Lizzie Edgar & The Bottle Stopperers

Diamond Wedding Celebrations

Our Great Grand Aunt, Elizabeth Edgar (1870-1956), was born in Newcastle Upon Tyne, Northumberland, the third of twelve children. Aunt Lizzie relocated to York with her parents, Ann LUMSDOM and John Thomas EDGAR, who worked as an engine fitter on the railways, until she entered domestic service for a family on Coney Street.

At the age of 21 she married Timothy McDonald, a third generation bottle stopperer. Their house on Ancroft Street, highlighted in red below, was located just inside the city walls and a short walk from his employer, York Glass Works. Uncle Tim worked as a bottle stopperer for more than 40 years.

Ordnance Survey 25 inch England and Wales, Yorkshire CLXXIV.10, Revised: 1929, Published: 1936, National Library of Scotland

In business for a century (1830-1930), the York Glass Co. produced medicinal bottles in a variety of colors including green, blue-green, cobalt blue, and flint. The firm used a single complex logo embossed on the base of glass containers and impressed into ceramic bases.

The bottle stopperer would grind the shank of the bottle stopper to fit a specific bottle exactly, and the bore of the bottle ground, to ensure a perfect fit. Up until around 1940, pharmaceuticals were stored and dispensed from the glass containers, sealed with glass bottle stoppers. After that, the medications started to be dispensed as tablets or capsules.

Set of York Glass Company Pharmacy Apothecary Chemist Bottles

Bottles with ground glass stoppers were two or three times more expensive than the equivalent bottle without a glass stopper so it is not surprising that most bottles of this are used where the contents were accessed repeatedly.

The production of glass stoppers and accompanying bottles were therefore critical during war time as the casualties mounted and hospitals burned through medicinal supplies. So important was the glass bottle manufacturer that the occupation was a protected career allowing glass bottle stopperers to avoid conscription. Admittedly uncle Tim was over the age of conscription by the outbreak of WWI.

My second memory was also during the First World War. My father was in a protected job in the glass industry. He had a highly specialised job as a ‘glass bottle stopperer’, grinding glass stoppers that fitted into medical carriers; vital to carrying much needed medical drugs to the front line for treating wounded troops…

Ron Taylor, The Early Years, Britain at War

Lizzie & Tim’s three sons Augustus, Wilfrid, & George, continued to live in central York with their own families. Augustus served as a batman with the Royal Flying Corp during WWI before returning to his career as a hairdresser. Wilfrid worked as a machinist for a cardboard box manufacturer. George was a coach painter at the railway works. By the end of 1930’s uncle Tim had retired from the glass works and started working as a scene shifter at the Empire Theatre.

Timothy McDonald 70, Glass Bottle Stopper – Retired, living with wife Elizabeth McDonald 69, Domestic Duties, and nephew Kenneth Bainbridge 18, Apprentice – Constructional Engineer, at 9 Ancroft Street, York. September 1939 Register.

The couple’s location in central York was especially appreciated by their nephews and nieces once their own sons moved out the house. Their nephew Kenneth Bainbridge lived with them, during 1939 (see above), while he was serving his apprenticeship with the railways in central York. It reduced his commute compared to traveling from Newton on Ouse. Ken stayed with Tim & Lizzie up until he joined the Royal Navy.

Elizabeth McDonald né Bainbridge & Timothy McDonald circa 1940

Our cousin Karen was doing a little family history and asked her aunt, Doreen Bainbridge, about her early life in Newton on Ouse. Doreen described her experience working for the Post Office on shifts in the Telegraph Office in York.

The winter of 1947 sank the country to a level of deprivation unknown during the war. The winter arrived with a vengeance as the country was gripped in an arctic freeze that lasted for two months. Snow storms whipped up into monstrous drifts which buried roads and railways. The temperatures fell far below 0ºC and the whole country became snowbound.

The roads were so bad, Newton on Ouse was cut off, so Doreen walked to York with a neighbour Bernard Jefferson, son of a LNER railway worker. Doreen only missed the first part of her shift, despite the weather, when in some places she was up to her waist in snow. She received a letter from the Postmaster General in London commending her. She also carried tins of soup because she would then stay with Aunt Lizzie!

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Family archivist, genealogical researcher, writer, and always open to receive questions, comments, and feedback via


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