Biographical / Historical
The Whitefriars glasshouse, located originally in London’s Whitefriars area, first produced flint glass tableware beginning around 1730. After purchase in 1834 by James Powell, the company was renamed James Powell & Sons, but would remain known colloquially as Whitefriars. The company began building a solid reputation as a premier glass manufacturer, and in 1844, Whitefriars complemented production of fine domestic glassware with the addition of a stained glass studio. Capitalizing on the Victorian-era push to refurbish existing and build new Church of England churches in gothic revival style, Whitefriars’ studio soon earned a reputation as makers of fine ecclesiastical stained glass. High profile artists such as Edward Burne-Jones, Walter Crane and Henry Holiday were commissioned to design windows for the company. Well-known architects involved with the Powells’ studio included William Butterfield, Richard Cromwell Carpenter, and Sir George Gilbert Scott, a leading gothic revival architect. Whitefriars particularly benefitted in the 1850s from a collaboration with stained glass historian Charles Winston (1814 – 1864), who studied the composition of medieval stained glass and led the Powells to develop new techniques in colored glassmaking.
In 1919 the company changed its name once again, to James Powell and Sons (Whitefriars) Ltd. In 1923 the company relocated to a larger, state-of-the-art factory building in Wealdstone, Middlesex. The company continued to thrive during the interwar years, but business dwindled after 1945. A decade later, Whitefriars once again flourished, and in the 1950s was named an outstanding British industry. In the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, high-profile artists such as William Wilson, James Hogan, Geoffrey Baxter and Peter Wheeler designed glassware for the company, creating popular lines such as the knobbly range, the “bark” series and the Peacock Studio Range.
The proliferation of poor-quality and machine-produced imitations, combined with a diminishing market for artistic glassware, gave rise to an increasingly unfavorable economic climate for the company by the 1970s. The stained glass studio closed in 1973, and although Whitefriars produced cut glass to offset losses in artistic glassware sales, the company eventually succumbed to market forces. In 1980, Whitefriars closed its doors, ending nearly 150 years of innovation and cutting edge design.