I am this week indebted to fellow Black Country blogger and history wonk Simon Briercliffe of the superlative Up The Oss Road blog for pointing out the following text about Walsall Wood that he spotted in a Victorian account of brickmaking and structural ceramic manufacture, published in 1950.
‘A Rudimentary Treatise on the Manufacture of Bricks and Tiles’ was written by Edward Dobson, and published in 1850 by John Weale. The book is originally scanned from the Cabot Science Library at Harvard College, but made available free to all via the wonderful Archive.Org project. By it’s very nature, the book is a little dry, but it is actually packed with interesting stuff. You can take a look at here, and the pages in question start at the bottom of page 117.
What’s most interesting is the account of brickworks (which are also producing tiles and chimney pots) in Walsall Wood – note that this has to be pre-1850, so is long before deep mining started in the Wood.
There’s so much of interest here, it raises some excellent questions. Who was the account writer, J.L. Brown? Is George Brown a misunderstanding from Brawn? (Brawns, of course, owned Home Farm at Sandhills and the land there, and seem to have had a hand in the lime trade). Where were the brickworks, and the marl pits they dug?
Walsall Wood Colliery latterly had it’s own brickworks, but this is much earlier than that. What can we find out?
My thanks to Simon for an excellent spot – if you have anything to add, please do; comment here or mail me – BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com. Cheers.
BRICKMAKING ON THE SOUTH STAFFORDSHIRE RAILWAY.
38. The following additional particulars respecting brickmaking in Staffordshire were sent to the authorof this volume by Mr. J. L. Brown, of Farewell, near Lichfield, and are given in his own words:—
‘The brickyard I visited is on the highway iron Lichfield to Walsall, at a place called Walsall Wood; it is worked by Mr. George Brown, of the Sand Hills, near that place. Mr. B. has another brickyard in the neighbourhood, more extensive than the one I visited, and from these brickyards have been supplied all the bricks used for building the bridges, viaducts, cattle- arches, culverts, &c., &c., on the South Staffordshire Junction Railway.
‘The brickyard I visited has six kilns or cupolas, and three large moulding and drying sheds for use in the winter season, each 40 yards long by 8 yards wide, having fire-places at one end, and traversed by flues, longitudinally, to a chimney at the other end.
‘The material used is not a clay, but a friable kind of marl. The first stratum under the surface soil is about 4 ft. thick, very compact in body, and requires the pick to get it; it .is of a purplish hue. This is succeeded by a stratum, 3tft. thick, of bright yellow-looking marl, equally intermixed with marl, of a bright scarlet colour, and afterwards, down to the depth of 20 ft., the purple-coloured marl comes in again.
‘The earth, in its raw state, is drawn up an inclined plane on a common railway truck, by a steam-engine of 20-horse power, and at the top of the incline it tips itself into a hopper placed over the cast-iron rollers, between which the marl passes and comes down an inclined board, after being ground quite small. It is afterwards wheeled into heaps and tempered, and is then wheeled up an inclined plane of earth to the engine house, where it is passed through vertical cylinders of cast iron, in the centres of which are revolving pistons armed with flanges, like the screw propeller of a steam vessel, which grind the tempered clay and force it through holes in the bottoms of the cylinders to chambers beneath them, whence it is wheeled to the moulders.
‘They make red and blue bricks of the same marl, prepared, in each case, by rolling and grinding. To make the blue bricks, they keep the fires very much sharper and hotter, which changes their colour, and seems to run or fuse the material more, giving them at the same time a shining appearance. They make very few red bricks.
‘The price of the best bricks at the kiln is 30s. per thousand; common bricks, 25s. per thousand. Plain-tiles for roofing, 28s. to 32s. per thousand. They also make chimney-pots, pipes for the conveyance of water, splayed bricks, coping bricks, and bricks to any model.’