Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 148,138 pages of information and 233,680 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.
1810 Born the son of John Hartley
1886 Obituary 
JAMES HARTLEY was one of those important members of the community who, founding new industries, and thereby employing large numbers of men, utilize great treasure in capital and machinery. His achievements in glass-making were akin to those of the Bessemer’s, Siemens’s, Stephenson’s, Whitworth’s, and others in the profession identified with this Institution; the same qualities of force of will and strength of character inspired him in his struggle for success, and the same rewards of wealth, honours, and, above all, of public esteem, crowned his life’s work.
He was the son of Mr. John Hartley, of Harborne, Staffordshire, and was born at Dumbarton in 1810. When he was only a few years of age his parents removed from Dumbarton to Nailsea, near Bristol, where his father, who was one of the most successful sheet-glass makers of that day, undertook the management of the Crown Glass Works.
About ten years afterwards the family left Nailsea, and commenced the business of glass-makers at Smethwick, near Birmingham, in partnership with Messrs. Chance.
Mr. Hartley won his spurs as an inventor and reformer, while a junior partner in this firm. He first distinguished himself in developing the manufacture of crown window-glass, and was the first to use sulphate of soda in its present form for the making of crown-glass. There being a heavy duty at that time (73s. 6d. per cwt.) it was important to manufacture it with as little waste as possible, for every particle of glass made had to pay duty. The thick and heavy centre, or bullion part of the crown table, had long been a source of trouble and annoyance and loss to manufacturers. It was formed by means of an iron bar, along which the glass passed during the process of blowing. Mr. Hartley discovered and substituted a thimble for this iron bar, and thereby reduced the size of the bull’s-eye (as it was sometimes termed) to a minimum, and at the same time improved the quality of the crown-glass, which was then a beautiful article, and manufactured to perfection by the firm. Other manufacturers, seeing the great advantages and the savings accruing from the use of the thimble, arranged with Mr. Hartley, and paid him for licenses to enable them to work the patent.
The thimble plan had the drawback of being too small to produce large panes of glass, 5-feet diameter being about the largest size that could be made, and as the demand for larger sizes became more pressing on the manufacturers, a new kind of window-glass was discovered on the Continent, or rather a new method of working the same material, i.e., instead of making the 'metal' into the form of a round table, it was made in the form of a cylinder, and, having an entire plain surface, it became much in demand for the larger windows.
Messrs. Chance Bros. and Co., seeing that it was necessary to adapt their works to the new or 'German sheet' process, sent their junior partner to the Continent to learn the process of making the glass in cylinders. His father having taught him to work at the different departments, Mr. Hartley had a practical knowledge of the business, and he soon made himself master of the new process, which was destined, not only to rival crown-glass, but entirely to supersede it.
After he had gained sufficient knowledge, Mr. Hartley returned to Birmingham, bringing with him a full set of skilled sheet-glass makers, and for a time he superintended their operations.
The first piece of German sheet-glass made in England Mr. Hartley had cut into a square, and put before a picture, which is now in the breakfast-room at Ashbrooke Hall. This he has often shown to his friends as a specimen of workmanship and good quality, produced in those early days of the sheet-glass making.
Three years after the death of Mr. Hartley’s father, in the year 1833, he settled at Sunderland and commenced a career of commercial and manufacturing enterprise which has identified him for all time with the history, progress, and prosperity of the borough.
On a plot of ground at Millfield, afterwards known as the 'New Town,' which he purchased from General Beckwith, he commenced the erection of the glasshouses. Soon other houses were added, and the operations were extended until the works reached their present huge dimensions.
In these days of railways, it seems like looking back into the dim and misty past to think of the time when Sunderland newspapers were taken by dog-cart to be posted at Newcastle, and when there was no means of sending glass to London except by the collier sailing-ships. In the early times of the Wear Glassworks, Mr. Hartley found himself crippled by these transport difficulties, and he in a measure surmounted them by having a vessel specially built for carrying glass to London, which was kept going till the railway superseded it. For several years Mr. Hartley journeyed to London every six weeks to call upon glass merchants, and was obliged to go there and back upon stage coaches, the single journey occupying two days and two nights. With this experience, it is not wonderful that in late years Mr. Hartley took a prominent part in extending railway facilities.
The duty on glass was continued till the year 1845, when it was repealed. This induced many people to go into the trade, and the number of glassworks quickly increased fourfold; but many of those who had so suddenly rushed into the manufacture of glass, found to their cost that the financial results were not what they expected, and after a few years the number of works was reduced to the point at which it had stood for many years before the repeal of the duty.
During these changes in the trade, Mr. Hartley daily worked hard to maintain his ground. He was often fifteen hours per day personally superintending the entire works, and it was no unusual thing to find him in the manufactory during the midnight hours.
It was only a man of his pluck and determination who would have kept on; but he felt confident in his efforts, and in the year 1847 he became the inventor and patent of a new kind of roofing glass, now known universally as 'Hartley’s Patent Rolled Plate;' the first railway-station in England glazed with it was that at Monkwearmouth.
At first the trade refused to patronise this innovation, and would not order it ; but Mr. Hartley was not to be beaten. He advertised his new discovery in 'roofing glass' throughout the horticultural world, and soon it began to be used for greenhouses, vineries, &c. The trade were then willing enough to purchase that which they found was becoming a leading commodity throughout the country. Mr. Hartley, being the sole manufacturer, got a good price for he article - nearly three times its present value. By this means he was not only recouped for the capital sunk in making crown- and sheet-glass, but he made a large fortune, on which, many years ago, he retired from active work. The coloured glass manufactured by the firm has also a world-wide reputation.
It may be mentioned that much of the glass employed in the erection of the Great Exhibition of 1851 was supplied by his firm.
In spite of the calls made by business undertakings upon his time, Mr. Hartley always took an active part in public matters in Sunderland, and his conduct in connection therewith was always such as to earn the respect of even his bitterest opponents, as well as the admiration of those on whose side he took his stand. His connection with the Corporation commenced in 1842, when he was elected a representative of the West Ward. He held that position for the next eleven years, and was elected Mayor for 1851-2.
In 1851 the Borough Improvement Act was passed, and in its promotion Mr. Hartley took an active part. That valuable but costly Act vested in the Corporation the control of the sanitary arrangements of the borough, which it had not previously possessed, and the whole of township Boards, which had previously looked after the paving, sewering, &C., were incorporated in one body. In the same year the scheme for reconstructing and strengthening Wearmouth Bridge had also his active support.
At the close of his two years’ mayoralty in November, 1853, Mr. Hartley was elected an alderman for. St. Michael’s Ward, and held that position until 1874, when he resigned his connection with the Corporation.
In politics Mr. Hartley was a Conservative. Since 1845 he exercised great influence in the town, and during one period was one of its representatives in the House of Commons. In the year named he was instrumental in inducing George Hudson, the 'Railway King,' to contest the borough.
At the general election of 1865, Mr. William Shaw Lindsay, one of the old members, having retired, Mr. Hartley and Mr. John Candlish were nominated in addition to the sitting member, Mr. Fenwick. Mr. Hartley’s friends worked enthusiastically, and the result was that Mr. Hartley was elected as a coadjutor to Mr. Fenwick.
At the general election of 1868 Mr. Hartley retired from parliamentary life, but until his decease he actively supported the Conservative party in the borough.
Nearly all the public offices that can be held by a citizen were filled, at one time or another, by Mr. Hartley. He was made a magistrate for the borough in 1841; he was also a deputy-lieutenant. for the county, and had been chairman of the bench since the death of Mr. George Hudson. By virtue of his office as a deputy-lieutenant he was a member of the Sunderland Board of Guardians ; and on the formation of the River Wear Commission he was made a member of that body, serving latterly as chairman of the Finance Committee.
As one of the presidents of the Sunderland Infirmary Mr. Hartley took a considerable share in the management of that institution, ton whose funds he was a large donor. During his first term of office as Mayor the Pensher branch of the North-Eastern Railway was opened, and shortly afterwards he became a director of the Company, which position he held till his death.
This typical English citizen and man of worth died suddenly on the 24th of May, 1886, at a time when arrangements were in progress publicly to acknowledge and commemorate his life of usefulness, by presenting his portrait to the Sunderland Art Gallery.
On the news of his death the flags on the Sunderland public offices were lowered to half-mast, and resolutions of condolence were passed by the Town Council, the River Wear Commissioners, and, the Borough Bank. His funeral was a quasi-public one, and was the, occasion of the concourse of a great crowd of his fellow-townsmen.
Mr. Hartley was elected an Associate on the 5th of May, 1868