Sea Glass From Seaham, England
Seaham, a coastal town in north east England, was once home to the Londonderry Bottleworks which operated from the 1850s to 1921. This glassworks operated during the Victorian era, the Edwardian era, World War I and the Intrawar period and was one of the most prolific glassworks in Europe. The Londonderry Bottleworks had seven bottlehouses and produced various types of hand crafted bottles, decorative glass and household glass. Glass items were sent weekly by boat to a warehouse in London and from there were shipped to various locations around the world.
We have spent a lot of time collecting sea glass on the beaches of Seaham and have had some very interesting conversations with many of the collectors there. According to some this glassworks produced glass items around the clock with shifts lasting for twelve hours or more. Preparing molten glass was a very lengthy process and there were times when batches of molten glass were not suitable for glass production because of impurities or because the consistency was not right. Industrial mishaps sometimes resulted in molten glass spills. We have been told that one of these spills was massive and resulted in a 100 ton molten glass spill that formed a solid block of glass that was fifteen feet thick in some sections.
The Londonderry Bottleworks tipped high volumes of glass waste into the North Sea where it has been worn smooth by wild and untamed North Sea surf. The tidal range between low and high tide is extreme and the tide goes in and out with tremendous force and speed. Sea glass is further worn smooth as it is washed against large rocks and as it is rolled around in the sand and sea pebbles during the tidal changes. You can see pebbles and rocks dancing in a rolling motion as the tide is going in and out. You can also hear them rolling in the surf as well and sometimes it can be really loud. It is a beautiful sound that invites you to sit and listen for a while. Much of the glass waste from the glassworks was very thick and much of the sea glass found in the area is very round and washes up in similar shapes as the sea pebbles. This is due very much to this rolling motion ( The earth's rocks and boulders were rounded by being moved and rolled by water, wind or ice). Even a thick glass object that was square would eventually become round and sea pebble like in these conditions.
Sea glass in all colors from clear to opaque and multicolored is found on the beaches of Seaham. Locals have told us that the sea glass that washes up on the beaches of Seaham comes from the glass scraps, breakages and substandard items that were abandoned to the North Sea by the Londonderry Bottleworks. It can probably be assumed that the bad batches of molten glass were discarded into the North Sea as well. Some of the more accomplished and enthusiastic bottlemakers were known to make unusual glass items in their spare time. Remnants of some of these items that were known to have been made by specific bottlemakers at the Londonderry Bottleworks have been found on the beaches of Seaham.
In the early 1900s the Londonderry Bottleworks came under tremendous pressure and closed in 1921. The glassworks was demolished in 1950 and bricks that are stamped with the word "Londonderry" can be found on the beaches of Seaham. Most of the sea glass that washes up in Seaham probably comes from glass that was discarded while the factory was in production. It is possible that some glass remnants remained in the glassworks up until the demolition and entered the North Sea in the 1950s.
It use to be very difficult for stateside jewelers to acquire sea glass from Seaham. Over the years Seaham has been well publicized and as a direct result of that now more collectors are providing more Seaham sea glass to sea glass jewelers. There are dozens of sea glass jewelers in the USA who are now working with this gorgeous sea glass.
We have explored the beaches of Seaham extensively and have collected a lot of sea glass there. The conditions sometimes make it hard to find sea glass that is hiding amongst the pebble spread. We found ourselves looking for sea pebbles that seemed to be holding light.