Pilkington closes historic production line

A 200-year-old Merseyside glassworks, where Pilkington UK pioneered the modern method of glass manufacturing used around the world to this day, has stopped production for the final time as part of a major investment project. 

Watson Street Works, operated by Pilkington UK, has operated in St Helens since 1826. It’s where Sir Alastair Pilkington invented the modern float glass process, which revolutionised the way flat glass was produced.

Pilkington UK announced in April 2023 its plans to move production at Watson Street Works to its neighbouring Greengate site in the town, as part of a project that represents one of the single biggest investments the manufacturer has made in the UK in decades.

The glass giant is upgrading its Greengate furnace to accommodate the site’s continued production of float glass, as well as the additional manufacturing line from Watson Street. Pilkington UK expects that all jobs will be retained as part of the move.

The project will benefit from a £3.7m grant via the government’s Industrial Energy Transformation Fund (IEFT), which helps cover the costs of industrial energy efficiency and decarbonisation projects in the UK.

Running one glass furnace in the town, rather than the two it currently runs between Greengate and Watson Street, will reportedly save 15,000 tonnes of CO2e per year. The project is central to Pilkington UK’s Science Based Target Initiative (SBTi) certified target of achieving a 30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared to 2018 levels – and to meet net zero emissions by 2050.

Neil Syder, managing director of Pilkington UK, said: “Watson Street’s legacy can be felt in every building we live and work in today. It defined a century of glassmaking as the true birthplace of the modern float glass process, which enabled the mass production of high-quality glass around the world.

“It’s closure forms part of how we’re defining the next century of glassmaking next-door at Greengate.

“That’s where, alongside our industry partners like Glass Futures, we’re completing pioneering work that will enable the global glass industry to decarbonise. Most recently, it’s where we’ve invented Pilkington Mirai, a glass with 52% less embodied carbon – representing the lowest embodied carbon glass of its kind.”

Alongside its glassmaking heritage, Watson Street Works’ Victorian industrial architecture provided the backdrop for many films and TV series, hosting Hollywood A-listers from Samuel L. Jackson to Cillian Murphy in productions including Marvel’s Secret Invasion and BBC’s Peaky Blinders.

A lucky NSG Group employee won the opportunity to push the red button on Watson Street’s production line for the last time, as part of a competition that raised £533 for St. Helens based charity Teardrops.

Watson Street Works is home to the glass manufacturer’s texture glass production line, which will move to Greengate as part of the project.

Pilkington UK says it has built up good stock availability ahead of the line’s move, and states that customers won’t be impacted.