Brickmaking Industry

BRICKMAKING IN WARWICKSHIRE, COVENTRY AND SOLIHULL:
A BASIC INTRODUCTION

Bricks have a ubiquitous presence in the built landscape of Warwickshire, with many of those bricks made locally. Large scale production was concentrated in the north of the county, particularly in Nuneaton with the Haunchwood Brick and Tile and Stanley Brothers brickworks. Some idea of the scale of production can be witnessed via aerial photographs, such as the Britain From Above website www.britainfromabove.org.uk , with EPW014954 showing the Stanley yards. 

However, brick production on a smaller scale was spread throughout the county. Indeed, the small-scale, sometimes temporary, brickworks designed to produce bricks for a specific purpose, or to utilise a particular source of clay, is a feature evident from an early stage. Even in the pre-industrial era there was widespread domestic and artisan manufacture to meet local demands, with early maps showing many local brick pits and kilns.

For late nineteenth century maps, the most readily accessible resource is the online National Library of Scotland Ordnance Survey Maps for England, 25 inch 1841-1952, with the options of a zoomable overlay layer or a seamless layer on modern satellite images and modern maps. This is easy to use, free, and identifies many brickworks that have long since disappeared. www.maps.nls.uk

Plentiful supplies of suitable clays were, of course, the key and Warwickshire is blessed with a variety of such sources. Variation in those clays, and modifications in the production process, enabled a huge range of products to be created, loosely gathered under the ‘Brick, Tile and Terracotta’ banner.

The clays are the products of the weathering and redistribution of rocks and are widespread throughout Warwickshire. The geology of the ‘clay minerals’ and the chemical characteristics of sheet silicates have significance for the ceramic industries and affect the colour of bricks, especially where there is an iron constituent. The geological formation, principally the Mercia Mudstones (the most widespread formation in the county), influenced the location of brick pits. Another important clay is ‘Etruria Marl’, a flood plain deposit of considerable uniformity and purity suitable for the manufacture of high strength and low water absorption heavy clay ware, including high-quality facing and engineering bricks, pavers and roofing and floor tiles. Its high but variable iron content allows the production of a wide range of fired colours. The last remaining brickworks in Warwickshire – The Kingsbury Brickworks (in the top NW corner of the county) – is on this outcrop and is being extended by its Austrian owners, Wienberger.

Remains of the industry are sparse, although some of the works have been converted into nature reserves or parks  – Whittleford Park on the old site of Haunchwood Brick and Tile Co. in Stockingford, Nuneaton, and Websters Park in Coventry is on the site of the Webster Hemmings brickworks. Others have a less glamorous ending, with Jacksons Brickworks, Solihull (on the A45 close to Stonebridge roundabout) adopting a new role as Bickenhill Household Waste Recycling Centre, with a solitary chimney left standing as an acknowledgement of former glories.

One particular example of a surviving kiln is the rather forlorn version at Fenny Compton researched by WIAS member John Selby. His article on the brickworks and associated tunnel on the Oxford canal was published in the Association for Industrial Archaeology Review in 2002 Volume 24 Issue 2. An edited and updated version of John’s work is currently being prepared, with the future of the kiln remaining uncertain.

We are very fortunate that Nuneaton History Group has produced a great deal of information concerning brickworks in the area, with Peter Lee and others taking on the responsibility for research. They have gathered a wealth of information and a visit to their website is strongly recommended. Peter has also produced a book – Nuneaton and Bedworth Coal, Stone, Clay and Iron: Forgotten Industries of North Warwickshire.

Another wonderful source is the website www.reginaldstanley.com Highly recommended!

Elsewhere, various pieces of research and photographs are available, and it would be good to seek to put these together in some way. One important survey is that carried out by John Frearson on the brick makers of Rugby, including the development of brickmaking machinery by Jonathan Dumbleton Pinfold. The WIAS website has a small amount of information on three of these sites – Cherry Orchard (Kenilworth), Napton, Fenny Compton, but there must be much more information out there.

The lasting memorial to these brickmakers is, of course, the buildings that utilised their products. In many cases, the brickmaker is unknown, but in other cases evidence  – usually documentary evidence or identification on conversion or demolition – give the answer. For example G.F.Smith in Milverton, Leamington Spa supplied the bricks for St. Marks Church and many other prominent buildings in the town and beyond. Reginald Stanley built Manor Court as his home, and the evidence of his company’s skills are clearly evident in the fine brick and terracotta employed. The other source of information comes from that most noble of pastimes, brick-collecting. There are at least two collectors of (named) Warwickshire bricks in Warwickshire Industrial Archaeology Society and it would be good to try and think of a way in which these could be exhibited to a wider audience and retained for posterity.

So this introduction is really an attempt to raise the profile of brick and tile making in Warwickshire, and to appeal for any valuable and informative references that people have encountered. Please send them in so we can add to the site.

Brickmaking Industry: further information

AuthorSubjectPublished/More
Lee, PeterNuneaton and Bedworth Coal, Stone, Clay and Iron: Forgotten Industries of North Warwickshire.Amberley Publishing
Cox, AlanBrick and Tilemaking in the Nuneaton AreaBritish Brick Society Information 114
Oct 2010. Available online www.britishbricksoc.co.uk
Frearson, John P.H.Jonathan Dumbleton Pinfold and the Brick makers of RugbyJohn Frearson Publications
Selby, JohnFenny Compton Tunnel and Brick Kiln, Oxford CanalAIA Review 2002 Vol. 24 Issue 2
Selby, JohnReport on a visit to Websters Coventry in 1993Available at this link
Web ResourceNuneaton history website. A great deal of material on brickyards in the Nuneaton areaAvailable at this link
Web ResourceDetailed and informative website on StanleysAvailable at this link
Web Resource25 inch Ordnance survey maps of England 1841-1952Available at this link
Web ResourceCherry Orchard Brickworks, Kenilworth, Warks - D. Billings & others (WIAS)Available at this link
Web ResourceNapton Brickworks, Napton, Warks - M. Green (WIAS)Avalable at this link
Web ResourceBrickmakers of Coventry - Introduction by M. Green (WIAS)Available at this link
Web ResourceC. Gray Hill, Coventry - One brick, several stories - M. Green (WIAS)Available at this link
Web ResourceVictoria Brickworks, Coventry - One brick, several stories - M. Green (WIAS)Available at this link
Web ResourceWilkins Websters Hemming & Midland Brick Coventry - One brick, several stories Part I - M. Green (WIAS)Available at this link
Web ResourceWilkins & Websters Brickworks Coventry - One brick, several stories Part II - M. Green (WIAS)Available at this link
Web ResourceWebsters Brickworks Coventry 1904 - 1945 - One brick, several stories Part III - M. Green (WIAS)Available at this link
SitesRemaining sites listed on the WIAS database under ‘Extract:Brick’Available at this link
Brick CollectionsNamed Warwickshire bricksAlwyn Sparrow, Martin Green (WIAS)
Photos2011 Fenny Compton Brick Kiln, Warwickshire M. Green (WIAS)Available at this link
Photos2013 Webster's Brickworks, Foleshill, Coventry M. Green (WIAS)Available at this link
Photos2020 Napton Brickworks, Napton, Warwickshire M. Green (WIAS)Available at this link