Background notes to the Seaham Bottleworks

General background notes to the Seaham Bottle Works


The Bottle works were founded separately in Seaham by Fenwick and Candlish about 1853; Candlish' Londonderry Bottle Works grew into a major industrial concern, shipping bottles to London for use all over the world. The founder, John Candlish, lived 1816-1874, and served as (Liberal Party) Mayor of Sunderland in later life. The business was continued by members of the family.

In South Seaham, houses were built for the workers at Candlish Street, Gallery Row and Fenwick Row.
The bottle works closed in the late 1920s after the setback of the General Strike.


The following note on glass blowing by Philis Wainford comes from the website

To blow glass, red hot molten glass is rolled up onto the end of a long (4 to 5 foot or so, maybe more) hollow, metal tube or 'blow-iron'. The tube is about 3/4 of an inch in diameter with a mouthpiece on one end for blowing into. It is then turned and spun around by the glass blower so the glass will not melt off the end of it from gravity, and simultaneously blown into. The air fills the inside of the molten glass and very quickly the blower changes position in order to shape the air filled glass with various metal tools before the glass cools. It might need to be reheated some to shape it, but when it gets too thin, this is impossible since it becomes fragile as it cools, and the shock of changing temperature too quickly will crack it. Sometimes bottles are blown into a mold to form a uniform shape. After the blowing process the bottle is broken off the end of the tube and placed in an annealing oven to cool slowly to keep it from cracking. Then a new hot lump of glass is rolled up onto the tube and the process started all over again, probably about every fifteen minutes or so. Your ancestor would have had to have been a highly skilled craftsman to be a glass or bottle blower. It is quite exciting and to watch this demanding process of mainipulating a molten lump of glass into its final shape. If you ever have a chance to watch a modern glass blower blowing art glass, you will be amazed! After the bottle is removed from the oven in a cooled state, it would be polished smooth where broken off - usually on the bottom. This was likely done by another individual at the factory in a 'finishing department'. Although I'm not an expert on the local process for bottle blowing at Seaham, I know the above from studying art pottery and glass over the years. I might stand corrected by one of the experts, but generally speaking the above information should give you the picture.



Notes on the Bottleworks by Durham at War ( )

Seaham Bottle Works

Center of Industrial Seaham Harbour, with Rolls of Honour


Type: War Memorial

Men and women of the bottleworks who served and fell in the First World War were commemmorated at least two rolls of honour (one on paper, one on brass) although it is not known if the memorials survived the demolition of the bottleworks.

Seaham Bottle Works was built on “a piece of ground” leased by the Marquis of Londonderry, signed 10 May 1852. The factory opened in 1853 under the management of John Candlish and Robert Greenwell along the coast of Seaham Harbour and manufactured black bottles at the time. Allisons Pottery and Fenwick’s Bottle House, which was nearby and defunct, went up for auction in 10 April 1854 and was promptly purchased by Candlish in 1856, and absorbed into the wider network of bottle works within Seaham. Candlish later bought out Greenwell and named the company the Londonderry Bottle Works when patronage was given by the 4th Marquis of Londonderry. At the time, the Bottle Works was already the largest of its kind in Europe.

The site of the Bottle Works initially contained two bottle houses in 1857, along with a manager’s house and at least a dozen tenements for workmen. It would later become the center of the major industrial strip that defined the Seaham coast. 

By 1894, the Bottle Works had 6 bottle houses, and was surrounded by Iron Works, Chemical Works, as well as the new Londonderry Railway – which connected Seaham to Sunderland. A tight-knit, almost self-sufficient community was also formed around the Bottle Works with:
– Religious structures: the Navvies Mission and Centenary Primitive Methodist Church
– Schools: an infant school, Bottleworks School and later Ropery Walk School
– Workmen’s settlement concentrated on: Gallery Row, Fenwick Row, Candlish Terrace and Stewart Street

John Candlish was also Mayor of Sunderland, and during his term of office, his brother, Robert Candlish, ran the Londonderry Bottle Works, over a period of 13 years. 

The company demonstrated a rare comradery between the owners and the workmen. When John Candlish ran into financial difficulty due to a bust bank in 1858, the entire workforce of the bottle works agreed to continue working for a month for no wages. The grace period allowed Candlish to recover financially and keep the bottle works afloat. A dinner held in Candlish’s honour was held by the workmen in 26 November 1865 in the Londonderry Literary Institute, where a heartfelt speech and a silver plate were gifted to John. 

Both John and Robert, until their deaths, continued improving the workmen’s community by building new facilities such as a new library and a saving’s bank. 

John Candlish died from complications after a tracheotomy on 17 March 1874, and Robert Candlish died on 12 August 1881. The workforce of Londonderry Bottle Works built the Candlish Memorial Hall in 1893 in memory of the deceased owners.

Ownership of the vast network of Candlish’s bottle houses – six in Seaham and the Diamond Hall Bottle Works in Sunderland, fell to Robert’s son, Joseph. On 3 August 1894, the Londonderry Bottle Works and all other estates were managed by the Robert Candlish and Son Company, which was partnered with a wine and spirits company. From the docks of Sunderland, the varied glass products from Seaham were shipped down to London, and raw materials, such as sand, brought up in return. At its peak, the Bottle Works employed 500 workers and produced 20,000,000 bottles a year.

In 1913, Joseph Candlish attempted a further expansion by combining with other major institutions to form the United Glass Bottle Manufacturers. However, his untimely death in late 1913 meant that the site was no longer managed by a Candlish. The Bottle Works was further hit by the sinking of their bottle boat Oakwell, which transported to the bulk of the company’s product to London. 

After the First World War, men and women of the bottleworks who served and fell in the First World War were commemorated at least two rolls of honour (one on paper, one on brass). 

The Seaham Bottle Works site was closed when operations of the Bottle Works were moved down to London in 1921 during the coal strikes. The location of the above rolls of honour are unknown.

On the site of the demolished bottle works today is an unnamed storage facility, part of the Seaham Harbour Docks area.

Sources cited:
EP/Daw 14/16
The Parish Church of St. Hild and St. Helen
75th Anniversary 1912-1987

Newspaper Article
7 April 1854
Sale of the Bottle House, Formerly Allisons Pottery
Accessed on:

Newspaper Article
31 July 1857

Newspaper Article
27th November 1858
Dinner Held for John Candlish of Seaham Bottleworks (Esq.), Mayor of Sunderland

D/Lo/E 193
Abstract of lease to John Candlish of land on which to erect the Londonderry Bottle Works, 1855 -1857
D/Lo/E 386
Seaham Harbour, land for bottle works, Marquess of Londonderry to Bottle Company,1852

Accessed on:

Relevant Sources:
D/Lo/B 346
Documents concerning shipping bottles to Sunderland on Londonderry Docks

D/Lo/E 58
Marchioness of Londonderry to Candlish, 1855
Index to Obituaries in the Durham Directory (1856-1916)
CANDLISH, Joseph John

ND/Du 9/162
Print and newspaper article on the late John Candlish, M.P. for Sunderland, 1875

North East War Memorials Project website, Bottle Works rolls of honour:

Keys to the Past

Plans and Images:
D/Lo Acc1750(D) P46
O.S. plan, scale l:1250, of the area of the Seaham Bottle Works, showing areas coloured pink, post 1923

D/Lo/P 230
Seaham Bottle Works, Gas Works and Dock, c1900

ND/Ea 4/12/5
Photograph of disc having colour painting in ‘primitive’ style; it depicts a number of iconic images around the border of Seaham, including the Bottle Works

D/Ph 324/195
Newspaper cutting showing a photograph of Seaham bottle works with article, taken from the Sunderland Echo, 14 April 1975
Library E 17
Political Life and Speeches of John Candlish, Member for Sunderland from 1866-1874, including a biography of Mr. Candlish from the Newcastle Daily Chronicle, 1874

Civil Parish: Dawdon

Contributed by Tullia fraser | Durham County Council Archaeology Section