Tag Archives: Nailsea

Nailsea Glassworks

John Robert Lucas was born in 1754. After his father Robert Lucas died in 1774, he took over his beer and cider works in Bristol and his shares in a glass making business in Limekiln Lane, Bristol.  In 1781 John Robert married Anna Adams and they had a son and two daughters.   In 1787 he leased a glassworks at Stanton Wick.

John Robert Lucas established a glass works at Nailsea in 1788.  He chose Nailsea as the site for his new glassworks because of the abundance of coal produced by the mines around the town and local supplies of sand and limestone.  He may also have been influenced by plans for the Grand Western Canal, which would have linked the English and Bristol Channels with a branch to Nailsea.  However only the section from Tiverton to Taunton was ever built.  

Lucas’s company was called Nailsea Crown Glass and Glass Bottle Manufacturers.  Initially one cone shaped kiln and a furnace were built at NailseaA second glass furnace was built there in 1790.  In 1793 John Robert Lucas went into partnership with William Chance, Edward Homer and William Coathupe.  In 1788 William Chance had married John Robert’s sister Sarah and Edward Homer had married John Robert’s sister Mary.

In addition to window glass and bottles, the Nailsea Glassworks also produced domestic ware and novelty items such as flasks, rolling pins, pipes, jugs and walking sticks, which were sometimes decorated with flecks, loops or bands of white or coloured enamel.  Most of these items were produced by workers at the end of their shifts using leftover pieces of glass.

In 1811 William and Sarah Chance’s son, Robert Lucas Chance, took over the management of the Nailsea works and married his cousin Louisa, the daughter of Mary and Edward Homer.  In 1812 he persuaded John Hartley, the leading crown glass expert in the country, to come and work at Nailsea.

The partnership of Lucas, Chance, Homer and Coathupe lasted until 1821 when William Chance sold all of his shares and Edward Homer sold part of his to William Coathupe.  Edward Homer’s son James Edward Homer was taken into the partnership at this time and the company traded as Lucas, Coathupe and Homer

John Robert Lucas died in 1828 and was buried at Backwell. Most of his estate passed to his grandsons John Rodbard Bean and Henry Lucas Bean.

The New House Cone was built at Nailsea c1828.  Experienced sheet glass blowers were recruited from France and Belgium from the 1830s, due a shortage of skilled British glass blowers. By 1835 Nailsea was the fourth largest glassworks in Britain.  Bottle making ceased at Nailsea in the 1830s in favour of plate, crown and sheet window glass.

In 1835 a partnership called Lucas, Coathupes, Homer and Cliffe was formed to run the business. In 1844 the company became Coathupes & Co with Charles and Oliver Coathupe, John and Henry Bean and James Edward Homer as shareholders. In the 1840s a new cone known as the Lilly or Lily Cone was built.

In 1848 Charles Coathupe retired and Oliver Coathupe became manager at the Nailsea works.  Over the next 25 years there were various changes in the partnership and shareholdings.  In 1861 the Nailsea works were closed for a while and the following year they were leased to Samuel Bowen, a glass merchant from West Bromwich, and John Powis of London.  They traded as Nailsea Glass Company and made patented ventilating glass, cut glass and coloured glass for stained glass windows.  Samuel Bowen became bankrupt in 1869 and he and Powis surrendered their lease.  In 1870 the Nailsea works were sold to Chance Bros of Smethwick, together with a coal mine on the same site.

Glass production ceased at Nailsea in 1873, due to competition from cheap Belgian imports and the decline in production from the Nailsea Coalfield, and the works were closed in 1874.  The New House Cone was demolished in 1905.  Some of the rubble from it was supposedly used to build the extension to the runway at Filton in the late 1940s.

Extensive archaeological excavations began on the glassworks site in 1983 and continued for several years.  In 2002 a supermarket was built on part of the site.  The only surviving building is the one which housed the French kilns, and gas-fired furnaces.  This was later converted into the Royal Oak Garage.

A collection of Nailsea Glass items can be seen at the National Trust’s Clevedon Court.  However much of what is today described as Nailsea Glass was not made at Nailsea but was made in the same style elsewhere in England e.g. Stourbridge.

High St, Nailsea, Glassblower Sculpture
The Glassblower Sculpture, High St, Nailsea



This was sculpted by Vanessa Marston and unveiled in 2008

Nailsea Glassworks Cauldron
Glassworks Cauldron, High St, Nailsea

This would have been filled with cold water into which surplus molten glass would have been ladled.  Once the glass had cooled and solidified it was broken up and used to speed up the melt of the next batch of sand, limestone and soda.

Nailsea Former Glassworks Building
Former Glassworks Building, later the Royal Oak Garage, High St, Nailsea
Nailsea Glassworks
Drawing showing the layout of Nailsea Glassworks c1873
Tile 1 Nailsea Glassworks
Nailsea Glassworks Tile 1
tile 2 Nailsea Glassworks
Nailsea Glassworks tile 2



Two glazed ceramic tile panels illustrating the glassworks and its various manufacturing processes. The panels were designed and produced by Ned Heywood of the Workshop Gallery in Chepstow.  They incorporate fragments of glass excavated from the site.  They are on display on the outside wall of Tesco’s Supermarket.

The Nailsea Coalfield

Nailsea hides its coal mining heritage well.  Most visitors to the town are unlikely to notice the few remaining engine and winding houses or spoil heaps.

The Nailsea Coalfield is an outlying section of the much larger Somerset and Bristol Coalfield. Coal seams in the Nailsea area, which are sandwiched between layers of pennant sandstone, are located in an arc around the north and east of the town.  The arc starts in the North Street/Union Street area of the town.  It then runs parallel to Silver Street and High Street and continues on through Nailsea Park, Trendlewood and down to Backwell Common and the railway station.  The coal measures are deepest in the centre of the arc.  The deepest mine was Golden Valley at around 620 feet deep.

Coal mining in Nailsea started in the early 16th century when it is recorded that coal was transported from Nailsea to Yatton to be burnt in a limekiln. At first the coal was only mined where it outcropped near the surface but by the mid-18th century deep pit mining had commenced.  There were 10 workable coal seams.  Some of them were up to 3 feet 6 inches thick but others were only 18 inches thick and it was barely viable to mine these thinner seams.  

Some of the Nailsea coal mines were privately owned but many of them were run by, or associated with, one company – White & Co.  This company started in 1786 as a 3 man partnership between Isaac White, Peter Cox and Joseph Whitchurch.  In 1788 Bristol glassmaker John Robert Lucas bought a share in the partnership and set up a glassworks in Nailsea, which provided a market for the coal.

Power for winding in the mines was initially provided by horses.  Steam pumping engines were introduced in the mid-18th century.  This enabled the mining of coal measures, which couldn’t previously be exploited due to flooding.  Horses continued to be used for winding purposes until well into the 19th century.  Ponies (and young boys) were also employed below ground to haul sleds and waggons containing coal.

Tramways were built to link up some of the collieries (Youngwood/Whiteoak and Grace’s/West End) with the main railway line, which reached Nailsea in the 1840s.

Most of the coal produced was sold locally to heat houses and churches in the town and surrounding villages, to fire local lime kilns, to power the Nailsea Glassworks and in the pits themselves to fire the steam engines.

Output from the Nailsea Coalfield reached its peak in the 1850s.  In the 1841 Census there were 149 people in Nailsea and Backwell who were directly connected with coal production.  This number rose to 193 in 1851, then fell to 170 in 1861 and 70 in 1871.  It rose to 103 in 1881 but by 1891 only 16 people were employed producing coal.   Coal mines in the Nailsea area started to decline in the 1860s due to competition from larger mines in South Wales and the North of England, where the coal was cheaper and easier to extract.  Nailsea Glassworks closed in 1873 and the last Nailsea coal mine (Whiteoak) closed in 1882.

Several examples of winding and pumping houses remain, three as ruins and two as conversions into dwellings. The most obvious remains are the small winding tower in Millennium Park, which was once part of the Old Glasshouse Pit. The Middle Engine/Elms Pit complex in the Cherington Road/Oaksey Grove area of Golden Valley is now a scheduled monument. The engine house from Farler’s Pit survives in the garden of a private house on the corner of Queens Road and Station Road.  In North Lane an engine house has been converted into a cottage and Tall Cottage in Union Street was possibly formerly an engine house.

The remains of horse whims survive at Old Glasshouse Pit and Middle Engine Pit.  Spoil heaps remain from Golden Valley, Buckland’s Batch/Goddins, East End, Backwell Common and Youngs Pits.

Old Glasshouse Pit
The ruined winding tower of Old Glasshouse Pit in Millennium Park, Nailsea
Remains of Old Glasshouse Pit's horse whim
Horse whim, Millennium Park, Nailsea
Former Engine House on North Street, Nailsea
Former Engine House on North Street
 Spoil heap from Youngs Pit, Nailsea
 Spoil heap on Backwell Common
 Elms Colliery/Middle Engine Pit

Further Reading:

The Nailsea Coalfield: B.J. Greenhill. Published by the author, 1970

The Nailsea Coalmines: Margaret Thomas. Published by the author, 1996