Disaster glass mystery: Auctioneer solves puzzle with help from Woodhorn Museum

Northumberland Archives at Woodhorn has helped solve the mystery of an engraved glass at a Whitley Bay auction house

Darren Riach auctioneer at Featonby Whitley Bay with a wine glass etched with the man that broke the bank from Blyth
Darren Riach auctioneer at Featonby Whitley Bay with a wine glass etched with the man that broke the bank from Blyth

Pit disasters in the North East were commonly marked by the production of engraved glasses.

But one glass baffled auctioneer Darren Riach.

It arrived at Featonby’s Whitley Bay salerooms together with glasses engraved to record mining tragedies at Hartley and Burradon, both now in North Tyneside.

However, the third glass was engraved with the line: “The man who broke the bank at Blyth 1894.”

“It was a mystery who the man was or what he did,” said Darren, who will sell the glasses at auction on Monday.

“Pit disaster glasses are not uncommon but this bank glass was a first for me.”

Northumberland Archives at Woodhorn stepped in and found accounts of the Blyth incident in newspapers of the time.

The man was John Robinson, who was the proprietor, secretary, treasurer and auditor of the Blyth Deposit and Advance Bank.

He was as a mainstay of the Blyth community, as he also owned the Blyth Examiner newspaper, ran a stationer’s shop, was a sub-postmaster, owned Blyth Central Hall and was clerk of the Cowpen Local Board and Cowpen Burial Board.

He was also secretary of the Blyth and Cowpen Gas Company and the Shipwrecked Fishermen and Mariners’ Society.

According to the Newcastle Courant, he was “prominently connected” to the Northumbrian Permanent Building Society.

But in February, 1894, savers found the bank doors closed and Mr Robinson gone, together with the books.

The Journal reported: “It is one of the most gigantic commercial collapses which has ever figured in Blyth.”

The Courant said: “It is well known that the majority of depositers were country people and some reside as far away as Carlisle.”

There were alleged sightings of Mr Robinson, who left a wife and two children, in France and later from around the world.

But he was never seen again. The Newcastle Courant reported later that it was believed that he died in Australia.

Mr Riach said: “The story behind the glass is a fascinating one.

“The production of an engraved glass means that it must have been a really big thing in Blyth.

“Perhaps the glasses were made to sell to raise money for those who had lost their funds.”

Glasses were also engraved to commemorate colliery disasters at Sacriston in 1903, Kelloe in 1897, Seaham in 1880, Usworth near Gateshead in 1885, West Stanley in 1909 and Woodhorn in 1916.

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