One’s occupation is often an all encompassing part of one’s existence. Although today work takes up a great deal of our time and energy it may have been an even more consuming elements of life in earlier times when people laboured without the aid of complex machinery and advanced technology. As family historians we are in search of the life stories of our ancestors which include their occupations. If we can track down this valuable information it can often lead to even more fascinating history regarding the lifestyle of our ancestors, and the economy of the time and place in which they lived.
Census records are one of the best sources of occupational information and the written scrawl in the occupation column of a census typically and expectedly reads Farmer or Farm Labourer! Yes we have all experienced the inevitable sigh as we once again read the dreaded dull words. Of course, farming is an admirable calling and essential however it is far more exciting when one encounters something far less commonplace.
In researching my husband’s family in England I was most pleasantly surprised by the Sheldons of West Bromwich, Staffordshire when my eyes scanned down the Census occupation columns to discover that many of the men in the family were glass makers. How fascinating I thought! Now how does one learn about glassmakers and glassblowers in West Bromwich of the 1800s? Being some distance away–a whole ocean away in fact–I did what is now instinct to us all, I googled! The glassmaking dynasty of the Chance Brothers was the result of my search and a wealth of information regarding the company and its history!
Of course, I would have relished finding specific reference to the individuals on our tree but genealogy seldom works this way. Often we must delve into historical research which gives context to the lives of our ancestors rather than expect to be handed the unique life story of an individual on a platter! I determined to read further on the Chance Brothers Glassworks.
The enterprise was born from a long line of merchant and business endeavours of previous generations. The moneys earned from these enterprises became the cash infusion for a glassworks business which began in Birmingham and then Nailsea, then expanded to London and later overtook the British Crown Glass Company at Spon Lane, West Bromwich and Smethwick (the West Midlands) in 1824. It was this company which became the famous Chance Brothers Glassworks. It was this glassworks which supplied the glass for the Crystal Palace, sheet glass for the parliament buildings and fine optical glass for lighthouses. William Chance IV commenced the industry and Robert Lucas Chance was the glassmaker and innovator.
It was 1851 when the company was contracted to work on the glass for the Crystal Palace, and during the 1850s Chance Brothers was known for manufactured beautiful ornamental richly coloured sheet glass designs which in the 1860s transformed into a more modern, lightly-tinted window glass. It was during these decades that my husband’s ancestors were employed. I am hoping to learn more about this company and the history of the British glass industry which may shed further light on the occupations of the individuals which inhabit this family branch!