Glassblowing at Smithbrook Kilns

Glassblowing skills demonstration

Jake Mee makes glassblowing look easy! A group of Chiddgreen supporters visited his workshop at Smithbrook Kilns on Saturday 15 September and watched several items take shape out of  red-hot blobs of molten glass scooped out of the 1050 degree crucible . Whilst he worked, Jake gave us a history of glassblowing and explained connections and answered our questions about this ancient skill.

Chiddingfold was well known throughout Europe as England’s premier glass production centre. This area had all the necessary raw materials: pure sand, clay for moulds, and plenty of woodland to provide oak to fire kilns with wood-fuel. There is a map dating back to the 15th Century that has no other label for England – just Chidd’fold. It seems that modern glassblowers use tools that would  have been familiar to glass workers from centuries ago. The long tubes, metal tongs, files and wooden bowls Jake uses today look identical to the ones used by craftsmen and depicted in texts from  hundreds of years old.

There is a plan to use old glass found in the Chiddingfold area during renovations of older buildings to do a demonstration  of glass-blowing on the Green, so watch out for that at an event in the village soon. There will be some differences – gas and electricity will be used for energy, as opposed to the oak-fired kilns that would have provided the heat centuries ago. We can thank James I for putting a stop to the industry: he wanted to preserve the oak forests for hunting, so prohibited felling of trees to provide fuel.

There are some surprising things to learn.  The term ‘its all gone pear-shaped’ apparently originated because of the shape a glass-blown object develops if the blower is inattentive and allows the glass to droop. Chiddingfold glass has a green tinge because of the chemistry of the local sand. Lead crystal can have up to 25% lead in it, and in fact most is now imported from Eastern Europe. And Jake not only blows glass, but designs and installs kilns and crucibles for other people. He also takes in repair jobs – there was a fabulously ornate dragon awaiting a new wing – and he takes commissions, too. Perhaps we will ask him to make us a green-tinged Chiddgreen dragonfly…

Thanks to Lucy for organizing the visit, and to all who came to enjoy the demo.

(Jane Devlin 16 Sept)