John Walsh Walsh was already well-known as a businessman in Birmingham, England when, in 1850, he bought an established glass factory in Lodge Road, Winson Green, Birmingham. He claimed that his strange name came about because the sponsors at his baptism were rather nervous and instead of saying just the Christian name John, said John Walsh, which made him John Walsh Walsh for the rest of his life! Church registers of the period, however, do not support his story.
From the outset he insisted on a very high standard of quality and design for the products he introduced. One of the first designs was an inkwell that was mounted on a mahogany plate and surrounded by an ornate decoration in brass sheeting. The inkwell (illustrated below) is clearly marked on the base with the date lozenge denoting the design registration date 18th April 1855.
John Walsh Walsh died in 1864 and his executors put the business up for sale. Fortunately it was bought by one of his daughters, Ellen Eliza, and her husband Thomas Ferdinand Walker, who was himself an active Birmingham entrepreneur. The company's future as a family firm was therefore secured. Thomas Walker passed the day-to-day administration over to a manager, Lewis John Murray, who for many years had been closely associated with glass manufacturing in Stourbridge.
The product ranges throughout the late Victorian period were vases and flower holders, lampshades, and all types of dining room table glass. Frequently the design of a flower holder was based on individual flowers including rose, tulip, crocus, honeysuckle and water-lily. Others took the form of novelty items such as palm trees, horse shoes and owls.
Lampshades in many different styles and colour were produced for oil, gas, electricity and candle lighting, with the use of moulded patterns being employed to great effect. The cut glass department concentrated on the production of fine intricate patterns for decanters, wine glasses and fruit bowls. Many of the designs were so attractive and decorative that many other companies attempted to produce imitations. John Walsh Walsh counteracted by filing registered designs at the Public Records Office to legally protect the business. Because many of the designs were fragile and delicate few of these items have survived to the present day, but those that have, reveal the standard and quality produced by the highly trained employees.
Much of the credit for the early development of the Midlands glass industry is attributed to the Stourbridge companies, but there is evidence to show that John Walsh Walsh was particularly innovative in the process of manufacture in addition to the decoration of glass.
U.K. patents 5286 filed in 1883 and 13592 filed in 1885 by John Walsh Walsh clearly reveal how basic processes were being challenged. Here is an extract from patent 5286:
"A hollow vessel of glass is blown in the usual manner, which vessel or cup may be of only one kind of glass, or may consist of two or more layers differing in respect of transparency or opacity, colour or absence of colour. On the outer or inner surface, or on the outer and inner surfaces, the desired pattern is produced by removing parts of the layer or layers by cutting, etching, engraving, sand-blasting or any other method. The decorated vessel is lined with glass and the whole worked up into the shape of the article to be made. In some instances a second cup of transparent glass may be used to encase the vessel to preserve the brilliancy of effect of the pattern."
And here is an extract from patent 13592:
"Take a body of glass of any suitable colour or colours and coat this body with a layer of similar glass of another colour or colours, which is then painted with a design in a protecting resist. Then the piece is submitted to the action of acid to remove part of the overlaying layer and expose to view the under glass. The preserved part is then treated with gold, bronze or other effects and submitted to heat to burn in the applied effect. The unprotected part of the upper layer may also be removed by mechanical means such as engraving or sandblasting."
The early twentieth century was a period of consolidation for Walsh. The effect of the First World War limited the amount of development work, but a number of novelty flower holders in the form of a glass bridge, a hot-air balloon and an airship were made in limited quantities. A major introduction in 1912-1915 was a cut glass pattern named Koh-i-noor. This pattern being deeply cut was so unique that it remained a flagship of the company for many years, and was still in production at the time of closure in 1951.
Lewis John Murray died in 1912 and was succeeded as manager by R. H. Wood of the London Office. Overall control of the business, however, came under Philip Walker, a grandson of John Walsh Walsh, until his death in 1923. In the 1920's a range of bowls and vases in many shapes and sizes was developed around a delicate shade of yellow. The range was given the name of Primrose with subsequent additions extending to blue and green but produced in smaller quantities. A striking feature of the entire range was the white lining.
The Kenilworth pattern was introduced in 1925 and gained in popularity as a more reasonably priced and easier-to-cut pattern than Koh-i-noor. The range was extended to include a variety of colours applied as casings before the cutting operation. The most popular colour was a rich blue, sold under the name Bristol Blue. Jade green was produced in smaller quantities, with ruby as the most limited of the range.
When R. H. Wood died in 1927, control passed to William Riley, who had married Catherine Walker the great grand-daughter of John Walsh Walsh. Riley was a qualified professional engineer and under his leadership the company developed into a highly profitable and progressive unit.
Koh-i-noor along with several other decorative patterns required the experience of highly skilled cutters. These cutting skills established Walsh as one of the leading glass manufacturers in the U.K. and a front-runner in the art and craft of fine cut glass.
Such were these skills that a major success was achieved in 1928 when the First Glass Convention was held in Bournemouth. For this occasion manufacturers were requested to design and manufacture a loving cup to be presented to the Mayor of the Corporation. The Royal Society of Arts selected the Walsh entry as the winner.
Walsh registered a number of trademarks, but with the exception of WALSH registered on 23 June 1926, very few appear to have been used. WALSH was later modified to WALSH, ENGLAND and appears on the majority of pieces produced between 1927 and 1951. A significant development during this period was the introduction of opalescent glass to produce screened lighting used extensively in public buildings. A series of panels representing The Twelve Labours of Hercules attracted special attention. The opalescent panels were very much in the style of Lalique, Sabino and Verlys. Walsh registered a U.K. trade mark VERLYS in 1934 on the same date that Holophane withdrew their application to register a similar mark. This suggests that there may have been some agreement between Walsh and Holophane.
Colour became an important feature of Walsh products and a new range of bubbly glass with the name of Pompeian was produced for the lower-price market. While much of the output was bowls and vases, a range of novelty items was also produced. Blue, green and amber were the most popular colours with a very limited number of items in amethyst and pink.
Distinctive colours were selected for other ranges of bowls, vases and dishes, some of which were given an iridescent finish. The popular colours were amber and blue but a full range of harlequin colours were chosen for wine glasses and general tableware. An aggressive marketing approach was taken in respect of these latest ranges and a special promotional booklet, Colour in Glass, was produced.
The forward on the opening page of this booklet states:
"Walsh Crystal is over a century old, and the appreciation of its good quality is universal but the public have not as yet had the opportunity of enjoying the beauty of their new creations in colour. Much time and thought is spent on interior decoration of the home, but it is the finishing touches that make or mar the whole effect. Walsh have, therefore, produced vases, lamps, table glass and candlesticks to conform with many different colour schemes. For just as the Persian carpet changes colour in different lights, so does the iridescent glass vary in shade and lustre."
William Clyne Farquharson who had joined the company in 1924 became Chief Designer in the early 1930's and developed his now highly collectible range of designs including named patterns Leaf, Kendal, Barry and Albany. Walsh glass including wine suites was frequently used on royal occasions inasmuch that one pattern was named after Marina the Duchess of Kent. A major reconstruction of the Lodge Road premises was carried out in 1934 with new furnaces added to increase production, and expensive control equipment added to further improve quality.
The outbreak of the Second World War, and the necessity for employees to serve with the armed forces, brought to an end the rising fortunes of the company. As was the case with many companies an increasing amount of capacity was directed towards the wartime effort by transferring resources to products required in the military, medical and scientific fields. Such were the skills and engineering knowledge of the management team at Walsh, supported by the experience of the employees that they were selected to manufacture prisms ground to extremely fine limits for use in episcopes. They also produced runway lighting at military airfields and lighting panels for aircraft and naval vessels to assist greater accuracy in navigation.
Following the war an attempt was made to re-establish the main product lines but largely because of the labour controls introduced by the Government the pre-war skills were not widely available. Several new ventures were considered in order to reinstate the company to its earlier forward-thinking, imaginative, and innovative role. But the inability to restore the former worldwide reputation of the company gradually had an effect on performance, and a decision was taken in 1949 to close the cut glass department followed by another decision in 1951 to close the entire business. It is ironic that the commitment to a high quality glass product led to the eventual closure of the factory.
The history of John Walsh Walsh is an insight into a company whose products reflected the skills and personalities of both management and employees. Walsh decorative glass and tableware developed over many years from the experience and expertise of previous generations with the Walsh legacy being that of an enlightened firm which produced glass of a fine pedigree. Because of the lack of documentary evidence and records, little has been known hitherto about this company. However, the Walsh factory will always enjoy a secure and respected place in the history of glass manufacture.
Eric Reynolds has written a definitive book about the superb glass produced by the John Walsh Walsh company, published in January 2000.
If you are looking for glass by John Walsh Walsh, you can often find pieces on offer on ebay. Click here to see John Walsh Walsh glass currently for sale on ebay.
You could also check out our Recommended Books on Glass.
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