Sowerby Stories

14th April 2024 Progressive Players News
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With our production of Githa Sowerby’s Rutherford and Son a week away, three Progressive Players members share their personal stories of Gateshead’s world-famous Sowerby Glass company.


First we hear from Sonia Dunlop, whose mother Catherine and aunt Hylda worked at Sowerby Glass in the 1930s.

“They both worked as Acid Dippers,” explains Sonia. “Acid dipping is the process by which patterns are etched onto the glass. Of course, in those days there was no health and safety; the job was all done by hand! They did wear gloves, but sometimes the acid burned through the material and they ended up with burns on their fingers. As you can imagine it was quite painful. At night they would sleep with their burned fingers hanging out of the bedroom window to keep them cool. They both left in July 1938 to get married in a double wedding.

“I still have some biscuit dishes, a cake stand and a celery jar, still in use and all in good condition.”


Our second recollection comes from Gill Race, whose mother Sally was employed by Sowerby Glass from 1961 to 1967.

“She worked in the office,” says Gill, “typing letters and invoices and doing general clerical duties. I was a little girl at the time and can remember her bringing a typewriter home to do work during the summer holidays. Working from home is nothing new! I sometimes walked with her back to the factory to hand in the completed paperwork. Sowerby’s would often donate pieces of glassware to sell at church fairs. I imagine they were probably seconds. My mam ran the Sowerby Glass stall at St Columba’s Church fair, and she would sell the pieces for a few shillings each.

“I’ve still got a cake stand and a blue bowl.”

Our picture shows the Sowerby stall at St Columba’s Church Christmas Fair in the mid-1960s. The then Mayor of Gateshead seems to be quite taken with one particular piece! Gill’s mother, Sally, is on the extreme left, next to the Lady Mayoress.


Joyce Tindale supplies our final anecdote.

“I was eight years old when the Second World War began,” says Joyce. “In the school holidays my friends and I would wander down to what we called the “glass field”. This was just a bit of muddy land next to the Sowerby Glass factory, where they would dump bits of broken glass. They weren’t very big bits, only about the size of a coin, but all pretty colours. We would collect it and take it home, and next day we would each set up our own little “boody shop”. We’d lay a mat on the ground in the back lane and arrange our bits of coloured glass on it. Then some of the other children would come with their boody – this was actually just broken bits of white china cups and saucers with gold decoration on them. It was the gold which made the boody the thing to have, you see – and we would barter. I swapped my Sowerby glass for their boody. Then the next day we would do it all in reverse; I would swap my boody and get bits of Sowerby glass in return. Thinking about it now, it all seems very strange. We were just playing at shops really, but it kept us entertained all through the school holidays!”


Rutherford and Son by Githa Sowerby, a Progressive Players production at The Little Theatre Gateshead, 22 to 27 April 2024.