Traditional Christmas glass bauble making in Matlock

Glass Christmas Bauble Photo: Catherine Roth

Glass Christmas Bauble Photo: Catherine Roth - Credit: Archant

In the picturesque Lumsdale Conservation Area near Matlock, a craft that dates back to our earliest origins is still being practised. Catherine Roth reports.

Glass blowing Photo Jake Seal

Glass blowing Photo Jake Seal - Credit: Archant

Tucked away in Lower Lumsdale in Matlock, a local glassmaking studio is keeping old traditions alive. Jonathan Abbott, one of the glassmakers based there, runs Lumsdale Glass producing a wide range of hand-blown glass, making each piece unique.

The glassmaking techniques used at the studio are those that glassmakers from centuries ago would find very familiar were they to walk into the studio today. The tools are similar to those used three to four hundred years ago. The processes too are the same except that the furnaces are now powered by the convenience of mains gas, bringing both efficiency and cleanliness to the process.

Jonathan has worked for Anthony Wassell, who owns the studio, for six years and now also rents the studio on a part-time basis from him to develop his own projects with Lumsdale Glass. He also runs glassmaking workshops where participants can have-a-go at making their own unique piece of glass.

However, it was almost by happy accident that Jonathan came into glassmaking. He graduated with an HND in Fine Art from Liverpool then travelled to Bulgaria on a scholarship where he learnt about the country’s traditional skills and crafts, which he loved. Returning to Matlock he trained to become a dry stone waller and also helped Anthony in his glass studio two days a week in the winter.

Shaping the glass Photo Jake Seal

Shaping the glass Photo Jake Seal - Credit: Archant

It was perhaps fate that led him to meet Anthony some six to seven years later – in the supermarket of all places! Anthony asked him again to come and help him during the winter as he was so busy. Jonathan readily agreed: ‘Dry stone walling in the winter is not very nice – it’s cold and wet!’

As there was plenty of work Jonathan found himself helping out in the summer, too. Jonathan says, ‘When I was helping Anthony I would do drilling and other work. But I also spent time watching him, which meant when I started making glass I learnt quite quickly because I had been watching him for so long. After spending two years working with Anthony I decided to take the plunge and have a go at glassmaking.’

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Jonathan enrolled at Dudley College studying glassmaking one day a week. He says, ‘It allowed me to work with other creative glassmakers. Anthony was training me up to make the regular commissions for Curiousa & Curiousa, a bespoke interior lighting company based in Wirksworth, but it was also good to get away and experiment with other techniques. However, I learnt the majority of my skills here. Anthony would make me go in the chair one to two hours each day. There were hours and hours of me smashing and breaking things and burning myself to make a simple bit of glass!’ Jonathan reckons that for every hour of glass he made there were four hours of failure.

One of the first things Jonathan learnt to make were Christmas baubles. He would blow these into shape then roll them in powdered glass of varying colours before melting the powder onto the glass. They still remain one of his most popular items; this September he sold out of them within the first few hours at the Wirksworth Festival and had to return to the studio in the evening to make more for the next day. Such was the short time frame that the baubles were still warm when he came to display them the next day! Always looking to build on his skills, Jonathan is now hoping to bring out a new range of ever more intricate baubles with patterns and pictures this Christmas.

The furnace Photo: Catherine Roth

The furnace Photo: Catherine Roth - Credit: Archant

All the glassware created at the studio is made from recycled lead crystal glass as it holds the heat for longer. This is melted overnight in the furnace at 1100°C which is then reduced to a working temperature of 1030°C. Jonathan says, ‘There is a raw energy from something so hot when you’re working with molten liquid. You start with a big blob of molten glass and in 20 minutes you can change it into something functional and beautiful. The end product is something you can pretty much see straight away. Then there’s the challenge to make it better the next time. This is important – it means you keep enjoying it.’

Working to commissions offers both regular work and new challenges. As well as producing lighting for Curiousa & Curiousa, Jonathan receives requests for memorial glass vases, which involve a process whereby the ashes of a loved one are fused with the glass. Other commissions include repairing the smoke hood of a vintage gas lamp, as well as making glass ceiling lighting for the carriages of the Brighton Belle steam engine.

However, Jonathan always finds time to produce his own work. From Christmas baubles and candlestick holders to vases, glasses and terrariums, his creations can be found in the small shop and exhibition space at Lumsdale Glass.

For those who wish to see the glassblowing process themselves, Lumsdale Glass is opening its studio to visitors on Saturday 9th and Sunday 10th December. There will be an opportunity to see regular demonstrations of glass blowing by Jonathan and the other glassmakers who use the studio as well as an exhibition and the opportunity to browse for unique Christmas gifts including baubles, candlestick holders, paperweights, vases and glasses.

A selection of Christmas baubles Photo: Catherine Roth

A selection of Christmas baubles Photo: Catherine Roth - Credit: Archant

Jonathan, it seems, has found his true vocation in glassmaking. He says, ‘I’ve found what I want to do and I love coming into work. If I were to win the lottery tomorrow I would still continue glassmaking.’

Lumsdale Glass’s shop will be open daily to 23rd December from 9am-3pm. For further information email: Lower Lumsdale Mills, Matlock DE4 5EX