The 'Glazing Wars' - Economic Causes & Geo-Political Effects
A political and economical analysis by Finlay Finlayson, B.A. (Oxon.) F.S.T.A.S.
(Footnotes are annotated thus
and will pop-out with a mouse-over.
They can also be found in full at the foot of this document. Ed.)
Sitting in the tranquillity of my offices, on a drowsy, warm summer's afternoon such as this one, with the distant traffic of Piccadilly no more than a muted rumble, it seems impossible for me to comprehend that a scant seventy years1 separates the comforting order of a contented post-war Britain from the chaos and upheaval that typified the closing decades of the last century.
Those tumultuous years did much to shape the world as we know it today, and they continue to touch the lives of everyone in these islands... even indirectly. For example, many people alive today have relatives (assuming they are alive also) who experienced those tumultuous events first hand - a fact that still surprises me every time I consider it. My own grandfather, for instance, although now long dead, once bought a piece of glass for five shillings2 from a printer's assistant in a toilet stall in Euston station, and sold it three hours later for eighteen shillings3 to a costermonger in Kent. Both transactions occurred in 1882.
However, it should be noted clearly at outset that the economic/political phenomenon to which modern historians often refer (mistakenly!) as the 'Glazing Wars of the 1890s' was actually a series of commercial manoeuvres and activities that began very much earlier in the century, and which had its roots in the demography and fiscal trends of the mid-nineteenth century. It should also be borne in mind that had those events not occurred, and had the Selman-Troytt family not become significantly enriched by them, then much of Jeremy's research work would not be available to us now; for it was funded by family donations. Try, if you will, to imagine a world bereft of that richness. I try, often, and am unable, for it lies beyond the shores of my comprehension. It is the equivalent of trying to imagine the world without telescopes - through which our horizons are extended - or warm clothing, or tinned meat. Once seen, it becomes impossible to un-see.
Everyday life in the Victorian England of 1850 must have been, I imagine, much as we know it today (excepting the convenience of modern things like aeroplanes, televisions, radios, toothpaste, Vaseline, bakelite, Vim and torpedoes, obviously) in the sense that there was a predictability to existence that must have been a great comfort to those living at that time. No one likes to live not knowing what will happen from one second to the next because it can lead to confusion and discomfort, even insanity. In those days, and within certain limits, people knew what their morrow would bring and could foretell the availability of everyday items, goods and services, and could look forward to purchasing horse feed, trousers, hair tonic, curling tongs, nails, soup or chisels as and when these things were needed in their homes. The prices of such goods and staples, although prone to a little fluctuation over the preceding decades in accordance with prevailing economic conditions, remained more or less within known limits, so that the prices of bread or shoes had increased little in real terms since 1796, when flour and leather were both deregulated. Even a pane of glass, although still a low-priority item for many who were dying of starvation, had not become more expensive. In fact, by 1850 advances in technology and manufacturing processes meant that the price of glass had actually been falling steadily in real terms for the previous twenty-three years, allowing increasing quantities of it to be bought and stored against possible future volatility in the domestic economy.
And such volatility was an ever-present possibility because of increasing concerns over British foreign policy. After debacles such as the First Afghan War of 1839 and Admiral Murchison's naval bombardment of Iceland in 1846, many families had began to switch their allegiance from volatile commodities, such as bread, in favour of investing their surplus income in instruments that were considered to be more stable, or to have better prospects of capital growth in times of political upheaval. Even for families with very low wages, glass was regarded as preferable to bread as a hedge against inflation and asset devaluation because, although easily breakable, it was not prone to damage by mould.
So the gradual increase in the popularity of glass was not attributable solely (as Beckworth asserts4) to the fact that it was becoming a status symbol within Victorian society - although it was certainly the case that some purchasers enjoyed demonstrating to their poorer neighbours that they could afford a lot of glass, sometimes by having their entire house frontages glazed in an ostentatious display of wealth that we would nowadays consider vulgar in the extreme.
In fact the public's perception of glass went through three distinct phases between 1800 and 1890. Initially (c.1800-1820) it was a regarded as a functional, though largely unaffordable and unattainable, commodity that let light into the home whilst keeping wind out. Then, slowly falling prices over ensuing decades (c.1820-1860) gained it a growing number of adherents during times of economic instability. Then, in the final phase (c.1860-1890) increasing wages, growing affection for the product, escalating prices, limited supply and quick profits saw glass regarded as an investment vehicle with excellent prospects for long-term growth. As its price rose so did the perception of the product as a status symbol. It is the second of these links in the chain of causality that Beckworth has overlooked.
So, while he is correct in saying that gradually the public perception of glass began to change, from functional object to luxurious necessity, he is overlooking the fact that by 1850 glass was in its 'middle' or transitional period and that its attraction then was in the slowly escalating profit potential it represented to the far-sighted investor. Indeed the movement from functional wind-stopper, to high-yield investment vehicle, to status-symbol for the wealthy took some fifty years and was so slow in its early stages that for many years it was not discernible as an economic trend. Laughable as it may seem now, when we consider the public's frenzy to acquire glass in the 1880s, during the early Victorian period the product was seen as little more than a useful by-product of Britain's technological and industrial supremacy, and rarely excited much conversation in a population surrounded by the trappings of so much innovative progress. To put this in context, we should realise that by 1850 Britain had more miles of railway track, and produced more coal and pig iron, than the rest of the world combined. And even a city like Rotherham, an impoverished industrial back-water filled with very pale people on the edge of starvation, had more panes of mounted glass than the whole of the Sudan!
By the mid-nineteenth century there were numerous long-established suppliers of diverse glazing materials to cater to this slowly expanding market: for where glass is to be installed then frames, sprigs5 and putty will be required to secure it in place. Large firms such as Coots of Faversham and Barker-Prunt of Leeds spring to mind, but providers nation-wide were numbered in their hundreds, each often specialising in the supply of one component of the glazing process. Thus glaziers might buy their glass from Collingbury's, their sprigs from Tewkesbury Iron and Tack, their window frames from a local carpenter, and their putty from Trellings Sealants and Mastics, or from Selman-Troytt Putty. This arrangement had worked well for decades, for not only did it create a commercial environment without friction, but suppliers were so spread out that glaziers had become happily accustomed to billing customers for the half of each day they spent simply shopping for materials instead of working.
Possibly the earliest sign of impending change was in 1852, when Selman-Troytt Putty quietly acquired the Leominster China Clay Works, and then complemented the purchase three weeks later with the unforeseen takeover of Cheadle Refiners - the largest producer of linseed oil in the north of England. By making these key acquisitions they stole a significant march on rivals and accomplished several things at once: they reduced their own acquisition costs for raw materials, allowing them to produce their own putty at a price competitors found hard to match; they exercised tangential control over the wholesale price of those raw materials to other producers; and they protected themselves from fluctuations in supply by withholding a proportion of all material in warehoused stock piles around Chipping Norton.
By 1854 this slow but relentless upward pressure on the price of raw materials began to have effects. Rival putty producers, unable to compete on price, were gradually forced out of business. Trellings Sealants and Mastics was the first to go, leaving hundreds of Norwich glaziers in search of another sealant supplier. Other firms followed, leaving more glaziers bewildered and confused as they struggled to cope with such a devastating change in their lives. It should be remembered that these were simple tradesmen, whose days were slow-paced, predictable and identical, and the introduction of any change at all was a monumental event that might take them months to accommodate emotionally. Slowly, they turned to Selman-Troytt Putty as their supplier of choice. The resulting increase in the size of its customer base created economies of scale for Selman-Troytt Putty, enabling it to drop its own prices even further, accelerating its profit and driving more rivals into bankruptcy.
By 1860, Selman-Troytt Putty had a virtual monopoly within the United Kingdom, and it was a rare glazier who sealed his windows with anything but 'Troytt spange' (as the product was known colloquially in the glazing trade, due to the black tubular 'skin' in which it was sealed for storage). So, from fairly modest beginnings when the firm was first moved to London in 1846, Selman-Troytt Putty had grown to be the major producer in the United Kingdom. It had a work-force of over eleven thousand 'sifters', 'mixers' and 'squeezers', and a marketing team of more than two hundred commercial travellers who very slowly and patiently explained the product to glaziers from Lands End to John O'Groats.
Other entrepreneurs may have been content with success on that scale, for the Selman-Troytt family had already become fabulously wealthy, but Josiah Selman-Troytt, company-owner and the driving force behind the expansion, would not countenance consolidation. He pushed forward daily, with bull-like aggression, inspired by his simple commercial philosophy: "I don't make money so as to sit back, do now't and enjoy it".
In consequence, between 1860 - 1870 Josiah, in concert with his eldest sons Jonah, John and Jonas, formulated and embarked upon a further expansion strategy that had two key goals.
The first of these was the expansion of putty sales into foreign markets, with the intention of becoming the premier supplier throughout the whole of the British Empire, After that they planned to dominate Europe, then the rest of the world, and then finally America. The brothers were confident, based on the little market research available, that sufficient demand existed to support this expansion, but were also confident that where it did not exist they could create it. As a further aid to this plan, Josiah encouraged all of his children to embark upon a series of strategically arranged marital unions that would strengthen ties with other influential groups and families in key market areas. These began with Jonah's marriage to Heilbron Rosenmeister in 1870, and finished with the union of Jacob and Sarina von Smess in 1890. Along the way the middle sons had married into some of the richest and most influential families in key geographical locations from Tasmania to Swaziland.
Their second goal was to expand their United Kingdom business out of its potentially vulnerable specialisation in a single product, putty - demand for which could be subject to seasonal fluctuations, particularly in times of poor wheat harvests and high bread prices - and into the supply of window frames, sprigs and glass as well. In short, Josiah planned to create a monopoly to dominate the entire glazing industry to ensure that all domestic glazing revenues flowed to his firm alone, thereby creating more wealth to increase the power and influence of the family business.
In 1870 Josiah, satisfied with the attitude and acumen displayed already by Jonah, John and Jonas, felt able to leave more and more of the company's affairs in their hands whilst he pursued other activities which held an attraction for him. The three brothers formed a Triumvirate that was the epitome of a dispassionate conglomerate bent on expansion. Occasionally dubbed 'the un-holy trinity' by rivals they had not yet 'visited', they went about their plans with a single-mindedness that brooked no argument and tolerated no considerations.
Overseas, their expansion of foreign sales was achieved via the use of carefully selected collaborators, agents and middlemen, whose purpose was either the infiltration of pre-existing markets or the creation of markets where demand did not yet exist.
Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, much of the expansion was achieved by the direct purchase of attractive business opportunities, with such acquisitions funded by revenue from ever-increasing sales at home and abroad. Many rivals company owners were willing sellers in a market they felt lacked any future for them, but some producers resisted the lure of money and needed to be 'persuaded' into accepting a takeover bid by means of what the Triumvirate termed a 'merger discussion'.
Typically such discussions were held in the director's own home and often presaged a journey away from the glazing industry and into a hospital. In this way the Triumvirate acquired Coots Glass, Barker-Prunt Glass, Cardross Vitrines, and a host of other manufacturers, whilst simultaneously negotiating for Tewkesbury Iron and Tack, Marshall Laminates and The Bolton Sprig Foundry.
Over the next fifteen years (c.1870-1885) their cycle of acquisition, absorption and expansion continued unabated. However, what began with the acquisition of large, rival manufacturing companies soon encompassed scores of smaller ones too as the larger firms were swallowed up. And once all the manufacturers were eliminated, the final phase of the expansion was to absorb or eliminate even the smaller high street distributors who, just a few short years before, would have been deemed beneath the notice of so powerful an organisation as the Selman-Troytt Empire.
Such minor acquisitions always followed an easy and familiar pattern. A visit would be made to the premises, a purchase offer made and an answer obtained. In the event of a positive response the business would be taken over rapidly, typically within a week. In the event of a negative response, some misfortune or other would invariably befall the business and hinder its survival.
The following newspaper excerpts provide a typical example of the fate of hundreds of small glazing businesses that ceased to trade during that challenging period.
An advert from The Manchester Guardian, Saturday 15th June 1883:
STAINED GLASS and LEAD LIGHTS.
Newly opened. Introductory offers and discounts available.
A HOLLOWAY, 101, Piccadilly, near London Road Station.
News items from The Manchester Guardian, Tuesday 18th June 1883:
Yesterday evening, when the premises were already closed for the night, the showroom and workroom of A. Holloway, specialist glazier, at 100 Piccadilly Road, near London Road Station, were consumed by fire. The alarm was raised by neighbours who had noticed their party walls first warming up, and then bursting into flames. Mr Holloway and his family escaped injury, by the grace of God, but his entire stock was destroyed and his premises rendered uninhabitable. The Constabulary were called and are treating the matter as suspicious. Arson is suspected because Mr Holloway received a letter stating: - "This is not a warning... this is a sentence! There is no room here for you, or your glass. Next time it will be your family that is set on fire. Find another trade!!" When interviewed by police, Mr Holloway admitted that his premises had been visited by "two gentlemen, dressed in bowler hats and overcoats, who told me I had twenty-four hours to close-up shop and leave the city. They said that if I refused then a pair of broken legs was the least I could expect." He was unable to describe the men because he was distracted from noticing their features by the billy-club that one of them was pressing into his eye socket. Unfortunately, failing to take their threats seriously, he had rebuffed them with condescension. "I regret it now", he stated, "because I had just taken delivery of 18 cwt.6
of Selman-Troytt putty containing highly-flammable linseed oil. It's a cruel coincidence but the criminals could not have picked a more opportune moment to set fire to my premises if they had sold me the putty themselves!' The investigation continues under the supervision of Det. Insp. Harrow.
Such an aggressive acquisition policy required a continual supply of funds. To provide it, Jonah followed the simple expedient of increasing company turnover by orchestrating an increase in the demand for glass among ordinary householders.
Those homes containing no glass at all would receive a visit from a single glazing salesman in the employ of Selman-Troytt Direct, the sales team managed and trained by Silbius Blake, a direct sales co-ordinator and highly sought-after motivational speaker. The process was simple. Generally the salesman would call in the evening and begin by using persuasive promotional literature to explain the benefit of having glass installed. He would then sit right through the night with the family while they considered the matter. During the overnight vigil he would explain that the choice was entirely theirs, but that if they failed to purchase the installation there was always a possibility that their children might be abducted. Most then agreed to the installation without further fuss, although a few, who found their children a burdensome nuisance, took advantage of the opportunity to refuse.
For homes that were already glazed - almost seventy-two percent according to the 1882 survey - Jonah used a different tactic that was both simple and highly effective. He hired gangs of small boys to break windows on a commission basis. These so-called 'breaker gangs' spread quickly, lured by the easy money on offer, and were soon in action in every major town and city.
They were co-ordinated by Ned Shapley (left), a one-time butcher's apprentice and suet packer, who had been dismissed from his post for stealing bacon rinds while they were still on the bacon. Shapley accepted the dismissal with equanimity but flew into a rage when told to hand back his apron. Thereafter he underwent a metamorphosis which saw him turn into a very violent and aggressive adolescent. Henceforth he had little affection for bacon and would often refuse it when it was offered. Under Jonah's patronage he displayed a remarkable talent for gang leadership by combining two ingenious ideas. First, he linked remuneration to results - thereby allowing the boys to determine their own weekly income - and then devolved recruitment to the gang members themselves, thereby giving them a vested interest in the exponential growth of the gang and its productivity. His system worked as follows: Ned would recruit a boy, equip him with a catapult, and then pay him a small commission for every window he broke with it. If that boy recruited another window breaker then he would receive a small commission on a percentage of his recruit's breakages, as well as on his own breakages. If the new recruit subsequently recruited someone else, then both boys 'above' him in the recruitment line would benefit from a small percentage of his breakages, and so on. Ned christened the idea 'Network Breaking' and it was fantastically successful as a recruitment tool. The gangs spread so fast and so far that the sound of breaking glass echoed from Kent to Kirkcaldy within months.
Some of the most-troubled areas were the dirty industrial towns of the north, where glass was regarded as more of a necessity than a luxury because residents had no option but to install glazing to try to keep the polluting air-borne filth off their faces. Accordingly, vulnerable glass was everywhere and the following extract from the 'Correspondence' section of the Manchester Guardian is typical of those describing the conditions that residents had to endure.
THE CATAPULT NUISANCE - "P." writes:-"It certainly is high time the police were on the alert to stop this dangerous nuisance. It is practised between the Commercial School in Stretford Road and Old Trafford, and usually some little time before 5 o'clock in the afternoon. Having had a bullet almost sent through my back-door, and every window in my house broken systematically, I sought the protection of the county police, and "F. S. T." should acquaint the city police of what is taking place in the neighbourhood of Embden-Street. This is the eighth time my windows have all been broken. My bills for glazing services now exceed those for coal and rent. My local glazier has a waiting list of six months to re-supply and I have been forced to cover my windows with cloth. If my windows are to be broken each time they are replaced, then I question the wisdom of replacing them at all. I am considering living only with the cloth."
This extract also exemplifies the resignation felt by many in the community who were victims of a scheme that succeeded not wisely but too well - for if glass was to be broken as quickly as it was repaired then what was the point of replacing it at all? As this sense of futility spread it encouraged increasing apathy which had a detrimental effect on sales. Jonah, in discussion with John and Jonas, countered quickly with a bold marketing plan: the sale of glass with a unique selling-point ... it would be 'unbreakable'! The 'new' glass would be thicker than normal, and therefore 'tougher' and less vulnerable to missiles! It was a master stroke, for not only did it encourage disaffected purchasers back into the customer fold, but it increased profits simultaneously because the new thicker panes were more expensive. The sales teams set out with renewed enthusiasm and within a short time, fresh orders were pouring in to Selman-Troytt Glazing for the new 1/3"-thick7 glass. As soon as it was installed, Jonas would then quickly empower Shapley to break it again by supplying his gangs with bigger catapults.
In their turn, Blake's persuasive salesmen countered this trend by encouraging depressed consumers to purchase even thicker glass. Within three years, average glazing pane thicknesses escalated to 1/2", 5/8", 1", 1 ½", 2", and finally 3"8. This latter thickness proved resistant to anything less than a direct gunshot, but had several disadvantages. A single pane was so heavy that it took four men to lift and install it. Existing window framework could not accommodate the pane, so new window frames needed to be custom-made with rebates over 4"9 deep to house the glass. On some properties, especially those with significant glass frontages, the weight of the glazing alone could require reinforcement of the walls and foundations, and a typical garden greenhouse made of such panes could weigh up to twenty tons. However, the strongest disadvantage was in the modest amount of light the panes admitted, for making glass up to 3" thick merely multiplied its imperfections and pigmentations, and the product that emerged admitted only a very pale light washed heavily with green. But, faced with a choice of pale green light or none at all, those who could afford the latest 'unbreakable' panes duly ordered them, and then waited patiently for the freight wagons and the large teams of glaziers it required to manhandle the unwieldy panes with the aid of a crane that winched them slowly into place.
This increasing cycle of breakage, replacement and resale lifted another chimera aloft in its vortex ... the opportunity to sell 'dwellings' protection'. This was not simply a matter of encouraging Shapley's 'breaker gangs' to extort money directly from householders, but rather something far more sophisticated and profitable. Jonas, alerted to the idea by Joseph - who was a bookish theoretician with an obsessive interest in non-violent forms of extortion - began to underwrite 'accident and glazing' insurance on properties through a web of 'legal' front companies, such as The Helpful Pane Protection Company Limited formed in 1886.
The scheme worked as follows: whenever new glass was being installed in a property, a local insurance organisation - such as The Friendly Temperance and Glazing Insurance Institution, or similar - would send an agent to advise the householder on how best to protect himself should his glass be broken or damaged in the future, or even during the current installation should he fail to take notice of what the agent was saying. An annual premium for the protection would then be obtained and an official receipt issued. To that extent, at least, the contract seemed to benefit the policy holder.
In the event of a claim, however, the insurance companies would employ a variety of 'blocking' tactics to reduce or prevent pay-out - administrative inefficiency, postal delays, counter proposals, denials of responsibility, burnt paperwork ... even changes of business address - in the hope that the claimant would simply become exhausted and give up. Many did so of their own accord, but those who persisted usually received a discreet visit at which they would be 'advised' to let the matter drop. Few failed to heed such advice when it was dispensed while their fingers were being bent backwards. In effect then, via these policies, the majority of funds flowed from policy-holder to insurance company, with very little returning in the opposite direction. In the case of The Friendly Insurance Company, to cite just one example, it has been estimated that as little as two percent of claims were settled at the original sums assured!
Such companies were often christened so as to inspire trust and suggest kindness and moral progress (the Friendly Temperance and Glazing Insurance Institution, for example) but in reality they were no more than a thin façade that masked the identities of a loose affiliation of entrepreneurs, included the Selman-Troytt Triumvirate and an increasing number of their contacts, friends and acquaintances eager to take advantage of the huge profits accruing to the 'protection' companies. So quick was the return on investment, and so large the profit, that Joseph's original concept spawned dozens of similar organisations as others in the business world sought to grab the money on offer. And it was not only those in commerce who showed themselves vulnerable to the lure of profit, for considerable political influence was required for these schemes to function at all! Many of these companies had been incorporated by act of parliament and therefore required those with political power to act as advocates for their establishment, sparking rumours that some political figures had been susceptible to bribery. Over the ensuing years the extent to which politicians and other senior establishment figures were being 'influenced by profit' became the subject of increasing discussion and scandal. Public confidence in government was being tested by an ironic situation ... one in which citizens had good reason to see themselves as helpless victims of corruption, for the very people they elected, and to whom they were then forced to turn for protection from exploitation, were in many cases responsible for the distresses their constituents endured!
Other factors were also contributing to civil and financial unrest. Since the early 1880s, the so-called 'criminal element' within society had noted the vulnerability of many householders and had cast envious eyes upon the easy money which accrued to members of Shapley's 'breaker gangs'. In some parts of the country, rival gangs were formed in an attempt to usurp those revenues. Turf-wars broke out in inner city areas, so that streets were often filled with warring gangs so numerous that the local constabulary were powerless to move against them.
Meanwhile, unrest of a less-violent but equally damaging kind was taking place in the financial markets. The 'insurance and protection' organisations generated enormous profits for their shareholders, and many companies had shares that were traded legally and enthusiastically on the stock exchange. From 1890 onwards, as insurance revenues soared, trading in these organisations became more frenetic as investors clamoured to chase higher and higher returns.
By 1893 the situation had become untenable: the streets were scenes of frequent civil unrest in which private citizens felt afraid to venture out, the stability of the financial markets was already unbalanced by clamourous trading in only one specific industry sector, and the government found itself called upon increasingly to investigate the extent to which its own members were participating illegally in the activities of companies that could not have been set up at all without heavy political influence! In one scandal it was alleged that the Archbishop of Canterbury was not only the real (but undocumented) owner of 'The Canterbury Friendly Protection and Temperance Association', but was even allowing its sales agents to assemble in his cathedral for strategy briefings.
The cost of new glass - maintained at an artificial 'high' by a supply level that inflated prices - had become fantastically expensive and many households could no longer afford to install any. Glass theft became commonplace, and it was not unusual for a family to awaken to find wind whistling through empty frames. To safeguard their glass, family members would often be stationed by various windows throughout the night, which meant that many suffered extensive sleep deprivation. As the situation escalated, panes of glass began to change hands at unimaginable prices. Indeed, so valuable did it become that some householders covered their newly-installed glass with iron shutters to protect it from breakage or theft, thereby defeating its functions and keeping their rooms in perpetual darkness. If my own grandfather had held on to the bounty from that single toilet-stall encounter in 1882, and then disposed of it during this period, he would have been able to sell it not for eighteen shillings but for eleven guineas10!
The crisis came to a head in late 1893 when The Crystal Palace was raided by an angry mob armed with glass cutters and sacking, and thousands of its panes were spirited away. The public outcry against this sacrilege reached even the ears of Prime Minister Gladstone, and the following day he reacted quickly by declaring an official 'War on Glass'. He placed Lord Acton in charge of resolving the situation and of restoring public order. Quickly dubbed 'The Glass Czar' by The Times, Acton regarded the situation as being out of control from the second he was appointed. In one of his regular letters to his son he wrote: 'I have examined this situation and it is completely out of control. It's madness!' A week later he wrote: 'This situation is still not controlled. Investors in their thousands are scrabbling for glazing stocks in a disgusting repeat of the railway boom of forty-five years ago, while gangs of criminals fight to maintain the profits of this disgusting and corrupting trade'. The following week he wrote: 'I advise you never to buy stocks in such a way, nor to offend the good offices of your friends by suggestions of financial impropriety that will cause you to be held in low esteem by those you respect. Good luck in your vivas11.' A week later he wrote: 'Still struggling to find an answer to this chaos. Your mother is suggesting Florence for the summer if this madness has been curtailed by then, and asks me to inform you of this. You may bring a friend with you if you wish'. Two weeks later he wrote: 'Florence isn't looking too good I'm afraid. I still simply have no idea what to do about this situation. I have yet to make a single advance.'
Eventually, in an effort to halt the cycle of extortion, violence and profiteering, Acton introduced several emergency measures. Trade in the shares of all 'protection or insurance companies' was suspended forthwith, and an official inquiry was launched into alleged links between certain establishment figures and the illicit profiteering in which some were said to have indulged. All UK glass production - which meant, in effect, all production of the Selman-Troytt monopoly - was placed temporarily under government control and regulation, with the intention of increasing supply to drive down prices and thereby cap profits. Under these emergency measures only 'government-licensed' glass could be manufactured and installed, under threat of severe penalty.
Although this strategy worked in the very short term, and appeared to work in the medium term, the demand for glass still outstripped supply, so its real effect was to drive production underground into illicit 'cellar manufactories', and to increase the importation of illegal, unregistered glass from less-regulated industrial centres such as Belfast. It also had only a marginal effect on glass-theft.
Under the new paradigm, corruption among formerly-honest glaziers became rife. Technically, under the new regulations glaziers were allowed to install only the newly-licensed 'regulated' glass, but many could be induced into turning a blind eye to the provenance of a pane if there was a large enough cash incentive. And these small infractions at grass roots level merely mirrored the corruption that spread up through the classes to infect those to whom the lower orders looked for inspiration and moral guidance. Questions continued to be asked about the activities of major political figures, including Lord Randolph Churchill, by political heavyweights such as Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman12:
|THE POLITICAL CRISIS
ADDRESS OF MR CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN TO THE ELECTORS
(FROM THE PRESS ASSOCIATION)
Mr Campbell-Bannerman last night issued the following address to the electors of the Western Division of Birmingham:-
Gentlemen, - It affects me gravely that I must stand here before you today under circumstances unparalleled in the history of this country. Mr Gladstone, in issuing the Liberal Party's manifesto upon which our election victory was fought and won, asked electors to consider two important matters. The first of these was the continuing matter referred to as the Irish Question ... to whit the fact that Ireland is greatly in arrears of England and Scotland in the matter of local government and he advocated the grant of enlarged powers for the management of their own affairs to different portions of the United Kingdom,
|subject to well-defined conditions for maintaining the supremacy of the crown, the unity of the Empire, and the necessary authority of Parliament.
The second matter was that of the insidious effect of greed and profit in corrupting good men through easy gains. I intend to deal with the more important of these tonight, and shall give my attention in full to the Glazing Question, and the allegations of increasing corruptibility of figures in positions of respect, trust and authority. - (Hear, hear.)
It has long been a matter of regret to all Christians that the souls of some men can be diverted from a righteous path by the lure of commercialism. That much is known and accepted, albeit we begrudge to acknowledge it; but when such pestilence is seen to spread into the established church, into the elected representatives of this great nation, into its public servants and into its aristocracy,
|then no man can continue to avert his gaze if he consider himself a Christian.- (Loud Applause.)
(500 words omitted. Ed)
The Tory party has suffered deeply in the estimation of all honest men because of the intrigues of Lord Randolph Churchill in Belfast last July. - (Applause.) But now we see that the Tory party has shown its proper colours when Lord Salisbury, with brutal frankness, begs leave to introduce a bill to deregulate the supply of glass and to remove the limits on trading and speculating in the shares of those companies which profit directly or indirectly from this hideous trade. If you aid Lord Salisbury in attempting that Policy you will be participants in a political and humanitarian crime which would be one of the blackest in the world. - (Very Loud Applause.)
(Remainder omitted. Ed)
In the face of mounting pressure Gladstone had little alternative but to order a full and 'open' investigation in order to try and clear the reputations of certain political figures, to restore public faith in parliament, and to pave the way for a series of measures that would re-stabilise the economy. Behind the slogan 'Taking the profit out of Glass' he requested Lord Acton to head an emergency inter-departmental committee of inquiry, with the broadest terms of reference, to examine the culpability of certain prominent figures who were the object of continuing discussion and scandal.
Lord Acton, fearing that this would compromise his effectiveness in the 'War on Glass', wrote to Gladstone: 'I've already got one situation that's completely out of control! If you give me another then I fear I shall never get to Florence with Lady Acton. I beg you to find someone else to take this on.' So Gladstone appointed the Earl of
Rosebery13 (footnote cont.13a )
instead, and throughout most of 1894 the attention of the public was fixed on the parade of key establishment figures that were called before the Earl and his committee to give evidence and explanations.
As weeks passed the public's interest became even more intent when it was established that two key witnesses had given inconsistent testimony at different times in the inquiry.
The reliability of Lord Hamilton of Christean and Lord Archer of Westward Ho! came under intense scrutiny when it was related to Gladstone that not only were both men established and well-known liars, but that it was common knowledge in parliament and the press that both would exchange their own souls for the chance of profit, recognition and advancement.
Both men were brought back before the committee and questioned again. Both finally admitted to lying under oath only when it became clear that their repeated denials were convincing no one. However, when it was explained to them that by lying they had traded away their honour and dignity, thereby making themselves 'worthless' in the process, neither was able to follow the argument and it required several repetitions before they were able to comprehend the suggested connections between action and consequence.
Under considerable pressure from senior colleagues, who were themselves bored by the self-referential conversation of both men, Hamilton and Archer were 'asked' to 'put matters to rights' in a sufficiently public manner so as to make clear that decisive and demonstrative action was being taken by the government. Lord Hamilton of Christean (right), an ineffectual man with little imagination and no apparent pointy to his existence, announced his intention to shoot himself in order to redeem his honour in the mind of the electorate. However, lacking the courage and focus necessary to accomplish the deed, he later had his wife shoot him instead.
Lord Archer (left) a bellicose, belligerent and flamboyant braggart with a liking for the dramatic (he always appeared at public functions dressed in ermine and holding a small cat in each hand) suggested that he could best make restitution to the electorate by setting down the details of his life in a play which he was convinced 'could be performed daily for the entertainment and edification of the people'. Although he was persistent about the value and attractiveness of the proposal, he finally and grudgingly dropped the suggestion when the riotous mirth of the committee emphasised the absurdity of the notion that anyone could be interested. It was explained to him by a sympathetic colleague - multiple times, for Archer was unable to grasp the concept - that he was widely regarded as a fraud and a bore, and that the public considered him a rather pathetic figure.
Archer suggested various other forms of appeasement but realised eventually that nothing short of death would satisfy a clamourous population already convinced that his life was a worthless sham. Finally accepting the inevitable, and true to his character, he determined upon a method of execution that was wholly in keeping with the empty symbolism and gestures that had characterised his life to that moment. He volunteered to be pressed to death beneath an enormous pane of glass, stating:' I should like it to be done in as dignified and respectful a manner as possible, preferably before a large crowd of strangers in a huge public ceremony in Whitehall.'
News of Archer's impending demise spread like wildfire and enormous, excited and cheering crowds gathered on the appointed day. However, a riot nearly erupted when it was discovered that Archer was not actually present, having bullied a feeble-minded mendicant into standing in for him and being pressed to death in his place. When the imposture was discovered the crowds became angry and highly vocal, and swept to Archer's home, baying for him to 'come out and be flattened quickly like a real man'. Realising that there was no escape from the confrontation, Archer agreed to address the crowds from his balcony. In full ermine robes - but with the cats left indoors - he raised his hands and addressed the assembled throng:
"Life is an extraordinary thing. Since birth I have always known that I was special, gifted, entertaining, interesting, awe-inspiring and popular. Therefore to be told that others regard me as pompous, dishonest, boring, worthless and irritating requires not only a major shift in my perceptions but the capability to credit their opinion above my own. Even now I am convinced that they are wrong.
Furthermore, it has been suggested to me that the world will be a better place once rid of me, so that the devil of ambition that resides within me can never again embarrass me or anyone else. Once again I call these advisers misguided.
They say I should call for the devil within me to be pressed out! I say they are wrong, and call upon you, my friends, to support me in my claim that no devil resides within me. I call upon you to endorse my popularity by denouncing my accusers. Have I your support in this hour of my greatest need?"
There was a moment of complete silence before the crowd rushed forward, grabbed Archer, and spread-eagled him upon the front lawn. Despite his continued denials that he was anything other than a nice, magnetic, interesting and kindly man, a massive slab of glass was lowered onto him, its weight quickly pressing flat the flaccid body beneath, the lack of resistance to the pressure lending weight to the public's opinion that 'there was nothing in the man'.
Public shaming of this kind, whilst satisfying a public need for retribution, did little to reduce public concern about the future, and as the committee of inquiry pressed on there was little to illuminate the moral darkness except for the actions of a small group of men near Birmingham.
A group of glaziers in the Midlands decided, at great personal risk given the political climate, to take their own stand against the tactics of those who sought to control their glazing supplies, their livelihoods and their working practices. Dubbed the 'Dudley Five' by The Times newspaper, they formed the Midlands Glaziers Union (MGU) and began campaigning for support in local towns and villages. Their aims were those of all simple working men:
Their speeches were received with enthusiasm, particularly in those working class areas that were largely unglazed, and support for their cause grew among those keen to establish the extent to which their own sense of class consciousness had been negatively influenced by any 'false' consciousness promulgated by those members of the ruling elite with a subjective and partial agenda.
- That the means of glass production be placed under the control of the workers themselves, such that their labour power be rewarded fairly and proportionally.
- That the specific productive forces (including but not limited to, the means of production and labour power) be combined with a legally codified system of control relations governing society's productive assets within the glazing industry as a whole.
- That either historical materialism or materialist dialecticism be employed to analyse the extent of the exploitation of glaziers by a bourgeois superstructure whose collective conceptualised ideology was diametrically opposed to the needs of jobbing glaziers, thereby widening existing class divisions to the detriment of the customer base.
However, those who made their profits from the glazing industry (principally owners, speculators and corrupted members of the establishment) began to see the Dudley Five as a threat to their hegemony. Within weeks their visits to rallies, markets and glazing conventions were being monitored by a close-knit team under the leadership of Simon 'Mad Gregory' Cranberry, an enforcer in the pay of the Selman-Troytt family.
Cranberry, who had a violent predilection for breaking a victim's lower jaw by pulling down on it until it snapped off, was a part-time lay-preacher of the Baptist faith and a philatelist of great repute. He had a debilitating dependence on alcohol - particularly 'rubbing alcohol' applied briskly to the inner thighs to toughen the skin against abrasion when mounting his wife - which led him to extreme rages when he was out of the comforting confines of Chapel and the ministrations of his congregation.
The precise details of what happened are unrecorded, but on the morning of the 3rd September 1894 all members of the Dudley Five were removed from their communal bed in the large covered wagon in which they travelled when on fund-raising tours. Their disappearance was discovered at 8.00 a.m. by Alice Dreskov, one of a band of communal prostitutes who ministered to the group's 'communal travelling needs' and who always volunteered for the 'breakfast shift' because it meant she got a hot meal afterwards. As news of their disappearance spread, allegations were made immediately against Cranberry because he had been seen near their wagon, with a large group of armed associates, just minutes before their disappearance.
Cranberry was arrested, but released quickly for lack of evidence after the Commissioner of Police received personal assurances from Jonah Selman-Troytt that Cranberry had accepted an invitation to the ballet on the evening in question, and that both men had attended a performance of Swan Lake together at Saddlers Wells Theatre. No further trace was ever found of the Dudley Five, although a few weeks later each of their widows received an anonymous gift in the post - a facsimile of a headstone, rendered delicately in frosted glass, and bearing the inscription: 'In Loving Memory of your Husband. Gone but not forgotten, for he was an irritant'.
Public reaction to the disappearance was mixed. There was a sense of unanimity in decrying the event as a tragedy, but also an overwhelming belief in the futility of further resistance. It was reasoned, at least on an unspoken level, that if the Dudley Five could be taken with impunity then no-one was safe. Over the ensuing weeks, public resistance to the continuing civil unrest (and to the existence of the monopoly and its negative effects) began to fade. A resigned acceptance began to settle into place within the public consciousness as people began to adapt to the 'new' reality. Government, for its part, was torn between a desire to pursue what it saw as the 'right' or 'moral' course - i.e. actually sweeping away the dubious 'protection' companies that fostered so much corruption, as well as breaking the glazing monopoly wide open in order to return the industry to a legal footing - and a sober realisation that many of those tasked with the imposition of policy creation and policy enforcement were unlikely to be diligent in their pursuit as they had a vested financial interest in maintaining the system just as it was!
This mood was reflected in the findings of the committee of inquiry, published in the spring of 1895. The 'Rosebery Report' spent most of its five hundred pages clearing all establishment figures of malfeasance or involvement... with the exception of Hamilton and Archer who, it was reasoned, as proven liars and public embarrassments, were of no loss to anyone. Gladstone, having studied the report, was torn between gratitude at being spared further public humiliation, and nagging doubts as to the depth and thoroughness of its investigations. He concluded that the situation required a 'delicate' course of action that would appease everyone involved.
Eventually a compromise was reached, which the American historian J. Gorton Trellis14 later described as 'a form of weasel words so typical of the hypocrisy of government in general, and of British government, particularly British left-wing government, in particular. No more could have been said; and no less actually done'.
Under the compromise, the more obviously scurrilous of the 'protection' companies were closed down, whilst the remainder were asked to abide by a voluntary code of conduct with regard to claim payment. The 'glazing monopoly', so feared for so many years, was left largely intact while its exponents were only mildly chastised. There was much press coverage given to 'the government's commitment to cleansing the country of such unhealthy influences' but otherwise the monopoly was left to operate pretty much as it had always done - i.e. more or less unhindered by government interference - provided it kept its activities away from 'direct public gaze' where they 'could embarrass no one'.
In response, the financial markets quietened as share trading slowed on companies where profit forecasts had now fallen dramatically. The 'breaker gangs' were quietly disbanded, their activities now simply too 'high-profile' to escape scrutiny within the context of the new accord. This decision marked the Triumvirate's abandonment of further 'domestic expansion', which was no great sacrifice since they had more than 95% of the entire United Kingdom glazing industry was under their control anyway.
In effect then, by 1895 the domestic glazing industry was calm once more, with government emphasis no longer placed on 'winning the war' but on 'maintaining the peace'. On the orders of the new Prime Minister (the Earl of Rosebery15) Lord Acton resigned quietly from his post as 'Glazing Czar' and was moved to the Treasury department where he was put in charge of increasing working efficiency among her Majesty's civil servants. Quickly dubbed 'The Efficiency Czar' by The Times, he found the post to be both taxing and difficult. He wrote to his son:
The situation here is completely out of control, with thousands of civil servants doing almost no labour when they are actually at work, and nothing at all with the rest of their lives when they are outside of work. Never have I encountered a more soul-destroying experience than the sense of futility that overpowers one after just a few days in their company. They stand awaiting their fate, like the condemned in purgatory, but knowing in their hearts that redemption will have no part in it. They walk with the knowing, hesitant, steps of wretches who realise that everything for them has a near-horizon which encircles a world so small that its surface area could be obscured by a penny stamp. Take my advice, and never come near this place lest it sweep away any joy or hope that resides within you. As we did not make Florence last year, your mother is suggesting Venice for this summer. Lord and Lady Gambon may accompany us, and you may bring a friend from school as long as he has no desire to sodomise you.
Henceforth, the Selman-Troytt family realised that their opportunities to increase their fortunes lay outside of the United Kingdom. They turned their attention to expanding sales in foreign markets, beginning in 1896 by sparking a demand for 'modern' glazing supplies in South Africa. They enlisted the assistance of Lars Van De Pitt, a soldier of fortune and confidant of Jan Smuts, a disaffected glazier from Antwerp who had been deported for using a cheap mastic substitute. Until that moment the Boers had been using very fragile isinglass16. The sudden wealth to be obtained from this untapped market fostered increasing competition between the native Boers and the opportunistic British incomers, rivalry that finally exploded into outright conflict in 1899 and which was resolved only in the early years of this present century.
Markets in other parts of the empire had been dominated years before, with India and Australia proving easiest to infiltrate in the 1880s. Many Australians had never seen a piece of glass and so the whole marketing campaign had a mystical sense of wonderment to it. The addition of South Africa in 1902 made the Triumvirate's 'Empire phase' complete. Thus it was that the Selman-Troytt family set their sights on expanding into Europe and the Russias, much tougher propositions because of entrenched opposition from heavily unionised glaziers in Germany, so that both of these phases were not completed until more than four decades later. I shall deal with this 'European expansion phase' in the second part17 of this essay.
1. This piece first appeared in The Observer on 11th August 1953. Ed.
2. 25p in Sterling currency. Ed.
3. 90p in Sterling currency. Ed.
4. Riding the Blow Wave - Long-term Cyclical Financial Trends, by Bob Beckworth, Chatter and Windup, 1948. Ed.
5. Small glazing nails - often rectangular in cross-section - usually hand-made on a Royston press by teams of small boys with fingers nimble enough to avoid amputation by the fast-running treadle. Ed.
6. 916 kg. Ed.
7. 8mm .Ed
8. 12mm, 16mm, 25mm, 38mm, 52mm, 77mm respectively .Ed
9. 101mm .Ed
10. £11.65. Ed
11. Colloquial term for a 'viva voce' examination. Ed
12. 13th December 1893
13. Rosebery was married to the fantastically wealthy Hannah de Rothschild, and was a rumoured bisexual. The Marquis of Queensbury was adamant that Rosebery had interfered with his son and lamented angrily: 'That snob queer Rosebery has now sodomised my oldest boy whilst that pervert Wilde has taken the youngest! That leaves only Percy with his rectum intact.' The 'violated' sons in question were Francis Douglas, a close friend of Rosebery, and Alfred Douglas ('Bosie') a close friend of Oscar Wilde.
Queensbury, a man with an extremely violent homophobia, was not blessed by good fortune in this regard. Recent research suggests that his middle son, Percy, was sodomised by a family friend only days before Queensbury died in 1900, leaving him to exclaim: 'Now they've all been done!' Ed.
14. The Diminishing Backwater (A Review of British Social and Economic Policy), J. Gorton Trellis, Manhattan Press, New York, 1951
15. Rosebery's short term in office was dogged by persistent rumours of his bisexuality, rumours he was unable to dispel despite offering to evict a male prostitute from the bachelor apartment he maintained in Piccadilly. Ed.
16. Mica in thin, transparent sheets. Ed.
17. This second part was published in the Observer on the 18th August 1953, but only a few pages of the original draft are now extant in the S.T.A.S. archives. If anyone has an old copy of that issue of the newspaper then the S.T.A.S. would be grateful to hear from you. Ed.