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Some of the workers were very young. The Graphic of June 1871 wrote of drunkenness in brick yard children under ten and reported that at Oldbury, Lancashire, ‘a child, four years old, was found helping her sister aged seven to carry clay.’

Charles Dickens in Bleak House (1853) makes his most brutish character a brick maker, and describes in some detail the interior of his cottage, his wife’s bruises and his daughter’s laundry arrangements. Anthony Trollope in Framley Parsonage (1867) writes of a West Country parish ‘abounding in brick - makers, a race of men very troublesome to a zealous parson who won’t let men go rollicking to the devil without interference’. But however troublesome and rollicking, the brick makers of the past matched the hard-drinking railway navvies in producing results which endured and are, indeed, an important part of Britains heritage.

The British, living in a land of brick work, have long seen the brick as a symbol of solidity. We talk of an object being as hard as a brick , of knocking heads against brick walls and of sinking like a brick . We drop a brick . It is probably a hard brick , likely to break something; but in this metaphor there can be a reminder of the softness of a brick when just moulded and of the need for careful handling. To pay someone the compliment of calling him a brick , though now an entirely English expression, is believed to derive from the reply of an Eastern king to an invading army which made fun of his unwalled towns: ‘My troops are my walls and every soldier is a brick .’

The brick maker no longer symbolises the rough-living worker, but there are still brick yards in which he works in the old way. Electrically driven machines may dig out and mix the raw material, but some of the best brick s are moulded one at a time by hand. The moulders are paid by the piece and may turn out over 1,500 brick s in a day. To watch a strong young man raising a lump of clay above his head, dashing it generously into the

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mould and then striking off the surplus, offers as picturesque a sight as any in modern manufacture.

Out in the country the places of work can be picturesque, too, even romantic, with their rustic drying and making sheds and primitive kllns in a setting of hollows, mounds and hillocks. In L.F’. Hartley’s celebrated novel The brick field, an isolated brick yard in the fens of Suffolk is the scene of innumerable secret meetings between a young boy and his girl. All over the world, it seems, a rural brick yard may offer itself as a halting place, an oasis of warmth, during a walk on a cold evening. The hero of a modern Chinese novel, * strolling with a girl, says he will take her to a nice place.

‘Where are we going?’ She followed him.

‘There is a brick yard on the southern slope. It will be warm there.’

Whell they got to the southern slope, they could see smoke rising from the brick -kiln chimney. Nearby was a thatched woodshed, facing south and backing on the kiln. They

went into the shed and it was very warm. They sat side by side on a bundle of faggots. The moon beams slanted

in from the West under the low straw eaves

proprietors of country brick yards in Britain generally put up a notice to the effect that visitors after hours come at their own risk. They don’t mind couples but are worried about tramps who leave litter, or worse, to be found in the morning. Mr H.P. pycroft, a Hampshire brick maker and builder, can tell of a tramp who was found insensible from having gone to sleep hard against a clamp kiln at a point where fumes were escaping.

About 2 per cent of Britain’s brick s are made by hand in small yards with buildings like old farm buildings, but these are the brick s which many people like to have in the parts of walls that show and high prices are paid for them. It is the hand-

* Chou Li-pO’ Great Changes in a Mountain Village. Extract given in John Gittings’s A Chinese

View of China, BBC, 1973.

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made brick s, with their tell-tale marks, which the many

mechanised brick factories seek to imitate. To compare such

brick s with concrete products is to realise that they are the

most natural-looking of the artificial building materials.

Although no machine-made brick can look exactly like the hand-made article, Britain’s London brick Company can now produce mechanically, and in vast quantities, facing brick s that agreeably suggest it: this is done before firing by coating fletton brick s with sand and a variety of other finishes.

The appeal of brick in general seems bound up with the simplicity of the basic process. To make an experimental brick let no tool is necessary except perhaps a spade. Scoop out a lump of clayey subsoil from the garden, knead and shape it (as in breadmaking), slowly dry and then bake red hot.

Firing might seem a problem, but I have found that this is satisfactorily achieved by leaving the brick let in the heart of a solid-fuel fire which is kept going for about thirty-six hours.

The brick let is more likely to turn out red than any other

colour because of the prevalence of iron oxide in clay,

brick making material is broken-down rock of one geological

age or another and is conveniently called clay (or, by non-

geologists, brick earth); but the amount of true clay present

may be less than 10 per cent. True clay consists of alumino

silicate minerals in particles of infinitesimal fineness and is

distorted too much by heat to be useful on its own for brick -

making. It is only necessary that there should be enough of it

mingled with the mass to give plasticity, the ability to hold a

shape: the non-clay materials like sand serve the invaluable

purpose of reducing shrinkage on drying and preventing the

brick s from cracking under heat.

Some brick makers are lucky enough to be able to dig material

which naturally contains clay in the best proportion for corn-

mercial brick making. A mixture of clay and sand called loam is

one of these; another is a mixture of clay and chalk called maim.


Less fortunate brick makers must be always adjusting their clay to give it a suitable plasticity. Very often sand or finely ground ash is added. The blue London clay is a good example of a clay which is far too sticky to be used on its own without a heavy admixture of other materials to reduce plasticity. Some of the shales, which are hardly sticky at all, are made plastic by grinding to powder and adding water.

Water-soluble salts in the clay can cause efflorescence on the finished brick unless appropriate action is taken during the preparation and during kilning; and stones, especially lumps of limestone which swell on getting wet, can cause disintegration. One advantage of the old method of tempering clay for moulding with the bare feet was that stones could be readily located by feel and thrown out. Now they are generally dealt with by powerful crushing.

There are three main ways of making brick s, of which the socalled soft mud process is the most traditional. The clay mix

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is made into a paste by adding water, pushed into wooden moulds and at once tipped out: this operation is done by machine as well as by hand and the product is generally known as a stock brick , the term coming from the stock (or fixed piece of shaped wood) which holds the mould. Those who want stock brick s for their texture of minor irregularities and fold marks will probably not find it in the machine-moulded stocks.

In the wire-cut process, a fairly stiff mix is forced in a column through a rectangular die and cut off into brick s by taut wires. About a third of all British brick s are wire-cuts. Slightly under a half of the clay brick s are made by the semi-dry process of London brick Company in which the clay, being hard, is first powdered and then pressed into shape.

To acquire their characteristic durability, brick s must be fired for a period of days at a temperature greater than 900°C, the actual temperature depending on the clay being used. As the heat rises the character of the clay and its colour continues to change. Where brick s of exceptional hardness are wanted— brick s of the sort called engineering—the clay is fired in such a way that vitrification (or partial fusion) of the


Simple plant for making machine-moulded brick s. On its way to the machine, the clay passes through a pair of crushing rollers to deal with small stones

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material is pushed further than usual. The making of such brick s, and the forming in them of blue ferrous silicate, calls for careful firing because prolonged burning can easily lead to distortion brought about by the irregular behaviour of fused material. Both Staffordshire and Holland are noted for extra hard brick s. The small Dutch clinker, 7 inches by 3 by 1, has in the past been imported for paving yards and stables.

Variations in clays, even within the same district, lead to corresponding variations in process from one brick yard to another; and in some there must be constant experiment in adding more or less of certain materials. The necessity for every commercial brick yard to adjust its way of brick making to the clay available seems to account for the fact that no industry has fewer handbooks on how to do it than brick making—less than a dozen between 1622 and 1966.

A truth about brick making which in recent years has taken many firms by surprise is that brick s emerge a slightly different colour when, for reasons of convenience, a kiln is fired by gas instead of coal. A large firm in the Midlands, supplying the brick s for a block of flats in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, made the change in the course of meeting their order with the result that the brick s in the final delivery did not quite match the rest. The brick layers, to the architect’s dismay, continued to build with them. In the end, the huge expense of rebuilding was avoided by the procedure of the three royal gardeners in Carroll’s Alice, the ones who planted white roses in mistake for red and were in danger, if the Queen found out, of having their heads cut off. The brick firm sent three men with paint and brushes and instructions to tint each brick in the upper storeys of the building to the shade of those in the lower storeys.


Good brick is unlike concrete and stucco in needing no maintenance or surface treatment. It is improved by weathering and even looks the better for the passage of five hundred years. It is often more durable than natural stone. The London stock and yellow gault brick s with which Sir Joseph Bazalgette built the great sewers of London between 1858 and 1875 continue to serve their purpose. Concrete has been tried in recent times for sewer works in London, but brick s have been shown to wear better under the scouring of miscellaneous fluids and grit, to form stronger and more satisfactory junctions and to be less slippery for the sewer men to walk on.

The handy weight and shape* makes brick relatively untiring to build with, for the workman can grasp his brick with one hand while picking up mortar with the other; he finds it, too, a flexible unit with which to follow most drawings. Even throughout the great stone building areas of the Mediterranean, it may be seen again and again in older houses that window and doorway arches, set like raised eyebrows in the stonework, are neatly and strongly brick . However, the extent to which builders have turned to brick s because of their regularity is traditionally hidden by a stucco finish—there are plenty of houses in the old quarters of Paris which contain less of the local coarse limestone than at first appears.

Having been hardened by intense heat, brick s are very good at resisting fire. Thus the metal in steel-framed buildings may be buried for safety in brick work; and it can often be seen that the flues and chimney stacks of old houses, stone as well as wooden,

* The size of a brick has scarcely changed in centuries. The most recent British Standard

is 8 inches by 4* by 2* or 215 mm by 025 by 65 (B.S. 3921)

. 12 The properties of brick

are of brick . Few brick s lack toughness, but obviously some must be used with common sense. There are less than fully-fired brick s which should not be exposed, unrendered, in the outer leaf of a wall; the otherwise robust fletton brick s are damaged by frost if laid as a coping on parapets.

But in general where brick work has failed in any respect, the fault is unlikely to be in the brick s themselves. Take the damp patch on a ground-floor wall of a country cottage. This could well be explained by such things as the absence of a damp course or the presence just outside of a banked-up flower bed. If chimney breasts upstairs are damp, the cause could lie in a lack of protective flashing at the junction of stack and roof.

It has never been a protection against rain to build with the hardest, densest brick s, for wherever water has encouragement to get in, it does so through chinks in the mortar joints rather than through the brick s themselves. In fact, brick s that are porous enough to absorb a certain amount of water actually discourage th entry of rain at the joints.

The properties of brick 13

The chances of penetration by rain are reduced to nil today by cavity-wall construction, which also gives a degree of insulation. And no water can rise up from the ground where a damp- course is built in, as is usual, just below the level of the floor.

The insertion of dampcourses, formerly of slate, had become the usual practice by the end of the nineteenth century. On the other hand, the cavity wall, with metal ties to hold it together, was almost unknown until 1912. For years this construction was specified only occasionally for the more expensive brick houses. But to the busy speculative builders of the 1930s, it was welcomed, Morris S. Whitehouse remembers, ‘as a boon and a blessing because it was almost foolproof against bad workmanship and bad design’. Unless a workman completely blocked up a cavity with mortar droppings, no water could get through.

It has been argued that the dampcourse was a more important invention than the cavity wall. The point is debatable. But it can certainly be said that while a house without a damp- course is liable to be damp whether its walls are avity or solid, a house without cavity walls need give no trouble if it is carefully built and if there are wide eaves and appropriate devices, especially below windows, to throw off water. The fact that many thousands of Britain’s older houses remain dry with 9- inch solid brick walls is a tribute to sound workmanship.

All the same, quite serious failures in brick work took place from time to time in the mid-nineteenth-century period because of skimped mortar and poor laying. Workers’ houses in London which partially fell over in the course of construction made a not-uncommon item of news in the papers. During the building of Euston Station in 1848, inefficient cutting of brick s to the right shape for arches led to a disastrous collapse.

Old brick walls remain which, though still doing their job, are leaning over, cracked or bulged. The reason for such failures may become clear in the exposure brought about by demolition work. Tenuous foundations are found. Inside a misshapen solid

brick wall it may be seen that the mortar is no stronger than dust, thus allowing the individual brick s far too much freedom to shift and settle. A twentieth-century cavity wall, perhaps not forty years old, yet having an ominous bulge, will suddenly expose its fragile-looking section and with it the fact that the ferrous metal wall ties have come adrift because of rust or settlement.

brick buildings rarely develop a fault because the brick s are not hard enough. Yet since the nineteenth century the commonest laboratory test has been for their crushing (or compressive) strength. Even today the brick firms like to be conversant with these figures for their various grades of brick and no sales leaflet is thought complete without a statement of them.

Although customers may be persuaded that high crushing- strength figures indicate high quality, such figures need not be a reliable indication that certain brick s resist the weather

well or are more serviceable than others. The figures below indicate the range of


strengths in lb. per square inch with, in brackets, the equivalent in meganewtons or N mm2:

Engineering brick s

Class A 10,000 (69)

Class B 7,000 (485)

Facing brick s

Flettons 3,000-4,500 (205—318)

Others 1,000—12,000 (7—83)

Common brick s

Flettons 3,000—4,500 (205—318)

London Stocks 750—1,500 or more (52—105)

Others 2,000—6,000 (14—414)

Alfred Searle, in the 1956 edition of his Modern brick making, points out that a brick in a wall has the tiny area of 025 square feet which is subject to vertical pressure from the brick s above it and that no less than 8,000 would be needed to crumble a

The properties of brick 15

brick in the lowest range of crushing strengths. These 8,000

brick s, one on top of the other, plus mortar, would reach a

height of 1,750 feet.

The architect planning tall buildings of load-bearing brick work. which must be economically costed, has of course to take account of crushing strengths. And there are structures for which the density and strength of blue engineering brick s are appropriate. But for ordinary small houses any modern building brick is much stronger than necessary for its job.

Even before firing, dried brick s may have a crushing strength in excess of 350 lb. to the square inch and could be used in their green state for building a house in Britain, if the walls were subsequently rendered against rain. A bungalow in the south of England was recently built with green brick s by accident— a most unusual accident—and several months passed before it was even noticed. Having been well dusted with orange sand, the brick s had an appearance that deceived both the lorry driver and the brick layer to whom he delivered them. The buyer of the bungalow moved in, quite satisfied; but one day he noticed, while watering roses planted against his walls, that the brick work was being washed away. Needless to say, the brick firm had his bungalow rebuilt with the fired article.

There exist numerous old engineering works—bridges, retaining walls for railways—which theoretically demanded the strongest brick s and did not get them. They were built with humble stocks and yet are still in good order after more than a hundred years. However, Victorian engineers calculated brick work by rule of thumb and, tending to over-specify, got massive results—the early skyscrapers of New York were built in mass brick work. London stock brick s have yielded almost monolithic structures, for these fairly weak brick s have hardened in London’s smoky air through recrystallisation of the calcite, and at the same time the lime mortar between them has been hardened by carbon dioxide.


The history of building in brick appears to offer only one instance of disaster caused by too low a crushing strength—and that was largely a matter of builders’ negligence in that a great weight was allowed to rest on a small area of brick work. During the afternoon of 17 January 1878, an oyster-seller in the Hay- market, London, noticed that the doors of his tall narrow house on the corner of Panton Street stuck in their frames. Towards night, creaking sounds were heard and lumps of plaster fell from ceilings. The oyster-seller sent his assistants outside, but he himself lingered. He was killed outright when his house, together with the one next to it, fell over into the street.

In the enquiry that followed it was established that, as a result of alterations to the two houses to produce shop fronts, much of the weight of both had been supported by a cast iron pillar resting on the stump of an old party wall. The brick s below and around the base of this pillar were crushed to dust.

How far this London accident of 1878 was a factor in making people sensitive about the compressive strength of brick s is unknown, but the enquiry was fully reported in the Builder and it so happens that shortly afterwards activity in the testing of brick s (and stones) became widespread. Later that year, in Germany, work began on setting up certain extra regional testing laboratories which had been called for by the Union of German Architects’ and Engineers’ Societies, and during the l880s conferences were held in Munich, Dresden, Berlin and Vienna to discuss the best ways of testing building materials. In France the École Nationale des Ponts et Chaussees began testing brick s in 1881.

The United States Army was required in 1884 to test the brick s of the New Pension House in Washington, and reported that they withstood a pressure of up to 10,000 lb. to the square inch— more than good granite would stand. The first serious investigation in Britain into brick work strength was conducted by a committee of the Royal Institute of British Architects between


1895 and 1897; piers built with different kinds of brick , in mortars made with lime and with cement, were tested after three months and six months.

Research into brick s and the machines to make them has been going on throughout the twentieth century in the laboratories of the bigger brick firms—London brick Company spends £100,000 a year on research—and in the national research stations to which the industry and government subscribe.

The British Ceramic Research Association has for years been subjecting samples of brick work to artificial rain, frost and wind; and it owns a rig of 900 tons with which the strength of walls is tried out by applying pressure from the side as well as from above. Tests inspired by London’s Ronan Point disaster of 1970, in which slabs high on a tower block came adrift when there was a gas explosion, have shown that properly bonded brick work will withstand explosions better than more modern building components. It was also found that only in the most contrived situation was it possible to achieve a gas-explosion pressure approaching 5 lb. per square inch. The British Ceramic Research Association also runs a clay-testing service. Members may send a sample and learn—before investing money in plant

—how far their raw material is suitable for brick s. Since a clay report can be done on a sample of a pound or two, the service is well used by potential brick makers overseas. It is an achievement of the Association that one of its experts on brick s, Mr H.W.H. West, has written a useful book on brick making for the developing countries, published by the United Nations in 1969. It is read in parts of the world where the need is to employ as many people as possible, rather than as few, and it thus describes procedures and equipment which are now old-fashioned in Britain.

A lot of work has been done on methods of putting holes in brick s to make them lighter, to save clay and to keep out moisture. The Building Research Establishment at Watford


was especially active over this during the 1950s and drew interest with the invention of a double brick called the V, designed to span the whole width of a wall—it consisted of two perforated brick s joined together with webs in such a way that penetration by water is almost impossible. It has not been taken up commercially, partly on the grounds of expense and partly because of some discomfort in handling.

Hollow clay blocks, or structural clay tiles as they call them in America, have always been strong enough, despite their brittle appearance, for external walls as well as load-bearing internal walls. But they could not be used in this way until 1937, when the Ministry of Health issued revised model by-laws for building. Previously the by-laws required that all external walls, at least in towns, should consist of not less than 8 inches of solid incombustible matter.

The change in the regulations did not cause a rush to make use of hollow clay blocks. Unlike in France, where they have been used in great quantities to replace stdne since 1855 (solid brick s are today made only in a small area of the north of France), in Britain architects and builders, not to mention their clients, have never ceased to hold conservative views about them. But the prime reason for resorting only in a limited way to hollow blocks (for backing work and floors) is that traditional solid brick s are unusually cheap, especially the fletton kind which are economically fired with the fuel occurring naturally in the clay from which they are made. Low cost compensates for the rather longer time it takes to build a wall with brick s than with the larger hollow blocks.


brick BC

The story of the brick begins with sun-dried mud brick s formed with hands alone. I have seen walls built with such brick s at least 10,000 years ago deep in excavated sections of ancient Jericho, which is believed to be the oldest town in the world. There are prized-out specimens clearly showing Neolithic hand marks.

These early brick s have the shape a person gives automatically to dough when breadmaking without a tin, and indeed they resemble long loaves of bread, flat underneath and rounded on top. Squeezing and consolidating, the makers sometimes left a bold pattern of thumb impressions; these had the incidental function of helping the brick s to key in with mud mortar.

The soil of Jericho, much of it windblown dust with a proportion of finely powdered lime, was especially suitable for sundried brick s. When turned to paste with water, it had the plasti



city of clay and became dense and heavy on drying. Neolithic brick s ring to the knock like concrete and have been shown by modern tests to have a crushing strength equal to half that of an ordinary fired brick . They were vulnerable to water, as are all plain mud brick s, and needed a plastering over with mud after wettings in the rainy season. The owner of a mud- brick house in modern Jericho assured me in 1974 that maintenance was no great trouble because it seldom rained.

Sun-dried brick s, requiring only labour to make, were so effective that kiln-fired brick s did not appear till the third millennium BC, long after the art of pottery had demonstrated the effect of a high temperature on clay. For thousands of years fired brick s were a luxury article for those able to command the use of scarce fuel. Even today, according to a recent United Nations survey, more of the world’s houses are built of unfired earth than of any other material.

In several countries, including Russia, over half the houses are of this type. Mostly they are simple one-storey dwellings, but it is possible by thickening walls to build tall houses with mud brick s. In Anatolia, Turkey, where the manufacture of mud brick s is a centralised industry, houses built with them may be five storeys high; wide roof eaves, giving Turkish mud houses a Regency look, protect against the worst effect of rain, and bottom courses of stone prevent erosion by dampness. Mud and straw is moulded into outsize blocks in Mexico, where the word adobe is merely Spanish for mud: adobe has been a South American building material for at least 5,000 years.

The earliest peoples on earth were nomads who sheltered in caves and temporary huts. Making brick s came with settling down in one place and raising food from the land. Jericho drew the world’s first settlers less because it was an oasis with a permanent and copious supply of water from the Jordan than because, by a chance thought miraculous, wheat instead of grass began to grow there. For people settling down, something


more robust than shelters of twigs and daub was wanted, and the local soil, kneaded into convenient shapes, made the obvious building material. Neat mud brick s were quicker to build with than lumps of stone that were irregular and in any case hard to find at Jericho.

When the site of Jericho was first occupied the ground was flat and on a level with the river. Today it is a ten-acre grassy mound rising to seventy feet, built up layer by layer of the remains of 9,000 years’ worth of mud houses; some of them collapsed after being abandoned and others through destruction by earthquakes and invaders. Unlike the components of stone houses, the brick s of ruined mud houses are unsuitable for reuse: successive waves of settlers simply built again on top of smoothed-out remains.

The resultant mound is known in Arab countries as a tell. Jericho’s tell has been of special interest to archaeologists because of the famous story in the Old Testament concerning the capture of it by the Israelites in the fourteenth century BC and the fall of the town walls. The tell has been excavated several times in the past hundred years, but never more ably and scientifically than by teams directed by Dame Kathleen Kenyon in the 1950s.

Her conclusion that the stumps of mud- brick walls at the base of the tell are datable to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period, to 8000 BC or even earlier, was based on Carbon 14 analysis of such organic material as wood and bones found in or near the walls. In her book Digging Up Jericho Dame Kathleen states that to form these walls—they are mainly 18 inches thick and some have brief stone footings—the majority of the brick s

are laid as stretchers, three to the width of the wall, but occasionally there are groups of headers running the full ,idth of the wall. The whole forms a structure which

it is still quite hard work to demolish, and it is a very


Dimensions varied from house to house, but a common size was 10 inches by 3 wide and 3 deep, just small enough for the builder to hold with one hand; in this characteristic of being easily handled, valued by brick layers today, early Neolithic brick s are more similar to modern brick s than the great slabs which came to be made with the aid of moulds in the third millennium Bc—and which were usual in Roman times.

The archaeologists were able to study at Jericho two types of house belonging to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic Age. In the earliest period the houses are small and round, a translation into a solid structure of the nomad’s flimsy hut. Then, around 5000 BC, following an abandonment of Jericho for several centuries, a more sophisticated type emerged, rectangular in plan. Some had sizeable rooms linked by wide openings. Almost certainly they were of one storey only and roofed with poles and reeds daubed thickly with mud: this kind of roof is still common in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Living-room floors in this type of house had a finish of lime plaster laid concave at the junction with walls, a device used today in hospitals to prevent dust from accumulating in awkward corners. The floors emerged so hard and shiny that the archaeologists found they could effectively swill them down with pails of water, imagining as they did so the same action being performed 7,000 years ago by a Neolithic housewife. The cooking in these later houses of around 5000 BC seems to have been done in a central courtyard; for layers of ash were found separated by thin layers of clay, the find suggesting that when the courtyard became offensively grimy a new surface was laid on top.

This second Neolithic-Age Jericho came to an abrupt end, it has been realised, around 4500 BC. But a period of desertion was not followed by progress in the art of living. Indeed the next occupation exhibits a retrogression. The new people knew how to make vessels of pottery—an advance on hollowing out


pieces of stone—but in all other respects they were more primitive than their predecessors. There is evidence that some settlers, rather than build, lived in pits dug out of the ruins. Those who made brick s made them small and bun-shaped. In Walls of Jericho Lady Wheeler, who worked with Dame Kathleen, commented that they seemed ‘idiotic’:

It is strange that such an inconveniently shaped brick

should have caught the imagination of those far-off peoples:

but evidently it did, because they were used by builders

farther away to the east in the Tigris and Euphrates valleys at the end of the fourth millennium . . . it is highly

improbable that the idea for such an idiotic brick should

have occurred spontaneously to two different peoples.

The smallness of bun brick s would have meant less failures through cracking in the hot sun, but most likely their appeal was simply that given two hands full of mud, the shape was the least trouble to form. Children could make them, and very likely did so.

The step forward in brick making of using a box mould instead of merely the hands is dated to the Early Bronze Age, a period starting in the Middle East around 3000 BC. The celebrated walls of Jericho, begun at the beginning of this period, were largely built of box-moulded mud brick s. These are quite different from the hand-formed type in being large even slabs, often 14 inches by 10 in plan and 2 inches thick; their regularity made it possible to have thinner mortar joints. There are signs that animals’ dung was sometimes mixed into Jericho’s brick s as a strengthener, but the incorporation of such fibrous binding material as straw, which was to become a usual practice in Egypt, was never thought necessary because of the cohesive properties of the soil.

The earliest walls of Jericho were about 3 feet 6 inches thick at the base, but they were rebuilt and strengthened over so many centuries that the thickness became enormously increased.


The worst threat to Jericho’s defences came always from the earthquakes which take place roughly four times a century in the Jordan Valley. At intervals in the length of certain sections of the wall there are cavities about 3 feet square which seem to have been an anti-earthquake device. They localised a collapse in the manner of today’s expansion joints: in places a section is seen to have fallen while the adjacent section, beyond one of the cavities, still stands about 10 feet high.

Attacks on the walls by enemies occasionally took the form of lighting fires against them which, so far from causing a breach, served only to strengthen and harden them. At the foot of one stretch was found a layer of ash 3 feet deep, derived from a huge pile of brushwood. The mass of brick s, 17 feet thick at that point, had been burned red all through, a process helped (compare clamp firing at a brick yard) by interior fuel in the form of wooden ties. Building material was never deliberately fired, so far as is known, in the Early Bronze Age; though here, for anyone who had cared to take notice, was a demonstration of the effect of prolonged and intense heat on earth.

To hold the massive leafs together, here and there huge wooden ties were inserted.


Largely because of erosion, remains of Late Bronze Age settlement have almost entirely disappeared, and unfortunately no trace at all remains of the walls of Jericho which fell down dramatically when menaced by the children of Israel in the fourteenth century; archaeology can add only conjecture to the vivid description in the Old Testament’s Book of Joshua. ‘One can visualise’, writes Dame Kathleen Kenyon,

the Children of Israel marching round the eight acres of the town and striking terror into the heart of the inhabitants, until all will to fight deserted them when on the seventh day the blast of the trumpets smote their ears. But as to what caused the walls to fall down flat, we have no factual evidence. We can guess that it was an earthquake, which the excavations have shown to have destroyed

a number of the earlier walls, but this is only conjecture. It would have been very natural for the Israelites to have regarded such a visitation as divine intervention on their behalf, as indeed it can be regarded.

Evidence of very early use of mud brick s and blocks has been found in many other parts of the Middle East, in Central and


South America, in Turkey and in India. Charles Steen, of the USA National Parks, has written:

Adobes were extensively used in the Chicama Valley of

Peru as early as 3000 BC . . . the brick s were cast in moulds which were made of crushed and flattened bamboo. The

peoples of the desert kingdoms of South America plastered their adobe struotures—pyramids, temples, houses—with

either a mud plaster or a thin lime wash.

Since nothing has been discovered to link the ancient cultures of America with the Old World, it seems that brick making, like pottery, has been a lesson twice learned by man.

During the 1960s archaeologists working at Catal Huyuk, southern Turkey, found numerous remains of houses built before 5700 BC with slabs so heavy that two men were needed to lift them—these finds have been discussed in a book on Catal Hüyük by James Mellart (1967). The same kind of large slab went to build most of eighteen successive levels of mud walling, dating from the fourth millennium, which has been found at Eridu, Iraq.

The period 2800—2300 BC produced in Iraq its own characteristic type of moulded brick s. They were flat bottomed with a convex top, about 9 inches by 6 and about 24- inches thick at the centre— the result of heaping mud into a mould and rounding it off with the hands. The brick s were commonly laid herringbone- fashion: this too appeared to be characteristic of the place and period. Two or three courses of brick s on edge leaning in one direction were followed by two courses of brick s laid flat, and then by two or three in which they sloped diagonally in the opposite direction.

From about 2000 BC till the fall of Babylon in the seventh century BC the normal mud brick s for important works resembled blocks of stone, 12 inches by 6 and 6 inches thick, or 14 inches square and only 4 inches thick. Some enormous struc



were put up, with walls up to 20 feet in width. A tower at Erech had its outer surface protected by thousands of pieces of pottery hammered into the mud while it was still slightly plastic; later on it became usual to encase certain buildings at least partially with burnt brick s.

The firing of brick s has been carried out since the third millennium BC. Several specimens of this date from Indus Valley sites are in the Museum of Ancient brick , Johnson City, Tennessee. Any people who had acquired the art of making pottery obviously knew how to do it—and how to make other simple clay products like drain pipes and troughs—but, for ordinary building purposes, there was reluctance to expend scarce wood fuel on making building materials. Sundried brick s, dense and heavy, were certainly more satisfactory than those burnt brick s which for economy reasons had been fired at too low a temperature.

Egypt has always lacked wood and her early mud brick industry, demanding plenty of straw, is widely known about because of references to it in the Old Testament. The Egyptians put chopped straw in the mix because the alluvial mud of the Nile was strongly plastic and needed fibres to stop it cracking. Their great slab-like brick s, weighing about 35 lb., were employed for many of the early pyramids, dating from around 2000 BC.

The Israelites during their bondage were obliged to make enormous quantities of these heavy brick s for the erection of such cities as Pithom and Rameses. Biblical accounts of their hardships are illustrated by tomb pictures which show them staggering under the weight of water pots, mounds of mud and yoke-loads of finished brick s. Taskmasters, whip in hand, are plentifully represented. Nevertheless the Israelite captives seem to have been far from conscientious at times. The late Sir William Willocks reported in From the Garden of Eden to the Crossing of the Jordan that he had

picked out of old ruins in the Delta scores of brick s which

contained nothing but straw daubed round with mud. These


had undoubtedly been made by captives who were contemplating revolt. The taskmasters had furnished a sufficiency of straw for a certain tale of brick s, but the captives had hurriedly wasted it and delivered a totally inadequate number of brick s. . . . Those who acted in this way had begun to feel that they were not utterly helpless.

Deliberate wasting of straw accounts for the Pharaoh’s renowned instruction to the taskmasters of around 1490 BC:

Ye shall no more give the people straw to make brick . Let them go and gather it for themselves, and the tale of the brick s, which they did make heretofore, ye shall lay upon them.

The Pharaoh, Rameses II, was faced with industrial action. But this is not the first recorded dispute in the building trade, for around 2250 BC thousands of brick makers and brick layers went on strike at the site of the Tower of Babel. Here was to have been a tower of burned brick s so high it would reach


heaven, but when it had reached a certain height the workers in a mass left off what they were doing and scattered. They had become confused, it seems, by the number of different languages they were expected to understand and, according to chapter 11 of Genesis, the confusion was divinely inspired, signifying displeasure over the idea of raising a ladder to heaven. Shortly after the departure of the workers most of the tower fell down.

George Every has suggested in Christian Mythology, 1970, that the Genesis account serves as a parable on the subject of young people undertaking with enthusiasm tasks which are beyond their strength and powers of organisation. ‘As soon as this is discovered the groups dissolve in mutual misunderstanding and recrimination.’

In later Jewish legend, Mr Every points out, the building of the Tower of Babel was the first occasion for the sacrifice of human beings for the sake of a structure. If a man fell to his death it did not matter, but if a brick fell, it might take a year to replace. Women helping to make the brick s were not allowed to stop


even to have a baby. When a baby was born, the mother had to strap it in a sheet to her back and go on working.

Where brick s were burnt four or five thousand years ago, the job was done by one of two methods which are still current— in England as well as in the Middle East. One method was to build a heap (or clamp) of green brick s, interspersed with fuel and flue tunnels, and set fire to it. The burning process would take several weeks, though less time and less fuel were needed with brick s containing straw, a built-in combustible matter. Dr Norman Davey suggests in his History of Building Materials that the average temperature reached would not have been much higher than 800°C, with the consequence that many clamp- fired brick s were underburnt and soft.

The other method was to burn the brick s in simple updraught kilns. These consisted of two chambers, one above for the brick s and one below for the wood fuel. An early example, dating from about 2500 BC, has been excavated at Khafaje. Similar kilns were built by the Romans, and kilns following the same principle are still in use in England at a few country brick yards.

By the end of the third millennium BC some elaborate work was being done with the aid of burnt brick in the Sumerian cities of present-day Iraq; there is evidence of a palace built at Erech (c. 2400 BC) and a temple at Ur (c. 2300 Bc), while at Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro houses were built on platforms of burnt brick to raise them above flood level.

Most of the moulded brick s—that is, those not simply chopped into shape—were about 10 inches by 6 and 3 inches thick. The burnt brick s made centuries later by the Babylonians were commonly a little thicker and 12 to 18 inches square. By far the best example of building with these is the Ishtar Gate in Baby- ion constructed under Nebuchadnezzar II, 604—562 BC. It was faced with brick s embedded in bitumen; this was used hot, according to Herodotus, and came from Hit.


Bituminous mixtures were also used in ancient Babylon for road-making—on a foundation that consisted of several courses of burnt brick s. After the collapse of the Babylonian Empire under Nebuchadnezzar the new rulers, the Persians and the Seleucids, gave up bitumen and used for their walls inferior loam or lime mortar. Well over two thousand years passed before bituminous mixtures were again used, for waterproofing buildings and for road-making. In 1835 the Place de la Concorde, Paris, was surfaced with bitumen mixed with powdered rock asphalt. In England the first road so treated was Threadneedle Street, London, in 1869. Nebuchadnezzar was ‘modern’, too, in introducing the making of glazed brick s for walls, some of them specially moulded to provide pictures of animals in relief.

Nebuchadnezzar’s building work is given extra fascination by the fact that, unlike the Jerichoans, he lived in a civilisation


buildings with mud walls, these being concealed beneath a most necessary covering of plaster and paint, tar, or weather tiles. Sometimes the occupants of old buildings are ignorant of what they are made of until they try to cut a new opening for a door or window.

A minor revival of the arts of building with earth took place during the brick shortages that followed the First and the Second World War. The architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis gave encouragement during both periods and remains fascinated by the idea of getting houses to rise up literally out of the ground. He has probably written the last word on the subject, so far as its history goes, in his book Building in Cob, Pisé and Stabilised Earth, 1947.

Building with cob was the slowest and most laborious method, since each layer of wet material, laid on with spades, had to be allowed time to dry. Pisé de terre is the name for earth rammed down nearly dry between shutters: some experimental pisé cottages built at Amesbury in the 1940s remain in good order

—another was added to the group in 1959. Stabilised earth consists of top soil and cement formed into blocks. Clay lumps resemble ordinary brick s in their green state—they are laid with a soft clay mortar. Sir dough commented as follows on the matter of strength:

All forms of earth construction have proved themselves adequate to support the loads of the normal twostorey house—about 1+ tons per foot run—provided walls of a generous thickness, usually about 18 ins, to 2 ft. are used.

It is claimed that compressive strengths of 1000 lb. per square inch and more can be achieved with cement stabilised earths, and while these figures may be somewhat extravagant, depending on careful control in the soil mix and very thorough compaction, it should nevertheless be possible to exceed 400 lb. per square inch, at which strength it would be reasonable to use the material in cavity


construction with leaves 4 ins, in thickness, provided the usual number of wall ties were included. This would

of course apply only to two-storey houses with joisted

floors and with evenly distributed loading.

That, however, was written in 1947. Even experimental building with earth was virtually brought to an end in Britain by the coming of new materials and techniques, of easily available supplies of inexpensive brick s, and by the rising cost of labour which made it no longer an economical method of construction. The situation in less developed countries is different, as will be shown in the final chapter of this book.


Roman brick

Mud brick s were being used in Greece in the fourth century BC (they helped to make the walls of Athens), but in general they were for humble dwellings only and for the cores of stone walls. Mud brick s were later used in Rome, however, for the construction of substantial houses— brick s of higher quality than the Greek ones, according to the historian Pliny.

Burnt as well as sun-dried mud brick s were being made in and around Rome by the end of the first century BC, but Vitruvius in his treatise on architecture, written about 25 BC, refers almost solely to the sun-dried kind. His fellow Romans were at that time making burnt brick s as a matter of course in England, where the climate seemed to demand them; in the south these were reserved for such features on a mud building as a projecting course to throw off rain. Vitruvius, whose sections on brick make pleasantly soporific reading, discusses the details to be considered when making mud brick s:

Gravelly, pebbly and sandy clay are unfit for the purpose; for if made of either of these two sorts of earth, the

brick s are not only too ponderous, but walls built of them, when exposed to the rain, moulder away, and the straw

with which they are mixed will not sufficiently bind the

earth together because of its rough quality. They should be made of earth of a red or white chalky, or of a strong sandy, nature. These sorts of earth are ductile and cohesive, and not being heavy, the brick s made of them are more easily handled.

The proper seasons for brick making are the spring and autumn, because then the brick s dry more equably.

When plastering is laid and sets hard on brick s which are


not perfectly dry, the brick s, which will naturally shrink, and consequently occupy a less space than the plastering, will thus leave the latter to stand by itself . . . it soon

breaks to pieces, and in its failure sometimes involves that of the wall. It is not, therefore, without reason that the

inhabitants of Utica allow no brick s to be used in their

buildings which are not at least five years old and

also approved by a magistrate.

Mud brick s came in three sizes apparently: the didoron, a foot long and half a foot wide; the pentadoron, five palms of the hand each way; the tetradoron, four palms each way. The pentadoron was for public buildings and the other two for private buildings. Each sort had a half- brick made to suit it.

The Romans’ first use for fired building material was to make tiles to waterproof roofs. But the builders found the tiles, and broken pieces of them, so valuable for strengthening vulnerable parts of walls that when, in the first century AD, burnt building brick s were demanded, these were made tile-like to match existing work—and also because thin brick s took less fuel to fire. The word ‘tegulae’ meaning tiles served also for brick s. The brick earth was sometimes trodden or banged out like pastry and then made into brick s by cutting.

usual size was a foot or so square and 1- inches thick, but there were many others: small brick s to be laid on edge in floors (as in the Forum at Colchester), segments of all kinds

columns and octagonals for certain small columns. Walls were generally composed only partly of brick s, having them as a protective facing to a core of concrete made with lime and earth

with lime and volcanic ash.* In Rome itself there was a liking for pyramid-shaped brick s. The apex of each was embedded in the concrete, though occasionally the units would be reversed to produce a strongly textured effect. Since the concrete hardened slowly, the outward thrust of it during

The Romans’ discovery that volcanic ash near Pozzuoli made a natural hydraulic cement

led to the modern term pozzolanic.


not perfectly dry, the brick s, which will naturally shrink, and consequently occupy a less space than the plastering, will thus leave the latter to stand by itself . . . it soon

breaks to pieces, and in its failure sometimes involves that of the wall. It is not, therefore, without reason that the

inhabitants of Utica allow no brick s to be used in their

buildings which are not at least five years old and

also approved by a magistrate.

Mud brick s came in three sizes apparently: the didoron, a foot long and half a foot wide; the pentadoron, five palms of the hand each way; the tetradoron, four palms each way. The pentadoron was for public buildings and the other two for private buildings. Each sort had a half- brick made to suit it.

The Romans’ first use for fired building material was to make tiles to waterproof roofs. But the builders found the tiles, and broken pieces of them, so valuable for strengthening vulnerable parts of walls that when, in the first century AD, burnt building brick s were demanded, these were made tile-like to match existing work—and also because thin brick s took less fuel to fire. The word ‘tegulae’ meaning tiles served also for brick s. The brick earth was sometimes trodden or banged out like pastry and then made into brick s by cutting.

usual size was a foot or so square and 1- inches thick, but there were many others: small brick s to be laid on edge in floors (as in the Forum at Colchester), segments of all kinds for columns and octagonals for certain small columns. Walls were generally composed only partly of brick s, having them as a protective facing to a core of concrete made with lime and earth or with lime and volcanic ash.* In Rome itself there was a liking for pyramid-shaped brick s. The apex of each was embedded in the concrete, though occasionally the units would be reversed to produce a strongly textured effect. Since the concrete hardened slowly, the outward thrust of it during

The Romans’ discovery that volcanic ash near Pozzuoli made a natural hydraulic cement

led to the modern term pozzolanic.


shaped, the soft wet brick s were left on a bed of sand to stiffen enough to be stacked in the kiln. During this period they might acquire unofficial marks: foot or paw impressions and lighthearted drawings of faces. A Roman brick in the Guildhall Museum, London is inscribed, apparently with a twig, AVSTALIS DIBVS XIII VAGATVR SIB COTIDIM, which means ‘Austalis has been going off by himself every day for a fortnight’—thirteen days equals a fortnight in colloquial Latin. A worker seemingly wished to draw attention to the absences of one of his mates.

Roman brick kilns had several flues beneath the oven floor and were similar to kilns that had been in use two thousand years previously—and to some kilns of the Middle East today. In 1932 Dr Norman Davey excavated a Roman kiln at St Albans and gave this account of it:

The structure, composed of pieces of brick and tile bonded with clay, was built below the natural level of the


ground. In this way the structure was solid and better able to withstand the stresses set up in it by the great heat, and the heat losses were greatly reduced. As the level of the oven floor was approximately the same as that of the ground, the stacking of brick s in the oven was easy. The kiln, as was usual, was built on the windward slope of the hill and the fire tunnel was lengthened to increase the draught... the products to be fired would have been surrounded and covered by pieces of burnt brick and tile smeared with clay to protect them from the weather and to prevent the heat escaping too quickly.

Although nearly all the brick s made in Britain by the Romans were red, in Rome the architects came to take an interest in getting them to emerge from the kilns in other colours. Among the extravagances of the final phase of the Roman Empire, in the fourth and fifth centuries, was a fashion for embellishing buildings with patterns of coloured brick s. They were worked


into the walls, among the classical features, to produce the sort of polychrome effects of yellow, red and brown which stamp many houses in Britain as late Victorian—these also, of course, were put up during the final years of a great empire. Examples of such Roman brick buildings still exist in Rome.

The craft of brick making appears to have ceased in Britain a little before the Roman legions departed in AD 412, and hardly a brick was made during a period of seven hundred years. But from the seventh century, when Saxon invaders had become established, second-hand Roman brick s were often employed for ecclesiastical and public buildings. The supply of excellent brick s to be prised out of ruins must have seemed endless: the Normans no less than the Saxons were able to make use of them, and today all over southern Britain there are modest churches of rubblestone in which Roman brick s appear the most substantial ingredient. Essex is the county with most examples.

At Holy Trinity church, Coichester, the Saxon tower is built of brick s taken from the Roman city of Camulodunum, the


ruins of which lay to hand. Verulamium, another city, was systematically broken up late in the eleventh century (and again early in the twelfth) to get materials for what is now St Albans cathedral: the west front there has a profusion of tile-like brick s in conjunction with stone and is regarded as one of the best examples in Britain of re-used Roman brick . Of the parish churches there is an example of particular interest at Brixworth in Northamptonshire and at Bradwell (St Peter- on-the-Wall) in Essex.

Summing up, it can be said that though there are only a few places in Britain where Roman brick s can be seen doing their job in the buildings for which they were made, they still help to support plenty of buildings raised in later and less secure ages. The use of brick s for strengthening purposes, as demonstrated by the Romans, became part of the British building tradition. It is especially noticeable in chalk districts; the walls of flint which are common on the downs of southern England and in East Anglia are invariably laced with string-courses and quoins of brick .


the great brick occurs in northern Italy as early as the late eleventh century in the church of Santa Fosca at Tortello. He gives ‘the very close intercourse in trade between the Venetians and the Flemings’ as a possible cause of the northward spread of the craft. But already by the early twelfth century a positive renaissance of brick was taking place in Flanders, Holland and northern Germany. Builders and their patrons became especially enthusiastic about brick because large areas lacked stone.

The eastern counties of England were short of stone, too, and inhabitants enriched by trade were glad to take up new ideas brought across the North Sea by those Flemish immigrants who were brick makers and masons. Flemish brick s came to be imported as well as made locally with the help of Flemish craftsmen—202,500 were shipped from Ypres in 1278 for work on the Tower of London—but such imports, costly in transport, occurred less often than has been claimed.

The advance of brick work in eastern England, with the spread of such familiar features as the Dutch gable, was encouraged by merchants and sea captains who had to visit the towns abroad where brick making flourished and impressive buildings struck the eye. English brick could almost be called a by-product of dealings with the Hanseatic League: this was a powerful combination, formed in 1241, of trading centres in the Low Countries and north Germany. The town of Hull in Yorkshire, which became the first all- brick town in England, did much profitable business with the League. Even Hull’s encircling wall and towers were made of brick . A municipal brick works run by chamberlains was in operation between 1303 and 1433. The brick s it turned out, still referred to on paper by the Latin word tegulae (tiles), were mainly red and ranged in size between 11 inches by 5- by 2 for the town walls, c. 1321, and 9 inches by

4- by 2 for Holy Trinity church, 1315—20—this building was so artfully stuccoed in the eighteenth century that in 1756 a visiting antiquary supposed it not to contain a single brick .


The first dwelling house built with more brick than other materials is Little Wenham Hall, Suffolk, 1260—80. All the brick s are of the contemporary Flemish pattern, but since exactly the right clay for their colour—cream to greenish yellow—is to hand locally, it is no longer thought certain that they were imported. A large number of these Little Wenham brick s measure 9 inches by 44 by 2: this is only fractionally different from today’s British Standard Metric size of 215 mm by 1025 by 65 (84 inches by 44 by 24). In these times of rapid change, it is reassuring to notice that at least one artifact in common use has barely changed in shape since the thirteenth century, that the brick reached England seven hundred years ago as a perfectly developed unit. Apart from the great brick , rare after 1300, the brick as everyone knows it has varied in size by little more than an inch in any dimension.

Mr Harley, who is president of the British brick Society, puts forward the theory that the measurement which has changed least is the half-girth. The breadth plus the thickness, he points out, are the important dimensions when it comes to picking up a brick ; and he takes into account the smaller size of the mediaeval hand shown by suits of armour.

In the fifteenth century the main use of brick that developed was in the building of schools and colleges (Eton; Jesus College, Cambridge), churches and a few castle-like houses. Some of the more imposing of these brick buildings have a French air, the result of the men responsible for them having spent time among castles in France during the Hundred Years’ War.

Herstmonceux, a fairy tale castle in peach-coloured brick , c. 1440, is certainly French in feeling: Sir Roger Fiennes, its creator, was at Agincourt. Now in the hands of the Royal Observatory with its beauty unmarred, Herstmonceux remained until nearly the end of the fifteenth century the only brick building of consequence to be seen so far west as Sussexbrick belonged to the eastern counties. Its tentative diaper patterns, formed with brick s having ends of a different colour,


are an early example of a type of flat ornament in brick work, used in France, which was to become common over much of England; the skill with which the patterns were worked in Tudor times—as at Farnham Castle, Surrey—may be the more marked if these are compared with modern versions. Caister Castle in Norfolk, whose brick s seem to have come from a site by the River Bure still called brick Pits, was built around 1430 by Sir John Fastoif who had seen long service in France and, although Caister is now in ruins, its circular tower and corbelling show French influence.

But there were of course other Continental influences during a period when places like Lubeck, Ratzeburg and Danzig were famous for their Gothic architecture in brick . Tattershall Castle in Lincolnshire, completed in 1449 for Ralph Lord Cromwell (he also had served for years in France) shows a variety of influences, according to Dr D. Simpson in a British Archaeological Society paper (volume 40): these include the brick castles of Old Prussia and the Palace at Marienburg at Gdansk, Poland. Tattershall had moreover a Dutch master brick maker, Bawdwin Docheman. The building..must have seemed very unEnglish in its earlier years: today it looks like the prototype of romantic barrack towers in Victorian garrison towns and some universities.

In the Tudor period (1485—1603), brick became so well thought of that the rich were glad to have their houses built with it exclusively, even sometimes in parts of the country offering adequate supplies of stone. When people saw that brick was good enough for the king himself, its social acceptance as an alternative to stone was complete. A dark but mellow red was preferred; today the very word Tudor suggests the brick of that colour at St James’s Palace and the older parts of Hampton Court Palace, and its use as a trade name for one of London brick ’s facing brick s may have helped these to be best-sellers.

If Henry VIII’S reign (1509—47) was the first great age of brick , it


was also an age of remarkable—and pleasantly absurd—chimney building. London had had plenty of chimneys a hundred years earlier, but in the country as a whole (with outstanding exceptions like Tattershall and Layer Marney) anything more than a shaft of unfired clay was unusual throughout the fifteenth century. People put up with the smoke that failed to escape through a window or a hole in the roof. The purchase at Rickmansworth in 1425 of ‘2000 breke* for making chemeneys at Langley’ was an event to be proud of—the quotation appears in the Rev. Valentine Fletcher’s book Chimney Pots and Stacks, 1968. William Harrison, an Essex parson, reported for Holinshed’s Chronicle (1577—87) that elderly villagers were marvelling and shaking their heads to ‘see the multitude of brick chimneys lately erected’. He adds: ‘Now we have many chimneys, and yet our tenderlings complain of rheumes, catarrhs and poses’; in his opinion smoke had been a good medicine.

By the beginning of the sixteenth century most house-owners at least aspired to chimneys, and brick was widely called for as the best material for making them. It was also, since it readily took special shapes before firing, a material which allowed the brick maker and brick layer to outdo the stone mason in meeting a demand for show. Many stone houses were fitted from the start with brick chimneys. The brick s had to be bright red to make sure that the work stood out. Mr Fletcher reports that at Collyweston, Lincolnshire, in 1504 a deficiency in redness was helped out with

vij lb. of red ocker with 1 oz. of the offales of the glovers lether, vijd. Item to John Bradley wiff for xiiij gallons

of small ale for the said cheney of bryk, vjd.

The affluent appearance of the chimney stacks of Tudor resi

* brick s had formerly been called walltyles. The Norman-French word briche began to be used in the late fourteenth century and was spelt brik, brike, brick e or bryk. A fourteenth- century dungeon at Windsor Castle was recorded as being of paris and brikis (stones and brick s). Miss Jane Wight writes entertainingly of brick ’s vocabulary in brick Building in Englond. 1972.


dences, visible from afar, influenced those concerned with the building of lesser dwellings. Yoeman farmers added ornamental brick chimneys to their oak-framed houses and those who were building afresh knew that brick s were an urgent requirement, for the stack would go up first and have the rest of the house built round it. A surprising number of farmers, perhaps chimney snobs, contrived to have the upper part of their stacks made in the octagonal, hexagonal or spiral form of high fashion; work of this kind can often be seen where old half-timber buildings are grouped together. Famous examples of virtuosity in chimney building include those at Gainsborough Old Hall in Lincolnshire, Kirby Hall in Northamptonshire and Cobham Hall in Kent.

The use of brick for all purposes spread in the second half of the sixteenth century to several districts in which before it had been unknown. By 1574, according to the Victoria County History, Southampton had its official brick maker, but he could not supply all that was needed for housing the gentry. brick began to appear in the South Midlands and was even seen, mixed with stone, in Derbyshire and Lancashire. Contrary to popular belief, brick nogging was not yet being inserted in half-timber houses: there were plenty of daubers capable of making the wattle-and-daub infilling that put no strain on a wooden framework.

Long before the Great Fire, the advantages of brick were being appreciated in London by members of the professional classes. The founding of the Tylers’ and brick layers’ Company in 1557—early in Queen Elizabeth’s reign—indicates the new importance acquired by brick . The Charter of Incorporation was confirmed by another granted in 1571* and further strengthened by charters signed in the reigns of James I and James II. These charters gave the Company full jurisdiction

* Talk of the so-called Elizabethan Statute brick has arisen through Nathaniel Lloyd

supposing that this document, giving the brick Size 9 inches by 4+ by 2+, referred to a statute where in fact it merely confirmed London by-laws.


over the manufacture of brick s and tiles for the City of London and also over the journeymen, brick layers and tilers employed. The Company’s authority, extending within a radius of fifteen miles from the City, included power to inspect finished and partly finished buildings, to impose fines for bad work and to bind apprentices.

Most people having some acquaintance with England can bring to mind Tudor buildings which are partly if not wholly of brick . They may not be well known; there are still large numbers of Tudor houses, in the Eastern counties especially. Because of rough handling and a very thorough firing, the slender and slightly curved and twisted brick s of Tudor times have an agreeable homespun look giving character to the walls they form. Where Tudor brick work is oppressive in its redness, the fault may be found less in the brick s than in mortar joints that have turned black from town smoke—as at St James’s Palace in London. But out in the country the wide pale joints never cease to tone down pleasantly the colour of the brick s. And if anyone still wonders why the joints were so fat, let him build a garden wall with a heap of old brick bats, some perhaps with cement attached, and try doing it with thin joints.


Early brick making practice

Pre-industrial brick making in England was a very local activity. In 1477 brick s to repair the walls of the City of London were made from earth dug in Moorfield, and the lawyers of Lincoln’s Inn were able to make brick s from their Coneygarth next to the site. Wherever possible, people did their digging for brick earth in such a way that the cavities could be turned into moats or cellars.

Throughout the early centuries of brick making, the work—it was work for the summer months only—was done by builders and their labourers, by farmers and theirs and by itinerant brick makers who were called in to produce the materials for a particular building. An agreement of 1644 relating to Syon House, Middlesex—M.W. Barley describes it in his English Farmhouse—gives an idea of what happened. John Hawkes of Hounslow was to have £5 towards digging the earth, £3 for each week when it came to working, £5 15s. at the end of making half a million brick s and, finally, 6s. 8d., for each 10,000 ‘well and sufficiently burnt and delivered out of the kiln’. As late as 1833 J.C. Loudon, in his Encyclopaedia of Cottage, Farm and Villa Architecture, advises farmers on how to make their own brick s; and many an isolated brick barn, by no means ancient, has near it a patch of irregular ground (there may be a small pond) which indicates where once there was a miniature brick field.

Commercial yards equipped with permanent kilns existed none the less from the fourteenth century. One of the first was at Beverley in Yorkshire, where the town rented out land for brick making. Large estates such as the Duke of Bedford’s (Woburn has a seven-mile brick wall) maintained their own brick yards. These were partly commercial in that they found a


market for brick s not needed on the estate: the Ashburnham Estate brick yard, founded in mediaeval times, became so well thought of that its products, fired with wood, were still being sold to the public in 1968.

Much of the charm of the earliest English brick s derives from their numerous imperfections. Carefree puddling and squeezing of the raw material, followed by fierce firing, produced plenty of misshapen specimens, a well-pitted texture and a variety of soft colours. The use of esturine clay may show itself in water- formed, wavy lines.

The brick s of the Cow Tower, 1380, guarding a stretch of the River Wensum at Norwich, were made of an incompletely stirred mix which fired to the shades of red, pink, yellow, grey and green. These brick s also vary in size, lengths ranging from 8 inches to 12, and widths from 4 inches to 7. It seems certain that nearly all of them were made by the method, often used by the Romans, of cutting them from layers of stamped-down clay. To prevent it sticking to the ground, the wet clay would be spread


out on straw. The more general procedure, though, was to form brick s in moulds and then to arrange them on straw to dry. When a mediaeval brick is prized from its fellows in a wall an impression of straw, sharply etched, is often seen; and there may be lines showing where another brick had rested during drying. Examining these marks, and studying the documents of such a brick yard as Hull’s, has shown students of brick that the method of making hand-moulded brick s has probably changed little since mediaeval times. Much study in this field has been done by the geologists Ronald and Patricia Firman, who reported results in 1967 in the Mercian Geologist, journal of the East Midlands Geological Society.

brick earth was dug in the autumn, they confirm, and piled in heaps for the action of the weather, especially frosts, to break it down to some extent. In the spring it was tempered—that is, trodden or turned with spades to produce an even plastic consistency. The moulder, working at a table, sanded or wetted his wooden mould and threw into it with some force a lump of clay. He sliced the surplus from the top of the mould with a stick known as a strike or with a cutting wire on a bow.

The moulded brick s were carried—sometimes in the mould and sometimes between two small boards called pallets—to the drying ground and laid out in a herringbone pattern. When the first row was partly dry, a second was laid across it and when that was ready, a third, until a height of ten rows had been reached. This pile of drying brick s was known as a hack. For the brick s to be dry enough to fire might take a month, during which time straw covers protected the hack from rain and excessive sun.

Burning seems to have been mainly done in kilns of the simple up-draught kind. Otherwise, brick s were burnt in clamps (or heaps), but as the word clamp was often used of permanent kilns, there is uncertainty about the prevalence of the method. It is known, though, that kilns were made from unfired brick s if fired ones were not available and that green brick s were often


stacked inside them in the way they were stacked in the hack. There are a few brick yards in England today where most of these procedures are still carried out.

Hull fired its brick kilns with peat turves, and on one occasion, according to Miss Wight, needed 84,000 turves to fire 35,000 brick s. But the normal fuel was wood and the Tattershall accounts of the 1450s record the cutting of hundreds of small trees for burning. Coal came into use for firing brick s in the seventeenth century. The firing in a wood-fuelled kiln, containing not more than 20,000 brick s, would be continued for a period of about a week.

brick s may be regarded, geologically, as heat formed sedimentary rocks. Having so considered samples of mediaeval brick , Ronald and Patricia Firman were convinced from the evidence of plasticity, of fossils and other inclusions that only superficial clays were used; that no mediaeval brick s were made from the older carboniferous shales, Keuper marl and Jurassic clays, which are the raw material for about 80 per cent of modern


brick s. This accounts, they say, for the obvious difference in appearance of mediaeval and modern brick buildings—and the reason for a less marked difference in East Anglia is that superficial deposits continue to be used there.

Nearly all mediaeval brick s were made of brick earth taken straight from the ground with nothing added. Exceptions include the brick s at Little Coggeshall. These have been found to contain a high proportion of coarse sand, all its grains about a millimetre in diameter, which is evenly distributed throughout a matrix of very fine particles. The Firmans concluded that the

lack of intermediate-sized grains suggests that this is an artificial mixture. If this deduction is correct, then as

early as the 12th century some brick makers were aware of the value of adding sand to plastic clay to reduce the

shrinkage on drying and burning. The technique was already known and used by potters in East Anglia.

Early brick s which are pale pink or yellow, as at Jesus College, Cambridge, were the products of earths which contained naturally a high chalk content. But around the middle of the fifteenth century brick makers seem to have made an effort to avoid the lime clays and to concentrate on those whose iron oxide content ensured redness in the brick s.

Red was the colour aspired to by nearly everyone planning to erect a brick house or add a brick chimney to a timber house. When the redness was thought inadequate for a certain task, it might even be increased artificially. Records of a manor house at Collyweston, Northamptonshire, show that about 1505 the colour of brick s for chimneys was improved by a mixture of ‘offalles’ from glove leather and ale.

A picture of mediaeval brick making appears in a Netherlands Bible of 1425: it purports to show the Jews at work in Egypt but really shows contemporary practice. Another early picture— of a moulder at work—appears in a book of trades by Hartman


nus Schopperus published in Frankfurt in 1568. The earliest written picture of brick making is believed to be contained in a letter of 1683 from J. Houghton to the Sheriff of Bristol—it is quoted by Nathaniel Lloyd in his History of English brick work. Houghton describes digging up the earth in the autumn, weathering it in the winter, tempering in the spring, and the placing of dough-like heaps on the moulding table. At the unencumbered end of this table are

boards nail’d about nine inches high to lay sand in and in the middle we fasten with nails a piece of board, which we call a stock; this stock is about half an inch thick and just big enough for the mould to slip down upon. Then we have a mould made of beech, because the earth will slip easiest from it . . . we also have upon the table before the mould a little trough, that will hold about three or four quarts of water which we put in, and in it a strike to run over the mould to make the brick s smooth. . . . When we are thus prepared with utensils, then one man strews


nus Schopperus published in Frankfurt in 1568. The earliest written picture of brick making is believed to be contained in a letter of 1683 from J. Houghton to the Sheriff of Bristol—it is quoted by Nathaniel Lloyd in his History of English brick work. Houghton describes digging up the earth in the autumn, weathering it in the winter, tempering in the spring, and the placing of dough-like heaps on the moulding table. At the unencumbered end of this table are

boards nail’d about nine inches high to lay sand in

and in the middle we fasten with nails a piece of board, which we call a stock; this stock is about half an inch

thick and just big enough for the mould to slip down upon. Then we have a mould made of beech, because the earth

will slip easiest from it . . . we also have upon the table

before the mould a little trough, that will hold about three or four quarts of water which we put in, and in it a strike

to run over the mould to make the brick s smooth. . . . When we are thus prepared with utensils, then one man strews


sand on the table (as maids do meal when they mould bread) and moulds the earth upon it, then rubbing the stock and inside of the mould with sand, with the earth he forms a brick , strikes it, and pays it upon a pallat; then comes a little boy about twelve or sixteen years old and takes away three of these brick s and pailats and lays them upon a hackstead, a raised place.

There follows a description of how the boy stacks the green brick s to dry, arranging them on edge in a herringbone pattern, and of how he covers the piles with straw; it took between three weeks and a month for the brick s to become dry and hard. Houghton remarks that a moulder helped by a temperer and by

boy to carry off the brick s, would make 2,000 ‘in a summer’s day, viz., about fourteen to fifteen hours’, though an extraordinary man could make 3,000. Without assistance, his day’s output would be about a thousand. Alone or helped, his pay was 4s. for 1,000 brick s, a rate which remained roughly constant until the early twentieth century when it dropped by over a shilling. Houghton describes the firing:

Our brick s being thus prepared, the next matter is to burn them, which is after this manner: When we begin a new brick ground, for want of burnt brick s we are fors’t to build a kiln with raw brick s, which the heat of the fire by degrees burns, and this will last three or four year; but afterwards we make it with burnt brick s and we choose for it a dry ground, or make it so by making dreyns round it. This kiln we build two brick s and a half thick, sixteen brick s long from inside to inside and about fourteen or fifteen feet high; at the bottom we make two arches three foot high. .

After a rather complicated account of stacking the brick s in the kiln, Houghton writes of lighting a small fire in each arch to drive off the ‘water-smoak’ and of then increasing the size of the fires until the brick s become red hot throughout the kiln.


The firing would take no more than three days, including the cooling down.

Then we sell the brick s as soon as we can for as much money as we can get, but usually about thirteen or fourteen shillings per thousand. The prices for making and burning is seven shillings the thousand, the wood three shillings the thousand.

By the second half of the seventeenth century the usual kiln was of the intermittent type known as Scotch. It was a large cham}jer, open at the top, with a series of fire holes along each side opposite one another. The dried brick s were stacked inside in such a way that the hot gases could surge up between them. A layer of old burnt brick s was then spread over the top, the ends of the kiln were brick ed up and roughly plastered over with clay, and fires were lit in the fire holes. When the burning process was completed, the kiln was allowed to cool and the brick s taken out. Under this method of manufacture,

the shade of the brick s varied a great deal, those nearest the fires being the darkest. These harder-burnt, darker brick s had also shrunk more. On being taken from the kiln, the brick s were roughly sorted to give the purchaser consistent lots.

But regular kilns were put up only in brick yards with some degree of permanence, and firing in open clamps was probably more usual. This kiln-less method was favoured by the itinerant brick makers, whose equipment on coming to a site need be little more than spades and a wooden mould; they reckoned to find their water and fuel locally. brick s were now considered so necessary in many parts of Britain that commercial brick - yards were multiplying and, on the outskirts of towns likely to expand, some quite large works were set up. Many parishes, too, had their own brick yards. Whether a builder applied to one of these places for brick s, or made his own—perhaps with the help of an itinerant gang—depended on the cost of transport by horse and cart.


A labour-saving piece of equipment which emerged at the end of the seventeenth century was the pugmill for blending the clays (or pug). The pugmill was a kind of barrel containing a vertical shaft with projecting blades. There was a long beam attached to this shaft to which a horse could be harnessed to give the motive power by walking round and round. The raw materials were fed in at the top of the mill and came out at the bottom as a reasonably smooth paste. A little girl’s experience with a pugmill near Ramsey late in the nineteenth century appears in Sybil Marshall’s Fenlanci Chronicle, 1967:

When I was very small, my mother worked in the brick yards. I had a small swing fixed up for me on the beam opposite the horse, and round and round I used to go all day. If the horse dropped any dung, it had to be cleared away immediately, to keep the path from becoming greasy and in bad condition. So, as I travelled round, I kept a diligent watch for this, and was delighted when I could call out, ‘Tom, old Jack’s messing again.’


brick work of the seventeenth

and eighteenth centuries

The Great Fire of London in 1666 was the more devastating for

the fact that the majority of houses were still wooden. The

City authorities insisted afterwards that new work should not

be done with anything so combustible as wood and strongly

recommended brick , described in the Act for the Rebuilding of

the City of London as ‘comely and durable’; not only outside

walls were to be built of brick , or stone, but also all ornamental


A huge demand for brick layers had the effect of undermining the power of the Tylers’ and brick layers’ Company: the number of craftsmen permitted to work as freemen for the Company (and for other City Guilds) was inadequate for the emergency, and workmen were liberated by Act of Parliament from the obligation to join a guild before practising their trade. The Tylers’ and brick layers’ Company never regained its authority, though a recoup of finances in the nineteenth century has allowed it to hold its own among the City Companies in social and charitable work.

Fire caused ruin in several other towns, among them Marlborough in 1653, Northampton in 1675 and St Ives in 1680, and each was rebuilt largely or wholly in brick even where stone quarries were near. brick was not only cheaper but, at this period, no less fashionable. Mr Barley says in The English Farmhouse that there was enough demand for brick s in the Isle of Axholme, Lincolnshire, to encourage men to make them anywhere, anyhow. William Occarbie of Crowle was presented to the manor court in 1649 ‘for making brick s on the common and selling them out of the manor’.

The London building regulations did not affect the provinces,


but in so far as they offered good ideas for protection against fire, they were widely taken into account. A London Building Act of 1707, forbidding the use of the wooden eaves cornice, led to its replacement with a brick parapet. In 1708 it was forbidden for wooden door and window frames to be fitted unless they were set back 4 inches from the face of the wall; and wooden beams, no longer allowed to serve as window lintels, were largely replaced by the brick arch. It may be seen in old buildings today that these ideas were followed in due course many miles from London.

It was common in the seventeenth century for brick buildings of any consequence—farm buildings are certainly included— to sport such Dutch elements as curved or pedimented gables. These are readily seen near London as well as in East Anglia. Obvious examples, influential in their time, are Kew Palace, 1631, Broome Park, Kent, 1635 and Raynham Park, Norfolk, 1635.

Sir Christopher Wren, architect of St Paul’s, liked to employ brick to achieve more than one effect. For some buildings he favoured rough Tudor brick s generously packed round with mortar and for others rubbed brick s of such regularity that joints were threadlike. Examples of the latter kind of brick work are to be seen in his entrance to the Middle Temple and in the Fountain Court of Hampton Court, where smooth red brick , almost invisibly jointed, serves as a field for big pilasters. For this refined type of brick work he specified extra small brick s, about 6 inches long by 2 inches deep. Where others were prepared to make brick a vehicle for architectural ornament, Wren and his followers used stone with brick as the background. By Queen Anne’s accession in 1702, brick was becoming a familiar building material in all parts of England to the east and south-east of the limestone belt. Here and there even labourers’ cottages were built of a material valued for the way it kept out, as wattle and daub did not, the plague-carrying rat. Seventeenth-century building technique was much in-


fluenced by the brick layer, settling wherever supplies of clay were turned to his use. Independent of the ancient art of the stonemason; he was familiar with new building methods and knew how to put his easily manipulated brick s to a variety of uses.

In Queen Anne’s reign brick that was red, embellished where possible with dressings of Portland stone, held undisputed sway. The alternative to stone for dressings, especially those emphasising the quoins of a house, was a special crimson brick laid flush with thin joints for which putty instead of mortar might be used. This ‘gauged’ brick work was employed, too, for window arches and jambs for string-courses and, later on, for the pilasters of more important houses; it went well with the duller red and the wider joints of the rest of the façade. From the middle of the eighteenth century, however, some people said the varying shades of red against white windows—and often white stone—was over-pretty in the sharp contrast produced. Stone, surely, was showing off the brick where the reverse would have been more seemly?

Comments on the subject by Isaac Ware in his Complete Body of Architecture, 1756, have never ceased to be quoted. He wrote of a red- brick greenhouse in Kensington Gardens (which he considered well-designed) that

the colour is fiery and disagreeable to the eye; it is troublesome to look upon it; and in the summer it has an

appearance of heat which is very disagreeable; for this

reason it [red brick ] is most inappropriate in the country.

If by ‘in the country’ Ware meant ‘against a green background’, what he had in mind is supported by a law of nature that since red is the complementary or directly contrasting colour to green, only a little of the one goes with the other without a clash. Thus a red telephone box can cheer a village green where a large, perfectly red building would be an affront—and who would choose a plain red sofa to stand on a plain green carpet?


Only some of the non-Oxbridge universities are red brick . In 1955 Sir Basil Spence stood on the rolling Sussex downs near Brighton considering the colour of brick s for his new Sussex University complex. ‘Certainly not red against all that green,’ he remarked to Redland brick executives who were with him. It was decided their hue should be the russet of an old leather pocket book that he had on him. Redlands made the brick s specially.

With brick , of course, bright redness can be reduced by wide joints of pale mortar. But in late eighteenth-century London redness of any kind became unfashionable: instead of a contrast with greenery or stone, there was to be the harmony provided by grey stock brick s. Red ones were used only for dressings. By the end of the eighteenth century the change in taste had altered the face of London.

Although the brick s were generally described as grey in specifications, they nearly always turned out yellow-orange or yellow-brown and, before soot and smoke dulled them, eighteenth-century London houses were the colour of the recently- cleaned interior of Charing Cross Station. To get the preferred colour it was necessary to add finely ground chalk to brick - earth which would otherwise have fired red, but this was easy enough for the local brick makers of London, since a layer of chalk occurred below the superficial clay deposits which they used. The chalk was useful, too, in that it reduced the contraction of the clay in firing and acted as a strength-producing flux.

What London builders were doing others tried to copy, and tones of ochre, sulphur and buff were extolled, especially by admirers of Pallathan architecture, as the only proper colours for a brick house. Gault clays burn yellow, but more often than not the materials for making yellowish brick s were not to be had. Thomas Coke was able to avoid any obvious redness when building Holkham Hall in Norfolk; this great house is a pleasant brownish-yellow, having a little red brick work only in the inward-facing walls of the courts which few people see. Some


owners of red- brick country houses took the trouble to have them faced with yellow mathematical tiles simulating brick work: these are described in chapter 19.

In the brick -building areas of England as a whole, however, there was not the least objection to red brick , though the colour was sometimes softened in the south-east by the inclusion of blue headers. brick of one shade or another of red was the main building material for the symmetrically-fronted houses of the merchant and professional classes in cathedral cities like Chichester and Salisbury, market towns like Newbury and Devizes and ports like Bristol, Bridgwater and Portsmouth.

The familiar Georgian elevations, with a parapet half or wholly hiding the roof, fitted in with London by-laws of 1707 (the result of continued anxiety over fire) which made it illegal to have naked wood at the eaves. Numerous timber-framed houses in the provinces had their faces mutilated to take a casing of brick work pierced for classical windows and doorway, while their side walls might be merely tile-hung and the back wall left alone. The job was done much less because of risk of fire than to be in the fashion. Indeed the urge in the eighteenth century to make old timber-framed houses look modern became an obsession; old-looking buildings were only good for cottagers, paintings and students of the Picturesque.

Eighteenth-century house-owners took even more trouble to hide timber than twentieth-century house-owners to expose it. In a provincial street today one house after another may appear Georgian, to be revealed as mediaeval or Tudor only by a fragment of roof, the design and placing of a chimney or, to the determined observer, by the back of the house and the architecture within. There have been instances of preservationists from the Georgian Group being briefly tricked.

The swing of taste away from the existing oak houses is re


flected in the recurrent phrase ‘new Hansome brick House’ in mid-eighteenth-century property advertisements. But for the poorer buyer, just a brick front would do. Mrs A. Walker supplies this example from the Ipswich Journal of 24 September



A Hansome commodious House, containing six rooms on a floor with a brick Front and Sash’d Windows.

In 1784 Pitt the Younger introduced a brick tax to help meet the expenses of the American War of Independence; it was payable by makers following counts of such green brick s as were on view in their yards. The starting rate of 2s. 6d. per 1,000 went up to 4s. ten years later, and in 1803 to 5s. for the smaller brick s and lOs. for the larger. Since, to start with, brick s of all sizes attracted the same tax, there was the inevitable result that brick s were made tax-beatingly large.

There are specimens of the new, eighteenth-century great brick to be seen at Ware and villages nearby in Hertfordshire. One brick maker turning out brick s twice the normal size was Sir Joseph Wilkes whose yard was at Measham in Leicestershire. His large products, referred to by Kenneth Hudson in Building Materials, 1972, were known locally as Wilkes’s Gobs; a row of cottages built with them and called The brick yards can still be seen. There are other examples of building with gobs, Mr Hudson says, in Measham and Ashby-de-la-Zouche. A member of the British brick Society supplies further scattered examples. At Horncastle in Lincolnshire, he states, a house in West Street, built in the 1780s, has brick s that measure 11 inches by 5 by 3. The Weir House at Bodenham in Herefordshire went up forty years before the brick tax, but a screen wall on each side, which was added during its operation, contains brick s laid in English garden wall bond that are 12 inches by 6 by 3*: these indeed represent a re-flowering of the mediaeval great brick .


The brick layers and other craftsmen of the great brick making regions were taking as much pride in their work as the mediaeval masons. It seems that there was a great desire to demonstrate that anything the stone mason could produce, they could, too; there are buildings in which even rusticated stone quoins are imitated in brick . But the Georgian way of assembling patterns with over-burnt headers, even in the walls of quite humble buildings, owes nothing to the tradition of the stone mason.

In America not only were the brick buildings of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries largely influenced by British practice (Wren himself designed Wren House, Williamsburg), but nearly all the brick s, according to Charles T. Davis in his Treatise on brick s, were until the late eighteenth century imported from England: they came over as a profitable ballast on vessels which had light cargoes. However, America’s very first burnt- brick houses of consequence were gabled and thoroughly Dutch. They were built on Manhattan Island in the 1630s, with brick s from Amsterdam, for the occupation of the governor, Wouter Van Twiller, and of his staff.

Wood, which the English colonists knew how to use, has always been in North America a more usual building material than brick , or stone. But even in early days brick suggested wealth and taste—and it still does, to judge by all the wooden houses and shacks in the United States which have been given a brick veneer. It was considered a choice building material from the beginning in the state of Pennsylvania. Three years after founding the colony there in 1662, William Penn wrote as follows to his agent on behalf of a woman who proposed to emigrate but did not wish to live in a wooden house:


She wants a house of brick , like Hannah Psalter’s in Burlington, and she will give £40 sterling in money and as much more in goods. It must have four rooms below, about l8ft by 36, the rooms 9ft high, and two stories height.


One of the first public buildings made of brick in America was the old court house of Philadelphia, 1705. Looking like a Queen Anne town house in England, it stood in the middle of Market Street and was in constant demand for one purpose or another, Davis writes, until demolition in 1837—with brick s at 29s. 6d. per 1,000, the total cost had been £616. Another early brick building in Philadelphia was the Great Meeting House of Friends on the corner of Second and Market Streets, 1695.

Wood was the obvious building material for the Puritan emigrants at Boston, but when the wooden Towne House of 1657 was burned down in 1711, it was rebuilt with brick . Boston’s once renowned Triangular Warehouse, at the head of the town dock, was built by London merchants in brick around 1700 on foundations of stone.


The manipulation of brick

Anyone building a brick wall instinctively gives it coherence by overlapping the brick s and avoiding the occurrence of vertical joints immediately over one another. Mediaeval brick layers in Britain did this in a rough and ready way which is today dignified by the term haphazard bond, but by the fifteenth century it was widely realised that a regular bond both looked better and was marginally stronger.

Where the units of early brick work are manipulated according to a system, it will be found that this is always English bond, which consists of courses of headers ( brick s having their ends to the wall face) alternating with courses of stretchers ( brick s having their sides to the wallface). This bond is robust and usually very easy on the eye; only in a few modern examples, where the tone of the mortar contrasts markedly with that of the brick s, is there a certain stern monotony in the courses of headers and stretchers and the way they emphasise the horizontal lines.

English bond was first conscientiously employed in England at Tattershall Castle, Lincolnshire, finished in 1449. It is seen in mediaeval French castles and was probably imported from France. This bond remained standard until the seventeenth century. Then Flemish bond was introduced to England and became the more admired of the two: it was used for the walls of Kew Palace and of Raynham Hall, Norfolk, both of which were erected in the 1630s. It became almost universal in Queen Anne’s reign.

Flemish bond comprises alternate headers and stretchers in the same course and has never ceased to be a favourite for looks. It gives a feeling of unity because the brick faces clearly retain


their individual shapes, one of which being half the size of the other, and because each header is related to the corresponding stretcher resting centrally upon it. Flemish bond always appears appropriate for buildings in which the walls take, or appear to take, the full weight of floors and roofs. Thus in the red damask-like walls of Wren’s part of Hampton Court Palace, the separate brick s seem, in the phrase of P.M. Stratton, to have been stitched into a design, becoming part of the minute workmanship which sustains the whole: stone cornices, entablatures, pillars and frames stand out from brick work which holds them in its bond.

So good an arrangement as Flemish bond was bound to inspire variations. A not unfamiliar example is Sussex bond, sometimes called Flemish garden wall. This consists of two, or three, stretchers to one header in every course: the headers are axially over one another alternately with stretchers. Sussex bond is easy on the eye in a long garden wall unbroken by voids: it was not used for Georgian façades because it limited freedom in window spacing.

English cross bond is a slight deviation from pure English bond in that the second brick of alternate stretching courses is a header. As a result, the stretchers break joint and the pattern is less mechanical. Dutch bond achieves similar diversity: the first stretcher course begins with a three-quarter brick followed by a header while the order in the second stretcher course is three-quarter brick followed at once by stretchers. English garden wall bond has a header course laid over three courses of stretchers.

Construction with headers only, still done for circular work, is thought by many especially pleasing: straight walls have a three-quarter brick to start each course. There are numerous examples at Lewes and in other parts of south-east England.

For the Old Hall at Ormsby St Margaret in Norfolk (c. 1735) the whole elevation was done in header bond. The multiplicity


of joints in this bond gives a unified texture, the whQle suggesting slow careful work carried out for the sake of an easy effect. This can be compared with the effect achieved with squared flints at Goodwood House in Sussex, where the smallness of the units brings the charm of mosaic or woolwork. Header and English bond come in the same class because of the feeling of strength in the compact pattern.

What most encouraged eighteenth-century builders in header bonding was a desire to make use of brick s having one end coated with an attractive blue-grey film. Huge numbers of these emerged from the wood-fired kilns as a consequence of wood smoke and the way brick s had to be set in such kilns.

Modern buildings commonly show nothing but stretcher bond except for a header at the end of each alternate course. This is economical in brick s and labour and the obvious way of laying


the now standard 11-inch cavity walls of small houses —that is, walls with two 41-inch leaves having a 2-inch gap spanned by metal ties.

Although stretcher bond generally appears dull and monotonous, the only alternative in a full-cavity wall is to create just the look of, say, Flemish or English bond by the use in the outer leaf of half brick s. Late Victorian and Edwardian builders commonly took the trouble to do this for the better houses. There was also in those times the semi-cavity wall in which headers span an extra narrow cavity and serve as ties. Time has proved that the semi-cavity wall, well laid, can be effective for keeping out water. But this construction no more comes within approved modern practice than the solid 9-inch wall, and seemingly walls of brick s in stretcher bond will continue to proliferate, tending to degrade brick work in general.

It must be said, though, that the poor effect of relentless stretchers is much reduced where the mortar joints strike the eye as little as possible. Certain red brick s are a problem, of course, since mortar that is reddish or dark in tone looks contrived, but at least excessive whiteness (and contrast) can be avoided. Where buff or grey brick s are being employed, these blend well with mortar of a normal mud-to-putty colour. An increasing demand for ‘natural-looking’ brick s is to be applauded, for it cannot be denied that some of the new small houses built with them—and having an overall hue of stone—can fit well into most landscapes, even in places where stone building is prevalent.

Any careful consideration of brick bonds raises sooner or later the question of why we should bother about the pattern produced when the clean white or colour-tinted surfaces of stucco are easily attainable. The first answer is that stucco needs continual maintenance to keep it clean and uncrazed—more in Britain than in the hotter countries where it has become traditional—and the second that in a land of good cheap brick s there is no sensible reason for covering them up.


Stucco or its equivalent has often proved welcome as a grand fur coat on large national and commercial buildings, but for these there is generally plenty of money to spend on maintenance. Only careful and regular attention allows the Nash terraces of Regent’s Park, London, to look as they do, for the stucco of these Regency-classical buildings lacks the endurance of Portland stone for which, in order to economise, the architect John Nash made it the substitute. It is slightly ironical that the great London brick Company has its headquarters in one of these covered-over brick houses.

As moulding and modelling become more and more merged into flat surfaces, so bond pattern seems especially desirable. brick s and stones are small units of construction whose appearance and obvious function adds something to the whole effect:

consider the drabness and stains of so many unbroken surfaces of concrete.

The way of doing mortar joints is as noticeable as their colour. Pointing the surface with an extra hard cement mixture is no longer in favour for new work (its purpose was to contain weak mortar) and the flush joint, formed by chopping off surplus mortar as the work goes on, is considered both workmanlike and satisfactory for the presentation of bond, neither exaggerating nor diminishing it. Raked out joints to emphasise the brick s is largely a north European practice.

Mortar looks best if its texture matches that of the brick s. To this end a coarse sand is useful, though brick layers have various tricks for roughening their joints: smoothing them


out with the point of a trowel seems appropriate only in certain engineering work. The weathered joint, cut in below the upper brick and sloped out to the face of the lower brick is still thought by some to throw water off a building, but the vertical joint does not mitre with the horizontal and the undercutting of the brick courses gives a hard effect against the light-catching slope of mortar below. The purpose of the now obsolete tuck joint, from which a narrow band protrudes, was to get the last ounce of effect from common brick s used for the early suburban houses.

brick , as an artificial substance, offers easier opportunities than stone for manipulation for the sake of ornament. Baking on glazed pictures to spread across an area of brick work and utilising brick s of different hues went on thousands of years ago in Babylon and Persia. Wall patterns with coloured brick s made a noticeable appearance in France in the fifteenth century: near Rouen an elaborate octagonal pigeon house of red, yellow and green brick s) which may even be late fourteenth century) was recorded by J.L. Petit in the Archaeological Journal, volume 9, in 1852. During the past hundred years decorated brick work in northern France has repeatedly gone too far in the direction of what V.S. Pritchett has called the coloured crossword puzzle. In Britain there has been less showiness—except in exuberant nineteenth-century creations.

Even when the eighteenth-century builder was making on the site only enough brick s for a particular undertaking, he would have a choice of colours to play with because not all brick s came out equally burnt. In Victorian times builders and designers of buildings took advantage of different coloured brick s to make patterns which are uncomfortably strident, but the Georgians appreciated that there was no need for strongly contrasting shades. Their patterns were usually made with headers, especially the blue headers already described. The greatest variety of such work is to be seen in south-east England, and those wishing to read about it in detail will find


much of interest in Alec Clifton-Taylor’s The Pattern of English Building.

Many other ways of laying brick s to give an ornamental effect have been followed. Sixth-century Italian builders achieved a pleasant saw-tooth band by laying ordinary brick s corner to corner (this was popular for wall tops throughout the eighteenth century in Britain), and they liked to break up flat surfaces with blind arches and small pendant arches. The herringbone brick work of fireplace surrounds was once favoured for wall panels, especially as nogging to fill the spaces between the members of a timber-framed building. The ornamentally laid brick nogging seen in timber houses has often replaced an original filling of wattle and daub. Such replacements have been made since the end of the seventeenth century, but not always with perfect results because, as well as tending to be too heavy for the structure, brick work panels can introduce dampness by projecting a little from the wood and allowing rainwater to seep in at the joints.

Various raised patterns can be produced quite easily with ordinary brick s. The strapwork popular in the seventeenth century consisted of brick s laid with a projection of about an inch to form ovals and squares. At different times brick s have been arranged diagonally to give a serrated edge, or every other brick in a row of headers has been set sticking out to form a dentil pattern.

Another vogue—of the eighteenth century—was for rustication, which meant so laying the facing brick s of an elevation that they formed projecting blocks resembling stone. Similar projections for dressing purposes have been formed with stucco, but the ingenious manipulation of brick s, whereby their smallness is played down to give an idea of boldness, can be especially pleasant to look at. Rustication in brick is at its best with a roof of rugged stone slates.

So far only standard brick s have been considered for ways of


enriching a surface. But for centuries brick s have been given special shapes to serve the demands of architectural detail. brick clay can easily be purpose-moulded; the fired material can be carved, cut with an axe, or rubbed with abrasives or with another brick .

brick s to be rubbed to a smooth finish are made softer than usual by increasing the proportion of sand to clay in the mix and by carefully baking rather than burning in the kiln. Known as rubbers, and perfectly durable, these brick s were constantly in demand in Georgian times for such dressings as pilasters, window surrounds and arches.

Towards the end of the eighteenth century, house builders were fastidious about their brick arches and had them made with slightly wedge-shaped brick s instead of just thickening the mortar joints of ordinary brick s towards the outer radius. Every brick had to be cut with a saw to the required shape and rubbed down to make the finest possible joint: such brick work is known as gauged.

The sculptural carving of brick work was formerly undertaken only on rubbers, of which a panel or panels would be set in a wall. Work of this sort was in the province of the trade carver or brick mason until the 1920s and 1930s when a new breed of sculptor became interested: Pepys Cockerell carved a hunting scene on a garden wall at Haslemere and Eric Kennington the reliefs on Stratford Theatre; Eric Gill carved a crocodile in the facing brick s of the Mond Laboratory at Cambridge and, with Anthony Foster, a St Andrew over the porch of the Roman Catholic church at Gorlestone.

These facts are taken from an article by Mr Walter Ritchie in the brick Bulletin of November 1972. A pupil of Eric Gill, he works direct on several materials and has executed remarkable brick carvings on churches, schools and a fire station. The advantages of carving a wall instead of a panel is the freedom to adjust, he says, and also the feeling that comes of identity with


the building. ‘The milder facing brick s can be a pleasure to cut and take detail as well as fine grained limestone and certainly hold it better in an acid atmosphere.’

Proper carving, going perhaps 3 inches deep, needs plain brick s without perforations, or the depressions called frogs, and backed up solid. ‘It should be possible’, says Mr Ritchie, ‘to cut through brick and joint without change of direction or appreciable variation in consistency. . . . The grid of the mortar joints can be emphasised or reduced, but inevitably dictates a bold treatment.’ His comment is certainly borne out by an abstract sculpture on an outside wall of the International Building Centre in Rotterdam: this was designed by Henry Moore and executed by two master masons.

The various ways of manipulating brick practised over the centuries are in themselves poor aids to the dating of early buildings. It can be said that walls of regular English bond are not earlier than about 1430 and walls of Flemish bond not earlier than about 1630. It can also be said that walls of haphazard bond rarely occurred after the seventeenth century. Bond takes us little further.

brick sizes are useful for dating only in a rough and ready way compared with the shape of a building and with architectural features. Mediaeval brick makers were not meticulous in constructing their moulds and the brick s of an old building may vary, even in a single course, by over half an inch in all dimensions. Sometimes brick s are present which were antique at the time of building: second-hand brick s have been made use of ever since the departure of the Romans.

Nevertheless, a study of Nathaniel Lloyd’s table of brick measurements in his History of English brick work reveals broad changes in the thickness of brick s which are of some interest in considering the age of an old house. Up to the mid-fifteenth century most brick s were 1* inches thick. For the next two hundred years the measurement was 2 inches or a little over—


the brick s at Balls Park, Hertford, c. 1640, are between 2 and 2 inches. During the second half of the eighteenth century just over 21 inches was usual, though here and there, as explained in chapter 7, brick s are to be seen which are 31 inches thick and unusually long: these ‘great brick s’ almost certainly date to the period 1784—1803 during which it was possible to reduce the effect of the regulations of the brick tax, 1784—1850. Throughout the nineteenth century most brick s were 3 inches thick.


brick work of the nineteenth century

brick had ceased to be a fashionable building material at the start of the nineteenth century; it was being associated with the great brick -built mills, factories and warehouses (which were splendid but to do with trade) and with cheap dwellings for the workers. A man of position now found that he did not care to live in a brick house, whether red or yellow, unless it was covered.

George III had something to do with the sweeping distaste for naked brick . Word spread fast, for instance, of his comment on visiting a fine brick house near Weymouth which its owner, Mr Morton Pitt, was accustomed to hear praised for its beauty. All the king said was, brick , Mr Pitt? brick ?’ (according to Arthur Oswals, Country Houses of Dorset). Mr. Pitt took the hint and went to the great expense of having his house faced in stone. Apsley House (Number One, London) was a brick pile when completed in 1778, but in the 1820s the Duke of Wellington had it veneered with Bath stone, and at about this time Kingston Lacey in Dorset, a red brick house with stone dressings, had all trace of brick s hidden beneath a casing of Caen stone. There was no objection to building with brick , provided it did not show. Stucco was of course the cheapest means of hiding it. The brick s of Colen Campbell’s Mereworth Castle and Lord Burlington’s villa at Chiswick were rendered over at the time they were built.

The prejudice spread to the most ordinary artisans’ terraces:

they were stuccoed up to the level of the first floor, thereby making necessary recurrent repair work of the sort those who live in them must still carry out. Throughout the Regency period and for years beyond, stucco or half stucco seemed to


most people an obligatory covering for the brick house.

But the voice of reason began to be heard in the 1830s. In his book Observations on Building and brick -making, 1834, the travel writer Robert Bakewell said

gentlemen who construct houses for the purpose of

residing in themselves cannot be charged with parsimony, and scarcely with economy, otherwise the artificial, temporary and expensive practice of daubing over their fronts with mortar (fashionably styled stucco) would not so generally prevail; and although it must be acknowledged that houses of this description look handsome for a while, yet, comparatively, in a short time they become mean and shabby in the extreme and require to be almost continually patched or repaired, and even when most perfect, we know it to be a deception, and intended to hide deformity and worthlessness; and the defects above- mentioned can be only partially amended by incurring the enormous expense of periodical painting at short intervals.

It is true that the underlying brick s were sometimes defective, thrown together in the weakest mortar. Why trouble about the quality of the brick work when it was all to be covered over? Today, where a Regency building is being pulled down, it is often possible to inspect brick work of a kind suggesting that, but for the rendering, the rain would have trickled through. For these reasons it is seldom worth a house owner’s while to disinter brick walls from their stucco. In northern Italy during the last twenty years many old buildings have had their stucco stripped away in order to reveal mellow brick work, and to save maintenance. But too often the work has exposed poor brick laying and individual brick s too soft to stand the shock. Interior brick walls of churches in Spain and Portugal which have recently had the original plaster removed seldom look well because of fragments left adhering.


By about 1840 undisguised brick was returning to favour, and it was fashionable to denigrate stucco as dishonest. Perhaps the use of good honest brick for churches was influential: new aesthetic effects with brick had been found during the building since 1820 of the churches sanctioned by Parliament for the growing new districts of London. brick , which had been forced on the church architects for reasons of economy, largely dictated their choice of the Gothic style. This could be realised decently in brick whereas the classical style called for a large quantity of expensive stone for cornices, pediments and other inherent features.

Uncovered brick was admired once more for every kind of domestic dwelling house by 1852. In that year Ruskin published The Stones of Venice and argued that wherever possible brick buildings, from cottages to churches and factories, should be adorned with such devices as string-courses of different coloured brick s—and preferably shiny ones. The idea was taken up with zest, as may be noted in most parts of Britain. Polychrome brick work in working class houses in Reading, for example, is to be noted in many small streets on both sides of the River Kennet. Sir Arthur Blomfield, the church architect, built a church at Shoreditch with brick s that were red, yellow and blue. Having arrangements of these colours on a wall face appealed to the great novelist and poet Thomas Hardy, who as a young man worked in Blomfield’s office: in 1863 Hardy won a competition for the best essay on the application of coloured brick s to modern architecture.

During the 1860s red brick s became even more fashionable than buff ones. Elaborate brick houses in Kensington such as No. 1 Palace Green by Philip Webb, 1868, and Lowther Lodge by Norman Shaw, 1870, helped to start a demand for the type of house that became known as ‘Queen Anne Revival’. The name was rapidly accepted, presumably because of the red brick , the white sashes to the windows and the disappearance of plate glass in favour of small panes, but the irregularities of


the designs (the opposite of symmetrical), the terracotta finials and the barge boards made a travesty of the architecture of Queen Anne’s day.

It was now possible to buy machine-made brick s. The Victorians, admiring a precise finish, were delighted by the calculated uniformity of their colour and by a crisp regularity in shape which encouraged brick makers to work with thin straight joints. These mortar joints could indeed be sufficiently threadlike to have no toning down effect on the impact of brick colour.

The brick makers of the Midlands concentrated on turning out the sort of hot red brick which is well exemplified at Rushden, Northamptonshire. In the northern counties a tomato redness of (to us) uncomfortable intensity was presented, and still is,


by the smooth, hard-pressed brick s that resulted from exploitation of the coal measures. Mr Clifton-Taylor in his Patterns of English Building comments that these shales provide

brick s which will unfortunately wear for ever without

weathering at all. Accrington in central Lancashire has the dubious distinction of having made some of the most durable and visually disagreeable brick s in the country.

Not for nothing is one of the two principal varieties known

locally as Accrington bloods.

In the south many people were still happy enough to build with mellow stock brick s made by hand, though villas of a smooth red appeared even in rural parts.

Mortar in those days was not expected to stick the brick s together so much as to keep them at the right distance apart, and lime, not cement, was the active ingredient in the mix. Cement of various kinds had always been prepared for particular jobs, but the efficient Portland cement of today (it consists of limestone and clay calcined by burning at a high temperature) was hardly on the market for general use till around 1900. Even so, because of the transport and packaging factors, it remained more usual till after the First World War to make mortar with lime and sand than with cement and sand. * The difference between the two is obvious when a wall is taken down. Lime mortar does not cling, limpet-like, to the brick s:

the ease with which, compared with a cement and sand mixture, it can be knocked off them is of importance to the trade in second-hand brick s.

Lime mortar was nevertheless an excellent, easily applied material, when carefully made—as it was in London for large buildings going up under the direction of an architect or a good builder; but too often it proved in lesser work a friable mixture


always on the point of dropping out. Apart from a builder’s wish to scamp and put more pounds in his pocket, there was the real difficulty over the cost of transporting the right materials to an urban site.

The architect William Bardwell in his book Healthy Homes and How to Make Them gave these directions in 1860:

Mortar, to be durable, should be composed of well-burnt limestone, and sharp, clean river-sand—one of the former to two of the latter. The Thames sand, taken from above the bridges, is a pure drift-sand . . . and suffers but little diminution in its bulk by washing. The lime that heats the most in slaking is the best, and slakes the quickest when properly watered. . . . The mortar should be mixed in a


pug-mill, or well-beaten, so as to thoroughly incorporate the lime and sand. Care should be taken to have it used soft in warm weather, and rather stiff in cold weather, and to insist upon all brick s being dipped in a tub of water. With mortar so made with pure water, free from salts or clayey particles, and with good stock- brick s so treated, you will have a homogeneous mass, solid as a rock, which will increase in strength every year.

Instead of doing these things builders tended to use as little lime as possible, and sand that was far from clean and sharp. Where the house was not tall and the walls were thick and solid, it might not matter—and in terraces the houses helped to support one another. Most people who have driven new windows or doors in Victorian cottages, especially in towns, will speak of their surprise at finding that once the work was started the brick s could be just lifted from their positions.

Some builders resorted to lime kept until it had reached a state of chalk and then mixed it with dust. Dr T. Pridgin Teale reported in his Dangers to Health (1878) on houses in Leeds where dust from the roads and the contents of ash pits were ground up with ‘a bare pretence of lime’ to make mortar. Fires, he said, were lit against the thin, propped walls to encourage the mortar to set.

Summonses were common. A typical summons was taken out at Hammersmith Magistrate’s Court in November 1878 by the district surveyor. The Builder reported the case:

The district surveyor said that the defendant, instead of using mortar compounded of lime one part and sand three parts, a very inferior substitute had been used, composed mainly of vegetable soil, slightly charred by the process of burning brick s upon the ground. He had frequently remonstrated with him, and had complained that the good sand, with which the neighbourhood abounded, had been dug out and sent away instead of being


used in the buildings. . . . The magistrate ordered the demolition of certain portions of the buildings, allowing the district surveyor his costs.

Proved mortar offences seem to have been at their most numerous in the 1880s and were dealt with swiftly in the courts. When a suburban builder was fined £3 with £2 3s. costs, the magistrate remarked that if a man chose to use mud instead of mortar, he would just have to put up with the consequences. The brick and Tile Gazette suggested in 1886 that it might be useful to grind up old building materials as a substitute for sand, the stuff to be mixed with plenty of good-quality lime. Mortar so made had been well spoken of in Bradford, Blackburn and Birmingham.

In the period 1860—70 the number of houses built in England and Scotland, mostly of brick , was 53,300. During the next decade the number rose to 80,000. The use of brick in much poor-quality terrace housing did not help the material’s reputation. But it easily survived disparaging comments. By the 1880s unadorned brick , still red if possible, was being taken very seriously for

prestige architecture.

John Randall, historian of the Shropshire clay industry, had written in 1877: ‘People have been so long accustomed to see brick work used for inferior houses, and stone for buildings of greater pretensions, that until recently English brick s have scarcely had justice done to them.’ Nature’s finished material (that is, stone) might be deemed more suitable for churches, he said, but artificial stone ( brick ) ‘fashioned into shape by man, was quite as appropriate for a dwelling in which gathered the highest social sanctities.’

Towards the end of the nineteenth century the existence of railway transport made it easier and cheaper to build with brick than stone. This has meant a certain loss of regional characteristics, for builders followed stock designs, and brick dwellings everywhere looked alike in shape if not necessarily in colour.


Victorian brick yards

Nineteenth-century mapmakers who plotted brick yards near London as landmarks often overlooked the tendency of these to move on. In most country yards the brick s were fired in sturdy kilns, but the makers of London’s yellow stock brick had no kilns to tie them to a particular site. Their apparatus was simple and portable. A few years after moving on, a difference in the level of a field might be the only trace of where brick s had been made. A good brick maker (in a clay district) could set up his horse-operated pugmill, shape the brick s and burn them in clamps almost wherever he considered his product was needed. Since the clay could not be moulded in frosty weather, brick yards operated only in the season from April to October.


The idea of running,a brick field appealed to many men because of the simplicity of the process, and tiny fields using shallow deposits of clay abounded on the fringes of London. They were operated just ahead of the advancing builders who in due course consumed them. By the middle of the century 500 million brick s were being made every year within a five-mile radius of London Bridge; and, although this was three times the quantity made in 1820, the pugmill remained at that time the only


mechanical invention to be employed. Although brick making was healthier than much Victorian industry, and not listed in Dangerous Trades, results were achieved by labour that proved too much for the physique of many employed in this way.

brick yards in the London area generally opened at 4.30 a.m., according to the Fifth Report, Children’s Employment Commission of 1866, and till 8 p.m. most were scenes of continuous toil by women and children as well as men. A foreman told inspectors: ‘One half-hour at 3 p.m. is the only real meal time they have in the day—their meals are brought to them and they swallow them down as fast as they can.’ Because brick making was seasonal and payment made per 1,000 brick s, there was the urge to earn all the money possible while the work lasted. But the men commonly preferred buying drink to saving up for the winter. It was said at one yard: ‘They are too fond of bringing children to work ... they spend most of their earnings on drink and then look to the children’s earnings to pay for rent and food and clothing for the family.

There was a beer shop in every brick field, according to the Rev James Dennett, a missionary. He said in his evidence:

‘Drunkenness is the curse of the working man in every trade in this country, but it seems tenfold intensified in that of brick - making.

One foreman said the hours at his brick field had previously been 3 a.m. to 8 p.m., but now they had made them 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. and it was found that the work done was no less. The horse was put on the pugmill at 6 a.m. and taken off at 6 p.m. Two suggestions for brick field operation were offered by the foreman: that Saturday should be a proper half holiday and that wages should not be paid in public houses. ‘They don’t leave off in most fields till 3 or 4 p.m. on a Saturday. Then they all have to go to the public house to be paid, even the little boys and girls, who are thus, you might say, taught drunkenness in their childhood. . . . Worst of all is the practice, though unknown to employers, I know to exist: the publican allows the


A boy of nine who was questioned said it was his first summer in the brick field. ‘I am a barrow loader. I never work later than a quarter past seven, and I’m a good ‘un at getting up— I always get to work by 5 a.m. I am very tired when the day’s work is over.’ A common task for young girls was carrying to the moulding tables lumps of clay weighing up to 24 lb. ‘In the

foreman a percentage upon all the money which he pays out in wages at the public house.’


early spring after a frosty night,’ it was stated, ‘the damp clay strikes very cold to the chest and stomack.’

brick field children went to school in the winter months and were supposed to attend Sunday school during the season. A headmaster commented: ‘What the children learn in the winter they have almost entirely forgot in the summer.. . . Two months are needed each winter to make a revision of their previous knowledge.’ The effects on their conduct included ‘filthy and blasphemous expressions, sullen demeanor, habits of untidiness and dispositions of cruelty’. In 1871, the reformer George Smith published The Cry of the Children from the brick - yards of England; it aroused the interest of the seventh Earl of Shaftesbury and in the same year came the Factories Act ( brick and Tile Yards) Extension providing for child and female labour to be regulated. According to a Press report, ‘on the first day of 1872, 10,000 young children were sent from the brick shed to their homes and to school.’

The manufacture of satisfactory brick s was hardly suggested by the appearance of London’s small brick yards. A feature of each was a large heap of ashes and other house rubbish. This provided both an ingredient for the brick s themselves and a fuel for burning them in clamps, and the smells to which it gave rise in hot weather led to several successful actions by neighbours. The great nineteenth-century authority on ceramics, Professor Hermann Seger of Germany, was mystified when he visited London in 1872 and went to see some of the brick fields. ‘How’, he asked, ‘can brick s be made, suitable for house fronts, without a plant, dryer or kiln, especially since the brick s are to be used not for rural building, but for structures in the English capital?’ The answer is that the brick making material was more carefully mixed than he realised and that the ingredients, surface clay, ashes and chalk, were well suited for kilnless firing in open clamps. What resulted, in various grades, were London’s famous yellow stock brick s.

Despite the primitive-looking means of making, these brick s


of London and elsewhere in Britain were superior to much German brick (Seger reported an uncharacteristic lack of care in German yards). They were also better than American products. Mid-nineteenth-century American brick s were largely ‘slush stock’, according to Charles T. Davis in his Treatise on the Manufacture of brick , 1895. They were made of under-mixed material cut by wires in a large shallow box without being first compressed either by hand or machine. After burning (or


under-burning), the rather cracked brick s were ‘light, very open or porous, therefore absorbed water readily. . . .‘ The brick - maker was concerned with little else but turning out the requisite shape. Towards the end of the century many house walls in Chicago were falling apart, and everyone was glad that by then there were techniques and machines capable of mass-producing brick s efficiently.

In London stocks, the chalk, which was added in the form of a paste, reduced a tendency to crack while drying and formed, during firing, a silicate of lime and alumina. It also gave the brick s their colour, which would otherwise have been red. The ashes, containing a proportion of coal dust, helped the brick s to reach a high temperature in the clamp. Each was a sort of fireball, in the phrase of Edward Dobson whose Treatise on the Manufacture of brick s and Tiles, 1850, * gives a detailed account of making brick s in London, a procedure which varied little in essentials elsewhere.

For the work of actual brick making to begin, the moulding stool was provided with two heaps of dry sand, a tub of water, a stock-board and brick mould, and three sets of pallets. When a supply of tempered clay had been placed on the stool by some-


one called a feeder, the clot-moulder (generally a woman) sprinkled the stool with dry sand and, taking some clay, kneaded it roughly into the shape of a brick and passed it to the moulder on her left hand. The moulder then dashed it with force into his previously sanded mould. With his strike, well wetted in the tub of water, he removed the unnecessary clay, throwing it back to the clot-moulder to be re-moulded.

He then turned out his raw brick onto a pallet, slid it along to the taking-off boy and re-sanded his mould in preparation for the next brick . A moulder, helped by the feeder, clot-moulder, taking-off boy and two people to wheel away and set the brick s to dry, would make about 3,500 brick s a day between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.

The raw brick s were stacked to dry in rows eight brick s high, known as hacks, and protected from rain, frost and heat by a covering of straw. When half dry they were scintled (placed herringbone-fashion) to allow the air to pass freely between them.

When quite dry, at the end of three to six weeks, the brick s would be set for burning in vast heaps (or clamps) of 100,000 or more and encased with burnt brick s. Fuel in the form of cinders was skilfully distributed in layers between the courses of brick s, with a few especially thick layers at the bottom. To


light the clamp, several flues were left and filled with faggots. These, when lit from the outside, soon set fire to the adjacent cinders. As soon as the clamp was fairly alight, the mouths of the flues were stopped and the clamp was allowed to burn itself out, a process taking from three to six weeks.

The brick s at the outside of the clamp were underburnt; they were called burnovers and were laid aside for re-burning in the next clamp. brick s that were only a little underburnt were called place brick s and sold off cheaply as merely suitable for inside work. brick s near the live holes which partially melted were called clinkers and sold by the cartload for rockeries in gardens. There was much sorting out of the brick s when a clamp had been burned. Here are the various London grades as listed

by Dobson in 1850:

the softest, used for gauged arches and other rubbed work.

the best building brick s, only used in the best descriptions of brick work; colour yellow.

sorted from the best qualities, much used for the fronts of buildings of a superior class.

excellent building brick s, being sound, hard, well-shaped and of good colour. good brick s but soft and inferior to the best paviours.

the roughest pickings from the paviours. the brick s commonly used for ordinary brick work and the worst description of malms.

good brick s, but not of irregular colour and not suited for face work. very rough as regards shape and colour, not suited for good work although hard and sound.






Rough Paviours Washed stocks

Grey stocks

Rough stocks


somewhat tender and only fit for inside work.

only fit for common purposes, should not be used for permanent erections. unsound and full of shakes.

only used for making artificial rockwork for cascades or gardens.

The permanent brick fields of north Kent, especially those by the estuary around Sittingbourne, were another source of clamp-burnt yellow brick s—they are made there still. Frank

G. Willmott describes in brick s and brick ies, 1972, how the fuel was acquired. The sailing barges taking brick s up the Thames to London used to return with loads of dustbin emptyings from the wharves of Vauxhall, Chelsea and Putney. Swarms of flies accompanied the barges, and crews had to beware of spontaneous combustion and carbon dioxide fumes from the coke. The rough stuff, as they called it, was tipped into large mounds and left for a year or so for the vegetable matter to rot away; then it was sifted and graded.

Anything of value found in rough stuff was considered moulders’ perks. Sometimes trinkets and brooches turned up


Place brick s

Shuffs Burrs or Clinkers


in refuse from Chelsea where the big houses were. Fragments of china and glass were dumped at Lower Hadstow at a place which became known as Glass Bottle Beach. The fine ash was mixed with the clay and the bigger lumps laid under the clamp to burn the brick s.

This use of rough stuff continued until 1965, when they found it was not burning satisfactorily: householders were using the smokeless fuels which produced an ash practically useless for brick making. However, brick men have since found a supply of similar fuel in the dust obtainable from coal washeries.

At other brick yards in Victorian England the firing was generally done in Scotch kilns fuelled by coal or wood. Everywhere the moulder, dashing lumps of clay into his wooden mould, was the key worker at a muddy place of work employing many hands. He chose and paid his assistants, who were often members of his family, and with their help would turn out over 2,000 brick s a day. J.H. White, in a report on brick making in the Midlands, wrote in 1864 of boys hurrying to and fro with mounds of clay on their heads and of mud-splashed, bare-kneed females singing coarse songs as they tempered clay with their feet or laboured at the turning and shifting of brick s in the


He gave an account of women and children drawing a kiln at Brierley Hill. They were in a line, tossing the warm brick s to one another, two at a time, to a cart on the road.

Asmall girl of 12, forming one of the line, struck me by the earnest way in which she was doing her share of a work which is certainly heavy for a child, as a slight calculation shows. The kiln, containing 17,000 brick s of 7 lbs each, was to be emptied by ten persons in a day and a half: i.e. this girl had to catch and toss on to her neighbour in a day of only the usual length a weight of more than 36 tons and in so doing make 11,333 complete turns of her body. When called down by me she was panting.


Victorian inventions

The second half of the nineteenth century saw the birth of numerous machines for the brick industry; versions of some are still in use little changed today. Inventiveness was encouraged by a demand for brick s so great it could not have been met by traditional methods alone, with the labour available.

But brick making machines had to be introduced slowly. In the north of England, especially, they tended to be sabotaged as job-stealers; there were cases of workers smashing them at night and of much damage being done by the simple trick of dropping a steel spanner into the grinding mechanism. There was a flagrant case at Manchester in 1861 when brick makers Renshaw and Atkins had their steam engines maliciously blown up. Decades were to pass before such Luddite activity ceased entirely.

Even in the regular yards where machinery had been accepted, brick making remained arduous and dirty; it remained, too, till Edwarthan times, a largely seasonal activity with no work to be done in the winter. ‘But life was much simpler then’, an old brick maker told Redland News in 1972, ‘and we managed to have a lot of fun.’ He had been a member of a gang of six making stock brick s in north Kent and vividly remembered the competition between the gangs to make the largest number of brick s in the yard. The target was a million brick s in a season. Achieving this number carried prestige and earned the gang the bonus of a new pair of boots. ‘Every man jack in the gang had to work to split second timing for as much as ten hours a day,’ the old man said, ‘so you can tell it wasn’t just the bonus we were after.’

But it was the spread of the newly-invented machines much


more than hard work which allowed Britain’s production of brick s to double in the period 1850 to 1900. The one great human benefit eventually brought about by mechanisation_and by better buildings—was that many firms were able to work their clay all the year round and provide steady employment.

The ingenuity of the nineteenth-century inventors is shown clearly in the illustrations. The first brick -making machines imitated hand-moulded brick s: a quantity of soft clay was dropped into moulds and then compressed by passing the moulds under the cylinder of a vertical pugmill. Early machines

this type were Lyle and Stamford’s pugmill- brick ma of 1825, designed to make fifteen brick s at once, and the Jones


machine of 1835 which had moulds fixed on a rotating table.

An American machine by Nathaniel Adams was an improvement. It was driven, as usual, by a horse. When an attempt was made in 1840 to drive it by steam, a disgruntled mob prevented the steam engine from being started and actually drove Nathaniel Adams and his family from their house in Philadelphia; they had to stay away for a fortnight. The Barnhart steam- driven machine for winning clay, developed in the 1880s and first installed at a works on the banks of the Ohio River, was welcomed by the men—although with two operators it did the work of eight—because digging by hand was made dangerous by landslides.


The output of a steam brick machine could be 1,000 brick s an hour compared with about 3,000 turned out in a full day by a hand-making gang of six; but the direct expenses of working were of course higher with machines and constituted one good reason why the small works, the most numerous kind, were slow to invest in them. Although powered pugmills were considered a necessity by the end of the nineteenth century, the small yards were still winning clay by hand, and tempering and

moulding it by hand. On the Continent, the far from small Wienerberger works near Vienna used immigrant labour so cheaply that in the 1870s it was turning out by hand over 200 million brick s a year. Seger reported seeing 1,000 individual moulding tables with a man and a woman at each—unlike in Britain, the woman did the moulding. In America, even the Clippert brick Company of Detroit—according to a study of its records by Joseph E. Zias—had no brick making machinery until 1909.

The Victorian taste was for smooth exact brick s, but now enough people wanted the look of the hand-made article for some makers to try to imitate it when producing soft-mud


horse. When driven by a three horse-power engine it would make about 8,000 brick s a day, if all went well. Just after the turn of the century a much more powerful machine, with an output of 20,000 brick s a day, was introduced by T.C. Fawcett of


The wire-cut process originated in England and spread all over the world. In this the clay is forced through a die (or mouthpiece) so that it issues in the form of a shiny column from which brick s are cut off by wires. The possibilities of this method were first demonstrated by William Irving in 1841, but the first fully operational wire-cut brick machine was designed by Richard Bennett in 1879: the complete plant was in continuous use for fifty-two years. Extrusion was done by means of a piston which pushed the mass of clay between knives placed at right angles to each other. With this method the process could never of course be continuous, for once the so-called stupid had reached the end of its stroke, it had to be withdrawn and the machine re-filled with clay.

The next invention for the wire-cutting method was the screw extruder or auger machine. In Britain this is now practically the only device used for wire-cut brick s. In its simplest form, the machine consists of a cylindrical barrel within which rotates a close-fitting helix (like a corkscrew) mounted on a central shaft. The clay mix, having been fed in at an opening at the top of one end, is forced along the cylinder by the flights of the helix and consolidated in the flights, in a spacer section, and in the constraint of the eventual die. Today modifications in wire-cutting machinery may include a device for de-airing to give a denser brick , a sand squirt for changing the texture of the emerging column or a row of spikes for making it rugged. Quite often core pieces are fixed in the die to make tunnels along the length of the column and produce light, perforated brick s.

Early wire-cut brick s were not nearly accurate enough in form to be accepted by Victorian architects as facing brick s, and in


consequence they were customarily re-pressed. Machines for

re-pressing date from the 1870s—an early one was by Bennett

and Sayer. When effectively performed, the operation could

have the effect of forming a dense brick with sharp edges. It was

found that before the more plastic brick s could be pressed to

advantage, these should be dried to an intermediate stage

known as leather-hard.

The most important invention of the nineteenth century,

perhaps in the whole history of brick making, was the inven

tion in 1859 of the Hoffmann kiln in which the fire need never go

out. It brought a great saving in fuel and allowed many more

brick s to be produced.

118 Victorian inventions

Before 1859 all brick s were either burnt in open clamps or in single-chamber kilns called intermittent because the fire went out after each burning of brick s. And having particular uses, such as securing special qualities and colour, some of these kilns still exist in the yards of small firms. The simplest kind, cheap to erect, is a brick -built rectangular box with an open top and no chimney. The fires burn at fire holes along the two longer sides and the hot gases rise among the brick s, finally escaping at the top. This is called an updraught kiln.

The other kind, the downdraught kiln, allows strict control of the heat and produces brick s of consistent quality. Down- draught kilns are usually circular but work as well when rectangular. They differ from updraught kilns in that the gases, having risen to the top, are deflected downwards among the brick s, and then pass through the floor to an underground flue leading to a chimney. To give an example of fuel needs in terms of coal, downdraught kilns may burn 8 to 15 cwt for 1,000 brick s, while only 2 to 4 cwt are needed to burn this number equally well in a Hoffmann continuous kiln.

In the invention of Friedrich Hoffmann, an Austrian, a number of chambers for burning brick s are placed side by side to form an endless series. The gases from one chamber pass into the next, then on to another, and so on until they become too cool to be of further use and pass up a chimney high enough to have created a good draught. When the brick s in one chamber are done the fire moves on. This is arranged by having a partition of newspaper in the openings (trace holes) between the chambers. The paper is first scorched and then ignited, by which time the gases in the kiln due to fire are exactly ready to ignite also. At the top of each chamber there is a small bung-hole through which coal dust is dropped as necessary to give the required temperature. Visitors enjoy looking down these holes during a walk round the flat roof of a Hoffmann kiln.

The small amount of fuel needed, compared with the requirements of the other kilns, is explained by the fact that the


A round Victorian-type kiln which is in fact a Hoffmann Continuous kiln and contains a ring of separate chambers linked by trace holes through which the fire passes. This kiln was still being used in 1973 in Suffolk


heated air either remains in or is circulated into the temporarily fireless chambers—where it may help to finish the drying of green brick s which ideally are stacked there. To take full advantage of the Hoffmann kiln, a brick maker should of course have a regular output of green brick s. Some brick firms can say with pride that their fires have not gone out in fifty years and more.

Another continuous kiln is the type in which the brick s move slowly on steel trucks through tunnels of flame. The tunnel kiln was first thought of in Britain in 1845, but until the last decade of the nineteenth century it could not be made to work properly. Today it is found convenient for firing by gas or oil and is used increasingly instead of the Hoffmann kiln.


The advent of these efficient continuous kilns led to developments throughout Europe in brick making with the harder clays. The tough colliery shales would be ground to powder, mixed to plasticity with water and then shaped in power-driven clot moulds. This stiff plastic process, as it was called, produced strong brick s and was important to the coalfield areas of Lancashire and Yorkshire; brick s were needed there in quantity for factories and for housing—and also for works to do with the expanding railway systems. All kinds of mechanical inventions came with the discovery that coal-measure shales could be turned into brick s: things like chain haulage, dry pans with perforated bases, bucket elevators, rotary and piano-wire screens.


In the late 1860s it was found possible, at Accrington, to make brick s by submitting shale dust to great pressure without the addition of water. This was the beginning of the development of the famous semi-dry process of pressing brick s which was later used in the fletton process and by which nearly half Britain’s brick s are now made. How it works, and how it was exploited in the early 1880s at Peterborough, is described in the chapter on flettons.

A mid-nineteenth-century invention of much historical interest today—in view of its application in various parts of the world—is the extruded, geometrically shaped, hollow brick invented in 1849 by Henry Roberts. An illustration of it is shown beside a modern Swiss example employing the same principle.


section but different widths. This step was never taken, however, though Roberts himself, in his original patent, suggested a transitional form. . . . To see the development that Britain might have made in 1850—70, we have to turn to Switzerland in 1930—50.

There is also the comment that, without the use of technically unwanted half- brick s, the bond presented to view could only be stretcher bond. This is no drawback in countries such as Switzerland where the rendering of outside walls is traditional and accepted, but wide use of the Roberts hollow brick in England would have made duller our heritage of Victorian brick work.


brick making for canals, railways and roads

brick s have had an important part in making the routes by which they are now distributed, and have contributed to road building hardly less than to building canals and railways. The canals had especially the double association with brick s, for no sooner were they built and filled with water than navvy- like brick makers, unpopular with farmers, tended to settle here and there on the brinks.

was largely thanks to the readily-found brick earth that many canals and their locks and bridges came to be built; for carriage of building stone from a distance, wherever necessary, would often have made the cost prohibitive. A visitor watching work in progress on the Bridgewater Canal, which was opened

1761 to transport coal from the Duke of Bridgewater’s collieries at Worsley, wrote in the Gentlemen’s Magazine that ‘the duke, like a good chemist, has made the refuse of one work construct the material parts of another.’

He was referring to the usefulness in building Britain’s first canal of the spoils of digging the cut. Nearly all the time,

seemed, clay was being brought up and employed both for the banks, to render them watertight, and for making the brick s which were vital to the duke’s works (in the end forty-six miles of underground canals at Worsley were lined with brick work for most of the way).

Occasionally good hard rubble stone appeared. In the early days of canal building, rubble stone, presenting itself as almost ready-made building units, was the material an engineer liked best to see turning up in excavations. But the quality of stone varies greatly from district to district. The builders of the Kennet and Avon Canal used defective Bath stone which was


responsible for troubles, dating from 1802, with locks, bridges and aqueducts.

In his book The Kennet and Avon Canal, 1968, Kenneth Clew explains that ‘Bath stone is an excellent building material if certain precautions are taken before use, namely to ensure that the stone is properly seasoned by leaving it in the same position that it occupied before quarrying, for some length of time.’ But the contractors did not do this, and they were careless about the selection of stone, with the result that some of the masonry work was a disaster.

The Kennet and Avon Company opened their own regular quarry—in fact two of them—but troubles with stone continued. The lock at Bradford was beginning to crumble and so were the aqueducts at Avoncliff, Biss and Semington. John Rennie, the canal’s engineer, was in favour of using brick s instead of stone and in March 1803 wrote as follows, Mr Clew relates, to the committee:

Seeing the great Loss that the Company have sustained

and the great detention which the Works have experienced from the badness of the stone, I feel it my duty to repeat

again to the Committee, what I have frequently done

before, the propriety of again considering whether it would not be better to use brick s generally, instead of Stone in

the Works which are yet to do.

A little later John Thomas, superintendent of works, informed the committee: ‘We still keep a sett of Masons repairing the Works which have been torn to pieces by the frost on the Western District.’ But the Kennet and Avon company did not turn to the use of brick s despite being advised to do so by the two men most concerned with the construction arrangements. The reason, in Mr Clew’s opinion, lies in the fact that much trade was expected to arise in transporting stone from Bath and Bristol to London and that the company was unwilling to offend quarry owners, who might be customers, with scenes of brick making. But in due course brick came to be increasingly


favoured for canal works. Even quite a short tunnel needed them by the million.

In some places the lack of a proper geological survey led to the annoying discovery of unsuspected beds of rock, which could only be moved by blasting with gunpowder. Where this happened—and no brick earth was to hand—the best move was often to leave the section in question until there was a waterway on either side along which to float brick s made elsewhere.

Various enterprising commercial brick makers, having made trial borings, took up calculated positions just ahead of an approaching waterway where the construction would need brick s; thereafter the canal, which already fed the navigators with equipment and building materials, would give the brick - makers a good means of distributing their weighty products to house-building customers. Later, several brick makers showed the same kind of initiative in establishing themselves at places suitable for serving the railways.

While ordinary porous brick s made from canal diggings were quite satisfactory for wharves, warehouses and convenience bridges—and also for lining the ceilings of tunnels—the brick s whose job was to hold water had to be heavier and denser. The still famous blue brick s of Staffordshire were in great demand for canal work.

Because of their hardness these engineering brick s were employed for the inclined planes which occasionally took the place of locks and lifts to link sections of waterway in hilly country. In 1940 a Shropshire farmer found it impossible to dig out post holes for a cowshed on a particular site and proceeded to uncover what proved to be an inclined plane for a long abandoned canal. It was of blue brick s made at West Bromwich; its useful life, the farmer learned, had been between 1788 and 1816.

Inclined planes (or rollers) were always a last resort in canal construction because of the labour and inconvenience of surmounting them: England’s first—completed on the Ketley


Canal, Shropshire, in 1794—had a rise of no less than 73 feet. However, an inclined plane linking a quarry at Conkwell in Wiltshire with the Kennet and Avon Canal ingeniously took advantage of the force of gravity and was so arranged that, as a full container of stone descended, an empty one was drawn up by means of a connecting rope.

Another important building material for canals in pre-cement days was lime for mortar; and this too might be a by-product of digging. Lime excavated near Worsley (Sutton lime) had a remarkable ability, Mr Malet has pointed out in The Canal Duke, to set quickly in wet conditions.

In 1760 the Duke of Bridgewater’s engineer, John Gilbert, noticed, while making a cut, a material known as lime marl lying about a foot below the surface. The discovery was to save his employer many thousands of pounds. Up till then lime needed for this particular canal’s brick work had been brought almost thirty miles from Buxton in Derbyshire. Gilbert was able to have the lime marl so treated by burning that it was of service both for mortar and for mixing with brick earth to make strong yellow brick s of London-stock type. He entered in his ledger:

29 Nov. 1760

Paid Jos. Adking for making 275,845 brick s, £111-13-6.

13th Dec. 1760

pd. Bradbury & Co for making 164,576 brick s and 36,000

Lyme brick , Burning as per Act and rect. except £5 kept in hand to see how the last brick proves, £104-12-3.

A cheerful result of finding the lime marl was that Gilbert was paid two years’ arrears of salary and that the navigators received arrears of pay amounting to a total of £400.

Just as brick s were made at the canalside, so material that came to hand by the trackside was often converted into brick s for the railways that gradually removed the canals’ trade. In


the earlier decades of railway building immense numbers of

brick s were needed: 300,000 for an ordinary road bridge, for

example, and 14 million per mile for a tunnel. Fortunately it

was possible to make strong brick s with easily portable equip

ment. Charles T. Davis, clearly pleased with a design for a

folding-up brick barrow, shows three diagrams of it in his

Treatise on the Manufacture of brick and devotes two pages to

explaining its operation. A barrow of the kind was already

often employed, he says, where the construction of railroad

works made it necessary for brick yard plants to be often moved.

The Welwyn Viaduct, which was built for the Great Northern

Railway Company in 1850, took 13 million red brick s which were

made from the local clay. The contractor, Thomas Brassey,

assembled for the brick making scores of labourers, some of

them French, who lived rough on the site. His handsome via

duct, since refaced in yellow stock brick s, is 520 yards long and

98 feet above the surface of the River Mimram.

In the years 1849 and 1850 it was a popular entertainment for Londoners, especially in the evenings, to watch the brick s being made for the Copenhagen Tunnel, just north of King’s Cross. As the tunnelling navvies excavated earth and clay, so the contractors, Pearce and Smith, made brick s of it at the tunnel mouth. Edward Dobson, author of the treatise on brick s published in 1850, watched how they did it.

The clay is neither weathered nor tempered, but as soon as dug, is wheeled up an incline to the grinding mill.

It is mixed with a certain proportion of sifted ashes, and, passing between rollers, falls into a shed, whence it is, without further preparation, wheeled to the moulders. The moulds are of wood and the process employed is that known as slop-moulding. . . . The brick s thus made are of an irregular reddish brown colour, and of fair average quality.

A hundred and twenty years later nearly all these brick s of


tunnel-earth, many of them uneven because of hurried handling, are still doing their job. A British Railways engineer who

familiar with the Copenhagen Tunnel says they are very good brick s indeed. Replacements have been made here and there to put right the damage done by the sulphurous smoke of steam trains, but always it is the mortar and not the brick which is found to have decayed. Today concrete sections are employed for tunnel work, but as recently as 1913 the Pondsbourne Tunnel at Cuffley in Hertfordshire was lined with brick s handmoulded on the spot. Most of the large diameter sewers of London and other cities are still lined with brick .

There were plenty of occasions, needless to say, when the earth arising was less than suitable. Securing the raw material for the number of brick s needed for a particular work normally depended on the initiative of railway engineers who, knowing they would shortly need brick s, were able to recognise a good clay when they saw it. There are still some brick works in Britain which owe their existence to an enterprising railway engineer.

The good appearance of brick for bridges over railways and rivers is evident to all, inviting favourable comment when


compared with certain concrete bridges. Putting down brick s as the surface for roads and streets, as distinct from pavements, was rarely done in Britain in the times before tar macadam— when such paving would have been useful. Why is not certain. A brick -on-edge service road at Redlands’ Southwater brick - works in Sussex has needed no repairs since it was laid in the early 1930s.

brick s for paving roads were popular for many years in parts of

America despite the distances they had to run: as early as

1719, according to Charles T. Davis, they had been in great

demand in Philadelphia for sidewalks. In 1914 the brick and

Pottery Trades Journal reported:

The success of the brick road in America has been largely due to its permanence under the new conditions of power traffic. The hardness of brick enables it to withstand the friction and tear of the rapidly running automobile. .

Such roads have won their way to the appreciation of auto

owners and farmers alike, being equally passable in any season and so drained that every rain washes them clean.

The quality of brick roads so appealed to Governor Glynn of New York State, the journal went on to say, that he had devoted an entire message to the legislature advocating brick for all main highways in the State. Cuyahoga County, Ohio, had already nearly four hundred miles of brick roads, apparently— built at about $1,000 a mile for each foot in width. All have now disappeared beneath tar macadam or concrete. In Holland on the other hand roads of brick are still often encountered. These are traditional as well as efficient. Hyde Clarke, writing about the Dutch brick industry in 1850 for Dobson’s Treatise on brick s and Tiles, reported that the Dutch used brick s—especially the hard clinkers—for foot pavements, canal towing paths, streets and high roads; the ‘slime’ for clinkers came from Haarlem Meer and was collected by men in boats equipped with long poles that had a cutting circle of iron at the end.


In recent years brick has been increasingly in demand in Britain and on the Continent for paved walks in cities and traffic-free shopping areas. The authorities choose it, as it is chosen for many interior walls and stairways in commercial buildings, mainly for its aesthetic appeal.



The labour of carrying brick s over bad roads by horse and cart— not more than 800, or two tons, at a time—largely accounts for the multiplicity of tiny and temporary brick yards in the days before railways revolutionised the transport of freight. The difficulties made it good sense for anyone putting up a large building to have his brick s made within feet of the work if reasonable clay was to hand: when the Earl of Nottingham decided to build in brick at Burley-on-the-Hill, Rutland, he sent to Middlesex for men skilled in brick making to work for him on the spot.

The only comfortable way of transporting brick s a long distance was to float them. Some of the mediaeval brick s to be seen in the eastern counties of England came slowly across the North Sea from Flanders, and it appears that a few may have



Loading horse-drawn carts in the early nineteenth century


Transport 137

been taken on along the south coast and up the River Exe— to judge by the existence at Topsham in Devon of characteristically small Dutch brick s. It has been supposed that Dutch brick s reached England as ballast, but Miss Wight in expressing doubts about this in brick Building in England is not alone. ‘Trade, especially with North Europe,’ she writes, ‘was too regular and intensive for there to be wasted space on the return journey to be filled with brick s as ballast. The brick s would anyway have to be purchased. . . . The idea of odd batches of brick s being used for ballast and then being used in England for building seems implausible, whereas speculative or ordered cargoes of brick s do not.’

Transport difficulties partly account, too, for regional variations in the houses of pre-nineteenth-century England which observant travellers enjoy noting today. Local building materials differ in characteristics from county to county—and in the old days they stayed where they were with distinctive results. The warm mellow brick s of the Sussex Weald are not to be confused, as Mr Clifton-Taylor has pointed out, with the rich purple brick s of East Dorset, nor the pale tones of the Fens with the brilliant reds of the Midlands. The greys of Bedfordshire were as distinct from the yellows and brimstones of the Thames Estuary as were, later on, the bright blue brick s of Stourbridge from the white-ish brick s of the Severn Valley, which yielded white clays with no iron and a lot of silica. Regional differences in buildings were only marginally blurred by sea transport. The coming of canals, however, had a noticeable effect.

Brindley’s great achievement, towards the end of the eighteenth century, of bringing by artificial waterways the Duke of Bridgewater’s coal from mines at Worsley into Manchester began an epoch of canal building throughout the country. Over 3,000 miles of canal were made, and for the first time in Britain’s historyitbecamepossible to transportheavygoods economically.


The brick s of one region could now be taken into regions at a distance and, of course, into the heart of the stone-producing counties. Industrial undertakings springing up in various parts of Britain needed huge amounts of material for their buildings, and brick s, always cheap to make, could now be cheap to carry.

The canal system, as it grew in the early nineteenth century, itself encouraged brick making and clusters of small brick fields appeared at strategic points. In The Last Chronicle of Barset, 1866, Trollope described a West Country stretch of canal giving access ‘in some intricate way’ both to London and to Bristol. On its banks there had sprung up

a colony of brick makers, the nature of the earth in those parts combining with the canal to make brick making a

suitable trade. The workmen there assembled were not for the most part native-born . . . they had come thither from unknown regions as labourers of that class do come when they are needed.. . they were all in appearance and manners nearer akin to the race of navvies than to ordinary rural labourers. . . . The farmers hated them, and consequently they hated the farmers. They had a beer shop, and a grocer’s shop and a huxter’s shop for their own accommodation. .

The important firm of Eastwoods, which began to build up a chain of stock- brick yards in north Kent in the early 1800s, owed much to having access to canals and rivers via the estuary. This firm made cement as well as the admired buff stocks fired in open clamps, and had within its grasp a market which included expanding London. If Eastwoods could not make brick s quite as cheaply as the fletton makers around Peter- borough, at least they had the edge on their rivals for many years in being able to transport their products at small cost.

Details of the early history of Eastwoods Ltd are given by Mr Willmott in brick s and brick ies. In 1855, he relates, they ceased to rely on chartered water transport and began to build sailing


barges of their own. Three were built during 1862 alone: Arthur and Eliza, Rapid and Neptune. Eventually Eastwoods had a fleet of seventy sailing barges for which late in the nineteenth century annual races were staged; a barge called Surrey was prominent in the film Red Sails in the Sunset starring Jessie Matthews.

The firm had its own house flag, or bob, which was always proudly fixed to the truck of the topmast. The bob was red, white and blue and, set against the rest of the colours chosen for the barges, it capped a pretty spectacle: hulls were black, rails light blue, and bow and quarter boards brown; there was a green transom. The fleet was not finally dismantled or sold until after the Second World War. Sometimes the barges were referred to as brick ies, which is also a friendly term in north Kent for those who make brick s; elsewhere only for those who lay them.

The return trip from London with fuel in the form of ashes, coke and rubbish was always unpopular because of the chance of spontaneous combustion bringing carbon dioxide fumes, and crews watched a lamp, knowing that if its flame grew low it was time to go up on deck. The men became expert at navigating canals. Barges working the Regent’s Canal were not permitted a length of more than 78 feet (inclusive of rudder) and were not to be loaded to a draught of more than 4 feet 6 inches. The restrictions nevertheless allowed a barge to pass through thirteen locks up to the Grand Junction. There were two tunnels on this run of eight and a half miles; they were known as legging tunnels because to propel the craft through them the crew lay on their backs and pushed against the roof with their feet.

Eastwoods had a wharf up the Surrey Canal where men seemed always busy handling brick s. Barges working this canal were not allowed a beam of more than 17 feet 6 inches. In the early years barges could enter the Surrey Commercial Docks only by the middle, or Lavender, entrance, a circumstance which gave


crews anxious minutes because of the road bridge that ran over the cutting: to pass under it took skilful handling, especially when a strong tide was flowing.

The smaller brick barges sometimes negotiated the Gravesend and Higham Canal, which was for a long time owned by a railway company. After entering the lock gates at Gravesend at high water, they were towed by a horse at a charge of 6s. each way. A beam of not more than 15 feet was permitted on this canal and loading was not to exceed a depth of more than 4 feet.

Horse-drawn carts were for obvious reasons still needed in abundance—to carry brick s from a vessel’s unloading point to the building sites; and they were equally essential at these points when the railways came. Wherever possible rail transport was universally made use of from, say, 1900 to 1930. Nearly all the big brick works built around the turn of the century were


sited near a railway, and had private sidings which were used not only for the dispatch of brick s but also for the receipt of coal. brick barrows were wheeled directly from the kiln into the railway truck.

However, a change in the transport of heavy goods was foreshadowed at the end of the nineteenth century by the development of steam traction on the roads. Use of the new steamers for a complete journey meant that there need be no intermediate off-loading and reloading. When Eastwoods supplemented their fleet of barges with a steam traction engine they found, with mixed feelings, that a load could be delivered to any part of Kent in one day—a ‘load’ consisting of 1,000 brick s weighing 74 tons distributed in three trucks.

The journeys called for some resourcefulness. For example, in taking brick s to Maidstone, the trucks had to be hauled up


Detling Hill one at a time. A man rode on each towed truck,

linked to the driver bya piece of cord tied to his fingers; tugging

at this was usually a signal to move over to let another vehicle

overtake. The driver needed the signal because he could hear

little above the clanking of wheels and hissing of steam.

The official speed limit for steam traction engines was four miles an hour, but a former driver for a brick firm (he thoroughly enjoyed his work) has told me that they commonly reached twenty miles an hour. Improper speed especially accounts for the fact that steam traction engines running on the unmetalled roads of the day often got into trouble for breaking up the surface. By 1900 the damage being done to roads by these engines was a nuisance which had become a talking point.

correspondent to the British Clay Worker suggested that the way to avoid damage was to do without the cross bars fitted for gripping purposes to the road wheels of the engine and, further, to carry the load instead of drawing it—with a 10 ton load of brick s immediately behind the engine there would be good adhesion to the surface. And if only wider wheels could be employed, the writer declared, there would be a rolling effect and the wheels would actually improve road surfaces by their passage. The bars remained. Wide-wheeled steam traction engines in the form of huge lorries sometimes did serve to roll


Prosecutions were numerous. The judgments were worrying because of the need to 1ase them on opinion rather than facts. William Atkins, a brick maker of Mountsorrel, was obliged in February 1900 at Leicester County Court to pay the county council £105 towards repairs to the main road between Leicester and Loughborough. He was found guilty of causing extraordinary traffic on this road during the previous year, with the result that deep ruts had appeared in it.

Atkins told the judge that until two years before he had sent

his brick s from Mountsorrel to Leicester in carts, each pulled


by a single horse; the loads had been about 2 tons including the weight of the cart. Although he had not increased the total number of brick s dispatched, he had changed his mode of conveyance by buying a steam traction engine. This engine weighed 11 tons, and by means of it he had been drawing his brick s along the highway in big trucks, each of which when loaded weighed about 10 tons. The judge considered that this method of haulage put excessive weight on the road within the meaning of the Highways and Locomotives Act, which made people liable to pay for damage done by ‘extraordinary traffic’ and ‘excessive weight’.

Road steamers and a growing race of bicyclists and tricyclists at length impelled the authorities to carry out radical improvement work on the roads, which had been neglected during the years of rail travel; and within a surprisingly small number of years all main routes were sealed with tar and stones. Steam transport on the better road surfaces remained a familiar sight till the 1930s, though petrol or diesel-driven lorries were in business before the First World War. These early ones had solid rubber wheels and a chain drive and they hardly carried more brick s than a horse and cart. In 1948 Eastwoods built up a fleet of lorries with a long wheel base which could carry 7,000 brick s. On the other hand a brick yard at Debenham in Suffolk, which closed in 1936, never owned any transport. The proprietor’s daughter, Mrs Nunn, who was tape-recorded by a British brick Society member, recalled that ‘the customers would come to carry their own brick s away’ and that ‘they came from all over the place—Earls Soham, Wetheringset and all round that way.’

The convenience of lorries that can swiftly convey brick s from door to door, so to speak, greatly reduced the part of railways in their transport. There is now, however, a sign of change since the introduction of a container service on the railways which eases the labour of transferring loads.

One of the results of better transport in recent years has been


that the inexpensive brick s of, for example, London brick Company, are to be seen on building sites in every corner of the British Isles. But these mass-produced brick s of the fletton areas need no longer look wrong in certain surroundings, for they are available with a mellow finish calculated to let them fit in anywhere, even in stone districts. There has emerged from the laboratories of the brick firms a whole range of pleasing colours and textures that can be applied to common brick s. London brick ’s Cotswold and Dapple light varieties, for example, are calculated to match traditional building materials and look well in new housing in the Cotswolds and the North Riding of Yorkshire. Redland brick ’s cheap wirecuts known as Crowhurst pastone rustic and Witley pastone rustic, which are scored to give the creases of handmade brick s, look at home among ancient buildings and are no affront to a predominantly green background.

Still, however, modern transport allows some places to receive brick s and other units which clash with their surroundings. Still there is a lack of thought in the choosing of building materials. Bright red tiles have appeared on the roofs of new stone-built houses in Bath.

Mr Clifton-Taylor remarks about roofs: ‘It is a strangely twisted mentality which can indulge in the erection of a shed roofed with pink asbestos tiles on the edge of a slate quarry. Yet this is what can be seen today at a place in CumberlancL’ He recommends that white asbestos sheeting on farm buildings should be coated with a bituminous paint of dark bronze green, for ‘it is a basic aesthetic truth that a roof which is darker in tone than the supporting walls imparts to a building a feeling of repose, so that it seems to sit more firmly on its site.’ This seems to explain why houses capped with thatch, which is pale, look at their best when the walls are white, softly colourwashed or of pale light-coloured stone. The makers and choosers of brick s have something to learn from old non- brick buildings.


A revolution in brick making occurred in the 1880s when brick s began to be made much more cheaply with a tough shale-clay dug up at the village of Fletton near Peterborough. brick makers found that it burned almost of its own accord because of a 10 per cent fuel-oil content. This previously undiscovered material, known geologically as the lower Oxford clay, stretches in a deep band some feet below the surface from Yorkshire to Dorset.

For efficient working, coal dust was sprinkled among the brick s, but with care the cost of fuel, even in primitive kilns, was not more than a third of that incurred elsewhere. Lower Oxford clay, coming from the ground with a modest water content of about 18 per cent, had the equally important property that it could be formed into brick s that were ready to be taken straight to the kilns, without any preliminary drying.

Fletton brick s were made from the start by a process known as semi-dry pressed. To break a fletton, and expose the whole- meal-bread texture of bumpy granules, is to see one characteristic effect of a process in which, instead of working clay made plastic with water (this water must later, of course, be removed) the brick makers crush up the semi-dry clay just as it comes and force the powder to cohere by applying great pressure. Today some 3,500 million British brick s are made each year in this way.

The brick making qualities of lower Oxford clay was a discovery, like finding gas under the North Sea, which has had far-reaching effects. Without the clay, without a continuing source of brick s that were cheap, it is likely that Britain would long ago have resorted to the Continental practice of building with hollow clay-blocks which need rendering to keep out the

The fletton brick 14


weather and to disguise them: these blocks are laid in a rough and ready way for, as German builders remark, ‘Der Putz deckt alles’—the plaster covers everything. Britain had been for centuries a land of good solid brick work: lower Oxford clay enabled the conventional brick to remain the builder’s friend.

The story of fletton brick s begins in 1877 when the Fletton Lodge Estate was sold. The auctioneer announced laconically that there was brick earth on the site, thereby drawing the attention of local brick firms, and within a short time there were six small brick fields on the land turning out brick s by the wirecut process. But the advertised brick earth was a superficial deposit of ordinary yellow clay.

The great discovery was made in 1881. A firm called Hempsted Brothers decided to try using he material which lay below the yellow clay and which was so hard that it brought up short the teams of diggers. Trials were promising and Hempsteds ordered heavy grinding and pressing machines from Lancashire, where the semi-dry pressing of another kind of shale was already established. The fletton brick had been born.

One of the first problems was how to get the brick s fired more efficiently; for large outputs were causing an acute shortage of kiln space. The chimney-less intermittent kiln, suitable for small undertakings, was inadequate for burning in bulk the new type of brick . Also, because water was extracted in the kiln, firing brick s of lower Oxford clay caused a great deal of smoke.

The situation was brought to a head by a strong but friendly complaint about fumes from a wine merchant, James Bristow, who lived beside Hempsted’s works at Fletton Manor. * Having taken the best advice, Hempsteds invested in a modified Hoffmann continuous kiln which both dealt with the local nuisance of fumes and allow3d a much greater output of burnt brick s.

* The late L.P. Hartley, the novelist, lived in this house in his youth. He was the son of a

brick maker.


Mr Bristow, their mollified neighbour, later left the wine trade to make fletton brick s himself; his son, grandson and great-grandson also became brick makers.

In the Hoffmann kiln—as explained in chapter 11—the combustion gases pass round from one chamber to the next and are to an extent cooled by the time they are drawn up the chimney. Hempsteds further dissipated their smoke by erecting a chimney much higher than was then customary. Ever since, chimneys between 100 and 400 feet in height have been a feature of the fletton industry, and clusters of them today dominate the rather flat parts of Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire where the main plants of London brick Company are situated.

Too many of the new fletton brick makers lacked the finance to operate properly; yet all had to compete against one another. Because of undercutting and price wars, the course of trading long remained anxious and studded with bankruptcies; and it is doubtful if any participant in the fletton industry grew rich in the first twenty years or so. An average ex-works price of 22s. per 1,000 in 1896 dropped by degrees to the suicidal figure of

8s. 6d. per 1,000 in 1908.

As well as worrying about what their neighbours were doing, the fletton makers had to face severe competition from brick makers who produced ‘soft mud’ stock brick s in Kent and Essex. These contrived to bring their prices right down, and in the process reduced wages: even the all-important moulders commonly received only 2s. lOd. per 1,000 in Edwardian days—nearly 2s. less than had been usual in the 1880s. But labour was willing and the occasional local strike generally ended with a return to work without the extra penny or halfpenny being conceded. Fletton brick makers also had to overcome some initial resistance to the use of their brick s. Their competitors fearful of the growth in fletton sales suggested that the fletton brick was not strong enough for normal building work and would deteriorate when used on foundations. Only gradually as experience of flettons grew, were such prejudices overcome.


Firms that had to shut could recoup little from selling their land, which fetched perhaps £20 an acre: there might be lower Oxford clay ten or more feet below the surface, but it was having the means to exploit it that counted. When a group called the New Peterborough brick Company was formed in 1897, and offered shares to the public, the Pall Mall Gazette commented:

‘We cannot imagine anyone subscribing ... the issue should obviously be left alone.’ This group nevertheless had the necessary machinery and three Hoffmann kilns.

Yet all the time the fletton makers were doggedly producing more and more brick s. The total of about 50 million made, and sold, in 1890 had increased ten times by the end of the century, by which time there were already sixty tall chimneys in the lower Oxford clay area. In 1898 the firm of Shillitoe fulfilled an order of no less than 10 million flettons for parts of Westminster Cathedral, and two years later the British Clayworker announced: ‘Fletton is a force that must be reckoned with. Its amazing strides are one of the commercial wonders of the century.’ Between 1903 and 1904 some 25 million flettons were used in the new War Office building in Whitehall. They were sold, though, for the low price of 27s. per 1,000 delivered to the site. The Building News commented: ‘No one could make a profit on that figure.’

In 1901 a mechanical clay digger was tried out in the fletton fields for the first time—it had done service in the Manchester Ship Canal—and showed the extent to which the operation of the pits might be speeded by mechanisation. It was becoming clear that if anyone was to produce flettons economically, more and better machinery was required; and to have this meant belonging to big, properly financed groups. But scores of small fletton firms continued to struggle along.

The rub came in the building recession of the 1920s when many of the small makers found that they could not compete with the larger firms in the industry. London brick took the lead in organising a series of acquisitions and mergers designed to


rationalise production and introduce economies of scale. As smaller companies were acquired, so new machinery was installed in their works and their brick s sold through a national marketing network. By the coming of the Second World War, the Company had revolutionised the fletton industry and in so doing had become the largest single brick maker in the world. In the 1960s and early 1970s, London brick acquired the remaining two major fletton brick makers, Marston Valley and Eastwoods, and in 1973 finally became the sole fletton producer when it bought from the National Coal Board the two remaining fletton works at Whittlesey not previously under its control.

There is little doubt that London brick grew to dominance not only because of its sounder financial base but because, of all the small firms that had grown up in the early days of the industry, it alone saw the potential that existed in fletton brick making for large scale mechanisation and the need to promote the product on a national scale. Today, London brick is one of our major industrial companies which apart from making half the clay brick s used in Britain, operates successfully in other associated industries. Its Directors, however, still have their roots very much in the fletton brick industry.

The history of London brick goes back to 1889 when J.C. Hill bought a brick works at Fletton for £6,500 and called it The London brick Company. But 1900 is a date of particular interest to the company because it saw its incorporation as London brick Company Limited and also the incorporation of B.J. Forder and Son Limited with which, in 1923, it was to amalgamate.

Forders, in beginning their main operations with lower Oxford clay, settled themselves beside the important railway line at the Bedfordshire village of Wootton Pillinge. It was Britain’s fully developed network of railway lines which was to launch the cheap fletton and make it a national product, and Forders took full advantage of their line, sending down it many train loads of brick s to the rapidly developing suburbs of London.


The Forder group, starting with capital of £280,000, was able to install the latest steam-driven machinery, of which the Forder long jib clay excavator—still working twenty-five years later— was the most spectacular. A system of steam-driven endless chains hauled clay wagons to the making sheds and permitted the disappearance of crude winches. New brick presses were alarmingly powerful and an accident common until the coming of safety devices involved damage to operators’ fingers. These machines were so adjusted that they gave each green brick four pressings: the trademark ‘Phorpres’ coined in 1901, was till recently to be seen impressed within the weight-saving and theoretically strengthening frog (or hollow) of nearly all flettons. Grinding pans installed to crush the knots, as the workmen called the shale-clay, were so efficient that when in 1897 a boy fell unseen down a feeder chute, he disappeared, no one realising what had happened until fragments of bone were noticed in the ground clay going to the presses.

The first chairman of B.J. Forders, and the man who largely financed the new equipment, was Halley Stewart, a preacher and politician and a businessman who had made a fortune already out of cattle cake. His fellow-directors expected quick returns on the ground that their fuel bills were trifling compared with those, say, of the Birmingham brick makers, who had to pay more for coal than for having the brick s made. But Stewart was determined that profits should be ploughed back until satisfactory reserves had been built up. That might take ten years, they protested. Even if it did, replied Stewart, there was no other way to build a successful business in brick s. In fact fifteen years passed before Forders paid any dividend, except on the preference shares.

As a rich man, Halley Stewart was in a position to wait. He enjoyed the business. Making brick s— brick s to build houses, houses to provide homes—appealed to his urge to serve the public. He had with him as fellow director his son Percy Mal



coim Stewart. They worked well together, particularly in that Percy bowed to his father’s financial decisions.

Forders tried from the beginning to charge an adequate price for their brick s. After the forming of the Pressed brick Association in 1909, in which makers got together to put an end to ruinous price cutting, the average price for flettons was 13s. per 1,000. The company also paid the men better than for comparable jobs in the neighbourhood and provided eight cottages and a large hut for some of them to sleep in. Men could earn up to 28s. a week. Labourers on the farms getting about 12s. a week were attracted to the Wootton Pillinge brick works by the extra money and, indeed, two brick works in the area were nicknamed Klondyke and Kimberley.

By the end of 1910 it began to seem that the management, too, was at last striking gold in lower Oxford clay. Forty-eight million fletton brick s had been dispatched in a year, an immense number for those days.

The works became almost derelict during the First World War, but the great demand for brick s afterwards stimulated fast re-equipment. In 1926 no less than 118 million brick s were made, despite the fact that the day and the night shift now worked only 48 hours a week instead of 56+ before the war. Five hundred people were employed. The Investor’s Review was to praise Forders for having ‘applied itself from the outset to reducing the import of foreign brick s from countries where labour conditions compared unfavourably with British conditions’.

In 1936 the annual production at an extended version of the one works had risen to 500 million brick s; it employed 2,000 people and could claim to turn out more brick s than any other works in the world. In that same year Bedfordshire County Council agreed that the village of Wootton Pillinge should have its named changed to Stewartby as a tribute to the achievement there of Halley and Percy Stewart.


The rise of the cheap fletton in this period, and the cyclical nature of house building, led to numerous small brick works being shut down. Despite the cost of transport (this was often reduced by favourable contracts with the railway companies), the scale of production made it possible for trainloads of flettons from the Bedford, Peterborough and North Buckinghamshire districts to compete hundreds of miles away with brick s made in local yards. In 1900 there had been about 3,500 brick - yards in Britain. By the start of the Second World War the number had been reduced by at least two-thirds. Today, after further waves of closures of non-fletton works in the 1940s and 1950s, the number of brick concerns is about 350.

In the second half of the 1920s those who worked under the better conditions provided by the firm of London brick and Forders began to realise that brick making need not be—as it had always been before—a rough-and-ready and often degrading trade. The notion spread, and people were applying for jobs for reasons other than wages slightly higher than in farming.

Until 1926 there had been at the biggest fletton works little of the paternalism now always associated with London brick and valued by the company’s work force. People had been abruptly dismissed, as at all other brick works, according to the state of trade. There were no rooms to have meals in; wash places were primitive; first aid arrangements and lavatories barely existed. But in 1926, Percy Stewart, who had become chairman two years earlier, set about a far-seeing programme of looking after his workers and their families. He introduced a week’s paid holiday and a profit sharing bonus system—both considerable innovations for the 1920s—and he recognised the trades unions. Canteens were built in which decent meals could be had.

Percy Stewart put in hand the building of sixty-six carefullydesigned workers’ houses near the works, each with a back boiler and a small garden. In the early 1930s more houses were built and, to go with them, community buildings and sports


grounds. Swimming pools were installed. There are today over 1,000 people in the model village of Stewartby, living in 358 houses and bungalows. There are two schools (they come under the control of the county council) two general shops and an interdenominational church. On being made a baronet in 1937 Percy Stewart used his second Christian name and became Sir Malcolm Stewart of Stewartby. His son, Sir Ronald Stewart, is a well-liked chairman and his employees so rarely leave that gold watches for long service are bought in bulk. Over 1,600 have now been presented for twenty-five years’ service or more.

Many of the houses at Stewartby are built (unfortunately in stretcher bond) with the company’s Rustic brick s, a well- known type which is scored with wavy lines and has a uniform reddish colour. Rustics, the first flettons to be offered for facing purposes, were invented by the company in 1922. Until the 1930s all other flettons were common brick s intended not for visible parts of buildings but for foundations, backing-up work and for walls that were to be rendered or colour-washed.

The fact that in practice these common flettons, pallid and heavily barred from strategic (or economical) placing in the kilns, have been used not only for the backs of cinemas but for the exterior of whole buildings is visually a pity. Mr Alec Clifton-Taylor refers regretfully to ‘acres of pasty-faced Flettons’ in the 1963 edition of his Pattern of English Building. In an edition nine years later, however, he absolves the makers from blame—customers had misused these brick s—and draws attention to the mellow, faced flettons on the market.

LBC products are indeed transformed by a facing treatment applied to the surface of the brick . This may consist of mechanically roughening the surface or sandblasting it before firing and thereby hiding the wide bars known as kiss marks. In practice, several minerals besides sand—powdered slag, powdered brick — are sprayed on for particular effects. It was once found during experiment that ground-up road sweepings gave a pleasant finish, and a laboratory assistant’s trial with a handful of steel


slag, noticed during a lunch-hour stroll, brought into being the popular grey brick with speckles called Dapple Light.

The range of fletton facing brick s has been developed to suit the particular local traditions in British building. The Dapple Light and Cotswold facings harmonise in areas of predominantly stone building, the Tudor, Heather and Sandfaced brick s with the red brick tradition of Kent and Sussex. Even the London Stock brick has been copied in the Golden Buff and Milton Buff brick s which look well among the older brick buildings of London.

The method of making brick s is similar at all London brick ’s plants. The clay reaches the making sheds by conveyor belt—at Stewartby 600 tons of it an hour—and is put through crushers and grinders. On reaching banks of electrically heated piano- wire screens it has fragments above a certain size rejected for regrinding, while the fine granules are fed into press hoppers. In each press a charger working backwards and forwards fills a mould box with a measured charge. Two pistons, one above and one below, compress the clay powder, pause to let out air, and compress it again. A brick has been formed. It is then pushed forward into another box and pressed twice more to give the advertised total of four pressings. brick s which are to have a decorative facing leave the presses on rollers and are transferred to a single-row belt to be moistened to make them tacky and then sprayed with a sandblaster.

Since 1948 setting and drawing brick s in the kiln has been done by means of fork lift trucks which are fitted with a clever device, patented by London brick , which does away with the need for wooden pallets to support the stacks of brick s. This consists of pneumatic rubber tubes fitted between the picking- up prongs which, on being blown up, grip the bottom course of brick s where gaps have been left, thus enabling the rest of the load to be carried across the prongs. To put the load down it is only necessary to deflate the tubes so that the fork can be withdrawn.


Although the green brick s are rigid enough to be taken straight to the kiln as soon as made, they must not be submitted at once to intense heat. The fork lift trucks—usually driven and operated with verve—set them down in those chambers of the Hoffmann kiln from which fired brick s have been taken and which are merely warm. In these chambers the brick s are gradually dried by hot air drawn from the chambers where fired brick s are being cooled.

When all the water has been extracted from the clay and the brick s are dry, the fire is introduced to the brick s which, with their carbon content, literally ignite. At 1,000°C a further rise in temperature is halted by allowing cold air to pour into the hot chamber for several hours. Once the temperature begins to


drop, the easing process is stopped and the brick s are kept at just over 900°C for some thirty-five hours to remove residual carbon. To maintain this temperature small handfuls of coal dust are fed in through bung-holes in the roof of the kiln. During their subsequent cooling process, the brick s act as a preheating unit for the combustion air flowing through to the main fire and also provide hot air for the drying chambers. The total time in the kiln is about fourteen days.

London brick Company lorries, courteously driven, are among the least troublesome of the large vehicles on the roads of Britain. But they are very plentiful. The railways have been used less and less, even for long journeys, because of the labour of loading and unloading: goods can only be moved by rail between towns and invariably have to start and finish their journey on a lorry. A recent encouraging development has, however, halted this trend. Because of a new way of packing their brick s in containers, London brick can now utilise the Railways’ Freightliner service and transfer their brick s mechanically from one form of transport to another.

London brick has in fact become the first manufacturing company to operate a system of sending its own containers into the Freightliner network. New sidings at Stewartby equipped with a travelling gantry crane were completed in 1973, and on 18 June of that year the first trainload, comprising 320,000 brick s in forty-five containers, set off for Manchester and Liverpool. The innovation could be as important as the fork lift truck.

The name of the new system, London brick Fletliner, or Fletliner, was the result of a competition organised through the Company’s house journal, the LBC Review. Within months the name was becoming familiar in the building industry. It provides a means of distributing more than three million brick s per week to London and the north-west of England.

The extraction of the Lower Oxford Clay for fletton brick s has


left the large and unsightly worked-out pits which can be seen by anyone travelling north on the railways running through Peterborough or Bedford. Because Oxford Clay was formed in the Jurassic period some 150 million years ago, the pits provide a rich and unusual harvest in palaeontological remains. Most of the skeletons of prehistoric animals exhibited at the Natural History Museum in London, were originally discovered and painstakingly recovered from the fletton brick pits. The Company’s navvy drivers are no longer surprised to see fossilised remains when digging the clay and some of them have become keen amateur palaeontologists. John Horrell, the Company’s Geologist has even had the distinction of having newly discovered fossils named after him.

One of the most remarkable discoveries was made in August 1973 when at a works near Stewartby the remains of an almost complete pliosaur—a vast prehistoric reptile—was unearthed. A workman noticed some large bones sticking out of the clay and told the works manager. The works manager told the research laboratory and the research laboratory rang up the British Museum. The pliosaur, identified officially as such, was presented to the Museum for its permanent collection. Some of the bones had been destroyed during excavation but everything available has been put together. The skeleton measures 21 feet across the hind paddles, and its total length seems to have been about 35 feet. Having found the largest pliosaur in the world, London brick display a reconstruction of its skeleton in the entrance hail of their research laboratories at Stewartby.

The pits not only provide interest but a source of potential wealth to the fletton brick maker. Over the years London brick has become a large landowner growing crops and breeding cattle on land destined for future clay reserves. The pits themselves present a challenge: not only is it desirable to screen the actual workings by trees and landscaping, but the land must be restored to productive use. The Company has set up a new subsidiary for this purpose—to reclaim land through the operation


of a waste disposal service and to redevelop other water filled pits for leisure. Pits in the Whittlesey area of Peterborough have been used in a different way. Two of the newest works have been built on the base of these, some eighty feet below the ground. This both allows the works to be built alongside the source of its raw material and screens them from normal view.

Perhaps the most ambitious reclamation project of all was publicly demonstrated at a ceremony at Fletton on 16 October 1973, when the Central Electricity Generating Board ceremoniously handed back to London brick 112 acres of cratered land made level by dumping there four million tons of ash from the coal-fired power stations of the Trent valley. This represented ten years’ disposal of surplus ash.

The ceremony marked the end of the first stage of one of the biggest schemes for reclaiming land ever carried out in Britain. An entirely practical project, it uses the waste products of one industry to make good the effects of another. By the end of the century more than 1,000 acres of old clay pits should be made level with the aid of 30 million tons of ash.

The ash, looking like powdered cement, is brought to an unloading station in sealed rail wagons that continuously circulate between the Trent power stations and the fletton brick - fields. There it is mixed with water to form a slurry and pumped into the pit through 12-inch pipes. As the ash settles, the water is taken away through a circulating system. After the pits have been filled with ash and consolidated the surface is covered with about 6 inches of top soil conveniently drawn from the washing of sugar beet at a local factory and the land returned to agriculture.

It is appropriate and a matter of quiet satisfaction to the fletton brick makers that sheep are now grazing on meadow land at Fletton from which nearly a hundred years previously their forefathers first dug their clay for brick making.


A brick yard on a private


Several landed proprietors had their own brick yard until well into the twentieth century. It was considered as appropriate as the estate laundry and dairy, only rather more interesting to the children. Queen Victoria’s children seem to have spent a lot of time in a brick yard within the Osborne estate on the Isle of Wight. They made brick s themselves there, under close supervision, and in particular the red and blue brick s for a miniature fortress and barracks (builder: Prince Arthur, ten) which is today on show to the public behind the Swiss Cottage.

The lives of those who worked in most of the estate brick yards were secure and pleasant compared with those of brick makers outside. Their employer or his agent may have sold brick s commercially from time to time, but the main purpose of the brick yard was to supply the materials for farm buildings at home and for repairs and additions to them. The men may have worked very hard for much of the brick making season, and they may have been paid according to the number of brick s made, but they did not have to get their wives and children to act as assistants or worry about making ends meet during the winter. For the estate brick makers, housed in their employer’s cottages, there was at all times of the year some kind of cleaning- up or maintenance work to be done.

An interesting example of a small estate brick yard was at Ashburnham in Sussex. Although now closed, it was in operation until 1968—and brick earth there had been worked continuously since the fourteenth century. The yard’s hand-moulded brick s were fired with wood, which meant there was plenty of winter work gathering the enormous quantity of fuel needed for the summer and looking after the woodlands. Two of the men who



October 12 Jas. Colman labor to new brick kiln Jno. Winchester labour in new yard

Novr. 14 Jas. Barden do

Jno. Billings building Clayhouse

brick Duty

Jno. Sinden for Kiln Faggott

Richd. How carrying matri.

to new brick yd.

Decr. 7 brick Duty


January 7 Sami. Cornford Arch brick s

11 Thos. Hobday Carrying Clay sand &c

14 Thos. Croft for Kiln Faggott John Shaw for brick s

15 Jno. Isted Carrying Kiln Faggotts

Febry. 8 T. Harvey Pulling down old brick

kilns and building new lodges

March 1 Hy. Barden brick and Tile

Making 1840

May 14 Geo. Geering Smiths work

T. Dray brick layer to

new brick kilns

J. Baker Carpenters work

16 brick Duty

Alfred Dawes brick layers work

£ s. d.

2 14 0

3 16 1

2 12 6


7 13 1



3 13 6

3 12 0



1 14 6

12 10 11

7 16 0

83 5 10

2 11 7

12 0 4

11 16 3

1 10 7


185 12 3

for that year, and for the year 1841, records as follows the erection of new buildings and the stocking-up with fuel:



Two kilns were built, each to take 20,000 brick s. Both were in existence 133 years later. However, by then their walls had become badly distorted, and only one of the kilns was considered safe enough for use during the last working years of the yard (a completed order in 1968 was a load of paving briclcs for a car park in Storrington); they are primitive updraught kilns of the Scotch type, rectangular structures, open-topped, with a compartment for the fire underneath. Set in the side of an earth bank, each has an opening on one side for loading and unloading and on the other easy access to the fire tunnels in a roofed-over area.

In its first sixteen years the brick yard of 1840 made brick s almost entirely for works on the estate itself: only a few outside orders were undertaken. Edward Driver, a surveyor, had brought this situation about by saying in a report that too many of the farms had buildings of decaying timber, and that they should be replaced by brick buildings which would ‘last for ever’.

The biggest single building ever served by the brick yard was Ashburnham Place itself. This had been stuccoed in the Regency manner during 1813, but by 1845 the stucco was cracking. The fourth Earl of Ashburnham decided to have no more rendered walls and set about completely re-casing his residence with Ashburnham brick s. The employment of grey headers in pink brick work made a distinctive feature of the new walls. Expenditure recorded by the steward suggests that brick production was never greater than in the years between 1846 and 1855, when the house was being re-cased.

In 1847 the estate bought for £37 9s. an Ainsley brick and Tile Machine, one of the earliest machines of the kind that were worth having. It appears to have been little used, though, and there is no indication that further items of machinery were bought later.

From 1856 onwards production was lower, but selling outside


the estate on a commercial basis began to take place. Commercial expansion between 1856 and 1869 clearly reflects the Victorian building drive which went on in many parts of England, not least in eastern Sussex. The area which the brick - yard supplied in the second half of the nineteenth century extended from Burwash in the north to Hastings (east of Ashburnham) and to Eastbourne (west). For the same area Kelly’s Directories, Mr Leslie discovered, show an increase in the number of commercial brick yards from eight to thirty-five.

The value of Ashburnham’s outside trade, he points out, was that it encouraged the yard to stay in full working-order through times when there was little demand for brick s on the estate. Occasionally outside orders were embarrassingly large. In 1887 the Normanhurst estate at Catsfield of Thomas Brassey, the railway builder, ordered no less than 365,000 brick s and 36,500 plain tiles. Somehow these goods were mustered and dispatched, though a large number of the brick s were sent back on the ground that they were mossy, discoloured and chipped. It appears that to cope with the order, the foreman had included some very old stock.

From 1898 the yard sent few brick s into the outside world. It might well have been closed down in the 1920s, but Lady Catherine Ashburnham, who inherited the estate in 1924, favoured commercial brick making, and her interest accounts for the survival of the yard for a further forty years. The profits were never big: since the Second World War, the best was £316 for the year 1954.

Mr Leslie watched the yard in action during its last two seasons and has reported on the traditional procedures he saw. The brick earth, referred to as loam, was dug to a depth of about 7 feet—generally in the autumn only, to give the material a period of weathering by rain and frost. The day before brick - making enough for one day’s making was pulled down from a weathering heap with a mattock. After a day of being mixed up


ordered. The sand for dusting the mould was brought from a small quarry a quarter of a mile away.

The average production rate per moulder was between 500 and 600 a day, a low rate because both moulders had to perform all other brick yard operations. They had, for example, to wheel their green brick s to the hacks for drying, taking thirty-six in each barrow load.

The hacks consisted of concrete strips on which the green brick s were piled to a height of seven brick s; drying took between three and six weeks according to the weather. As soon as the brick s were firm enough to move about they were ‘skintled’— that is, rearranged at an angle to catch the wind and draw it past them. The hacks ran north to south so that the brick s would get an equal share of sunshine on each side. As a guard against rain and frost, wooden hack-covers were placed on the heaps: in earlier days straw was invariably used for this purpose.

Mr Leslie found only one of the two Scotch kilns in use. When it was filled—a job which took three days—the loading hatch was sealed with a temporary brick wall to prevent loss of heat. The top of the kiln was covered with three layers of brick s laid sufficiently roughly to allow an updraught. Before the firing proper came the water smoking period, during which a steady fire drove off the water content remaining in the brick s. The fires were lit at the far end of the fire tunnels with the aid of paper and brushwood that blazed immediately and gave maximum draw.

After four days of water smoking at a temperature of about 240°C, the heat was gradually increased by pushing in more fuel in the form of underwood. To maintain the temperature needed, the wood had to be fed continuously to the fire tunnels, a job that, with ash-raking, fully occupied a burner throughout a shift of six hours. The burning process took about fifty hours, with the top temperature of 1,100°C reached after forty hours.


Britain’s brick industry since


Britain’s brick industry is sensitive to quite small changes in

the nation’s housing programme, and every so often there is

either a great surplus of brick s, as in 1969 when in some yards

stacks awaiting disposal stretched as far as the eye could see, or

a great shortage of the kind which became acute in early 1973. At the works where brick s increase by the million every few days, lack of demand presents a worrying embarrassment. Victorian brick makers were firm believers in the trade cycle and tried to be always prepared. Mr Morris Whitehouse, who is a member of a successful brick making family, has recalled that the seven fat and seven lean years were thought as certain as night and day. Mr Whitehouse’s recollections were published in the British Clay worker in 1971, shortly after his retirement from the chairmanship of Redland brick . He considered in them how far the theory has been borne out by the last seventy years.

The active years at the beginning of the century were indeed followed, he says, by an intense depression between 1905 and 1911 when there was great competition for custom among the brick makers. The building trade as a whole was in a depressed state during that time. There had been rapid developments in the manufacture of Portland cement, with the result that builders were relying more and more on concrete. And steel, replacing the more expensive but splendid Victorian cast iron, was finding its way into many of the larger buildings.

The brick makers responded with reduced prices for their brick s. They achieved these partly by faster and more economical production, but also by taking advantage of plentiful labour: although piece rates for workers became slightly lower than in the eighteenth century, if ever there was a


strike it was almost certainly short-lived and abortive.

A good result of the competition from concrete and steel was that the brick men developed multi-coloured facing brick s which replaced the Victorian even reds; the mellower brick s appealed to a new generation of architects, and encouraged such enterprises in public relations as the annual Building Exhibi


Ironically, trade improved in the years just before the First World War, and 1913 was a prosperous year. It was prosperous, too, for the collieries, then privately owned, which had been turning the shale they dug up into brick s and now found that by modernising their plant they could add considerably to receipts from coal.

The year 1914 saw good trade. Few people thought that the war which began in the summer would last long or would much affect life in Britain. Even in 1915 it was business as usual. However, under the Defence of the Realm Act of the following


year, industry became mobilised for war and numerous brick - makers had to shut their works. Some recouped a little in being required to hire their kilns for the secret storage of explosives and ammunition; this was the excellent idea of J.W. Rowe, owner of the Star brick Company at Peterborough and one of the pioneers of the fletton brick industry. His grandson is now Deputy Chairman of the London brick Company

After the war, large numbers of brick s were needed and 1919—22 was for the industry a period of recovery helped by the government’s programme of housing, paid for out of public funds. But in 1922 it was decided that this cost too much and public building was cut back. The wheel seemed to be turning again. brick makers were suddenly in difficulties, not knowing what to do with all the brick s that mounted in their yards.

But in 1923 the operations of the speculative builder came to rescue them and the year 1924 saw a particularly heavy demand.


Soon builders were having such difficulty in getting delivery that a government embargo was imposed on the use of brick in public buildings. The shortage brought brick makers the irritation experienced in recent times of learning that imports of brick s from Belgium had greatly increased.

The years between 1923 and 1929 were prosperous for the industry, if frustrating, and a time of investment and re-investment in brick making. Important innovations included better mechanical excavators, for which electricity was ousting steam as the driving power. In the transport of brick s there were changes of consequence in that reliance on the railways became less universal; increasingly steam lorries and petrol-driven lorries drove loads direct from works to building site.

The opportunities for road haulage were of great benefit to small country brick yards which hitherto had been limited to their local market. It can be added that the quality of their brick s was often so high that the image of the brick industry as a whole was improved by their increased sales.

Rail transport was however still cheap. Some of the railway companies were having a bad time and would quote low charges to brick makers to maintain the business; but the problems to do with delays and damage, and the expense of unloading by hand into road vehicles at the railhead, were never really solved. Road transport gradually took over the majority of brick traffic.

After another period of lean years following the slump of 1929, the brick firms once more found a ready market in 1933 when the government instituted, largely to provide work for the unemployed, a programme of public building work. By 1934 the speculative builder was again busy and the next four years were prosperous for brick makers.

Reduced building activity in 1939 meant that by the outbreak of the Second World War brick makers had accumulated large


stocks. Kiln fires then became a landmark at night for enemy aircraft and, as arranged by the Simmonds Committee, numerous works closed for the war years, and once more kilns were used for storing ammunition. But the closures were not carried out in the haphazard manner of the First World War—after which many plants never opened again.

The leaders of the industry called to serve on the Simmonds Committee had worked out an orderly plan for closure. There was a levy on firms remaining in business out of which a fund was accumulated for the purpose of putting closed firms on ‘care and maintenance’; and a further fund was set aside for helping firms to re-open after the war. These far-sighted moves kept the industry in being and ensured that the immense quantity of brick s needed to repair war damage was available when the time came. There had never been a more satisfactory arrangement for tiding over a particularly lean period.


The period 1949—54 was a good one, sales rising from 4,500 million to just over 7,000 million. These years saw the introduction of special fork lift trucks for moving suitably formed stacks of brick s, reductions in labour costs through mechanisation generally, appreciation of quality control, increased support for the British Ceramic Association and the setting up by leading firms of their own laboratories. In this period the industry became alert for the first time to the need to reorganise itself with a view to dealing with the recurrent problems of recession.

A process of amalgamation and take-over set in soon after the

war, and an estimated total of 1,316 separate brick works in

1950 had dropped by 1967 to 581; however, the capacity for producing brick s was greater by about 1,000 million (in Mr White-

house’s view) than the capacity of 9,300 million in 1950.

While the brick firms rationalised themselves into larger groups, London brick turned itself into a very large undertaking indeed, and showed the world that its cheap flettons could compete effectively with all other building materials. By the beginning of 1973 it was making just over 43 per cent of all Britain’s brick s. Another fifteen concerns in that year shared the making of the next 35 per cent of the brick s, while the rest of the industry’s production was scattered among small producers—to give a total of perhaps 300 brick firms.

Any consideration of the future of the brick industry in Britain brings up the question of how much we need to go on using brick s rather than other units which, through being larger, are less expensive to lay. After the Second World War much taxpayers’ money was devoted in the ministries and at government research stations to the development of new systems of building which went beyond mere changes in the size of brick s. Official encouragement was given to local authorities to try them out, with the result that new methods of building proliferated: only a proportion of these made any use of brick . Local authority approvals for dwellings put up in the industrialised manner


rose from 30,000 (21 per cent) in 1964 to 71,000 (42 per cent) in

1967; but there was a reduction in 1968 to 60,000 (39 per cent).

The subsequent decline in the use of industrialised building— following a serious credit squeeze and the Ronan Point disaster in which the slab construction of a London tower block proved all too vulnerable—reinforced the view held by leaders in the brick industry that the arguments in favour of traditional building had much to commend them.

The use of concrete blocks in internal walls had accelerated greatly after 1945, to the detriment of common brick sales. Although the brick makers were aware of this development, the speed with which it was happening was masked by the fact that, because of intensive building in the immediate post-war years, the number of common brick s sold was continually rising. Nevertheless the percentage of common brick s in their total sales fell from 82 per cent in 1946 to 70 per cent in 1955. There has been a further decline in the sale of common brick s since then, though it appears to have come to a halt more recently.

Persistence of demand for common as well as facing brick s is a good omen for Britain’s brick industry. There seems, indeed, every reason why the industry should survive, throughout lean years and fat. The geology of the country provides the raw material for economic and varied production; brick suits a climate calling for a material that resists rain, sun, humidity and air pollution; it is cheap to buy, flexible to build with and costs nothing at all to maintain.

brick is associated with a pleasant tradition in the United States, too, despite the taste for wooden houses. America’s brick industry reached a peak in production just before and just after the First World War—the record figure was 15+ million brick s in 1909. There was a big decline after 1925, when mass brick work no longer made skyscrapers, and by 1950 annual production was down to 7,500 million, a smaller number than for


England in 1970. brick s were being overtaken by large blocks of breeze or cement which were cheaper to lay.

But although in the States common brick s have been virtually unsaleable since the mid-1950s, such is the prestige of brick that people are prepared to pay well for the luxury and appeal of a brick finish, even though the price at the end of perhaps a thousand mile journey is often excessively high. The sales of brick in the United States have, indeed, picked up slightly in recent years and were in 1974 equivalent to those in Britain. That this is so with the United States having almost four times the population of Britain, and forty times the acreage, plainly reflects the different patterns in use of building materials in the two countries.

Britain’s brick Development Association, which exists to promote the use of brick s in this country, emerged in 1954 from the foundations of the wartime National brick Advisory Council. BDA now represents the whole of the brick industry including the manufacturers of sand-lime brick s. The association’s financial strength dates from 1964 when government funds ran out and members were required to pay a subscription based on their turnover. In 1973 the BDA had an annual income of nearly £500,000 with which, from its London headquarters, it seeks to supply information to the building trade and generally to advance the cause of brick .

Information sheets and pamphlets are constantly sent out to people concerned with building. A colour journal called the brick Bulletin, showing up-to-date uses of brick , goes free to about 20,000 people in most parts of the world. Excellent photographs show the brick work ideas of one country to another; so, even if huge pre-fabricated panels of brick work are little in demand in Britain, at least it is widely known that they are popular in parts of northern Europe.

BDA acts today as a mouthpiece for the industry in its relations with government and as a co-ordinating body on matters


brick tiles

Clay roofing tiles are made in much the same way as brick s. But because roofing tiles are larger than brick s, and yet only half an inch thick, the clay must always be mixed to a very fine texture to avoid distortion during the burning. Tiles are moulded, or else wire-cut—that is, cut off from a column of paste forced through a die. The nail holes are formed afterwards with a punch.

The plain flat tiles so common in Britain appear to have come into general use before brick s. Mr Clifton-Taylor considers it was not unusual by the year 1300 for the better kind of house in the east and south-east to have a tiled roof—and he draws attention to the incidence in these parts of the surname Tyler.


References to mediaeval tilemaking west of the limestone belt are few, but in the 1830s Staffordshire and Shropshire, helped by canal transport, became important tilemaking counties. The north of Britain had few tiles; stone and slate were available for roofing and these materials harmonised with stone walls.

Plain tiles began as copies in clay of shingles. At first there was a confusing multiplicity of sizes in use, but the size laid down in the reign of Edward IV, lO inches by 6 by , proved so convenient it has not been changed in five hundred years. The curved pantile, of Dutch origin, was introduced to England in the seventeenth century and is common on roofs in East Anglia and the north-east. Until recently the making of tiles and brick s often went on in the same works, and both have been subject to great improvements in machine production.

Clay for tiles, whether plain or of an interlocking type, has today been largely overtaken by concrete. However, so many


people prefer the clay kinds, which weather even more pleasantly than brick s, that a minor revival in their manufacture, making use of the modern tunnel kiln, could well take place. It is also possible, if only for the sake of keeping certain eighteenth- and nineteenth-century buildings in repair, that once again the mathematical tile will become available new as well as second-hand. Since this particular tile has no function other than to cover walls, it can be considered in a book on brick s even more readily than roofing tiles.

Mathematical or brick -tiles are tiles so shaped that when fixed to a wall and bedded round with mortar, they resemble brick work. They are seen for what they are only when there is imperfect work on window surrounds or vertical corners, though of course the game is given away by a nail failure which has let a tile start to slip out. The main function of these tiles was to make wooden houses appear to be brick . In towns especially, the Georgians preferred brick to wood, and caused a profusion of houses to be given the required look by means of brick -tiles in the south east towns of Lewes, Rye, Tenterden and Brighton.

The tiles have often been convincing enough to deceive architects and demolition contractors—not to mention owners of houses covered with them—but they were an efficient waterproof cladding as well as a deception, and were often referred to as weather-tiles in the eighteenth century; indeed it has been claimed that mathematical tiles offer one of the best means ever devised of shedding water from a vertical surface. Normally they fail only when there is movement in a timber framing.

Who invented them is not known—at any rate, not yet. The term, mathematical (geometrical has also been used), was presumably suggested by the regular and precise face of these tiles compared with overlapping plain tiles, which in the eighteenth century were thought rustic and inelegant.

It has often been said that mathematical tiles were invented to


because they appeared before its introduction. Nathaniel Lloyd records their use in 1755 at Lamb House, Rye, Sussex, and John Archibald in Kentish Architecture Influenced by Geology, 1934, says they were used from 1725.

There is no doubt, though, that the brick tax was an incentive for putting them on new buildings. When in 1803 roofing tiles as well as brick s had to bear a tax, it was found that the mathematical tile, a mixture of the two, was not subject to it. But mathematical tiles continued to be made for some years after the brick tax was repealed in 1850. They were recommended in successive editions of J. C. Louclon’s mid-nineteenth-century Encyclopaedia of Cottage, Farm and Villa Architecture:

The walls of cottages may be protected and ornamented by mathematical tiling. The object of this is to make the

walls appear as if they were built of brick . The tiles have their surfaces in two planes. . . . There are bats or

headers to imitate half brick s, and closers or quarter brick s for the purpose of breaking joint at the angles and

making the imitation more complete. When these tiles are

of cream colour, their effect is very neat, clean and handsome .

The tiles were being made again by the Keymer brick Company of Burgess Hill during the 1960s and used for a few new buildings as well as for repairing old ones. Keymer called their tiles Keytoclad tiles and pointed out in the brochure that they inherited all the attributes of clay: its warmth, mellowness and dignity. ‘Keytoclad tiles have a multplicity of uses ranging from the facing of a block of flats to cladding a timber garage. Keytocladding reduces skilled man-hours in building facing work without in any way detracting from the appearance desired.’

In the Sussex Archaeological Museum at Lewes, there are examples of the early Lewes tiles, made in strips with 4k-inch


shallow vertical incisions to facilitate splitting into either headers or stretchers. Provision was also made at the end of each strip for splitting the 44-inch header into two 2*-inch closers. Blue tiles were always made as separate headers to avoid accidental exposure of the red colour under the blue film.

Mathematical tiles are to be found in a few places outside the south-east. There are some in Durham, Horncastle and Cambridge and at Attingham Park in Shropshire. Mr C.G. Dobson was surprised to find them in Wandsworth, London. In March 1965 he wrote two helpful articles on what he called the gay little deceivers in the Illustrated Carpenter and Builder, and described mathematical tiles that were the facing material of the ground and first floor of a house at 14 Garratt Lane, Wandsworth. They had become insecure and the walls were covered with vertical bands of stout hoop iron to keep them in place. Mr Dobson believed that the reason for the failure to adhere properly was the weight of a further storey, a late addition, which had caused some distortion of the lower timber



The tiles were by no means only for timber-framed buildings. There are examples of their use on existing brick walls to change the colour (usually from red to yellow) and as part of an elaborate redesigning to keep up with current fashion. A large number of brick houses of Stuart type were given a classical façade in Georgian times by changing the windows and fixing mathematical tiles all over the earlier brick work. New brick houses were sometimes given the treatment, too. The Royal Crescent in Brighton, dated between 1799 and 1807, is a terrace of tall red- brick houses which were faced all over with black mathematical tiles. They cost little to maintain compared with Brighton’s stuccoed buildings.

Stonework, too was occasionally masked in this way—perhaps to fit in with a brick addition. When electric light was being installed at Nunwell House near Brading, Isle of Wight, the people living there were much surprised to find that their entrance front, apparently brick , was in fact of hard stone. A skin of red mathematical tiles had been skilfully applied.


In times of rapid change people like to look again at the enduring legacies of the past. Those of brick can be worth looking at. Building for building, they have weathered better than the two heritages forced upon us by wartime necessity and experience, ‘the pre-fab (leading to Ronan Point) and shuttered concrete (leading to the Hayward Gallery)’. The phrase is Alistair Home’s. Time, he has written, has been kind to various examples of wartime concrete but not so kind to the Hayward Gallery on London’s South Bank, ‘which seems already to be ageing less gracefully as the stains take hold than the bunkers of France’s Maginot Line’. Concrete is widely used today, often doing in a seemly manner a job which no other material would do; but can it be said that in the public esteem it has had its finest hour—in the Second World War?

Some brick is as ugly as some concrete (stone, too, can be repellent), but no building material except brick offers so wide a range of colour, so much scope for invention, such permanent economy of maintenance. Although few (wasteful) solid brick s are being made today in Mediterranean lands, there is for visual purposes an increasing employment in conjunction with whitened stucco, of the smoothly pink 10-inch brick , light in weight because of 50 per cent vertical perforation. Many a new Italian villa has sunlit pastel-colour brick work for its ground floor storey and pastel-colour pillars at its gates. In a mountain village near Carrara called Fabbiona, where even cottage roofs, pathways and garden walls are made of marble, the inhabitants recently accepted pink brick s for the surround of their communal water pump in the tight village square.

The heritage of brick

Britain’s heritage of brick is palpable in Tudor manor houses,


classical Georgian mansions and in some of the magnificent buildings of the first half of the so-called Industrial Revolution of roughly 1775 to 1840. Consider the huge mills of the north and the first railway undertakings. They have the majesty of proportion associated with good stone masonry. The series of Port of London docks, built in the first decade of the nineteenth century, forms a tremendous range of brick construction which is probably unrivalled. Brunel’s bridge over the Thames at Maidenhead, 1838, has the largest arches, and the flattest in proportion to their span, ever made in brick . They are semi- elliptical, each of 128 feet span with a rise of 24 feet—L.T.C. Rolt, in Isambard Kingdom Brunel, 1957, has graphically described how the eastern arch had to be rebuilt because the centerings were removed before the Roman cement had properly set and some distortion took place. The early waterworks like those at Hammersmith and Pimlico are good specimens of London’s early industrial buildings done in brick (the Pimlico one has recently been cleaned to its original yellow). All over Britain there are plenty more that are as well built, well suited for their jobs and pleasing to the eye.

Numerous over-elaborate brick buildings appeared in the second half of the nineteenth century, a result of the movement for enlightened architecture begun by the Great Exhibition of 1851: carpet factories modelled on the Alhambra, warehouses suggesting Gothic cathedrals and red office buildings, like the Prudential in Holborn, worked up in the grandest picturesque manner. The showiness of Birmingham University, with its Sienese tower by Sir Aston Webb, helped to establish for the newer non-Oxbridge universities their unflattering label of red- brick .

Florid Victorian buildings in red brick have nevertheless survived barrages of criticism. And these criticisms are not solely of twentieth-century, post-Lutyens origin, for Victorian brick work had Victorian detractors. Mrs E.T. Cook, writing Highways and Byways in London at the end of the nineteenth


century, was only one of many to censure it. She deplored the new hotels of ‘ornate red brick ’ and the ‘enormous Mansions.

hardly attractive’ which had risen in Babel-like height. ‘Everywhere’, she wrote, ‘is red brick and red or buff terracotta, adorning alike shop front, warehouse, tube station and palatial mansion.’

In the domestic sphere, great pains would be taken by an architect and his client to make sure that brick houses had an ornamental appearance. In Wimbledon, Hampstead, Hove and Bournemouth—wherever there was money to spend on such things—there are to be seen houses of rather shiny red brick s relieved with salmon-coloured terra-cotta work and griffin terminals to the ridge tiles. To their first owners they were in the tradition of the English gentleman’s house. Today we have so many buildings over which no trouble seems to have been taken to please the eye that we are ready to look admiringly at Victorian brick work. All the same, it can take a slight mental effort to do so.

In the entirely easy exercise of admiring pre-Victorian brick buildings, what is to be noted is that the actual brick s as well as the designs are different: they are not machine-made, they are not uniform in shape and colour or shiny. Up to about 1840 the brick s employed for churches, factories and most engin-eering work were of the same hand-moulded kind that went into houses and cottages. The effect of the individual brick s is such that it still governs our response to the heritage of brick buildings: for this reason an architect will often turn to a small hand-making yard when brick s of gentle appearance are needed to repair or add to an old house.

Although machine-made brick s have long dominated the market, some facing brick s are still hand-made as a matter of course. People like them for the crease marks and for the minor irregularities of shape and colour, and they are prepared to


pay three times the machine-made price. This is not so extravagant as it seems, because the level of costs in building a house is now such that the price of the brick s may not be more than a small fraction of the bill.

The number of hand-making works has actually gone up in the last few years, for closed ones have opened again. The output of hand-made brick s in 1973 was about 2 per cent of the total— perhaps 150 million a year. There is, too, greater reliance on the old clamp firing method (over 200 million a year never go in a kiln), because of the varied colours produced.

In hand-moulding, a clot of clay must be so thrown down that it entirely fills the sanded mould; and dexterity is needed with the pallet boards to transfer the soft brick to a wheeled rack. To train a moulder may take two months. It is heavy work, the incentive of piece rates leading to great exertion, and many a beginner has badly strained his wrists. Today’s moulder tends to work on his own instead of as one of a gang; but having to break off to wheel his brick s away to the drying shed is believed to be beneficial in giving him respites from moulding. Single brick moulds are usual, though seasoned moulders at Colliers, Marks Tey, Essex, handle triple- brick moulds.

Calling at a Buckinghamshire brick yard just before closing, I found a couple of young moulders working as though in a race, yet never failing to lift the clay above their heads before dashing it into the moulds. The foreman confirmed that they had been going at that pace since six o’clock in the morning. ‘How many today?’ one was asked. ‘About 1,650—more than yesterday.’ And as he paused to speak, his arms and hands went on moulding brick s in mime. brick making is one of a very small number of manufactures whose ancient methods are still to an extent in profitable use, providing a living heritage.

But in considering brick ’s heritage in the more conventional sense of the word, it can be said that brick has bequeathed to Britain a legacy on the land in addition to the buildings: the


sites so often indicated by such place names as brick Kiln Farm, Kiln Wood, brick field Cottages and Claypit Lane. Who has not come across one of them? The traces of defunct brick - yards are scattered over the landscape.

Mr W. Howard Williams has personally tracked down over seventy sites in Shropshire and Mr John R. Jackson, a British brick Society member, has found about twenty in the southern part of Essex. At least two museums are actively interested in the heritage of brick making. A few years ago the Brideswell Museum of Local Industries, Norwich, undertook to collect at least one brick from each old kiln site in Norfolk—and here and there, moulds. Where kilns and sheds still exist, these are being photographed; former workers are interviewed and taperecorded. At Little Plumstead, where ornamental brick s used to be made, eighty-three examples, thirty-four wooden moulds, two barrows and some hand tools have been acquired. Workers for the museum—many are school boys and girls—also collect


brick s from old buildings where these are being pulled down, or where advice about alterations has been asked for. Exactly similar work is being done by the Doncaster Museum.

The heritage of brick that consists of excavated stumps of mud brick walls built thousands of years before Christ, as described in chapter 3, has now become pointedly related to present-day needs abroad. Indeed the sun-dried mud brick is being spoken of as the best answer to the world’s housing shortage of around 760 million dwellings (a United Nations figure), since there are huge areas of the world where fired brick s and concrete are out of reach.

Over half the world’s population is said to live in mud houses which were often built at the cost of the occupant’s labour only. But ordinary mud brick s are soon damaged by water and walls need re-plastering with a mud mortar after each rain. One of the best ways so far known of internally waterproofing mud brick s


is to add to the mix about 2 per cent by weight of asphalt emulsion. This has been done in the southern states of America since the 1930s—even for rich men’s houses—and to a small extent since the mid-1960s in Iran. The Shah of Iran became interested when he watched a demonstration in which the Teheran Fire Brigade played water on some walls of asphaltstabilised brick s and saw that, unlike adjacent walls of ordinary mud brick s, they could not be washed away.

Plenty of countries have no ready access to bituminous products, however, and in 1974—5 British scientists at the Building Research Station near London were taking part in international efforts to find new ways of using lime to stabilise earth—and economical ways of producing lime on site. Whatever the results may be, it is interesting that the sun-dried mud brick , with which this book began, should remain demonstrably a vital building material.