Glass Makers’ Procession

My introduction to the glass makers procession in Newcastle was an article in the Pottery Gazette 1. The article described the processionists wearing hats, swords, feathers and carrying wonderful specimens of their art, including birdcages and a firing cannon. I had not read about this procession before, and my curiosity was peaked. I had so many questions but was unable to find any articles that explained this occurrence. The following article is the result of my research so far. There are other sources that I would like to pursue but, due to lockdown restrictions, they will have to wait. This means that there may be further information added at a later date, but I am certain that what is presented here, so far, is accurate.

On November 5th, 1782, the cordwainers of Newcastle made their annual procession in commemoration of King Crispin (see notes). The cordwainers dressed up their king with a gilt crown, purple suit and a long train of crimson velvet trimmed with ermine, then paraded through the town. Four days later, on Friday 8th November 1782, the workers from the glasshouse in the Close parodied the cordwainers’ procession. The scene was enjoyed with great mirth from the spectators.2 Both Sykes 3 and Mackenzie 4, give the date of this original procession, in error, as occurring in 1789. The cordwainers did not hold another procession until July 1823 3, 5.

Once again, the glass makers followed suit, and on 12th September 1823 they held a procession through the streets of Newcastle and Gateshead. This time the purpose was not to ridicule the cordwainers, but to showcase their work. A broadsheet leaflet was produced advertising the event, giving the orders for the participants and details of the route. A copy of the broadsheet leaflet is held in the collection of the British Library, as well as song sheets which were published especially for the occasion. Whilst the song sheets can only be viewed at the British Library, the broadsheet can be viewed below.

Procession of Glass Makers broadsheet held at the British Library

The leaflet specifies six groups of glass workers. Northumberland Glassworks produced crown glass at Lemington and flint glass at Skinnersburn. The manager of Northumberland Glassworks was Joseph Lamb, esq. There were several glasshouses at South Shields at this time, but only one producing flint glass according to the 1827 gazetteer. It seems likely that Shortridge, Sawyer and Co, from the West Holborn works at South Shields participated in the second group. The next group labelled Wear, possibly refers to the Wear Flint Glass Co, from Sunderland. The Durham and British glass works were both flint glass manufacturers operated by Joseph Price on Pipewellgate, Gateshead. The New Stourbridge Works was also based in Gateshead and was operated by George Sowerby. It seems most likely this formed the Stourbridge group. 5, 6, 7 At this point, I have been unable to locate a likely contender for the participants of the sixth group, North Shields.

A view of the Tyne Bridge, with the Close on the left bank and Pipewellgate to the right.

The procession was to start from Mr Clayton’s Yard, Skinnersburn. This was situated on the Newcastle side of the River Tyne, just at the end of the Close, near to the glass cones on the left-hand side of the image above. The procession would have had to cross the Tyne Bridge to go into Gateshead. Whilst the broadsheet does not give a description of the route taken there, it is likely that they would have progressed up the High Street. Additionally, Sykes local records states that the procession went as far as Mr Prices house 7, which may mean his glasshouses. The smoking chimneys on the right of the above image are most likely at the end of Pipewellgate, where Mr Prices glasshouses were located. After walking around Gateshead, the procession would have had to come back over the Tyne bridge as it was the only river crossing at the time. The glass makers then continued their procession around Newcastle. Their route has been highlighted on the map below. The starting position is the left-hand point, north of the river. 

1833 map of Newcastle, showing the route of the 1823 glass makers’ procession.

The procession made the front page of the Tyne Mercury 8, The Newcastle Magazine 9 and is mentioned in both Sykes Local Records 3 and Mackenzie’s history of Newcastle 4. The most eloquent, available account of the procession comes from Sykes who states

The sky was clear, and the rays of the sun falling upon the glittering column, gave it a richness and grandeur in appearance that defy description. The hat of almost every person in it was decorated with a glass feather, whilst a glass star sparkled on their breasts, and a chain or collar or variegated glass hung around the neck; some of them also wore sashes round their waists. Each man carried in his hand a staff, on a cross piece on the top of which was displayed one or more curious or beautiful specimens of their art.

Sykes Local Records, Volume 1

Sykes then lists the more usual types of article on display; goblets, decanters, glasses, bowls, jugs, dishes, &c. Later in the article he progresses to describing glass bird cages containing singing birds, a fort mounted with a glass cannon which fired several times, and a glass bugle which was used to play marches and sound the halts 7.

Whilst the 1823 glass workers procession appears to be the largest and best documented, at least three further processions took place in the late 1800’s. On 28th January 1867, a Reform Demonstration took place in Newcastle. This was documented in the Newcastle Daily Chronicle the following day 10. Representatives from many trades participated however it was reported that the glass workers were most distinctive.

The Glass workers came next, and certainly formed the most peculiar, if not the most attractive part of the procession. As they approached, they appeared to be a complete rainbow of colours; glass of the richest and most varied hues had been worked up for the occasion into the most strange and singular forms, and hundreds of persons followed them as they marched along, to see the curious designs the men had wrought. There were glass hats of all colours and shapes, glass goblets, crowns, swords, and batons, and almost every man carried a tricoloured glass rod. Messers. Sowerby and Neville’s, Messrs. Price’s, and the Lemington Glass Works were represented.

Newcastle Daily Chronicle, 29th January 1867 “Great Reform Demonstration in Newcastle”

The glass hat below is on display at the Shipley Art Gallery, in Gateshead. The accompanying caption says that the hat was made by John Robinson Jackson, who wore it during a street procession during the Nine Hours Strike (1871-2). [ed. this is still being researched]

Glass Top Hat; Tyne & Wear reference TWCMS J7790

The final procession was another reform demonstration, taking place in South Shields, on 4th October 1884. The occasion was documented in the Shields Gazette. A couple of sentences refer to Mr Edward Moore supplying his workmen with a seemingly unlimited supply of materials, as each man carried a glass article.11 [ed. further research into this demonstration is also ongoing]

Tyneside glass makers have participated in processions for over one hundred years. Although there are claims that the processions were held every year, the evidence I have uncovered has shown that five processions took place, in 1782, 1823, 1867, 1871 and 1884. The later processions were political demonstrations, which related to current events, indicating that the Tyneside processions may not have been held annually. Whilst documentation is limited, it is hoped that this article will be updated as more information comes to light.

The cordwainers are skilled tradesmen. They are shoemakers who make new shoes from new leather. Cordwainers are distinct from cobblers, who were only allowed to repair shoes. Saint Crispin is the patron saint of shoemakers.

Further Reading

Charles R. Hajdamach gives a general historical overview of glass makers’ processions in his book British Glass, 1800-1914. However, little detail is given about the Newcastle processions, except to quote Sykes.


  1. Pottery Gazette, 1st October 1888 “The Decay of the Flint Glass Trade on the Tyne” pp.914-5.
  2. Newcastle Courant, 9th November 1782
  3. Local Records or Historical Register of Remarkable Events by John Sykes, Volume 1; 1833
  4. A Descriptive and Historical Account of the Town and County of Newcastle upon Tyne by E Mackenzie; 1827
  5. History, Directory and Gazetteer of the Counties of Durham and Northumberland by Wm. Parson and Wm. White, Volume 1; 1827
  6. History, Directory and Gazetteer of the Counties of Durham and Northumberland by Wm. Parson and Wm. White, Volume 2; 1828
  7. Local Records or Historical Register of Remarkable Events by John Sykes, Volume 2; 1833
  8. Tyne Mercury, 16th September 1823
  9. The Newcastle Magazine, 2nd October 1823 “Local Occurrences”
  10. Newcastle Daily Chronicle, 29th January 1867 “Great Reform Demonstration in Newcastle” p.4.
  11. Shields Gazette, 5th October 1884

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