I am Georgie Lifford, daughter of the owner of Coriander Stained Glass.
I interviewed Philip Lifford, my grandfather, asking him questions about the family in glass so that I could write this article about the history of the Lifford family in glass. Philip Lifford is the 3rd generation out of 5 generations of the Lifford family who have worked in glass. This article includes information on him, his father (2nd generation) and his grandfather (1st generation).
From repairing war damage to supplying glass cabinets for the crown jewels and restoration glass work for Hampton Court Palace, the Lifford family have been involved with glass for over 100 years.
It all started with my great great grandfather. He had a hand cart in which he would carry small sheets of glass. He started working with glass by walking round the streets and if he saw broken glass he would knock on the door and ask if he could fix it. He opened a shop in Earlsfield (where my grandfather was born).
When my great great grandfather died, his shop was passed onto Arthur Lifford (my great grandfather), the eldest son, who specialized in stained glass. He lived above this shop, which is where Philip Lifford (my grandfather) was born. Arthurs’s brother, Charlie, was equally involved in stained glass. Philip remembers going to Charlie’s house and there being a “round lead light with a galleon in it, lovely”. Lead Lights made by the Liffords’ at the time often had a galleon in them. After the war, Arthur was busy on war damage and would repair broken windows. The government would pay him to do this. Sometimes, Philip and his siblings would not go to school and would help their father instead. Lilien Lifford (my great grandmother) used to look after the shop and make lead lights.
At the back of Arthur’s shop was a fireplace. It had a hook and a thick iron cauldron. At the time, builders were taking lead pipes out of houses and replacing them with copper pipes. They would bring the lead to Arthur who would buy it off them and melt it down in his cauldron to make the lead strips for the lead lights. He would pour the melted lead with a ladle into a long thin device, leave it to cool and release it. He would then take the strips of lead out and feed them into a machine which stretched them into the various thicknesses of lead required. Arthur paid the builders by weight. Therefore, the builders would fill the lead pipes with water to make them heavier, resulting in them getting more money. However, when Arthur put a pipe with water in it in the cauldron, the water would turn to steam and explode. So, sometimes it was Philip and his siblings job to split the lead pipes open to make sure there was no water in them. It was also their job to make the cement. They had to break the putty up into tiny globules and mix this with white spirit until it became a paste.
By the time Philip left school he knew how to work with glass. He learned everything from his father (Arthur) and from helping him. At a young age, Philip often used to play with glass. From living above a glass shop, he learned a great deal about glass and how to work with it. Philip has never been involved in making stained glass windows. After he left school, he got a job with a company glazing. He then joined his father, Arthur, who he got on with but he did not see a future. So, he bought a van and started PA Lifford Glazing Contractor when he was 21. He drove round to building sites, and he wrote to the builders of these building sites and asked if he could quote for putting the glass in the windows. Some of these builders replied and Philip put in the Glass. This is how his business started. Philip established a premises in Tolworth and his brother joined him. They formed Hamilton Glass Company Limited in 1960, which later became Hamilton Glass Products Limited. The company was called ‘Hamilton’ because Philip lived in number 1 Hamilton Avenue, Tolworth and thought that ‘Hamilton’ “sounded rather grand”. The company was heavily involved in replacement windows, aluminium windows and making double glazed units. This type of work became very competitive so Philip came away from it.
The company started slowly, like any business. It was risky and money was tight. It was the only glass firm in the Tolworth area and at the time, the DIY phase was developing. People were taking out 1930’s windows and putting new windows in. Louvre windows were the craze and became very popular. The business did very well out of this.
The way in which the company did well was due to building up a reputation, giving good service and giving reasonable prices. Old customers kept coming back and new ones kept coming too. Coriander is also following in the family tradition by offering the same service.
One of the most interesting jobs Philip’s company got was replacing the glass roof over the vine house at Hampton Court Palace. Coriander Stained Glass has also done various jobs for Hampton Court Palace. Another interesting job that Philip’s company did was when they supplied some glass cabinets for the crown jewels. They have also done glass for Abu Dhabi airport and various mirrors for London hotels.
Our next article will be on Jeremy Lifford, the 4th generation out of 5 in the Lifford family to be involved in glass! Make sure to take a look when its up.