Archaeologists believe they have made a 300-year-old breakthrough while excavating a world famous historic site in the Midlands.
Two of the earliest glass-making furnaces ever discovered in the region have been revealed during the dig in Stourbridge.
The Black Country town was once the epicentre of Britain’s glass-making industry and the latest finds – on the Coalbourn Hill and Coalbourn Brook sites – are in the shape of the distinctive cones which formed the outer part of a furnace dating back to 1691 and 1692.
They, along with many artefacts like window glass, bottles, phials, lenses, tiles, and cut lead crystal have been discovered at what is now Stourbridge Glasshouse College. The college forms part of Ruskin Glass Centre, known as ‘The Glasshouse’, which is also home to a wide array of glass crafts and other trades, as well as a visitor centre.
The latest discoveries were unearthed as part of redevelopment at the site, the latest phase of which involves the construction of a new car park.
The dig began eight months ago with an old map which had been handed-down through former owners, indicating the probable location of the earliest furnaces on the site.
It proved to be uncannily accurate, according to Ian Dury, owner of Stourbridge Glass Engravers, based at Ruskin Glass Centre.
The former Stuart Crystal employee, who started out as an apprentice in 1968, said: “What we have discovered here is a time capsule of British glass-making in Stourbridge for the last 300 to 400 years.
“Anything that could be made in glass was made here – it is amazing.
“The cones are probably the earliest that have been found in Stourbridge.
“They were making window glass, but everything that could be made in glass was made on this site and we have found all of it.
“Stourbridge was regarded as the home of British glass, the centre of British glass-making and it is steeped in tradition and heritage.”
Mr Dury said Stourbridge’s role in glass-making history came about as demand for window glass spiralled and the industry flourished thanks to the skills of French Huguenot glass-makers, who had fled religious persecution in France.
Originally they made glass in woodland camps, relying on wood from the forests to fire their furnaces.
But King James I ordered there should be no more deforestation and the emerging glass-making industry took on a different form.
Stourbridge proved a perfect destination because it was a plentiful source of both coal and fireclay.
“Amblecote fireclay was in demand from people all over the world because the quality was so high,” said Mr Dury.
“The clay pits were just 200 yards away from where we are now. Fireclay was used for the crucibles they melted glass in, using a combination of sand, red lead, potash and saltpetre, heating the combination to around 1,400 degrees centigrade.”
The Glasshouse site has also had a connection with glass-making throughout its history, according to Mr Dury.
“For the last 400 years the site has been used for many different purposed but it has been glass-related all the way through,” he said.
“Webb Corbett moved here in 1913 and was here until 1966 when it was taken over by Royal Dalton,
“Royal Dalton closed in 1999 then an educational trust, the Ruskin Mill Trust, took it over.
“To locals the building is still known as the Webb Corbett factory.”
A special heritage weekend event is taking place on October 11 and 12 and members of the public will be able to view the excavations and the items that were found before the site is filled back in.