The Story of Glass in England

By: rhusain
In the twelfth to the sixteenth centuries there were glassmakers in Surrey and Sussex where there was plentiful of timber, which produced colored glasses. Glass for England domestic needs was imported from Venice. Jacopo Verzelini make Venice glasses in London and teach Englishmen the art.

England
It is probable that good glass was made in England during the Roman occupation, but when that ended little other than plain utilitarian pieces were made for a considerable time. It is known that there were glassmakers in Surrey and Sussex, where timber was plentiful, from the twelfth to the sixteenth centuries. Also, it is known that colored glass for church windows was made at several centers.

In the sixteenth century domestic needs were supplied by glass imported principally from Venice, and Italian workers who settled in London but did not stay made some in the Venetian manner. In 1575 Queen Elizabeth I granted Jacopo Verzelini a privilege for twenty-one years, during which he should make Venice glasses in London and teach Englishmen the art; at the same time, importation of such glasses was prohibited by law but possibly not in fact.

A number of glasses exist which it has been suggested were the work of Verzelini, but it has been impossible so far to prove this and they remain the subject of argument. A typical goblet, in the Victoria and Albert Museum, is engraved with the date 1581, and the names of 'John' and 'Jone Dier' other rather similar pieces are dated from 1577 to 1586.

For the next seventy years a series of men held monopolies from the government for glass making, and in the same period a change was made in substituting coal for wood in heating the furnaces. Little has been identified as having been made during this lengthy period, but it is suggested that much of the glass made then, and earlier, is so like true Venetian that it cannot now be told apart. One truly recognizable article of which the making began late in the seventeenth century is the wine-bottle. Fortunately, it was a custom in many instances to make them and again. Many sixteenth- and seventeenth-century pieces were copied in Victorian times and more recently, and the collector must guard against these copies as well as against deliberate forgeries.

It had long been considered that English glass was an inferior material, both in appearance and strength, to the imported Venetian, and in 1673 the London Glass-Sellers' Company engaged George Ravenscroft to experiment and find a substitute for 'cristallo'. The result of his researches was that the addition of a quantity of lead oxide in the form of litharge made an excellent glass that not only equaled, but even excelled, the Venetian. As powdered flints were also a part of the new composition it was given the name of 'flint glass' but it is called often nowadays 'glass-of-lead'.

Ravenscroft's first pieces suffered from a defect known as 'crisselling', in which the glass is covered in a fine crackle, which clouds it. This was cured, and in 1676 it was announced that Ravenscroft had gained permission to mark his productions. The mark chosen was a small seal with the appropriate device of a raven's head in relief. Not more than a dozen sealed pieces have survived, and most of them are now in museums. Following the success of 'glass-of-lead', it was adopted throughout England. One feature of the new material was that it could not be blown quite as thinly as the Venetian, but it lent itself to the making of articles that were bright in appearance and could compare well with natural rock crystal.

Glass of various types and colors in England are engraved in some of the famous buildings like in the Victoria and Albert Museum and palaces. The English glass was considered to be inferior. There have been many improvements in the designs and the qualities and that of the ways glass has been processed since it was discovered.
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