Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

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William Beilby

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William Beilby (1740-1819), glass enameller

1740 Born in Durham, son of William Beilby, a silversmith, and his wife, Mary. He was a brother of Ralph Beilby.

1751 Due to the family's persistent financial problems, William junior was taken out of school and sent to Birmingham to begin an apprenticeship as an enameller. There he appears to have lived with his elder brother, Richard.

1755 indentured to a John Hezeldine. At this time he probably came into contact with glass making, the British glass industry being centred on Birmingham.

He worked for a time making enamelled metal boxes in Bilston.

1759 After years of financial problems, William senior gave up his business and moved to Gateshead.

1760 William junior moved back to Gateshead to join his family. Here he joined his brother Ralph, who set up a workshop at Amen Corner - see Beilby and Co.

In the following years William used his enamelling experience to experiment with firing enamels onto glass goblets. This was carried out at the nearby Closegate flint glasshouses (see Cooksons). The first results were in rather weak white enamels but, from 1761, this was followed by enamelling in colour.

In co-operation with Ralph, William produced the famous royal goblets, amongst other fine, artistic work. Further commissions poured in from aristocratic patrons.

William, together with his siblings Richard and Mary, were skilled glass decorators, able to fire enamels onto glass, and worked for different factories in the Newcastle area.

William continued to produce enamelled glassware throughout the 1770s, although his output appears to have slowed, partly on account of the devastation caused by the 1771 Tyne flood, and partly as a result of his sister's illness.

At the end of the 1770s he left Newcastle; he may have then set up as a drawing-master in Battersea.

1785 he married Ellen Purton, the niece of John Falconer, a wealthy City merchant of Scottish descent.

c1788 the couple moved to Fife to live on an estate which Falconer had bought for his niece.

Sbsequently he move to Hull for unknown reasons.

1814 He was living in English Street, Hull.

1819 William Beilby died at home.

See Also

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Sources of Information

  • Biography of the Beilby family, ODNB
  • Art of Glass: Glass in the Collection of the National Gallery of Victoria, By Geoffrey Robert Edwards, National Gallery of Victoria