Powell & Sons is Britain's longest standing glass house. It was established in 1834, when James Powell, a wine merchant, purchased the century-old Whitefriars Glassworks, just off Fleet Street in London, and employed his three sons. None of the family knew how to make glass, but exigency prevailed and soon the factory was developing transformative patents for glassmaking. One such patent was for 'quarries' of stained glass, small diamond shape pieces of glass that were immensely popular in the Victorian churches being frequently built at this time. Their activity was not, however, limited to the ecclesiastical: in the 1850s they would manufacture glass for William Morris's Red House.
When Harry Powell, James' grandson, joined the factory in 1875, their inventions took a scientific turn. Harry, a chemistry scholar, developed technologies for coloured glass; heat-resistant glass for use in laboratories and industrial facilities; fashionable opalescent glass; and historical glass based on Venetian and Roman examples. As Art Deco swept through Europe in the 1920s, the company responded with some of its most memorable pieces; their wares became heavier and more colourful, and they introduced geometric designs through the use of optic moulding and wheel engraving. These new wares were popular with their middle and upper class clientele.
This intensive interwar period saw an abortive project to build a state-of-the-art factory that was to entertain all the latest technologies and promote the wellbeing of its workers with a 'Garden Suburb,' an expression of their relation to the Arts and Crafts Movement. The success of the interwar period would however come to an end with the rationing of glass production at the onset of World War II. While it took the company some time to recover from this period of austerity, its post-war work was a continuation of its persistent commitment to new, of-the-moment, designs. Innovations like concrete slab glass and various 1960s 'hallucinogenic' designs kept Powell & Sons (Whitefriars from 1963) firmly in the picture until the closure of the factory in 1980.