Last chance to preserve one of the West Midlands key industrial heritage sites as it appears on Victorian Society’s Top Ten Endangered buildings list 2024

Chances Glassworks, Smethwick, Sandwell. Scheduled Monument, comprising nine Grade II structures, 1847 – 1860

Last chance to preserve one of the West Midlands key industrial heritage sites as it appears on Victorian Society's Top Ten Endangered buildings list 2024

Photo credit: Stephen Hartland

The Victorian Society’s Top Ten Endangered Buildings list 2024 has been launched by Griff Rhys Jones, the Society’s President, and includes Chances Glassworks. One of the most important industrial heritage sites in the West Midlands, once the world’s largest glassmaker, is on the list because it faces decay. It is listed on Historic England’s At Risk Register and is now appearing on the Victorian Society’s Top Ten Endangered Buildings list for the second time, having appeared on our list previously in 2017.

Griff Rhys Jones, Victorian Society President, said “Industrial sites can seem difficult, but careful and well thought-through reuse has provided some of the most exciting effective and characterful new experiences across Britain. Former mills, factories and warehousing have been shown to have a commercial edge time and time again. It can cost more to realise these returns. But there is a plan here. There is a chance. It just needs support and recognition. Which is why these wonderful buildings are back on this list again. Surely time for action and loud support.”

Chances, in the Black Country, employed 3,500 and supplied iconic structures, such as around 2,300 of the world’s lighthouses, the Crystal Palace in London, windows for the White House, and the Houses of Parliament. It features a seven-storey warehouse, bridges, and a rare Siemens No7 Regenerative furnace, probably the last existing example in the world. All these are in poor repair. Deterioration on the canal side of the site has led the Canal & River Trust to close the neighbouring towpath which is a cycle path.

Robert Lucas Chance established Chance Brothers Glassworks on the former British Crown Glass Company site in 1824 and continued to expand the site to become the largest glassmaker in the world. Glass manufacture took place continuously up until 1981. The site has since stood derelict for over 40 years. Chances were innovative producers of scientific grade glass, applying for 27 British Patents from 1838-1900. They developed the first cathode ray tubes, working with John Logie Baird, for radar and television sets. The pedigree of the industrial history is outstanding.

Next to the raised section of M5 and the Birmingham loop of the West Coast Mainline, the site and its buildings are now in the care of the Chance Heritage Trust. The Trust has proposed a regeneration scheme for the glassworks over the last 18 months. The work has resulted in a capital grant submission to the West Midlands Combined Authority for the first phase of the restoration.

The £25m regeneration scheme aims to transform Chances into an urban village, including 150 new homes, business space and a heritage centre, but securing a capital grant is crucial to saving these key buildings and working towards delivering the scheme. The neighbourhood around the site is run-down, and this initiative would improve the locality, bring the buildings back into sustainable reuse, and also begin to regenerate the area.

James Hughes, Director of the Victorian Society, said:
‘Chance’s story is unique and fascinating. It is one that is told through the fabric of its site, which is in part what makes it so precious, and the need to save it so pressing. All strength, therefore, to the Chance Heritage Trust and its ambitious regeneration scheme. Those in positions of influence should take note, and must do what they can to support and realise the Trust’s vision.’

The full Top Ten list can be read here and includes a requisitioned school where author Vera Brittain nursed during WWI, the last of one of the world’s first purpose-built amusement parks, a banqueting hall for the workers, one of the first tennis pavilions in the world, and a building where the first £1m cheque was signed. The listed buildings include a Scheduled Monument and two Grade II*- listed buildings.

The list is based on public nominations from across England and Wales, and the buildings selected represent industrial, religious, domestic, and civic architecture from across the nation with unique historical and community significance and value. Nominated buildings must be dated between 1837 and 1914. The Victorian Society has announced its list of Top Ten Endangered buildings fourteen times.

Endangered Buildings Archives