The kiln fields

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One and a half centuries later, bricks are still made locally from a material recognisable to the writer in 1850, using process that although automated, really haven’t substantially changed.

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.

Ruth 028

Brick making has been consistently big business locally for hundreds of years, as this image from Ruth Penrhyn-Lowe of Aldridge Brickworks shows.

‘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.’

 

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11 Responses to The kiln fields

  1. Pedro says:

    For Brown read Brawn, he did have a bigger complex near one of the wharves on the canal near Lichfield. More info later

  2. Pedro says:

    Actually Brawn features in the book “Wyrley and Essington through time” by Ray Shill as building much of the canal with his bricks.

  3. David Evans says:

    Hi Bob
    a huge thanks to Simon Briercliffe for this amazing discovery. Margaret Brice’s book “Walsall Wood- a short history” ( featured on this blog on 15 July, 2012,), pages 2 and 3, has something to say on this important yet seemingly under-recorded part of our local history,
    many thanks for posting this super article, Bob.
    kind regards
    David

  4. David Evans says:

    Hi Bob
    Gould’s book, “Men of Aldridge” published in 1957, which you kindly featured in the blog article “We free men”, 24 April 2016, gives some -brief – reference, on pages pages 111, and 114.
    I hope that readers and researchers can add much, much more to this topic, please
    David

  5. Carole ford says:

    My Dad use to work at Aldridge brickyard he was there for years.

  6. Pedro says:

    In the White’s Directory of 1851 there is a George Brawn, Brick and tile maker!

  7. Pedro says:

    1851 White’s gives George Brawn, Walsall wood, Brick and Tile maker

  8. Pedro says:

    April 1858

    One night last week, seven or eight men, armed with firearms, entered the brick and tile works of Messrs Joberns and Arrowsmith, at WW and damaged a quantity of unburnt bricks and tiles by trampling them down, and throwing waste needles over them. A young man who was on the premises challenged the scoundrels two of whom fired at him. Part of the contents of the second discharge lodged in his forehead and the right breast. The gang the proceeded to Messrs Joberns and Arrowsmith’s works in the parish of Aldridge, where they trampled down the quarries, and strewn a quantity of waste needles over the clay…..

  9. Pedro says:

    Jan 1863

    To be Let…The well-known Walsall Wood Blue Brick and Tile Works…situated between Walsall and Lichfield on the Turnpike Road, and have FoR many years been operated by Messrs Brawn and Co. There is a first rate bed of clay, especially suitable for tiles, Pipes etc. The plant comprises of every convenience for carrying on an extensive trade….

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