The Hartley family of glassmakers came originally from Dumbarton, Scotland. John Hartley migrated from there to Nailsea, Bristol in 1812 where he began working with Robert Lucas Chance. In 1827 he transferred to W E Chance's glass manufactory at Oldbury, where, in 1830 the firm began to manufacture sheet glass. By 1832 John Hartley was experimenting with new German plate glass manufacturing methods which were taken up by his two sons, James and John, after he died in 1833. In 1834 James and John Hartley were taken into partnership by W E Chance and the firm became Chance and Hartley.
In 1836 the Hartley brothers left Chance and Hartley (which then became Chance Bros and Co) and moved north to Sunderland to set up their own business. The reasons why Sunderland was chosen as the site for their new venture are unclear, but it may have been because other family members (uncles and cousins) were already established in the glass making industry there.
The Wear Glass Works was established at the junction between Trimdon Street and Hylton Road, Deptford, Sunderland c 1836, trading as James Hartley and Co. Two years later, on 25 November 1838, James Hartley was granted a patent for Hartley's Patent Rolled Plate, manufactured by a new cast glass process, and the firm concentrated on this for the next fifty years. On 1 January 1840 John Hartley conveyed his share of the business to his brother, leaving James Hartley as a sole trader.
James Hartley built Ashbrooke Hall, Ashbrooke Road, Bishopwearmouth as his family residence in 1864. He served on Sunderland Borough Council and was twice Mayor. He was also a JP, member of the School Board and the Royal Infirmary Board, and, in 1865 was elected as one of the town's MPs. Around 1860 James Hartley took into partnership his son, John and John James Kayll, and for a short period of time the firm was known as Hartley and Kayll. When James Hartley decided to retire from the business on 31 December 1869, a new partnership was forged comprising the two remaining partners from the existing partnership, together with John's younger brother, Thomas Blenkinsopp Hartley and Hartley Perks Kayll. At this point the Company style reverted to James Hartley and Co. When Thomas Blenkinsopp Hartley died in 1872 the other 3 partners continued the business. On 22 April 1878 John Hartley too retired from active participation in the business, leaving the Kaylls as co-partners. James Hartley died in London on 24 May 1886 and his share of the business was divided between his two surviving sons, James and John. A month after his father's death, James sold his interest in the glassworks to his brother.
Although the Wear Glass Works had been very successful for over half a century, in the 1880s business began to decline because new plate glass manufacturing methods developed by rival firms were not adopted at Hartleys. Family wrangling over the will of John Hartley, who died on 6 December 1889, exacerbated the situation, leading eventually to a Court of Chancery order for the sale of the Wear Glass Works in 1892. It was purchased first of all by a Trust which, in 1893, sold it on to a new firm, James Hartley and Co Ltd headed by James Hartley junior, son of John and grandson of James the founder. The Wear Glass Works continued to produce plate glass and James Hartley & Co Ltd continued to exist for several years after the foundation of the Portobello Glass Works, but by 1915 the factory had closed and the firm was wound up. To revitalise the firm, James Hartley decided to develop the manufacture of antique coloured glass which up to this time had been a sideline. Alfred Wood, a skilled colour mixer was invited to join the Company from W E Chance Bros, which he did in 1890.
Alfred Wood's father, George worked for W E Chance as a colour mixer until 1873 when he left the company to become freelance. His son then took over his role. In 1882 Alfred Wood suffered a breakdown of some kind which may have been the factor which led him to consider moving elsewhere.
In 1892, with the Wear Glass Works failing, James Hartley junior, established a second business making antique coloured glass at the Portobello Glass Works in Portobello Lane, Monkwearmouth. Alfred Wood became his works manager. James Hartley junior traded here as The Portobello Glass Co Ltd until March 1895 when he took Alfred Wood into partnership and the firm became Hartley Wood and Co. On 9 May 1908 the partnership was dissolved and Alfred Wood continued the business in partnership with his son, Alfred John Wood. In 1912 Alfred John Wood and his brother Gilbert Henry Wood bought out their father's share of the partnership and established a new partnership. Alfred Wood died in 1916. In 1914 trade directories describe the firm as manufacturers of antique, ambitty and venetian glass.
Alfred J Wood died on 1 March 1948. The surviving partner, Gilbert Henry Wood took his son, Gilbert Hartley Wood (great-grandson of the founder) as a partner. A year later Allen Alder joined the firm, becoming a partner in 1952. Gilbert Henry Wood retired in 1957.
In 1982 the Company was taken over by Pilkingtons, although it continued to operate as Hartley Wood and Co. Pilkington's closed the business in July 1989 but the following year it was resurrected by an international consortium, Chynchen Associates, who converted it into a limited company in 1992. Hartley Wood and Co Ltd closed down on 28 November 1997.