Neglected Bradford Industries: Glass making

Bradford is famous for spinning and weaving but textile production was only one of a group of important industries which ‘Worstedopolis’ supported. Since several  are now almost forgotten by contemporary citizens I should like to draw attention to those which seem unreasonably neglected in a series of short articles.

In the nineteenth century Hunslet, Rothwell & Knottingley were noted West Yorkshire glass making centres. I was very surprised to find a reference to a much more local, and earlier, source of glass production in Francis Buckley’s book Old English Glass Houses, originally written in the 1920s. The best evidence he provided was an item taken from the Leeds Mercury of 1751:

To be lett: a very good glasshouse adjoining to Wibsey Moor, three miles from Halifax and two from Bradford with a very good farm-house and 22 acres of good land belonging to it. Also eight cottages for workmen to dwell in…….There is plenty of very good stone upon the place that grinds to a good sand, and is as proper as any that can be bought to make flint and crown glass with. Also very good coal within 300 yards of this glass-house at two pence per horse load.

At this time Wibsey formed part of North Bierley. Places, which by the nineteenth century were called Morley Carr, Wibsey Slack, Wibsey Low Moor or Odsal Moor, could then be described simply as Wibsey Moor or Wibsey Moorside. Low Moor itself didn’t exist as a location until after the famous iron works was established.

A glasshouse, which I suppose we would now call a glass-works, included a furnace for making glass from basic ingredients at high temperature. Glass is basically fused silica obtained from the mineral quartz, for which sand is a cheap and convenient source. Silica alone can make a glass but it melts at 1700°C which is difficult to reach. Since ancient times it has known that the addition of an alkali flux, such as natron (soda ash) or plant ashes, considerably lowers the temperature of fusion to a more attainable 1100°C. To give the glass stability lime or magnesia were also incorporated. Finally substantial portions of cullet, that is scrap glass, would also be included in the mix to help the other ingredients blend together. This was achieved in a fireclay ‘glass pot’. Firclay extraction is an industry I shall discuss on another occasion.

Crown glass was used to make windows; a crown was a flat disc of glass, produced by spinning a gather of glass on a blowing iron. From a crown small panes or quarries could be cut. Flint glass was used for bottles; it did not actually include flint as a raw material. The bottles would be hand blown into a wooden mould. Usually the two type of glass-making were kept separate by law, partly for taxation reasons but also because window glass was considered to be of greatly inferior quality. At various times glass furnaces were heated by wood or coal, although furnace design differed significantly depending on which fuel was employed. By the eighteenth century, in this part of Yorkshire, the availability of cheap coal was clearly an incentive for the potential purchaser of a glass-works.

07 A CatcliffeThe glass cone at Catcliffe, South Yorkshire.

Since we know that the Wibsey Moor glass works was constructed by 1751 we can be reasonably certain about its contents and appearance. In Britain the period 1730-1830 was the era of the brick glass cones which were built to enclose a central furnace, and the space in which firms of glass makers worked. The provision of internal working space is an important distinction from pottery kilns, which glass cones superficially resemble. In the UK only four cones now survive with the nearest being at Catcliffe in South Yorkshire, considered to be the finest example in Europe.

At Wibsey Moor (Low Moor) the builder of the glass-works was Edward Rookes Leeds (1715-1788) of Royds Hall, Lord of the Manor. James Parker in Rambles from Hipperholme to Tong states that in 1780 the works were demolished by another local land-owner Richard Richardson, together with some ‘freeholders’, as an infringement of their rights. Then, he says, it was re-erected on Leeds’s own land. Disagreements over the use of common land, or the exploitation of the minerals under it, between powerful local landowners was not uncommon before the Enclosure Acts. Parker’s account is credible but he is the only source for it. Considering the advertisement from the Leeds Mercury with which I started, 1750 is a more likely date than 1780 even if the rest of the account is true. Glass House’ remained as a place name in Low Moor although the cone itself was probably demolished in the late 1820s.

07 B Fox MapA detail of the Fox map of Low Moor showing a circular plan of the glass cone, with ancillary buildings. Other versions of this map exist in which this feature is not represented.

The ancillary buildings which seem to be represented in the plan would include storage space and an annealing furnace or lehr. A newly made glass object  needs to be cooled down to room temperature very slowly, so that stresses produced by solidification of the glass could be dissipated. This is about as far as a student of technological history can take the Wibsey Moor glass house, but I am extremely fortunate to have had the assistance of Mary Twentyman of the Low Moor Local History Group. She believes she will be able identify the original glass-maker who leased the works, and hopefully establish something about his life. The Bradford glass industry is truly forgotten and has probably received only three brief written mentions during the last 150 years. Its full story may soon be told.

Derek Barker, Local Studies Library Volunteer



Wibsey sits to the south-west of Bradford, at the top of one of the hills leading out of the city. The village actually stands at quite a height. Looking at an Ordnance Survey map, the 850ft contour line passes through the roundabout at the top of St Enoch’s Road and the land rises to 975ft at Beacon Hill. This must be one of the highest extensive urban areas in Britain. The population in 1991 was 5,357.

The village was mentioned in the Domesday Book as Wibetese. At that time the manor was granted to Ilbert de Lacy by William the Conqueror. The origins of the village name are still uncertain. It has been suggested that the name is an adulteration of “Wigbed’s Land” or “Wigbed’s Height”.

The manor of Wibsey at that time had a common, and the village was surrounded by the Forest of Brianscholes. This was a dense, dark place which offered cover to wild boar and even wolves. Villagers had to have their wits about them on dark nights.

The monks of Kirkstall Abbey  established the famous Wibsey horse fair. Drovers came here from all four corners of the British Isles to buy and sell horses. The fair’s heyday seems to have been at the start of the 20th century, before the start of World War One. Horses were run along Fair Road, Folly Hall Road and Reevy Road.  Additional markets selling various goods spread down Market Street, High Street and Smithy Hill, and even into the fields to the south of the village. You could buy anything from pots and pans to the famous Wibsey geese. There were also traditional fairgrounds, spectacularly lit at night. Much safer to wander around at this time than when the village was surrounded by the forest. The fair usually lasted from 5 October to 20 November. The final day was known as the ‘Ketty Fair’, on which all the horses and animals in poorest condition were sold off.

Wibsey Slack was home to the famous geese. They used to roam here quite freely and unconfined. It used to be regarded as a sign of impending bad weather if the geese left the slack and wandered into the actual village.

One of Wibsey’s most pleasant areas is its park. It is around 30 acres in size and was opened on 25 May 1885, after a grand ceremony. It has always been a popular recreational area with locals. There are sports pitches, a lake, flower gardens, children’s areas and an aviary. The park was once home to a strange attraction. In the 1930s visitors to the park were invited to relax in a ‘sitting room’ sculpted from plants and hedges. This novel arrangement was one of many sculptures produced by the first park keeper, James Walton.

Wibsey Park was built on Wibsey Slack. The area was to be enclosed by the lords of the manor in 1881, but a local councillor, Enoch Priestley, fought against this for the rights of the local people. The land was saved and the park created. Enoch Priestley became a local hero. He also campaigned for a new road linking the village to Bradford. When the road was completed Priestley was unofficially canonised by the locals. They named the road St Enoch’s in his honour.

Wibsey has had a varied industrial history. It was a popular coal mining area, though it seems the coal was of poor quality and was only mined near the surface. The Industrial Revolution arrived here in 1836 with the opening of the first mill. One of the famous characters of this time was Joseph Hinchcliffe. He ran the Horton House Academy and in 1826 started up a Sunday School in the old chapel on Chapel Fold. The school had over 100 pupils and helped boys and girls whose religious instruction would otherwise have been neglected.  Hinchcliffe carried out his teachings until ill health forced him to retire in 1834. However, no one came forward to replace him in the Sunday School, so rather than let the children down, Hinchcliffe decided to carry on teaching them from his home at Horton House. He was also a generous man. Every Christmas he treated the children to a Christmas dinner and each winter he would go round to the homes of the more needy boys and girls and instruct their parents to buy them new clothes at his expense. A true Samaritan of his day!

Today Wibsey is a popular commuter suburb for the city. The past seems to rub shoulders with the present here. Cobbled streets and ancient cottages still exist, many bearing the dates of when they were built. Wibsey has its modern face too. It has a thriving nightlife, based on the  pubs on the High Street, such as the Ancient Foresters, Swan and the Windmill. People travel from all over Bradford and from further afield, for a night out here. The village has all the shops and services you could wish for, mostly situated along the High Street. In fact you could live here quite comfortably without ever having to visit Bradford. This has helped Wibsey maintain a ‘village’ feel, even though it is only a few miles from the city centre.


Wibsey High St. c.1900


High St. 2002

This information was taken from “The Illustrated History of Bradford’s Suburbs“, by Birdsall, Szekely and Walker