Collapse of glass firms calls time on dimpled pint jugs

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The saloon bar patriot, raging against rampant Europeanisation, has until now had at least one comfort - the glass pint pot in his hand was both symbolically and physically British.

The saloon bar patriot, raging against rampant Europeanisation, has until now had at least one comfort - the glass pint pot in his hand was both symbolically and physically British.

That consolation is about to be snatched away - the last two beer glass manufacturers in Britain are facing collapse, which threatens to bring higher pub prices and the extinction of the traditional pint jug after more than 150 years. Ravenhead Glass and Demaglass Ltd have gone into administrative receivership and unless buyers can be found they will fold with the loss of 700 jobs.

That would mean British pubs being forced to buy beer and wine glasses from France, Belgium or Turkey and would probably herald the disappearance of the dimpled glass pint jug, which has already been giving way to more fashionable and lighter straight glasses.

Ravenhead has been operating in St Helens, Merseyside, since 1842, making first bottles, then glass, and growing to supply Britain's biggest brewers and pub owners. The company has gone through several changes of ownership - the latest of them Belgian - and called in administrators in November last year after it suffered from strong domestic competition and a slump in its export market, which was blamed on the strength of the pound against the euro.

The company needs a new furnace and other investment totalling £10m, which has so far proved a bar to the American firm Libbey taking over. Redundancies started before Christmas and if Libbey pulls out, the remaining 200 jobs will go. Ron Robinson, from the administrators, Begbies Tray-nor, said a deal was still possible, but it had to be completed within days. "We have to know early next week. If not we will have to cease production next week," he said.

Demaglass, based in Chest-erfield, Derbyshire, appointed administrative receivers from Arthur Andersen on 2 March when it was also hit by severe competition and the high exchange rate. Administrators are still trying to sell it "as a going concern" but without a buyer 500 jobs will go.

Mr Robinson said the licensed trade would have to rely mainly on the French company Durand, which had 6,000 employees and 25 furnaces, if Ravenhead and Demaglass disappeared. "The licensed victuallers trade would probably be about 2 per cent of Durand's turnover and the brewers would dread being in a position where the company could say, 'This is the price - take it or leave it'."

The Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers, which represents pub owners, said one of the companies' problems was a price war between them, which Durand had avoided.

An association spokesman, Tim Chapman, said pubs were now facing the prospect of paying higher prices for their glasses, which would inevitably be passed on to drinkers. "They are disappointed they won't be able to buy from British manufacturers and the extra cost will be added to the price of beer. However, there is ample stock in Ravenhead and Dema's warehouses and they are both in administrative receivership so it is possible things could be turned around."

Both Ravenhead and Demaglass have made the traditional dimpled glass pint jug, which was used for generations until straight glasses became popular in the 1970s.

The pint jug was first introduced as a replacement for leather and pewter tankards after the Glass Tax was repealed in 1845, making them cheaper to produce, according to Ian Lowe, research manager for the Campaign for Real Ale. He said they encouraged the advent of pale ales because drinkers realised how murky were their traditional drinks, such as porter and stout.

Pint jugs fell out of favour partly because straight glasses were made tougher and broke less easily, partly because the jugs did not fit in modern glass washing machines, and partly because drinkers simply preferred a lighter, thinner glass.

But drinkers' preferences will be irrelevant if the two companies are not rescued.

David Watts, Labour MP for St Helens North, said their collapse would be the end of Britain's standard glass tablewear industry. "It will be yet another manufacturing industry that has disappeared," he said. "It is a tragedy for the industry and it sad to think we are not going to make beer glasses any more."