April 30, 2017|Reports

“20 Million Bricks: History of Brickmaking & of Bursledon Brickworks” – Carolyne Haynes

Our talk on April 4th to 48 members and visitors was given by Dr Carolyne Haynes, a retired architect, who has spent the past five years becoming ‘passionate about bricks’ and helping Bursledon Brickworks in its objective to become the country’s leading brick museum and award winning example of industrial archaeology.

The first part of her talk concerned the history of the making and use of bricks for building.  Prior to the Roman occupation, brickmaking was primitive and stones and flint were used where permanence was needed.   The Romans brought the key skills needed for regular standard-shaped bricks and tiles, and also for lime mortar, which continued in the Saxon period after the Romans departed. The Saxons however lost Roman brickmaking skills and into Medieval times brickmakers were still brought into the country from France and Holland.  The first real English bricks date from Polstead  in 1420, and the use of bricks as opposed to timber accelerated rapidly after the Great Fire of London in 1666. Further growth brought the Georgian period of classical design, and then the very ornate Victorian era needing a whole range of ornamental bricks.

Turning to the process  itself, Carolyne explained the need for sand as part of  the clay mixture, and the high production rate called for.  Women on the production line had to make about 4 bricks a minute and there was no pay for anyone until 1000 bricks were made each day.  There certainly were “Victorian conditions” for women and children alike.

The origin of the Bursledon Brickworks dates from Edward Hooper in 1851, who became Hooper and Ashby – a group of stores and merchants along the south coast.  They found a site for a new brickworks in 1896 with deep reserves of clay, at Lower Swanwick- with ideal transport connections by rail and river.  Over the next 75 years the production of bricks rose to many millions per year until in 1974 under ownership of the Redland Group a combination of depletion of clay reserves and health and safety issues, closed the brickworks.

The foresight of Hampshire County Council a few years later rescued the site from utter dereliction and a preservation trust was formed to attract lottery and other funding to begin restoration by an army of volunteers, many being ex-brickworkers.  Now the massive sheds house a museum, much of the restored machinery, a variety of steam engines and a small gauge passenger railway.

Visiting details on www.bursledonbrickworks.org.uk

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