Barling & Wakering Heritage - Brickmaking

Brickmaking

Extract from ‘The Rayner Family of Great Wakering” by Albert Rayner Bsc (Econ) FCA [page 70]

After agriculture, brickmaking was the most important industry in Wakering; in fact, there was brickmaking in the area in Roman times.

The top soil of the district is ideal for corn crops but underneath is a sub-soil of boulder clay, which is ideal for brickmaking. Having extracted the clay, the top soil can be reinstated and the use of the land returned to agriculture.

There were two brickworks in operation during the latter part of the 19th century, one at Millhead, opposite Rushley Island, and the other, further east, at Landwick. Each had its own wharf with tramlines leading from the brickworks. The bricks were loaded onto barges for despatch up the Thames to London. Many of the barges were owned by the Howard family of Great Wakering and the men operating them lived in the village. The crew, usually three, comprised the captain, the mate and a boy, each of whom wore blue suits, a peaked cap and a blue guernsey. They would stock up at the village store; the mate was usually the cook.

The brickworks company - Messrs D & C Rutter - was a family company which also owned small sailing barges for transporting bricks. They were known as 'Rutters Pitchpiners' because they were cheaply built of pitchpine and were narrower than most barges; when loaded, therefore, they sat rather low and would ship a great deal of water when sailing, especially in bad weather.

It is obvious from the 1871 and 1881 Censuses that the brickworks were in full operation at that period but no mention is made of Millhead in any earlier census. About 40 families were recorded as living at Millhead in 1871 yet there is little evidence, from maps of that period, of houses in the area. Perhaps the families lived in very temporary accommodation although the Rutters did build some cottages for their employees in New Road, known as 'Rutters Cottages'.

In 1871, John Reed, aged 27 and originally from Hillingdon in Middlesex, was Manager at the brickworks, living in the village near the 'Bell Inn'. He and his wife employed a domestic servant aged 16. Nearly all the brickmakers and the labourers who lived at Millhead, together with the four lodging at what is now the 'Red Lion' and some others living in the village, came from counties other than Essex. Many like, John Reed, were from Middlesex.

By 1881, there was a fresh Manager at Millhead, Henry Juniper, aged 49, from Stock in Essex; there was also John H Juniper, aged 26, employed as Clerk, possibly Henry's son. Henry Juniper, who died in October 1911, was succeeded by his son Peter, who was not a success and was replaced by a Mr Philip Tranter.

Millhead had its own public house, appropriately named the 'Brickmakers Arms'. Eleanor Cook, aged 55 in 1871, was described in the census as 'Beer House Keeper', while her husband, Frederick Cook aged 53, was a brickmaker. In the 1881 Census there is no mention of the Brickmakers Arms; the husband is still noted as a brickmaker but his wife is described as a lunatic.

The 'Brickies' - those who worked in the brickfields were considered a rough lot compared with the more stable agricultural labourer but once settled in the village they rather sobered down. Even so, rows and fights were not uncommon when the public houses closed on Saturdays nights for the beer, made by Luker of Southend, was pretty strong. In winter, when the brickworks were more or less closed, some went to find employment in London, many in the gas works.

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