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Whitefriars Glass

The Whitefriars glass company operated from a small glassworks behind Fleet Street from the c17

20/06/2024     Blog

This week we have been busy preparing for our quarterly sale of Fine Art. It’s a large 540 lot auction encompassing a whole range of items from glass, ceramics, clocks, pictures and furniture.

One of the of items that has created a lot of pre-sale interest is a large glass vase made by the Whitefriars company so this week I thought I would tell you about the Whitefriars company.

The Whitefriars glass company operated from a small glassworks behind Fleet Street from the 17th century and was part of the community of artisans and industry that made up the City of London at that time. In 1834 James Powell, a 60 year old London wine merchant, purchased the glassworks and as the 19th century went on they became famous not just in London but across the world for their high quality glassware.

Soon they branched out making stained glass windows and their work can be seen in many London churches and public buildings in London today.

In the late 19th Century the firm formed close associations with some of the leading architects and designers of the day including Edward Burne-Jones, William De Morgan and Philip Webb who used Whitefriars glass in his designs for William Morris. 

1875 saw Harry James Powell the grandson of James, join the company. He was an Oxford chemistry graduate and introduced new innovations and scientific procedures such as heat resistance and previously unobtainable colours. They started to produce items such as light bulbs and x ray tube lights. Another new line was opalescent glass and designs were often copied from Venetian and Roman pieces. These proved very popular and Whitefrairs took part in many major worldwide exhibitions.

My favourite period for Whitefriars glass is post WWII when they produced a range of glass ware in a variety of colourful abstract designs under the designer Geoffrey Baxter. He joined the firm in 1954 after he obtained a first-class degree from the Royal College of Art and was the first designer from outside the Powell family to be employed by the firm. His philosophy was to create modern designs using colour, pattern and movement to compete against the influx of Scandinavia glass that had flooded the market at the time. He created a range of textured vases and used tree bark and nails to produce the moulds for the pieces which were made using soda lime glass. These often appear in our auctions and can be brought from around £30 upwards.

His pieces often had descriptive names such as the Banjo vase, the Drunken Brick layer vase, TV vase, Four Finger vase etc. The value differs according to size, design and the rarity of the colour. They are always popular and fit into a modern contemporary home. Value can range from as little as £50 up to a few thousand pounds.