LA GLASS VALLÉE :
The glassmaking industry has a long tradition in the Bresle Valley, going back to the Middle Ages, when the glassmakers established themselves in the Eu forest, making glass beads and flat glass, particularly window panes and stained glass for stately homes and churches. In the 19th century, the glassmaking industry turned its focus to a new market: luxury glassware, to serve the growing world of Perfumery among the Parisian bourgeoisie; perfume-makers such as Guerlain, for example, which was established in Abbeville, just a few miles away from the Valley, and worked with our glassmakers in its early days. As this market evolved, so did production methods, progressing from glass-blowing to semi-automated, then finally automated production. It’s undoubtedly thanks to this transfer of knowledge, handed down through the centuries, coupled with human endeavor and continuous advances in technology that La Glass Vallée has been able to establish itself as the world leader in its market.
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The presence of glassmaking activity on the cleared edges of the Eu forest and in the Bresle Valley has been shown to date back to the 15th century.
It was in 1430 that the first glassworks was established in Saint-Martin-au-Bosc In fact, the glassworks were established in the vicinity of the forests, which provided them with wood for the furnaces, as well as the ferns used to create potash, a vital ingredient in the sand melting process. At that time, manufacturing techniques were fairly rudimentary. Having obtained permission for the use of a plot of forest from the Counts of Eu (”rights to estovers” i.e. the gathering of firewood), a basic wooden shelter and small fireclay furnace were built and, with the help of blowpipes, luxury items were made, in the very heart of the forest. Once they had finished working the plot, the glassmakers would move on a little further to the next, in nomadic fashion. The first glassmakers were from the gentry, and up until the French Revolution, it was the families of Cacqueray, Le Vaillant, Brossard and Bongars who had the honor of making “thick glass” (flat glass), for use in the windows of stately homes.
By the onset of the French Revolution, a number of glassmakers were active in the valley, including the Varimpré, Courval, Grande Vallée, Rétonval glassmakers, the small and large glassworks of the Val d’Aulnoy, Romesnil, Sainte-Catherine and Le Cornet. The glassworks were gradually settling into permanent workshops, built around central pot furnaces or crucibles. It was often punishing work, mainly carried out by children aged 8-10; these “gamins” or urchins from Brittany, Spain, Portugal or Italy would open and close the moulds, carry items to the lehr, etc. These workshops were often sited close to the home of the master glassmaker, which in some cases was a veritable minor château, such as the Grande Vallée glassworks in Guerville. Along the “rue de Paris” that ran by the château and the glassworks, was a greengrocers, a bistro, bakery and more, to the point that the glassmakers could be entirely self-sufficient.
In the 19th century, glass bottleware for perfumes and cosmetics became the Bresle Valley’s specialty. In 1875, the creation of the Paris to Le Tréport railway enabled the transport of English coal from Tréport to the Parisian region, supplying the glassworks along the way, but also boosted the delivery of glassware products to the major city centres. Consequently, glassworks sprang up close to the railway that ran along the Bresle River, in Nesle-Normandeuse in 1882, in Vieux-Rouen-sur-Bresle in 1892 or in Blangy-sur-Bresle. New markets were opening up, such as physics, chemistry, pharmacy, bottlemaking, and especially glass bottleware for perfumes and cosmetics. It was at this time that glassmakers such as Denin appeared in Nesle-Normandeuse, or A. Scobart et Cie, now Verreries Brosse, in Vieux-Rouen, specialising in the production of luxury perfume bottles, or the Sociétés Autonomes de Verreries in Feuquières, now known as Saverglass, a market-leader in ultra high-end and luxury bottleware.
At the start of the 1920s, glass bottles were mainly still produced by hand and “mouth-blown”. However, semi-automated glassmaking was emerging, particularly in 1916 with the installation of a number of semi-automatic machines at Ateliers et Verrerie Waltersperger and with the appearance of the Winckler press in 1923. The mouth-blowing technique was replaced by compressed air. Over the Roaring Twenties, this development picked up pace in the field of machines and tooling, gradually replacing the traditional hand crafting processes. By the start of the 1930s, entirely handcrafted work had all but disappeared. Many glassmakers closed down. It’s these technological advances that have made it possible for the Valley’s glassmakers to assist the major French perfume-makers in their expanding business, by providing them with products of the highest quality. They have also made a name for themselves in the pharmaceutical industry, with glassmakers such as Boralex which moved headquarters to Aumale in 1940. This glassworks mainly produced pharmaceutical tubes and vials. In 2006, Boralex was replaced by Alcan Packaging Glass Pharma.
Second World War
In the aftermath of the Second World War, Luc Desjonquères took full advantage of the Marshall Plan to making his factory in Mers-les-Bains the leading glassmaker in Europe for the automated production of high quality glass bottleware, thanks in particular to the “Lynch” and “IS” machines. His company would eventually become Saint-Gobain-Desjonquères in 1971. That same year, another automated production glassmaker was founded in Guimerville by the Pochet Group, whose directors drew from their experience in semi-automated production with Du Courval to build the plant into one of the best-known names in luxury glass bottleware. Up-river from this glassmaking activity, a range of businesses have also sprung up in the Bresle Valley as part of this industrial hub, including three model-makers, one founder and twelve mould-makers. Down-river are some thirty finishers and decorators. Today, this industry employs around 7,500 people. Some 70 businesses have now established themselves in the Valley, which contains around 75% of worldwide production in luxury glass bottleware.
To become a member of La Glass Vallée, businesses simply submit an application along with a portfolio and covering letter, which is then reviewed by the Executive Board. If accepted, they then simply pay a membership fee according a structure fixed each year in the General Meeting.
The association is chaired by Mrs. Valérie Tellier, who is also Chair of the ValFi Group and the businesses Val Laquage, Piochel S.N. and Inserdeco