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9th September 2005 at 01:00
It is difficult to imagine a world without glass, and a Merseyside museum offers an exciting historical, scientific and glass-making experience. Gary Hayden has a look at a clear winner

Put together sand, soda and lime, heat the mixture and you get glass. This simple recipe has been known for more than 4,000 years. The Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt owned glass ornaments, but it was the Romans who made glass into a commonplace household item, thanks to the invention of glass-blowing in the 1st century bc.

Glass has a host of useful properties. It's cheap to produce, durable, rustproof, waterproof and recyclable. It can be shaped and coloured. It's largely unaffected by chemicals and it's transparent. Glass is so useful that it's hard to imagine the modern world without it.

The World of Glass museum is housed in a stylish, modern building with a stunning glass pavilion and incorporates a Grade II listed Victorian glass-making furnace. The building straddles the Sankey Canal, which was essential to the growth of the coal and glass-making industries in St Helens.

The museum employs a team of glass artists who use traditional methods to produce "studio glass", and who give glass-blowing demonstrations. There is a Glass Roots Gallery with artefacts dating back to the Neolithic period, as well as an Earth Into Light Gallery chronicling the industrial history of St Helens.

A class of Year 2 pupils from the Holy Spirit Roman Catholic Primary School in Netherton is visiting the museum as part of their science programme.

Helen Palmer, the museum's education and outreach officer, has planned a fast-paced and varied programme of activities for them.

The day begins with a Glass Properties workshop, led by Helen. Pupils learn how glass is made, handle old and new glass artefacts, and discuss the properties and uses of glass. Then, class teacher Carole Hall guides them around the Glass Roots and Earth Into Light galleries, where they learn about the history of glass and glass-making.

After this, the children let off steam in the popular Glass Magic interactive area - an intriguing collection of light-based tricks and illusions. The "anti-gravity" mirror lets them see themselves suspended in mid-air; distorted mirrors twist their reflections into grotesque shapes, and a walk-in kaleidoscope lets them see their image reproduced countless times. Most popular of all is the Magical Maze, where Filigrano, the resident wizard, appears and disappears in a mysterious manner.

Before lunch, the boys and girls have time to take in the Glass Revolution audio-visual show, charting the history of glass. The language used is rather grown up, but there are enough bangs, flashes and special effects to keep the children absorbed for 20 minutes.

After lunch, the activities begin with a Kaleidoscope workshop. Pupils investigate light, mirrors and reflections by making simple kaleidoscopes to take home. This is followed by a traditional glass-blowing demonstration featuring resident glass-blowers Vicki and Dominic, which culminates in a glass-blowing competition between teacher Carole Hall and a parent-helper.

The tour ends at the historic Cone Building. This was erected by the Pilkington Brothers glass company in 1887, and housed the world's first continuous glass furnace. Pupils don hard hats before entering an impressive network of fuel, air and access tunnels situated beneath the building.

* There are plenty of workshops available to pupils in KS12, including the Victorians, Roman Britain, Handling the History of Glass, Paper Mosaics, and Glass Painting.

* Helen Palmer is working with teachers to produce packs, which will be available later this year. She is also planning a new set of workshops aimed at KS3 pupils.

On the map

The World of Glass Chalon Way East, St Helens, Merseyside WA10 1BX Tel: 08700 11 44 66 Email:

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