward by increasing their output of stemware. Watford were prolific advertisers in The Pottery Gazette from around 1948 – 1978 and they brought out new advertisements on a regular basis. Unfortunately for history they did not get as many editorials as they deserved.

Fay Peck was the powerhouse behind the company not least as their designer and she embraced the modern designs that were fashionable from around 1953 – 1968. Examples of these designs will be in the exhibition.

A sister company, Diapeck Ltd, run by Fay's husband, Lionel Peck, developed diamond cutting wheels to speed up production and reduce chipping. This successful development enabled them to sell these wheels to other cut glass factories. By the late 1960’s over 70 % of their glass was exported with the USA remaining the largest market. In recognition of her services to export Mrs Peck was made an MBE in the 1971 Honours list.

Unfortunately Watford only relied on their foil label to identify their products and this was often lost or removed in the first wash. The labels were shield shaped topped with a crown with gold or silver script on a blue background.

By 1980 the Watford philosophy of 'everything made by hand' was being undermined by machine-made cut glass and the odds were stacked against them. Fay Peck died in 1991 and the company closed in 1992.

Both Maurice and Pauline will be on hand to answer any questions visitors might have about the exhibition and they will be delighted to meet anyone who has any information on either of the factories or, indeed, any pieces of Harbridge or Watford glass.

 

 

exhibition highlights

Labels

 

  • Watford Glass 'Deep Water' fish vase
  • Watford Glass 'Morning Rose' vase
  • Other large Watford exhibition pieces
  • Large Harbridge vases, biscuit barrels, decanters etc.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Note: All images supplied Maurice Wimpory

 

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