Adeline Jackson; glass technology pioneer


Adeline Mary Jackson is one of Barnsley’s lesser-known industrial pioneers. She was born in Elsecar on 22 May 1883. Her father died before she was six and she was brought up by her aunt and uncle. She started a career in teaching, before retraining to become a scientist. She went on to become the first female glass technologist in the UK, with a successful career at Wood Brothers in Barnsley. A chance encounter while cataloguing a collection of Wood Brothers’ records led David Blunden, our Local Studies Librarian, to find out more about her remarkable story for International Women’s Day 2022.


Black and white photograph portrait of Adeline Jackson
Photograph of Adeline Mary Jackson taken during her time at Wood Brothers, Barnsley

Early life

Adeline was the oldest of five children born to John and Annie Jackson. She was born in Elsecar on 22 May 1883. Her father died when she was young, and during her teenage years she lived with her aunt and uncle. The 1901 census shows a 17-year-old Adeline residing at 422 Woodborough Road, Mapperley near Nottingham. Her uncle, Andrew Ping is recorded as being a Church of England clergyman. By this time Adeline had already attended a higher-level school through the aid of scholarships and was studying at University College, Nottingham. Unfortunately, due to personal reasons, Adeline was unable to complete her degree and instead embarked on a career in teaching.

Adeline’s first teaching experience was in Nottingham, before moving to Oldham in 1905. It was during this time that she returned to her studies, attending Manchester Municipal School of Technology (now part of The University of Manchester). Records from Manchester University show that Adeline attended a day release course in 1907-8. At the same time as studying, she was employed as a teacher at Waterloo Secondary School in Oldham and living close by on Morris Street. During her time at the School of Technology Adeline appears to have taken courses in sound, light, heat, magnetism, electricity, and practical organic and inorganic chemistry. She may also have taken evening classes, but the records for these do not survive.

We were recently pleased to discover that, as part of our Wood Brothers collection, we have some of Adeline’s original exercise books from her time at Manchester, which cover a range of subjects, including physics and mathematics.

Five exercise books on a table. One is open and shows a sketch of a scientific experiment (where a liquid is being heated and turned to gas).
A selection of exercise books from Adeline’s studies at Manchester Municipal School of Technology, now in Barnsley Archives

In 1908 Adeline returned to Yorkshire and took up a teaching post at Rotherham High School for Girls. The 1911 census shows her living in Tooker Road, Rotherham in a house named Cranbourne. She and another female teacher are shown living as ‘boarders’ with the headmistress of the school. Adeline continued to study alongside her teaching job, this time undertaking a ‘distance learning’ Bachelor of Science degree course with the University of London. She obtained her degree in 1913 after four years of juggling her day job with studying, practical experiments and written assignments. Adeline continued to teach in Rotherham until 1917 when her friend, Professor W.E.S. Turner, recommended her to Frank Wood of Wood Brothers Glass Company Limited.

Wood Brothers

Turner describes in her obituary that Adeline was appointed to oversee the introduction of a new department at Wood Brothers, which focussed on the calibration of graduated glassware with the training of female assistants. Adeline took on her new role with enthusiasm. She would make sure that she started her working day at 6am in order to be ready and available to her colleagues and would regularly work ten to twelve-hour days. We are again fortunate to have in our archive collections two of Adeline’s exercise books dating from this early period, when she was conducting and analysing laboratory experiments. We believe that these are rare survivals, both from an industrial history and social history perspective.

Handwritten notes detailing the results of experiments boiling hydrochloric acid in test flasks.
An example of an experiment on glass flasks from Adeline’s exercise book, 1917, now in Barnsley Archives

As would be expected with her fierce work ethic, intelligence and respect from her colleagues, Adeline progressed through various roles throughout her career at Wood Brothers. With her experience of educating and training female colleagues, it is no surprise that Adeline had a strong interest in their time at work:

‘She assumed a large measure of personal responsibility for the welfare of all the women workers.’

W.E.S. Turner – Society of Glass Technology

Adeline was also active and well-respected in the glass industry outside of Wood Brothers. Her work was so highly thought of that she regularly contributed her scientific knowledge to the Ministry of Health and held roles in the Society of Glass Technology. In 1948 she was appointed as a director of Wood Brothers. This was at a time, and in an industry, where very few women would have been in managerial roles and is a testament to her dedication, knowledge and standing within the company. Sadly, this was to be a relevantly short-lived role. Adeline passed away in March 1952 after a short illness; she was 68.

For most of her time at Wood Brothers Adeline lived on her own in Della Avenue, Barnsley. Her funeral in the town was attended by over 700 people, around 300 of whom were from Wood Brothers, who closed for the day as a mark of respect. At the time of her death, it was stated that she was the first women to qualify as a glass technologist in the United Kingdom.

Adeline Jackson’s life is a story of struggle, achievement and dedication; she was a pioneer of the glass industry and a role model to women breaking new ground in a male dominated world.

Sources

‘An appreciation of the late Adeline Mary Jackson’, by W.E.S. Turner (Ref: A-3779-B/3/2) 

Barnsley Chronicle – report of funeral, Saturday 22 March 1952

Wood Brothers archive collections (Refs: WBR & A-3779-B)

Manchester Municipal School of Technology admissions day book 1907/8 (with thanks to Manchester University Archives Centre)

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