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
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
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.
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
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,
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
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. -
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.)
original parish registers (kb), Riksarkivet, Oslo;
Below follow some early notes on individual English families in
Norway. They are mainly based on
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
Some descendants, who moved on to Sweden, are mentioned in Torbjörn
Fogelberg's monographs on different Swedish glassworks.
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
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].
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
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
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
Greenough was a crown glass worker brought from England to Norway in
1794 [Christiansen II p. 155].
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;
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.
Catrine Kith was buried on 7 October 1800 at the age of 80 [Hurdal kb I
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
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
Thomas Lockland, crystal glass worker from Liverpool, was employed by
Wærn in 1755 and brought to Nøstetangen [Christiansen I p. 482].
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)
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,
In 1758 Thoms Sime signed William Brown's marriage entry; see above.
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].
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