A Brief History of George Davidson and Co

Geo Davidson - The early years

For 120 years Geo Davidson and Co. produced high quality pressed glass in Gateshead, which was sold all around the world. The company was founded in 1867 by a Gateshead butcher and businessman Alderman George Davidson to make glass chimneys for paraffin lamps. Paraffin lamps were becoming increasingly popular as a means of lighting. The addition of a chimney both improved the illumination and reduced the unpleasant smoke which a naked flame gave off. In 1867 most chimneys were being made in Belgium.

George bought a Greenfield site and built the glassworks from scratch. The business flourished and was soon making small bottles and wine glasses. By 1878 production had increased to include such items as biscuit barrels, salt cellars, tumblers, dishes, plates, jugs, mustard pots and comports. George even did a  barter trade with his brother Joseph in Australia, trading glassware for butter, wheat, flour, tallow, salt pork and bi-carbonate of soda. In 1881 George was also exporting salad oil and herrings!

Production was halted at the glass works from January 1881 to April 1881 by a serious fire which destroyed warehouses and processing sheds. The furnaces themselves were not damaged (See the July 2003 newsletter for more details about the fire). The company recovered and in 1881 increased it's range of goods by buying the moulds and patterns from the Neville Glassworks, Gateshead (The Neville Glassworks had been destroyed by fire in January 1880. At the time of the fire the Neville factory had been idle for 12 weeks due to lack of work). In 1884 they again acquired more moulds from W H Heppell & Co and Thomas Grey & Co of Carr's Hill glassworks. 

In 1886 George introduced the first annual range of domestic tableware. These comprised jugs, dishes, comports, salad bowls, water sets etc. In Victorian times a water set consisted of 3 tumblers and a Jug not the six tumblers that was common later. In 1887 George won a Gold medal at the Newcastle exhibition for his glassware

George Davidson died in 1891 at the age of 68 and his son Thomas took over running the company. At this time the company was producing between 200 and 250 tons of glassware per month. In his early days, Davidson was always introducing new ideas and designed about 90% of all new products. In 1889 Thomas had patented 'Pearline glass', an attractive form of glass which is clear at the base and becomes opalescent towards the top. Blue was the first colour introduced, followed by the acid yellow known as 'Primrose' and finally the clear 'Moonshine'. Pearline was so successful it was copied by many other manufacturers who produced similar shaped products in a variety of colours.

In 1896 a long association with the Holophane company began when Davidson started to produce prismatic illuminating ware for them - the first moulds for Holophane were made on 23rd July 1896. This type of glassware had to be made to a high precision to achieve the desired light distribution.

In 1910 Thomas Davidson patented a method for producing flower blocks. The patent described a method of production which allowed more elaborate shapes to be created. The Davidson company produced flower blocks using this and later patents up until the 1960s. During the First World War there was little demand for new domestic products and production was concentrated on items such as pavement lights, potted-meat jars, insulators for field telephones, small Bull's eye lenses, ink pots and tumblers for the Navy, Army and Canteen Board.

In the early 1920s the company increased dramatically the range of glass produced. This now included trinket sets, flower holders, cigarette boxes, ashtrays and hors d'oeuvre sets. Thomas also pioneered the introduction of new matt colours of glass for domestic use. These new colours included amber, green, blue and black. To cope with this increased production more staff were employed and the number of women working at the plant almost doubled.

In 1923 Davidson introduced the first of the Cloud Glass colour. The year also saw the first introduction of glass salad servers! Davidson also started producing Industrial and Commercial glassware such as motor headlamps, imitation coal-fire tops, telephone mouth pieces and book-ends.

Davidson's exhibited at the 'North East Coast Exhibition of Industry, Science and Art'. In June 1929 the Pottery Gazette reported on the event and had the following to say about Geo Davidson:

George Davidson & Co., of the teams Glass Works, Gateshead, have erected their stand to represent a Norman Castle, which is effectively decorated both inside and outside. Main features of the exhibit are the firm's display of coloured glassware in purple, blue and amber with cloud effects. There is also on show a choice collection of flower bowls, vases, candlesticks and trinket sets. In fact, there is a complete range of the well-known products of this Tyneside firm, consisting of table and decorative glassware made by moulding and pressing. One of the many attractions at the stand is a pyramid made up of flower blocks, illuminated by varied coloured electric lights, giving a pleasing effect'

One of the prime movers behind the North East Coast Exhibition was Sir Arthur Lambert who was to become a director of the Davidson company. Sir Arthur received a Knighthood for his efforts in organising the exhibition.

In 1930, Davidson started making 'Chippendale' Glass for the National Glass Company. Chippendale was first produced in America in 1907. Realising that this was a popular and successful line, Davidson bought the moulds, trademarks and sole manufacturing rights to the Chippendale range of glassware in 1933. They paid £3,000 for the moulds alone. Over the next 30 years they added to the styles and colours (emerald green and amber) in the Chippendale range. In 1932 they started making Jacobean and Georgian glassware  for Clayton Meyers. 

Geo Davidson & Co. became a limited company in 1934.

Geo Davidson Company  - Ltd

The Davidson family firm became a limited company on the 26th October 1934. The newly formed company had a share issue of £75,000 divided into 75,000 £1 shares. The two subscribers to the new company were Thomas Davidson of the Teams Glass Works, Gateshead and Claude L Fraser (Thomas’s nephew) of 2 Sturdee Gardens, Jesmond, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. From the start Thomas wanted to maintain control over his family business, and this right was written into the Articles of Association:- 

The share for which Thomas Davidson of 18 Percy Gardens, Tynemouth has signed the Memorandum of Association shall, whilst registered in his name, confer on him the right at every General Meeting to 3 times as many votes as are conferred by all of the other shares for the time being issued. 

And later:- 

The said Thomas Davidson shall be the Governing Director of the Company and Chairman of the Board of Directors until he resigns the office or dies or ceases to hold at least one share of the Company …. And all of the other Directors shall be under his control and shall be bound to conform to his directions in regard to the Companies Business. 

Thomas was in control of both day-to-day running and at shareholder meetings.

At the first shareholders meeting, the National Provincial Bank Ltd was appointed as Company Bankers. T D Galloway was appointed Company Secretary and Thomas Lambert the Company Solicitor. The initial allocation of Company shares went to Thomas Davidson (27,999), Claude Fraser (9,999), M Macintyre (10,000) and Miss D Fraser – Claude’s sister - (10,000).

Davidson performed well as a limited company, always making a profit and issued dividends of between 7.5% and 20% per annum. As the post depression economy picked up, demand for glassware improved. Davidson introduced many new lines and colours, winning a Diploma of Merit at the Paris Exposition in 1937 for their range or royal blue domestic glassware. Advertising was not high on Davidson’s agenda. They only spent between £100 and £150 per year on advertising relying on their agents to sell their product. This compares with £250 per year spent on the their stand at the British Industries Fair.

Success did bring its own problems. In 1939, the Japanese started to copy the 255 Barrel Can (Registered Design No 802751) and sell it a lower cost in the Australian market. Davidson decided to register some of the new designs in Australia to protect that market and in late 1940 W Hills of their Australian Agents, T W Heath & Co, was granted Power of Attorney to sign documents relating to Design registration. 

In 1933 Davidson had bought the sole rights to the Chippendale range of glassware. Despite being very successful in the UK, and copied by most other manufacturers, it did not sell well in Australia. In 1938 T W Heath & Co was granted an extra 10% commission to help establish the range in Australia.

Thomas died in 1937 at the age of 77, and his nephew Claude Fraser took over as Manager.

On the first of February 1938, the Davidson Company employed their first designer W J G Fullerton, who designed some of their more popular ranges including the ‘Ripple’ pattern and the ‘Fan Vase’. Actually Claude Fraser wanted to employ a designer who could also help out on the technical side as well. Fullerton was only with the company for 10 years. In 1947 he was told to look for alternate employment, as there was insufficient work for him at the Davidson Company. 1939 saw the introduction of 'smoke' glass which remained popular until the 1960s.

The workforce benefited from Davidson’s prosperity. In 1937, the year that Thomas Davidson died, the company ran a trial for holiday with pay, which soon became available to all. In 1938 they introduced a pension scheme, putting £1,000 into the scheme in the first year.

The Davidson Company had many local problems to deal with, all of which required money. For example money was put aside each year to cover repairs to the Quay. The opening of the new Trading Estate, which changed the flow of the river, caused the company to take out extra flood insurance in 1938 at a cost of £70 per annum. The state of the buildings was also a constant source of concern. In 1937 the estimated cost of repairs amounted to between £25,000 and £35,000. This high cost caused them to consider moving to the new Trading Estate, but this was rejected when the cost was calculated. For a number of years the company put off any decision about the building repairs, each year they considered new alternatives and estimates. Eventually the war intervened and no work was carried out until after the war.

The Davidson board found that year on year the difference in value between the glass produced and the glass actually shipped was running at over 20%. The difference was put down to breakages, bad work, trial pieces, experiment, stock breakages and theft. This high loss rate could not be sustained, and so in 1938 a ‘Progress Manager’ was appointed to improve the manufacturing process and reduce this wastage. This was very successful and the loss rate was reduced to only 2.4% in 1941 as can be seen in the table below:

Year Value of Glass produced
Value of Glass Sold
1934 134,850 98,050 36,800 26.5
1935 124,400 97,800 26,600 21.4
1936 135,600 106,100 29,500 21.8
1937 135,300 114,300 21,000 15.5
1938 143,750 111,000 32,750 22.8
1939 122,125 105,3261 16,799 13.75
1940 130,378 113,489 16,889 12.15
1941 112,724 110,016 2,708 2.4

And this was achieved with out the need for “Management Consultants”!!

Although Davidson regarded themselves as makers of domestic glassware, about 40% of their production was for specialist glassware or domestic products for other companies such as Clayton Meyers. One of their largest customers was Holophane. Davidson had been making illuminating glassware for Holophane since the late 19th century. In 1940 Holophane considered acquiring a financial stake in the Davidson Company – a proposal which was rejected.

Other pre-war customers included Cadbury’s Chocolate and John Smith’s Tadcaster ales.

Geo Davidson - At War

The Second World War caused mixed fortunes for the Davidson Company. Higher costs and loss of exports hit the company’s finances, but this was offset to some extent by producing glassware and other products for the war effort. In the financial year 1939-1940 they made their first loss - £3,258-11-6 after adjustments. In 1942 an order (The Utility Glassware order) came into force banning production of domestic glassware except for tumblers, jugs, cans and cruets. The order also give them the opportunity to realise some of their existing stock, which helped their financial position for the following year.

Despite the shortage of manpower, manufacturing restrictions and difficulty in obtaining raw materials Davidson and other pressed glass manufacturers were able to work to full capacity.

The impact of the war was felt very early on. In mid 1939, the local Medical Officer for Gateshead requisitioned the company van. Initially they received no compensation for it’s loss and were forced to buy a second hand Austin van at a cost of £25. Eventually they were awarded 8/6p per day for the loss of the van, which was returned to them early the following year. Costs also increased. In November 1939 Davidson purchased War Risk Insurance at £43-18-0 per year. They also spent £400-0-0 on a fire engine and a shed to house it. Air Raid Precautions become a new category in their accounts book. By law they had to spend money on such things as air-raid shelters and blackout precautions.

The war also impacted their agents and commercial travellers. Petrol rationing hit the commercial travellers very hard. The extra ration granted to them was so small as to be of no use. On 10th May 1941 enemy bombing destroyed their London Showroom. Also in 1941 Mr Tinsley, their Far East Representative, was captured by the enemy. He had been acting for Davidson for only a short period of time.

Relationships with other glass manufacturers was mixed. For example in November 1940, the Davidson Company reported that:

‘Repeated attempts had been made by Jobling to have some of our glassmakers compulsively transferred to Sunderland to make tumblers for a government order which Jobling had apparently accepted for quantities in excess of their ability to produce. Up to the present we had successfully resisted these attempts but only at a cost of exceptional amount of time and thought’

There appears to have been a price agreement between the different companies. In January 1941, Lauderdale of Sowerby informed Davidson that Bagley and Sowerby had decided to increase the price of tumblers. Davidson followed with their own price increase. At the same time Davidson and Sowerby were in discussion about arrangements should either one of their factories be damaged by enemy action. Fortunately bombing damaged neither, although the roof of the glassworks was damaged by fire at one point. This was not caused by enemy action.

Toughened Tumblers were a lifesaver for the Davidson Company during the war years. At the end of 1939 J K Inwald joined the technical staff at Davidson’s and his first assignment was to develop production techniques for Toughened tumblers. The Davidson Company agreed not to market toughened tumblers themselves providing:

  • Clayton Meyers would take their full production.
  • Raw materials did not become so scarce that it would be in Davidson's interest to make them to strengthen their own claims for the supply of raw material.

Clayton Meyers did take the full production and by 1942 the total production of domestic glassware consisted of toughened tumblers and other cheaper lines. By 1943 turnover from Clayton Meyers was £37,000 per year of which £27,000 was due to the sale of toughened tumblers. This compares with sales of £13,000 to the Holophane Company who had a long established relationship with Davidson’s (the first Holophane moulds were made on the 23rd July 1896).

Davidson’s contribution to the war effort included parts for naval gun mounts, bomb suspension blocks, parts for tanks, brackets for aircraft seats and munitions. Munitions production was worth £3,000 to the company in 1943. Glassware for the war effort included runway lights (these had to withstand a pressure of 15 tons per square foot!), screens for radar sets, lenses and glass fronts for instruments.

Geo Davidson - Post War Years

The end of the war saw a slow return to normality. Initially there was a virtually unlimited demand for glassware once restrictions were lifted. One of the North-East manufacturers was reported to have said 'People are hungry for pressed glass goods'. Exports quickly returned, despite temporary import controls introduced by some countries. In 1946 the company estimated that the value of unexecuted export orders amounted to £30,000, which was about 4 years work. Production was still initially limited by a shortage of raw materials and labour. However, things quickly improved and turnover rose rapidly. In 1947 turnover for the company was £164,000, a rise of £31,000 over the previous year.

In 1946 George Francis, a director of Davidson, moved to London and opened a new showroom in Newgate street. The following year the annual British Industries fair restarted, although Davidson did not attend again until 1948. In that year it was reported that Davidson had 'reintroduced lines which were withdrawn because of the war'. Their main selling lines were Chippendale and the Ripple pattern (in smoke, amber and emerald colours). In 1949, Amber Cloud was again being sold in a limited range of styles. A Davidson advert in the Pottery Gazette had the following message for buyers: 'As soon as the demand for export is realised we will be able to supply our friends in the home trade'. Restrictions were still in force. In fact in the years immediately after the war restrictions in the home market were to come and go several times. The country needed foreign exchange and exports had priority.

The Davidson Company always regarded themselves as primarily a manufacturer of domestic glassware, and were concerned that they did not lose this identity. Sales of their own glassware returned to around 50% to 60% of turnover after the war. In 1947, the breakdown of their sales was as follows:


Clayton Meyers - Toughened Tumblers £23,759
Clayton Meyers - General Glassware £3,601
Holophane    £16,382
Other Lighting Glassware £21,329
Industrial & Non-domestic Glassware   £16,666
Geo Davidson Domestic Glassware £82,707

New markets were found, but still Clayton Meyers and Holophane remained their largest single customers for a number years.

The late 1940s and early 1950s were difficult times for the pressed glass industry. Despite the huge demand for glass, constantly changing regulations and purchase tax rates at home and import restrictions abroad led to an unpredictable trading market. In 1951 National Service was causing a shortage of craftsman. The following year Australia, one of Davidson's best markets, introduced import restrictions. Other countries followed with their own restrictions. These were not relaxed until 1954, although many were reintroduced from time to time.

In 1954 Davidson introduced a new colour at the British Industries Fair. This was Lovat - the blue green of the Fraser tartan. Later that year they introduced decorated black glassware with a fired-on transfer. Initially this treatment was applied to the 24 and 34M flower sets. 1954 also appears to have been the last year that Davidson made Amber Cloud, the only Cloud Colour remade after the war. Fruit sets were very popular in the 1950s and Davidson introduced several new examples.

The British Industries Fair was in decline following the war, the last complete one was held in 1956. The Blackpool Gifts fair become the shop window for the British Pottery and Glass trade. Davidson first attended this show in 1955. 1955 saw record exports for the British Glass Industry. In 1938 imports of glassware exceeded exports, but in 1955 the situation was reversed and exports were worth £14.8 million more than imports.

In 1957 Davidson introduced a new Cloud Colour - Briar (known as Topaz by collectors). This does not appear to have been in production for long judging by its rarity. 1958 saw the introduction of a new line of Lead Crystal Glassware called Baronet. New small posy bowls were also introduced in contemporary shapes and the range of glassware in black with fired-on transfers was also enlarged the following year.

Geo Davidson - in Decline

Following the death of Claude Fraser in 1959, the company was bought by M. Pollock-Hill and J. M. E. Howarth. Pollock-Hill was Chief Executive of Nazeing Glass Works Ltd and Howarth had been Chief Executive of Matthew Turnbull Ltd. P T Duxbury was acting as director after Fraser died.

The start of the 1960s were still difficult trading times. The continual opening and closing of export markets 'made it difficult to keep the furnaces going' as one manufacturer reported. Higher fuel oil taxes and prices increased costs and made the English companies less competitive. In an effort to keep market share, Davidson used the London based Design Research Unit to design some new products. New products included Harlequin Tumblers, Contemporary type Champagne Glasses, mouth blown novelty fish and new fruit sets.

In 1964 Davidson reintroduced slag glass for the first time in over 60 years. The impact on buyers of this 'Marble Glassware' was described by the Pottery Gazette as follows: 'Antique dealers love it, laymen were not quite sure and Americans though it Great'. Most of the new 'Marble Glassware' was produced using a mixture of Purple and White glass, although some Orange and White pieces were also made. As well as reintroducing some of the Victorian designs in this form, some later designs were also used. These include the Fan Vase, 697 bowl and candlesticks and the No 51 vase. Also in 1964 two new glass colours were introduced:- Antique Green and Midnight Blue.

After a number of management changes Davidson was finally taken over in 1966 by Abrahams, who made chrome fittings for a variety of domestic and industrial articles. A new plating plant was built at the teams Glassworks to create the only fully integrated glass and metal production facility in Europe. In late 1968 the Teams Glassworks was renamed the Brama Teams Glassworks.

In 1966 the first adverts for Blown Lead Crystal glassware appear. In an age of mass production, Davidson started to advertise the fact that their products were hand finished, stressing that hand moulding and freehand styling of glassware was a reason to buy Davidson glass. 1967 saw the introduction of the 'Victoriana' series of glassware. These were modern shapes, but using Victorian decoration.

The takeover by Abrahams meant that many new lines now came with chrome fittings: 'The Perfect Marriage of Metal and Glass' as described in a 1971 advert. This was not true of all new ranges. The 'Lunar Crystal' style first appeared in 1971. This range of glassware had a heavily moulded surface similar to the bark on trees. The style was not unique to Davidson; most manufacturers produced their own version.

The new combined company did well in the export trade, but suffered from the 1970s fuel crisis. At the beginning of the 1980s they suffered a major breakdown in the continuous feed furnace which took a long time to correct. This, coupled with a strong pound, led to tax losses of £160,000. In 1986 the name of the company was changed to Brama Davidson Sales Ltd. The Davidson factory, now known as the Brama Teams Glass works, closed in 1987 and the company was dissolved in February 1992.

Copyright (c) Chris and Val Stewart 2001-2004