A glass blower’s life

Workers in the bottle making industry.
Workers in the bottle making industry.

“In the glass house, the bottle making process started with the doors of the furnace being opened so the molten glass could cool slightly” explains Dorothy.

“Then the bottle blower would skim the surface, removing any scum.

“The gatherer would then dip the end of a warm iron tube into the glass and kept re-dipping until he had ‘gathered’ enough to make a bottle.

“The tube with a pear-shaped ball of molten glass on the end was then passed to the blower who would roll the substance on a “marver”, a stone slab to get the molten mass to the end of the tube.

“He would blow into the tube to make a globe and then placed the globe into an iron mould which he was able to close by pressing a lever with his foot.

“He would then blow into the tube again so that the glass formed a lining in the mould which was then opened and the bottle passed to the “finisher”, who – with a small iron tool which had been dipped in water – cut the bottle from the tube and then took a small amount of fresh glass which was wrapped around the jagged edge of the mouth of the bottle, and with another tool he shaped it so that the bottle would be able to hold the cork properly.

“The bottle would then be carried by a boy to the firebrick chamber where they were kept at a temperature of just below melting point until the day was finished.

“The fire was then allowed to gradually die out, and on the third day the bottles were taken out by the female workers and put into crates, whereupon they were stored in a warehouse until sold.

“Contemporary medical reports stated that bottle blowers were not subject to any particular disease, with the exception of rheumatism. However it was noted that few lived to a long age, and they were old at 45.

“The air in the bottle house was described as loaded with dust, which must have caused chronic respiratory problems.

Blowing bottles from an early age was thought to weaken the lungs and the cause of a cough and difficulty in breathing – many became asthmatic.”

“Also, the muscles of the cheeks became strained because of the constant exertion.

Dororthy explained that in the summer, the heat was so exhausting that it made men faint. It was also discovered that they suffered from a condition called glass blowers cataract because of a prolonged exposure to excessive heat and bright light.

Girls also worked in the bottle works, adds Dorothy.

“ One job performed by them was to remove the bottles from the furnace arches and hand them to two other women. This job took about three hours per day, starting at 6am. They were paid six shilling a week. Each crate they filled held about 12 dozen bottles.’’

A glass furnace lasted about 15 months.”