From delicate Egyptian beads, to the stained-glass windows of the Medieval period and elegantly detailed receptacles, the art of decoratively working and colouring glass has been part of human civilisation for thousands of years. Entrancing and mysterious, glass has always been an object of great value. This mesmerising and complex craft would inspire a creative young man called Paul Miller to take glassmaking to ever greater heights and establish one of the county’s most renowned attractions, Langham Glass.

‘Dad joined King’s Lynn Glass as a 16-year-old apprentice in 1967,’ says Jonathan Miller.

Naturally artistic and good with his hands, the company was fortuitously on his doorstep, so he took the position. His role wouldn’t have changed for hundreds of years. It was certainly a tough environment, as the European glassmakers brought in to improve the quality of the glass they made didn’t suffer fools gladly,’ Jonathan laughs. ‘It took five years of training and experience, but his ability shone through and he proved himself capable of running a team, becoming Master Glassmaker in 1973.’

Great British Life: A Master Glassmaker at work. Photo: Serena ShoresA Master Glassmaker at work. Photo: Serena Shores

Apprentices first start by gathering glass from the furnace onto the end of a gathering iron – even today Langham Glass prefer someone with no prior experience so they do things the way Langham do them. The iron is then handed to the Master who rolls it into a basic shape on a solid slab of steel called the Marver. He then blows into the iron, sealing the end with his thumb, so the air expands with the heat, forcing a bubble in the glass. ‘Bit gathering’ or adding small pieces to create ears and tails follows, then mould holding and learning to colour glass.

‘Dad started creating unique designs when Wedgewood bought King’s Lynn Glass. They saw his talent and he was given the freedom to produce their early ranges, including many of the animals and paperweights which are sought after by collectors today,’ Jonathan explains.

‘We now add extensions to the designs, enhancing the early Wedgewood creations and blend our own colours, which takes years of practice using a stock of dozens of hues.’

Langham Glass was established in 1979 when Paul and his wife Sue decided to set up their own glassmaking business, with the aim of making crystal by hand to the highest level of craftsmanship. Designed as a tourist attraction in barn buildings in the village of Langham, The Great Barn was chosen for the Glasshouse for its height and became the centre of the complex. A steel gallery was installed around it, to enable visitors to move along and see different pieces being made by different glassmakers.

‘Glass is made mainly from sand and small quantities of other chemicals,’ says Jonathan.

A pelletised mix known as “batch” is used to create the pure, colourless crystal that first comes out of the furnace. Batch is loaded into the furnace every day and melted by increasing the heat to 1350ºC. Once melted, the temperature is reduced to 1100ºC and the glass is ready to be worked. Special glass rods or ground glass is then used to add colour; a complicated procedure with many stages,’ he continues. ‘The glass is ready once it has gone trough the “annealing process;” a slow, controlled cooling which reduces the stresses in the lass to prevent shattering. Finally, it goes to the “finishing area,” where the sharp edges left rom where the glass was attached to the iron are smoothed and polished.’

Great British Life: Paul and the finished item. Photo: Serena ShoresPaul and the finished item. Photo: Serena Shores

Paul’s reputation within the industry was recognised with a fellowship to The Royal Society o Arts in 2002 and after a move to Tattersett Business Park where a larger work area allowed hem to further enter the corporate market, in 2013, Langham Glass once again relocated to central Fakenham. The new premises are specially designed to be accessible to visitors who can watch glassmaking experiences of craftspeople at work from the viewing gallery, or even attend courses themselves.

‘As a child growing up in a time when health and safety were less talked about, I felt so proud being given the job of sweeping my father’s workshop in the school holidays,’ says Jonathan. ‘My childhood was shaped by pride and curiosity at the talent, skill and artistry I saw before me and I loved being around his work. Today, after the glass is quality checked and graded, nearly all of our creations are stamped “Langham, England.” The very finest pieces are hand signed Paul Miller.’

Jonathan went into agricultural marketing after leaving education, but an opportunity to join the business came up and he has been there 25 years. Throughout its history, Langham Glass has worked on special commissions for Bernard Matthews and Greene King, as well as creating a 200th anniversary bottle for Bombay Sapphire. The trophy side of the business sends work all over the country and memorial glass incorporating ashes in jewellery and glassware is increasingly popular.

Great British Life: Jonathan and Helen inside the shop. Photo: Serena ShoresJonathan and Helen inside the shop. Photo: Serena Shores Great British Life: Designs inspired by Norfolk wildlife. Photo: Serena ShoresDesigns inspired by Norfolk wildlife. Photo: Serena Shores

‘We are always developing new designs and offering new products to the public through direct selling from our website or shop. The aim is to inspire our visitors, by offering them an opportunity to observe age-old techniques and learn how glassmaking is still evolving without losing its traditional heritage,’ Jonathan says. ‘We have a fantastic team of seven glassmakers ranging from apprentices to masters and Dad comes in when required as he thoroughly enjoys being involved. There is beauty in what we do,’ Jonathan smiles. ‘Playing with a multitude of shapes and colours to create something magical which comes alive in the light.’