Wearside's 1,300-year tradition of making glass ends

A TRADITION dating back 1,300 years of producing hand-made stained glass on Wearside is to end with the closure of the area's last working outlet, announced yesterday.

The few remaining glass craftsmen had already been consigned to working in a cultural museum long before yesterday's announcement that their company, Sunderland Glassworks, was to close.

The firm was based at Sunderland's National Glass Centre, which was given pounds 16m from lottery funds. Its employees have been a visitor attraction for the past 18 months. The firm, which employs 30 people, has failed to win a foothold in the stained glass market and has been unable to pay debts that include a pounds 60,000 gas bill.

The National Glass Centre, for which the working glassworks were a main visitor attraction, said it would be forced to reduce admission prices but insisted its own future was secure. Income from the glassworks represented only 2-3 per cent of the centre's income although the firm took up 80 per cent of tenanted space.

Glassmaking in Sunderland dates back to AD674 when Saint Benedict Biscop sent to France and Rome for craftsmen to make stained glass windows for the new monast-ery at Monkwearmouth. The methods were later used by the Hartley Wood company, which made glass for Westminster Abbey and Durham Cathedral.

The creation of Sunderland Glassworks out of the old company staved off redundancy for the last craftsmen. Managers at Sunderland Glassworks, a sister company to Royal Brierley Crystal, are continuing to negotiate with a potential investor. But staff have not been paid for six weeks.

The National Glass Centre, built mostly of glass at St Peter's Riverside, had beaten its visitor targets by 23 per cent, with 160,000 visitors, by the end of its first year in July and appeared to be on target to break even. But the closure is likely to lessen its appeal.

Debts left by the glassworks may change the financial picture. The past six months have been turbulent for the centre. It has restructured its marketing operation to concentrate more on retailing, and laid off two staff in the process.

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