William Chance

William Chance (1788-1856), was a prominent, nineteenth-century Birmingham elite and part of the famous Chance Brothers glass-manufacturing business.

William was born to William Chance (IV), a founder of Nailsea Glassworks, and Sarah Lucas, the daughter of John Robert Lucas (who had also founded Nailsea Glassworks).

He married Phoebe Timmins, daughter of James Timmins – another prominent Birmingham elite – in 1811, and they went on to have six sons and three daughters together. His brother, Robert Lucas, had bought the British Crown Glass Company in Spon Lane, Smethwick, in 1824. By the early 1830s, however, the company had run into financial difficulty, and William took over the freehold of the property – investing money into the firm to keep the company going. Alongside the aid of a third brother, George, who had expanded the business in New York, William took over the management of the Birmingham business, which was then renamed Chance Brothers and Company.

The company went on to become amongst the first glass manufacturers to carry out the Cylinder process to produce sheet glass in Europe. Far superior to the earlier Crown glass, sheet glass allowed the company to dominate the production of window glass for the next few decades. The company would provide glass for the Chatsworth conservatory, the new Houses of Parliament in 1848, and 300,000 panels for the Crystal Palace in 1851.

This new method, along with the repeal of the Window Tax in 1851, lead to a significant lift in the success of the business. William’s son, James Timmins Chance, was arguably the most integral to the continued success of the Chance Brothers business. After completing his degree in Mathematics at Cambridge University, James took his expertise in optics and dioptrics to the Chance family business, and it was his proficiency in producing lighthouse machinery and lenses that led the business to global success in this field.

William’s interests, however, were not limited to the glass making business, and he held a number of positions in public office throughout his life. He served as Constable of Birmingham from 1817 to 1818, and also as High Bailiff 1829-1830. In 1830, during his tenure as High Bailiff, he hosted a visit from the Duke of Wellington and Sir Robert Peel, at the height of their unpopularity. Amidst a backdrop of economic recession and hardship in Birmingham, the visitors were escorted up the canal to view the Spon Lane glassworks and were met with uproar from the local people.

During the evening meal hosted at the Royal Hotel in Birmingham by William Chance, protestors gathered outside shouting, booing and breaking windows. Then, in 1839, whist serving as magistrate, he dealt with the Bullring Riots. Crowds had gathered at the Bullring in support of Chartist speakers – who were demanding parliamentary reform. As Birmingham had no police force of its own at the time, Chance, as magistrate, received the London Metropolitan Police in Birmingham following their commission to suppress the riots. Upon seeing the police march into the city centre, the crowds became violent, and what had started as a peaceful protest ended in riots. William remained magistrate for Birmingham and Warwick for the rest of his life.

William Chance died in 1856 and is buried in Warstone Lane Cemetery, Birmingham.