Glass find opens a window on the past

Charlotte Burton working within the remains of the glassworks in Cliff Street, Mexborough.
Charlotte Burton working within the remains of the glassworks in Cliff Street, Mexborough.

archaeologists have been exploring Mexborough’s industrial past before it disappears beneath a new Lidl store in the town’s Cliff Street.

And they’ve uncovered evidence of a ground-breaking glass-making factory which churned out pop bottles in their tens of thousands.

A team from the Sheffield office of Wessex Archaeology have spent four weeks digging on the site, and have come up with just two complete pop bottles, but hundreds of the glass marbles that were trapped in bottle necks – Victorian technology to maintain the ‘fizz’.

The dig has been at the site of the former New Don Glassworks, one of the first in Yorkshire to recycle heat and gases created in the process.

That wasn’t done to be environmentally friendly, but to save money on fuel, and allow production to keep going at maximum capacity.

The gases were used to heat large tanks, two of which were found inside a brick-built Siemens-Martin, technology the glassmakers had ‘borrowed’ from the steel industry.

Wessex Archaeology’s Andrew Norton said: “In 1891 the land was bought for £4,000 by Peter Waddington, who was the owner of the Mexborough Phoenix Glasshouse.

“He built the New Don Glassworks. Much of the works was demolished in the 1950s, and part of the site was destroyed in the 1980s when the South Yorkshire Navigation Canal was widened.”

Mr Norton said he wasn’t surprised to have found only two of the distinctive bottles, since rejects would have been recycled or broken by children keen to get the marbles to play games.

The finds will now be offered to the local museum service, which might display them or store them for future research.

“We are working with Lidl on production of a plaque to display in the shop to record how the site was used in the past, but that’s at a very early stage at the moment,” he added.

Wessex Archaeology is one of the largest heritage practices in the UK. Established almost 30 years ago, it is a registered charity, with offices in Sheffield, Edinburgh, Rochester and Salisbury.

It has won three British Archaeological Awards, and on its staff is Phil Harding, a regular of Channel 4’s Time Team programme.