Man who first brought glass making to St Helens

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No place is more associated with glass than St Helens, which has been at the forefront of glass making for hundreds of years.

Its legacy is often traced back to 1826, when St. Helens Crown Glass Company was formed by John William Bell and capital was raised from three wealthy families who lived in the area.

By 1886, William Pilkington was one of the original shareholders and later Pilkington Brothers went from strength to strength, producing three times more glass than anywhere else in the UK, with a large wealth of history to follow.

But St Helens ' glassmaking origins run further back than some residents may be aware of.

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Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Francois Graux de la Bruyere was believed to have brought glass making to St Helens and was the first manager of the Ravenhead glassworks.

Here is a brief history of his time in St Helens and the impacting legacy he left behind.

According to author Nikolaus Pevsner, the technique of casting plate glass had been developed in France in the 1680s, with the centre being St Gobain.

In his book, 'South Lancashire: The Industrial and Commercial South,' he states that in 1773, the British Caste Plate Glass Company was founded at Ravenhead, now part of St Helens, with Jean-Baptiste Francois Graux de la Bruyere being the manager.

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It reads: "The company did not do well at first, and it was only after 1800 that it began to flourish.

"The industry had a bad time in the later 19th century, and the British Caste Plate Glass Company was finally taken over by Pilkingtons of Cowley Hill."

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A number of residents may be unaware that St Helens' glass making heritage predates St. Helens Crown Glass Company and Pilkingtons, which overtime has become synonymous with the town.

In one part of the borough, fascinating facts have since been uncovered by The Chantry St Helens volunteers, who dig up the ancient monuments by hand, with some remains being found two feet below the surface.

Do you have any facts about St Helens' heritage? Let us know in the comments section.

By obtaining some of the burial records and the monumental inscriptions, the team get closer to discovering the stories of the past.

And one of the most fascinating people found on site was arguably the founding father of glassmaking in St Helens.

Ned Forsyth previously told the ECHO: "The grave of Jean-Baptiste Francois Graux de la Bruyere, he came from Picardy in France, or Belgium depending on what year it is.

The grave of Jean-Baptiste Francois Graux de la Bruyere

"He was the man who brought glassmaking to St Helens. Without him, St Helens would not have been the world capital for glass and yet there is nothing in St Helens about him.

"He came up with the idea of actually blowing a bottle, cutting the top off, cutting the bottom off, cutting it down the middle, putting it back in the lehr. Can you imagine the first time he did it and showed people? They’d never seen a piece of glass that big."

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In the grounds, his gravestone inscription reads: "Here lie the remains of Jno Bap't Fran'c Graux De la Bruyere.

"He was the first That Brought to Perfection A Work of Very Considerable Magnitude And Importance to the Commercial Interests of the British Nation The Cast Plate Glass Manufactory.

"In Memory of the Distinguished Abilities of so Deserving a Man These lines are inscribed.

"He was born in St. Gaubain in Picardie in France. He died at Ravenhead Decem'r 5th 1787 In the 48th Year of his Age."

Have you got a St Helens story? Email jessica.molyneux@reachplc.com

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