La Glass Vallée

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Towards the end of the Middle Ages, art professions developed in France as the king Charles VI was interested in glass art. In 1399, he decided to grant privileges to glassworkers by authorizing them by patent letters to install their own glass factories : « if you are noble you are authorized to exercise a glassmaker's profession, and if you are a glassmaker because of this privilege you can be ennobled. »

This means of access to the nobility attracted the gibes of the gentry. One of them, Maynard, so addressed these new noble persons :

“Your nobility is thin,
Because it is not of a prince,
Daphnis, that you come from.
Glass gentleman,
If you fall on the ground,
Goodbye your qualities!”

The presence of glass activities in the forest of Eu and in the valley of Bresle began in the XVth century. In 1430, the first glass factory was opened in Saint-Martin-au-Bosc. Glass factories were located near forests because they supplied them with wood for stoking the ovens, and the ashes contained potassium, indispensable to the fusion of the sand. The technique of manufacturing is then rudimentary. After permission was given by the counts of Eu, a plot of forest was exploited. A wooden summary shelter and a little oven in refractory clay were built, and by using sticks luxury objects were made. When the exploitation of the plot was finished, the glassworkers moved a little further, just like nomads.

The first glassmakers were gentlemen, and until the Revolution, the families Cacqueray, Le Vaillant, Brossard and Bongars had the privilege of making panes of glass, intended to dress windows of beautiful houses.

On the eve of the French Revolution, several glassmakers worked in the valley of Bresle: Varimpré, Le Courval, La Grande Vallée, Rétonval, Val d'Aulnoy, Romesnil, Sainte-Catherine and Le Cornet. Glass factories began as little workshops, which had throne pot ovens in the middle. The work was often painful for the 8-10 year old children who came from Brittany, Spain, Portugal or Italy. They had to open and close moulds and transport objects in the arc. Often near the house of the head-glassmaker, was a small castle, like the Glass factory of La Grande Vallée. On the “Paris road”, close to the glassworks and the castle, there was a grocer’s shop, pub, bakery, etc. Here the glassmakers could live by themselves.

In the XIXth century, the bottling for perfumes and cosmetics became the specialized field of the Bresle valley. In 1875, the creation of the railway line between Paris and Le Tréport meant that English coal could be transported between these places and glassworkers products could be delivered to the big centers. Glass factories thus settled near the railroad which went along the River Bresle, in Nesle-Normandeuse in 1882, and in Vieux-Rouen-sur-Bresle in 1892. New related outlets such as pharmacies and especially the bottling for perfumes and cosmetics opened. Then there is the establishment of the Denin glass factory in Nesle-Normandeuse and the glassworks of A. Scobart and Cie in Vieux-Rouen-sur-Bresle, today the Brosse glass factory, specialized in the production of the flasks of luxury perfume or the “Sociétés Autonomes de Verreries”, today "Saverglass", still the leader in the market of luxury bottling.

At the beginning of the 1920s, the production of flasks was still essentially manual and blown in the "mouth". But semiautomatic glass factories had already begun to appear. In 1916, some semi-automated machines were installed by the Waltersperger glassworks and in 1923, the Winckler press was used. The compressed air replaced the breath of the glassworker. This development gradually replaced manual labour. By the beginning of the 1930s, the exclusive craft works had almost disappeared and many glass factories closed.

The glassworkers of the valley then began to supply very high quality products to French perfumers. Their presence was also felt in the field of pharmacy following the example of Boralex who transferred their head office in 1940 to Aumale. This glass factory made mainly tubes and pharmaceutical bulbs. In 2006, the Alcan Packaging Glass Pharma Company took over Boralex.

After the Second World War, Luc Desjonquères, took advantage of The Marshall Plan, and his factory in Mers-les-Bains became the first glass factory in Europe to automatically produce bottling of high quality, due to the “Lynch” and “IS” machines. This company became Saint-Gobain Desjonquères in 1971. That same year, another glass factory of automatic production was created by the Pochet group, whose leaders, benefiting from their experience in the semiautomatic productions of Le Courval, made their factory one of the most renowned in the field of the luxury bottling.

Upstream in the Bresle Valley are located diverse companies associated with glass production : three model-modeler companies, a caster and twelve mould-makers. Downstream, we can count around thirty decorators. Today, this activity employs around 7000 employees. About sixty companies can be found in the Bresle valley, where approximately 75% of the world production of luxury bottling is produced.