English Glassblowers in 18th Century Norway

In the 1720s the Danish-Norwegian kingdom was recovering from the Great Northern War. To get the state on its feet, successive monarchs pursued a mercantile policy; the countries' own resources should be exploited in order to gain economical independence. England with her rising prosperity was the lodestar.

In this spirit Det Kongelig Allernaadigst Octrojerede Nordske Compagnie (the Company) was created in 1739. Forestry and mining and all kinds of related manufacture were to be its main business, but hunting, fishing and many other activities were also included in the extensive charter.

Glass production became an important activity of the Company. Under the leadership of Caspar Hermann von Storm, existing glassworks were rebuilt and enlarged; new ones were started.

The history of the Norwegian glass industry is told by G. E. Christiansen in his monumental De gamle privilegerte norske glassverker og Christiania Glasmagasin 1739-1939, 3 vols., Oslo 1939. Unfortunately this work has no detailed references, only a summary of sources used.

In the period of expansion, the Company did not shrink from carrying out industrial espionage. In Germany there was already an agent, and in June 1754 Storm proposed that a man should be sent to England to gather information on all aspects of the English glass industry such as furnace constructions, raw materials used, labour conditions and general management. This man should also have the permission to recruit English glassworkers for the Company. Storm's proposal was approved, and Morten Wærn was sent to England as the Company's agent. In English documents Wærn is usually called Martin Warren or Warinn.

In July 1754 Wærn arrived at Hull, and from there he travelled around in England and Scotland. According to Storm's very detailed instructions, Wærn should furnish the Company with information on the manufacturing of crown glass, crystal glass and bottles, on the building of furnaces, on working times and wages. He should find out what quantities of raw material were used for various types of glass. Further, he should investigate the consumption of fuel and the cost for coal firing as well as other material costs. In particular he should study the use of kelp and advice the Company if kelp burning could be undertaken on a large scale in Norway. The task of recruiting English workmen, Storm had told Wærn, should be entered into very cautiously. Only when Wærn knew the state of things very well, could he begin with this; Storm was clearly aware of the risks involved.

Wærn reported back on his findings, which proved particularly useful for the planned crown glass production at Hurdal. From the autumn of 1754 until the summer of 1755, there was a detailed correspondence between Wærn and Storm. Letters from Storm with instructions were first sent to Hull, then to Bristol, Leith, Liverpool, London etc. (channelled through Messrs Mowat & Bullford at Kirkwell). At first everything went as planned. Storm received most of the information he asked for with drawings of various types of furnaces and other technical details. Wærn also sent to Norway samples of raw material such as sandstone, clay, ashes, silicon, sand, kelp etc. Even parcels with samples of glassmasses for crown glass and crystal glass compositions found their way to Norway.

Then, with caution, Wærn started to contact local glassblowers. He was empowered to offer wages slightly above the English ones, free passage and, where necessary, an advance so that the workers could settle any debt before they left. For crown glass and bottles, Wærn had been asked to find at least four or five qualified workmen. Wærn tried to approach only those who might be interested in the new opportunities offered abroad, and he would recruit no one bound by a contract.

All went well until Wærn tried to recruit two workers from the glasshouses in Liverpool. He realised that his stay there arose suspicion, so he left for London. However, soon after his arrival in London, he was arrested and put in Newgate gaol. The accusations were that he had unlawfully obtained information about English glassmaking and persuaded English glassmakers to leave the country. Wærn informed Storm about what had happened.

Storm wrote back to Wærn (in the beginning of August 1755), consoling him, saying that he had probably done nothing illegal as long as he had only contracted those workmen who themselves had expressed a wish to leave the country and who were free to do so. Storm promised Wærn to contact Count Adam Gottlob Moltke, director of the Norwegian Company and leading statesman, to request that the King, through the Danish-Norwegian ambassador to the Court of St James, should bring about Wærn's definite release. This, however, might take some time, since the Court was at Hanover, and Storm therefore offered to send money so that Wærn could be temporarily free on bail.

Bail was arranged, and Wærn immediately took the opportunity to flee the country, and via Dover he reached Calais. From there he wrote to Storm telling him that he had escaped from England. On 30 August 1755, Storm informed Moltke about the outcome and asked him to officially close the matter with the English authorities. From the Company's point of view, Wærn's stay in England had been extremely fruitful, albeit expensive: in all it had cost 4,950 riksdaler. [Christiansen I pp. 76-80.]

According to Christiansen, Wærn was released from Newgate upon a preliminary payment of £84. On the other hand, on 7 August 1755 three tradesmen, George Pool, Richard Turner and John Wilson, stood bail for him for a total sum of £1,000 [Middlesex session records MJ/SR/3042 pp. 65-75]. In this connexion the names of eleven glass manufacturers appear:

Nicholas Banner, William Brown, William Fagnell, Benjamin Haydon, James Keet, Ralph Lloyd, Joseph Pyne, Thomas Simes, Zebulon & James Swinger or Swingwood, Joseph Thompson.

Wærn was tried in his absence. In the words of the Public Advertiser, September 1755:

At the last session of the peace at Hicks Hall, Eleven bills of indictment were found by the grand jury against Martin Warren, a Danish gentleman, for seducing and endeavouring to seduce eleven artificers and manufacturers in glass to go out of this kingdom and into the King of Denmark's domainions. The penalty for each person seduced or endeavoured to be seduced is £500 and one year's imprisonment in the county gaol; and as he did not appear pursuant to his recognizances, we hear the same is entreated and that the prosecutors intend to proceed an outlawry against him.

Wærn's activities were not easily forgotten by those who had suffered from them. In 1761, Johan Ludvig Robsahm, a Swedish mining expert, travelled around in England (also this was an intelligence gathering tour). In his diary [p. 27; Kungl. biblioteket, Stockholm, M 260] he records his failure to see a factory for window glass at Newcastle. The owners were suspicious for, a few years earlier, a Dane had lured some workers to leave their positions.

Contracts dated in May 1755 with William Fagnell, Joseph Pyne, Thomas Sims, James Swinger and Joseph Thomson can be found at Riksarkivet in Oslo [the Company's Contracts Protocoll 1753-1773, pp. 9-11]. One example:

These follo-wing articles do we Joseph Pyne & C. H. Storm agree upon, to wit -

I Joseph Pyne do agree to go from hence over Sea to Nor-way, & when there, to work as Gatherer in Crown Glas, or as a Finisher in Bottles, which of these may be required, after the Briſtoll method, & like wise to make the Same number of goods as in Briſtoll usual. I will also do what is in my power, to teach or learn other working people or apprentices there if required, & to lend a hand to any thing that is necesſeery for the use of the Glashouses, either fire in or out. I promise also to be faithfull to my Maſters, & Sober in my Busſineſs, & to give three months notice, if I should think to leave my Maſters service, & the Same exſpect from them in case they should not choose to keep me. -

                                                                                                       Joseph Pyne

I undermentioned oblige my self to pay for the account of the Company of the Glashouses to Joseph Pyne, when at work the Sum of Twenty one Shilling per week, house & fire, & half wages when Fire is out, & free paſsage over Sea, London ye 17th of Maÿ 1755.

                                                                                                             C. H. von Storm

In all, about a dozen English glassworkers came to Norway, most of them around 1755. In most cases, their first employment was at the Hurdal works. Three brought their families with them from England: James Keith, Joseph Thomson and James Swan [Minken p. 27]. (The number of Germans contracted was considerably higher; moreover, the Germans arrived over a longer period, fifty years or so.)

Below follow some early notes on individual English families in Norway. They are mainly based on

  • original parish registers (kb), Riksarkivet, Oslo;
  • transcripts made by Wilhelm Lassen of parish registers (some of which have subsequently been lost), Riksarkivet, Oslo;
  • The 1801 Census, Riksarkivet, Oslo;
  • G. E. Christiansen, De gamle privilegerte norske glassverker og Christiania Glasmagasin 1739-1939, Oslo 1939;
  • Anne Minken, Innvandrere ved norske glassverk og etterkommerne deres (1741-1865), University of Oslo, Spring 2000.
  • Some descendants, who moved on to Sweden, are mentioned in Torbjörn Fogelberg's monographs on different Swedish glassworks.

    Brown (Braun/Broun/Bruun/Brun)

    William Brown first served at Hurdal. His speciality was apothecary glass. [Christiansen II p. 109].

    In 1758 William Brown married Marie Maleene (Maren) Larsdatter. Thoms Sime and James Keit signed the parish register certifying that he was not already married in England or elsewhere [Eiker kb I 5 p. 164].

    Towards 1770 the family moved to Biri [Christiansen II p.261]. There were at least five children [Lassen], two of whom seem to have become glassblowers: William and Johan.

    A problem at many glassworks was the consumption of alcohol. William Brown Sr was among the worst offenders. Blind drunk, he could run berserk and threaten people to life and limb. Finally, he was sentenced to imprisonment and was sent to the Kristiania (Oslo) house of correction where he died in 1785. His widow received a pension from the Company [Christiansen II pp. 325, 293].

    The English name Brown risks being mixed up with the Norwegian name Bruun and with Braun (in 1753 Christian Braun came to the Ås glassworks from Germany).

    William Brown’s son John, born in 1761, was first registered as John Braun; over the years, his name appears in different forms, e. g. Johan Bruun [Minken p. 53].

    Fagnell (Fagner/Fegnel/Fangnel/Fangel/Fengel/Tegnel/Trignall)

    In 1753 a William Fignall/Fagnall, son of William Fagnor, was apprenticed to John Warren as a glassmaker in Bristol. This may be the glassmaker who a few years later turns up at Hurdal.

    William Fagnell, figures on the list of the first Hurdal crown glass workers (March 1756). [Christiansen II p. 21].

    William Fagnell married Ingeborg Larsdatter. The couple's first daughter, Marie born c. 1756, married into the German glassblower family of Ledel. Their first son, William born c. 1758, worked at Hurdal as a glassblower [Census].

    There were at least two more sons: Johan bapt. 7 September 1766, and Christian bapt. 29 October 1768 [Lassen].

    According to Christiansen [II p. 92], in 1755, William Fagnell Sr resigned from his employment and left for Sweden. If this is correct, it must have been for a short period, for he was buried at Hurdal on 2 January 1780, 48 years old [Hurdal kb I 1].


    In 1794, Gordon, an English furnace builder was brought to the Hurum works in order to build a furnace using coal instead of wood for fuel. However, this grandiose undertaking failed after only nine months, apparently because of the low quality of the Norwegian soda. Gordon was transferred to Hurdal to build an ordinary furnace using wood. Later he was transferred to Biri [Christiansen III pp. 238, 241; II p. 344].

    On 4 February 1797, Christopher, son of Charles Gordon, English master mason, and Marthe Johnsdatter was baptised at Hurum [Lassen].

    On 31 March 1804, Carl Gordon, 54 years, was buried at Hurum [Lassen].


    The English glassblower Thomas Grafton was recruited in 1779 and came to Hurdal. His salary was higher than what the other Englishmen received, a fact that was supposed to be kept secret. This privileged position may be at the bottom of conflicts in 1780 between Thomas Grafton and Johan and Michael Keith [Minken p. 184f].

    Thomas Grafton married Anne Ingvoldsdatter in 1781 [Hurdal Kb I 1]; he died there c. 1785 [Christiansen II pp. 109, 120].

    Anne Grafton née Olsdatter, widow, 52 years, pensioner, lived at Hurdal 1801 together with her 20-year-old glassblower son Edward [Census].


    Greenough was a crown glass worker brought from England to Norway in 1794 [Christiansen II p. 155].

    Keith (Kitt/Kith/Kidt/Kiit/Keit/Keth/Keet/Keets/Kedz)

    James Keith, crystal glass worker from Liverpool, was employed by Wærn in 1755 and brought to Nøstetangen [Christiansen I p. 482].

    According to the article Newcastle Glasses in E. M. Elville, The Collector's Dictionary of Glass, London 1961, James Keith came from the Newcastle district to Nøstetangen. Moreover, "that his influence was quickly felt is shown by the marked similarity between glass from Nøstetangen after his arrival and eighteenth-century Newcastle glass".

    On the second Sunday after Easter 1757, James Keets, son of Jamats Keets was baptised at Eiker [Lassen].

    In 1758 James Keit signed William Brown's marriage entry at Eiker; see above.

    In March 1763, as the result of some dispute, James Keith, now at Nøstetangen, resigned, but was persuaded to stay on. Indeed, the controversy seems to have been settled, for in 1767 he received a bonus of 25 riksdaler for having trained a Norwegian apprentice [Christiansen I pp. 516, 520].

    In 1769 James, John and Richard Keith, glassblowers, moved from Nøstetangen to Hurdal [Christiansen II p. 65].

    In 1786 it was the Company's turn to be subject to hostile activities by a competitor. A small private glassworks at Remplin offered employment to the Company's workers at higher wages. The Keith brothers were specially targeted, and John Keith actually resigned. However, some pecuniary incentives made him change his mind. [Christiansen II pp. 131-132].

    Catrine Kith was buried on 7 October 1800 at the age of 80 [Hurdal kb I 1].

    In 1801 there were four glassblowers named Kith at Hurdal: Johan 54 years, Michael Richard 50 years, Johan 24 years, James 21 years, each of them married and with children; further, James Kith Sr was registered in the household of his son Michael Richard [Census].

    James Keith Sr was buried on 10 January 1802 at the age of 80 [Hurdal kb I 1].

    Johan Kith (born in 1777) moved to Sweden, and passed through Sölje, Stavnäs, Liljedal and Sandö. His sons James (born in 1806) and Hans Hinrik (born in 1810) worked at Liljedal and other glassworks [Fogelberg].


    Thomas Lockland, crystal glass worker from Liverpool, was employed by Wærn in 1755 and brought to Nøstetangen [Christiansen I p. 482].

    Pyne (Pain/Pehn/Pejn/Pein)

    On 20 January 1733/4, one Joseph, son of John Pyne and Jone Dully, was baptised in Bristol [parish register of St Philip & Jacob].

    On 28 November 1756, at Hurdal Joseph Johansen Pain married Marie Olsdatter from Drammen [Lassen].

    Joseph Pyne died on 14 May 1777, and his widow, Marie, received a pension from the Company [Christiansen II p. 92]. She was buried on 9 July 1801, 76 years old [Hurdal kb I 1].

    The couple had two sons who worked as glassblowers at Hurdal. They were Ole Josephsen Pain bapt. 9 April 1758 and Johannes Josephsen Pain bapt. 9 February 1768 [Lassen].

    Ole Pain married Anne Margrethe Sigfredsdatter Ledel [Hurdal kb I 1]. This was the first intermarriage between English and German families [Minken p. 28]. Their son, Joseph Pein (born in 1779), moved to Sweden in 1800 and worked at glasshouses at Gothenburg [Arvid Bæckström, Göteborgs Glasbruk 1761-1808], Bromö/Brommö and Årnäs [Fogelberg].

    For genealogical tables (in Swedish) click here.

    Sims (Sime/Simes)

    Thomas Sims worked as "Founder and Piler in the Crown glass way". He is on the March 1756 list of workers at Hurdal. [Christiansen II pp. 12, 21].

    In 1758 Thoms Sime signed William Brown's marriage entry; see above.

    Swan (Svann)

    James Swan, a master stoker, came from England to Hurum in 1794 at the same time as Gordon to work with the new coal-driven furnace [Christiansen III p. 238]. He brought his wife, Euphemia Orr, with him; they were described as Reformists or Calvinists [Minken p. 142].

    On 24 April 1796, Robert, the couple’s son, was baptised at Hurum. Euphemia, 24 years old, was buried three days later [Lassen]. James Swan later married a Lutheran Norwegian woman [Minken p. 142].


    James Swinger worked as pane cutter from the start of the Hurdal works in March 1756 [Christiansen II pp. 12, 21].

    Thomson (Thompson/Thombsen/Thomsen/Thoms)

    Joseph Thomson came with his family, consisting probably of his wife (Hester), two sons (James and Nath. or Nett) and one daughter (Hester, Ester or Else). When the Hurdal works started in March 1756, he himself was employed as "Blower of Flashes or in the Crown glass way" and his two sons as helpers [Christiansen II pp. 12, 21].

    James Thomson is not mentioned elsewhere by Christiansen (nor, it would seem, in any Hurdal parish registers), so perhaps he died early or returned to England.

    In 1762 Nath. Thomson's status as apprentice was formalized, and the following year he was employed as a qualified glassblower. In this connexion we learn that his name has been changed to Niels, for in the contract he is called "Nett eller Niels Thommesen". He took a Norwegian wife, and his five children were registered as Nielsen and Nielsdatter [Minken p. 60f].

    In 1767 N. Thomson unlawfully left the glassworks for a few days. When he came back, he took up his work as if nothing had happened; he answered the foreman's reprimands with abusive language. The Company's central administration wanted him to be dismissed, but the local management meant that he was almost indispensable. N. Thomson was allowed to stay, but he was fined 5 riksdaler (for the glasshouse's poor) and ordered to present his excuses to the manager and the foreman. [Christiansen II p. 67].

    Joseph Thombsen was buried at Hurdal on 11 August 1776 at the age of 68½ years [Lassen].

    N. Thomson is listed among the workers at Hurdal in 1777 [Christiansen II p. 90].

    In 1786 Niels Thomson was crown glass blower at Hurdal. [Christiansen II p. 133]. In 1887 he was dismissed because of lack of work. He continued, however, with odd jobs at the glassworks, but dedicated most of his time to the wife’s family farm of Knai (Knajen); in the 1801 census he is registered as "farmer, freeholder and glassblower". [Minken pp. 62, 60].

    Hester Josephs Thoms (widow of Joseph Thomson) died in 1790 at Hurdal aged 85 [Minken p. 61].

    (In 1796 there is a Nils Thomsen working at Schimmelmann’s glassworks at Hurum [Christiansen III p. 240].)

    On several occasions, Joseph Thomson’s daughter is shown as Hester Thoms in the parish registers of Hurdal. However, in the 1801 census, at 53 years, she is Ester Thomsdatter, living at the glassworks [Minken p. 61]. Thus an English surname, in times past a patronymic, was turned, inappropriately, into a new Norwegian patronymic.

    But, against all the odds, the surname survived at Hurdal for at least another hundred years. Some descendants of Joseph Thomson, mainly farmers, were still called Thoms around 1900 [Minken p. 88].

    2 May 2000