Art & Design

The Man who Knew about Furnaces: Thomas Walton (1833-1897), a British glassmaker in early Meiji Japan – with Sally Haden

18 December 2017, London

In the spring of 1873 the foundations for a revolutionary new glass factory were laid in Shinagawa, Tokyo, the like of which had never been seen in Japan before. Employing British experts and, within ten years, making all kinds of common and industrial goods, it completely transformed the Japanese approach to glass, and set the seed for the country’s primary role in glassmaking across the world today. This lecture presents the story of one of those British men, Thomas Walton, the man who knew about furnaces.


At the time, Japanese glass craftsmen understood very little about how glass was then being made in Europe, where ordinary products such as glass for windows, the domestic table and science had long been mastered. But from about the 1860s as Japan began to modernise, they wanted to learn all the latest Western techniques, recipes and fashions so they could bring to market the kinds of glassware which modern Western countries had.


The beating heart of any glass factory is a set of furnaces, and it was Thomas Walton from Manchester, England, who shouldered the responsibility of setting up Japan’s first Western-style industrial glass furnaces in the 1870s. This illustrated lecture will explore his background in the Victorian glass industry, his interesting experience at Shinagawa and the significance of his contribution to Japan.


Sally Haden was born in 1948 into a family steeped in British manufacturing, including the Victorian glass industry. It was the discovery eleven years ago that her Scottish great grandfather taught glassmaking in early Meiji Japan which set her on the path to becoming a glass historian, with a special interest in the transfer of glass technology to Japan. Her writing has been published by the Society of Glass Technology, the Glass Association, and the Association for Glass Art Studies, Japan, and she has twice visited Japan to do first hand research and meet leading glassmakers and manufacturers.


To reserve your place, please call the Japan Society office on 020 3075 1996 or email


Free – booking recommended

18 December 2017

The Swedenborg Society, 20-21 Bloomsbury Way (Hall entrance on Barter St) London WC1A 2TH

The Japan Society, SOAS University of London