CUMBRIA CRYSTAL AND THE HERITAGE OF BRITISH CUT GLASS
When lead glass was invented in the 1670s in London, glass decorators quickly realised that the revolutionary new material provided an ideal body for cutting. With its crystal-like quality cut glass became the province of fashionable society and by the end of the 18th century cutting was perfect to create the new neoclassical style of decoration. By 1800, two glass-cutters from Dudley and Stourbridge transformed the future of cut glass when they harnessed the new steam power to drive their cutting lathes. This technological revolution allowed the glass to be cut far more deeply and intricately than hitherto possible and led to the Regency style of cutting. The fashion for Regency cut glass swept across Europe and even factories in France were set up to create similar ranges. After reaching its high point at the Crystal Palace Exhibition in Hyde Park in 1851, cut glass suffered a slight downturn but by 1880 the new style of ‘Brilliant’ cut glass, not dissimilar to the Regency style, was used on large table services often numbering hundreds of items. In the 1920s and 30s British cut glass reflected the sophisticated and geometric patterns of Art Deco while in the 1940s and 50s, the new breed of Royal College of Art trained designers brought a freshness and originality to traditional Stourbridge cut glass. By the end of the 20th century, with the exception of designers such as Jasper Conran at Stuart Crystal and John Rocha at Waterford who created minimalist cut glass, the British cut glass industry continued to produce conservative and very staid products which led in part to the closing of those once-great cut glass factories. Having survived that downturn, Cumbria Crystal are now the only English glass works who not only continue the great British cut glass tradition but whose innovative designs, often inspired by the best of cutting from the past, once again have made cut glass a relevant product for the tables of fashionable 21st century society.
Charles R. Hajdamach
Former Director of Broadfield House Glass Museum