One industry managed to transform a Merseyside town and visitors can still experience its impact to this day.

St Helens has been at the forefront of glass making for hundreds of years thanks to one particular company and it made all the difference to the locals.

Pilkington's has been a leading company in the glass making industry for nearly 200 years but how did they get to that position?

St. Helens Crown Glass Company was formed in 1826 by John William Bell with capital raised from three wealthy families who lived in the area at the time.

One of the original shareholders was named William Pilkington and by 1849 he and his brother Richard were the last two remaining financiers.

By 1886, the Pilkington Brothers had gone from strength to strength producing three times more glass than anywhere else in the UK.

According to the World of Glass Museum, the following year, Windle Pilkington had built the world’s first continuous glassmaking furnace.

The results were higher quality glass and cheaper windows because of faster, more efficient melting. It transformed the industry at a stroke and made the Pilkington family’s fortune.

The 1970s was a changeable time for Pilkingtons but manufacturing carried on
The 1970s was a changeable time for Pilkingtons but manufacturing carried on

The pair dominated the competition so much so that by 1903 their factory in Cowley Hill was the last remaining site producing glass in Britain.

St Helens resident, June Wheeler, who used to work for the brothers, previously told the Liverpool Echo: “It was my first job when I left school and I always remember seeing Sir Harry, later Lord Pilkington, arriving for work on his bicycle with bicycle clips on his trousers.

“He would always smile and say ‘good morning’. It made a big impression on a 16-year-old girl.”

Similarly, Anne Jenkins remembered a time when she was sent for elocution lessons ‘to moderate her Lancashire accent’ and be able to read out cheques to the directors.

People take a dip in the The Hotties and waste water from the glass making process
People take a dip in the The Hotties and waste water from the glass making process

The next 50 years saw the Pilkington family teaming up with other companies to work on new glass-making techniques and built factories in not only in Eccleston, Ravenhead but elsewhere around the world.

A further glass revolution began in 1952 when Alastair Pilkington had the idea of forming ribbons of glass by floating molten glass on a bath of molten tin.

Seven years and more than £7m - £80m in today’s money - later the process was perfected and the float glass process became a universal way of manufacturing high quality flat glass.

David Atherton worked in the lodge in the 1970s and said he had never seen so much money in his life after taking breakfasts to staff in the pay room.

He explained: “I worked in the lodge at sheet works and had to get the breakfasts for the pay staff.

“I have never seen so much cash in my life, they made every pay packet up individually and once they went into the pay room they were not allowed out.”

After advancements made within the industry and company expansions around the globe in the 1970s its shares were listed on the London Stock Exchange.

Back in the day Pilkington Fire Service
Back in the day Pilkington Fire Service

Nearly 40 years later they were de-listed, becoming a wholly-owned subsidiary of the NSG Group, which it still is today.

The impact of glass on St Helens is still felt today and can be experienced thanks to the World of Glass museum.

There are several ways visitors can make the most of their time there including:


The museum explains the history of glass with artefacts dating back to Ancient Egypt from 3000 years BC.

With Glass from all around the world across many centuries you will see how glass has played a very important part in our everyday life.


The story of the town itself from humble beginnings to rise as a world leader in glass making.

However St. Helens isn’t only glass, there was a thriving coal community too. Plus you can find out what the connection is between a cold remedy and classical music.


Glassblowing demonstrations times are held three times a day at 12pm, 1.45pm and 3pm Tuesday to Saturday. More are added during busier times throughout the day.


A film portraying the true importance of glass and why we can't really imagine living without it anymore.


Your chance to explore the underground tunnels of one of the worlds first continuous regenerative tank glass making furnace built in 1887 by William Windle Pilkington.


Reminisce about the age of glamour and air travel and see how the Manchester Airport two-tonne chandelier was conserved and rehung in 2008.

Find out more information about the World of Glass museum and how to plan your visit here.

Have you visit the museum? Or do you prefer a different museum in Liverpool? Head on over to 2chill and let us know which one fascinates you the most.