Last year I was approached by a group of business people, historians and leaders in civil society in the UK's West Midlands to accept the position of Patron of the Chance Glassworks Heritage Trust. It did not take me long to agree.
The Trust has been formed to preserve and redevelop what remains of the once famous site of the Chance Brothers Limited glassworks in Smethwick, founded by my great great great uncle Robert Lucas Chance in 1824. My grandfather, Sir Hugh Chance, was the last family member to chair the company before it was taken over by long-term rival Pilkingtons. The factory poured its last glass and finally closed its doors in 1981.
Since then the site has fallen into disrepair but many of its Grade 2 listed buildings are still standing and cannot be demolished. The trustees have a grand vision to restore the buildings and add new ones, including a full scale lighthouse in recognition of what is probably Chance Brothers' greatest achievement, the manufacture of over 2500 optics for lighthouses and other aids to navigation supplied to nearly 100 countries across the globe.
The site will have multi-purpose usage including offices, a hotel and conference centre, a small business incubator and innovation hub and affordable housing units. Situated in a very depressed former industrial part of the UK, the site will offer opportunities for entrepreneurship, technological innovation and social renewal which are much in keeping with the ethos that sustained Chance Brothers during its 157 year history.
The Trust recently launched its website which you can find here. I and the trustees would be happy to hear from anyone who has an interest in its activities or wishes to donate time, money or resources to this worthy cause.
History West Midlands magazine has been championing the Trust in its publications and website - see here for their recent newsletter.
HWM has also just published a special edition on the 1851 Great Exhibition, which was housed in the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park. This iconic building was glazed by over 900 000 square feet of glass made in Chance Brothers's Smethwick glassworks, and was where James Timmins Chance, my great great grandfather, exhibited the firm's first dioptric lighthouse apparatus. For more information on the firm's lighthouse business, visit my website here.