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29 October 2014

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An early image of the bottleworks cones

Point 5 - Bottling up the trade

The six 'cones' of The Royal Hartley Bottle Works once dominated the Seaton Sluice skyline. Today there is little left to remind us of the importance of glass in the community's history.

In 1763, Sir Francis Blake Delaval granted to his brother, Thomas, through a private Act of Parliament, four and a quarter acres of land for a "glass manufactory".

The building of the factory quickly became a momentous event in local lives. People would travel for miles to see the masons at work on the six cones.

Bottleworks Square - Seaton Sluice Local History
Bottleworks Square bottleworks epicentre

Having travelled extensively in Germany, Thomas Delaval returned to his native North East with many new ideas. All the right materials were at hand, with black clay from the links, sea sand, kelp and coal, so the erection of the glass manufactory was commenced.

The first glass house was 200ft long 52ft wide and the walls 36ft high. Trained workers from Hanover were brought into teach the new local workforce. Twenty-four glass-blowers were employed and very quickly they turned out some 10,000 bottles a month.

Glass boom

Not only did the new glass industry bring employment, it also raised the standard of living in the village.

Business boomed, and with the addition of a new brickyard, making bricks from local resources, further cones were erected and it was clear that Thomas Delaval's venture was paying dividends.

One of the first underground railways became the mode of transport for the bottles from the factory on the high ground above the harbour to the waiting ships in the water below.

Once on the harbour-side, the bottles were placed in large baskets and hauled on board the waiting ships, while the loaders were refreshed by their womenfolk bringing ale from the then seven ale-houses on the harbour side.

The cones and the individual glasshouses were given different names. Hartley, Charlotte, Galigan, Success, Waterford and Bias had also become affectionately called "The City".

Company records of 1777 state that the manufactory employed 63 glassmen, 13 blowers, nine finishers, 12 gatherers, 27 labourers and a few apprentices, and the bottle turnout was some 145,618 dozen bottles a year - it was the largest bottle manufacturer in the whole of the United Kingdom - no small feat for such a small community.

Houses cover the site of the former bottleworks
Houses have replaced the bottleworks

Community spirit

A sense of family, through the bottle works, was high in Seaton Sluice, as one story amplifies.

An apprentice named Stark ran away from home and the bottleworks and found employment in Glasgow. He was spotted by Mr Bell, one of the Hartley representatives in the city, who reported him back to the offices.

To relieve Stark's family of distress, it was decided to ask the Glasgow magistrates office to arrest Stark. He was duly apprehended but on his journey home, was set upon by a press-gang and taken on board a ship in the River Clyde.

On being informed of this, Mr Bell went to the Clyde and boarded the ship and made arrangements for the release of Stark. Mr Bell later wrote in a letter to Sir John, "I took the liberty of buying him a pair of shoes because he was barefooted". Stark arrived home none the worse off for his venture.

But by 1860 the demise of the glassworks along with other local industries was inevitable. The port had ceased to ship coal or salt, and the bottleworks closed in 1871. The final boat left the port laden with the last cargo of bottles in 1872 and the famed landmark of the six cones was reduced to rubble in 1897.

We thank the Seaton Sluice & Old Hartley Local History Society for permission to publish the archive pictures above.

Today, there are reminders of the industry everywhere. Glass-slag can be spotted capping the tops of many lengths of wall - look out for them whilst walking to point 6 - Seaton Delaval Hall...

last updated: 04/04/06
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St Mary's Lighthouse. Photo: Ken Cowins

Kielder Water

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