The History Anorak

The History Anorak

Thursday, 2 November 2017


Back in the day when The Anorak was a lowly archaeological surveyor working for British Waterways it was a favourite story to talk about Chance's Glass in Smethwick, West Midlands.

The factory was famous in its day. It was the place that made the windows for the Crystal Palace, built to house the Great Exhibition in 1851. The panes were transported by canal from Chance's own side branch of the Birmingham main line, all the way to London. And when they arrived not a
single one was broken!

If you've ever travelled the M5 between junctions 1 and 2 you'll have spotted the seven storey high building, though it's a bit square, and you're more likely to have marvelled at the wonderful terracotta-coloured edifice that housed Archibald Kenrick's foundry on the opposite side of
the road.

Chance’s glass was also responsible for a key part of maritime safety. They made the lenses for many of the world's lighthouses. They're a special kind of lens called a fresnel, that focuses the light through a series of concentric rings, rather than a curved surface.

Now, it seems, I'm not the only person fascinated by Chance's history. Australian engineer Tim Nguyen has set himself the task of learning old glassmaking skills so that he and a group of friends can restore all the Chance lighthouse lenses around the world.  There are about 2,000.

Chance glass was founded in 1824 and continued until 1981. Towards the end of its life it was known for much smaller pieces of household glass.

For more on this story see the BBC website by clicking here.