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Dudley Council the historic capital of the Black Country
Dudley Skyline

During the late 17th century a remarkable structure developed in Britain – the glass cone. These conical shaped buildings dominated the local landscape defining the area from Stourbridge to Dudley. The Red House Glass Cone was completed in 1794.

  • Oil painting by Emily Hodgetts showing an interior view of the Richardson Glass Cone, Wordsley. c.1820

What is a Glass Cone?

The cone-shape glasshouse, which housed the furnace around which the glassmakers worked, first appeared in Britain towards the end of the 17th century. Prior to the building of these tall conical brick structures, the glasshouse consisted of a shed housing a furnace with a small chimney or hole in the roof to let out the fumes. 

The Cone replaced this shed and was built around a furnace. It was developed to perform a dual function. It was both a working space for the glassmakers, while at the same time it acted as a giant chimney for the glass furnace; drawing air through underground tunnels to enable the furnace to reach temperatures needed to melt the glass. In effect the glassmakers were working in a glorified chimney - dark, hot, smoky and noisy. 

Stuart's Redhouse Cone

The Red House Glass Cone is 100 feet high and 60 feet wide at its base.  It is only one of four surviving glass cones in the UK, and of these is the best preserved.

The other three are:

Catcliffe, near Sheffield, built about 1840 and 60 feet high

Lemington, Newcastle-on-Tyne, bult in 1789 and 120 feet high

Alloa, Scotland

The Red House Glass Cone operated for over 150 years. It was built in the period 1788-1794 on the Red House Site, as it was known when it was acquired by Richard Bradley. It was here that Frederick Stuart began his glassmaking career. The Stuart family eventually came to own this and the adjoining site. The Stuart family and their craftsmen continued to produce glass at the Red House until just prior to the Second World War when it proved necessary to relocate the glass-making process over the road. 

Portland Vase

A particular claim to fame is that it is here that the Cameo glass revival began. 

Cameo glass, in its simplest form, is made from two layers of different coloured glass. The decoration is produced by carving away part of the outer layer so that the design is left in relief against a background of contrasting colour. 

Cameo glass was probably invented by the Romans in the first century BC but the art was lost until 're-invented' in the Red House in the 1870's. The most famous of the Roman Cameo glass was the Portland Vase. 

Attention was focused on the Portland Vase in 1845 when it was smashed in the British Museum. In the 1860's, Benjamin Richardson challenged his fellow glass-makers to make a reproduction. In 1873 Philip Pargeter of the Red House Glassworks suggested to John Northwood, a celebrated glass artist, the idea of making a copy. 

It is said the glassmaker who actually blew the blank was Daniel Hancock, and he succeeded on his seventh attempt. It then took John Northwood three years to complete the carving, from 1873-1876. 

  • Portland Vase in the British Museum