9 Things to see at The World of Glass Museum in St Helens
If there is one industry that has defined St Helens like no other, it is glass.
There were 30,000 glass workers in St Helens in the mid-20th century, with local firm Pilkington Glass becoming a world leader by revolutionising the way glass was made.
The company began to struggle amid heavy competition in the 1980s, with many job losses since and a buyout by Japan-based form NSG in 2006.
But glass remains central to local identity, with Pilkington still an important local employer – and a monument to St Helens’ glass heritage opened in 2000.
The World of Glass museum and visitor centre lies in the heart of St Helens, offering a fascinating insight into a material so vital to the town and indeed and modern world.
Executive Director Ron Helsby provided this guide to nine things not to miss on a visit:
The first thing you see when you approach The World of Glass is a giant brick conical structure outside the main museum. It’s a recreation of a “forest cone house”, where four or five glassblowers would traditionally work blowing glass in pots.
The cone is the first of its kind to be built in over a hundred years, using traditional methods of lime and mortar and hand-made bricks.
Ron’s tip: Stand in the centre and talk to yourself……
Ahead of you once you’ve entered the museum is an extraordinary, glistening chandelier, made of 1500 crystal droppers and weighing a staggering two tons.
One of four chandeliers which originally hung in the main hall of Manchester Airport, it was conserved and rehung at the museum in 2008.
Ron’s fact: One man, Bruno Zanetti, blew all four chandeliers.
The ancient craft is given a contemporary twist as the museum’s resident glassblowers demonstrate how to create decorative pieces.
Ron’s fact: It takes 10 years to become a master glassblower, and the methods used haven’t changed for thousands of years.
A film on loop gives a unique insight into how humans discovered glass, from lightning striking sand all the way through to its use in outer space and future technology.
Ron’s fact: glass panels were used on the outside of the space shuttle.
This is the museum’s gallery dedicated to the history of glass throughout civilisation, charting its history from ancient Egyptian, Roman, Medieval, Islamic, European and American studio glass
Ron’s fact: Stained glass windows were once used to education and inspire people who couldn’t read or write through stories from the bible.
You’ll see this phrase in Latin – Ex Terra Lucem – in the museum and across St Helens, because it’s the town’s motto.
Ron’s fact: Frank Cottrell Boyce said the motto, tying together the town’s coal and glass heritage, helping inspire his popular opening ceremony for the London 2012 Olympics.
The museum is home to the world’s first regenerative furnace – which radically improved glassmaking because it allowed production for 24 hours, 7 days a week. It was created in 1887, the year of Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee, and was re-discovered in 1998.
You can also see what it was like to work in the underground tunnels in Victorian times.
Ron’s fact: Glass was highly expensive to make until this furnace and others like it were created, which made it quicker and cheaper to produce.
The “Hotties” is part of the Sankey canal and runs by the museum. It gets its name from its history – the water from the local glass factories used to be discharged into it through sprinklers. The water was warm from running over the hot glass.
Ron’s fact: in the 1960s a local pet owner was closing down and put its tropical fish into the stretch of water because the water was warm.
The garden at the back of The World of Glass was a gift from the people of Stuttgart in recognition for their long association with St Helens.
St Helens was the first British town to twin with a German city after World War II
Ron’s fact: The large horse sculpture in the garden is the emblem of the German city, where Porsche cars are manufactured.