Pyrex Love Stories

An online exhibition of people’s Pyrex and their stories

Pyrex: the famous, functional glassware, has travelled from Sunderland around the world and into people’s homes… and hearts. Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens began a collection project in 2022, 100 years since Pyrex was first made at J.A. Jobling’s Sunderland factory, to gather and conserve the stories and the memories that Pyrex holds.

Tucked away in the back of cupboards, or used weekly for Sunday dinners, Pyrex objects have retained their value as workhorses of the kitchen; virtually unbreakable and immeasurably useful, and the key to many memories about home and family life, work, and celebrations over the years.

Glass in Sunderland

J.A. Jobling’s factory took on the contract to produce Pyrex objects in 1922 from Corning’s in America. But Sunderland has a long history of glass making and production. In 674 AD, Benedict Biscop brought skilled craftspeople from Gaul to Monkwearmouth, where they created the first stained glass windows in the country at St Peter’s Church.

In 1974, the anniversary of 1300 years since the founding of St Peter’s was commemorated with a huge celebration, the Wearmouth 1300 Festival. There were floats, parades, music and fancy dress!

Pyrex gifted their workers each a special commemorative plate to mark the occasion.

Wearside 1300 commemorative plate and box, gifted to Pyrex workers in 1974.

Joan Lavelle, former Pyrex worker, holding her Wearside 1300 commemorative plate and her round floral butter dish.

“Pyrex People were the best”

Sister Mary Francis grew up in the Pyrex family, and when her father died his boss at Pyrex kept an eye on her and her sister until they turned 18. She remembers:

“I’m amazed Pyrex is only 100 years old! But what a wonderful place. Never stopped and produced both useful, practical (unbreakable, almost!) glass and tableware as well as beautiful vases and bowls. I grew up knowing the factory shifts better than nursery rhymes: 2 ’til 10, 10 ’til 6, 6 ’til 2. Dad didn’t like the night shift (and I’m the same) but a few of his friends preferred it. Pyrex was good to families. They organised raffles and bus trips. I’ll never forget a day out to Whitley Bay – all free!”

Sister Mary Francis visiting the Museum and holding a cushion cover inspired by Pyrex designs, created by the Creative Age group.

“Pyrex people were the best. Dad’s best friends were his work-mates. The three ‘St Joseph’s Lads’ they were called. The overall boss, a war hero, was highly respected and admired. Dad asked him to be our guardian if anything should happen to him, a duty he took up faithfully after dad died. He checked in on me regularly until I was 18 and did the same for my sister. When she married, he presented her with a beautiful Pyrex dinner service. My overall impression of Pyrex is happiness.”

Filled with Love

Pyrex is often found at the heart of family life, as it was so famously practical! It cleans well, you can prepare, cook and serve from the same dish, and glass lids mean storing and reheating dinner is easy. Because of this, Pyrex was often gifted to couples as wedding presents, and much of it is still in use today. 

Elizabeth, Jim and Ann Pagett

Ann and Jim were gifted the Clover bowls by Jim’s aunt for their wedding in 1960, and these were carried on the train to Newcastle from Epsom! The large clover design bowl was used for big family parties and events, especially for trifles. Some of their family Pyrex has been passed onto their daughter, Elizabeth. 

Pyrex people…all around the world!

Although Pyrex was made here in Sunderland, it is a joy for collectors and enthusiasts all around the world. Patricia Thompson, who grew up in the UK and is now living in New Zealand, has shared with us pictures of her Pyrex collection which is made up of more than 200 pieces! In the global Pyrex community, Sunderland made pieces are referred to as ‘JAJ’ – the initials of James A. Jobling, who gave his name to the Sunderland factory.

Just a few Pyrex items in Patricia’s collection!

“I grew up in England and for Christmas 1975 I bought my mum the three casserole JAJ Briarwood set. I think I paid about 10p a week for quite a few months to buy it through the Littlewoods catalogue. It was the first Pyrex my mum had owned and her first matching cooking set. She loved it and we had casseroles for the first time, as opposed to stew and dumplings cooked in a saucepan on the cooktop. When I went home to the UK and moved mum to a care home, four years ago, aged 91, I cleared her council flat in East London and she still had the smallest casserole. She was pretty shaky by then so I suspect the other two had been dropped in recent years.”

Patricia’s rectangular lidded Pyrex casseroles. Patterns top to bottom, left to right:

Fiesta, Sunflowers, Marf, Carnaby Tempo, Matchmaker, Briarwood, Chelsea, Toledo

“I moved to New Zealand 15 years ago. About 12 years ago I went to a ‘pot luck supper’ and someone bought their contribution – I think it was an apple crumble – in a JAJ Lobsters ‘Easigrip’ casserole. I thought the pattern was so cool! So, I put a search on Trademe (the NZ equivalent of eBay) for ‘JAJ Pyrex Lobster’. That was dangerous because I then got alerts for every piece of JAJ that came up. Today I have a collection of over 200 pieces.” 

Love in the Factory

Many people who worked at Sunderland’s Pyrex factory met life-long friends or even their partners at the Pyrex factory. One such example is Sunderland Councillor Dorothy Trueman, who met her husband Harry, also a councillor and a former Mayor, on a Pyrex outing to Blackpool in 1967 when Dorothy was 16 and Harry 19. The couple have now been married for 52 years.

Dorothy joined the company as an office junior after leaving Seaham Grammar School in 1966 – Harry had started at Pyrex as a lathe operator in 1964, supporting a team of engineers at the Pallion site.

Harry’s dad, who also worked at Pyrex, helped him get a job at the factory. He had left Monkwearmouth School to start an apprentice as a car mechanic, but the Pyrex job was double the wage.

The couple spoke fondly of their time at the company: “It was a happy place to work, with a real family atmosphere, particularly in my early days there,” said Dorothy.

“There was an annual Christmas party for families, while a social club at South Hylton gave workers the opportunity to play bowls, tennis and other sports. If you were married while working at Pyrex, the company gave you a full dinner set – as Harry and I were both working there, we received two!” she added.

Councillors Harry and Dorothy Truman visiting the Pyrex100 exhibition at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens in December 2022.

If you’d like your Pyrex story to be included in our online exhibition, complete the online submission form

Our Pyrex Gallery

Click on the image to read the story.

More Pyrex Stories coming soon!

Pyrex100 is generously supported by the Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund, administered by the Museums Association on behalf of the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.

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