The Brickmaking Process

Extract from ‘The Rayner Family of Great Wakering” by Albert Rayner Bsc (Econ) FCA [page 72]

The first process was to cut away the clay to a depth of eight feet. The clay was broken up and conveyed by wheelbarrows to the wash mills, shallow circular pits over which was erected a wooden or iron framework supporting a wheel which revolved in the horizontal plane and to which harrows were attached. The clay was dragged round on the floor of the pit and water added to produce a mixture which had a yellow, turbid appearance, and which was drained off to deep pits through pipes and channels. When some of the water had evaporated the remains were stiff and tenacious in nature and called 'pug'.

The washing was done in the winter months, so that the pug would be ready for working in the early spring. During the summer the wash mills were idle.

In the next operation, the pug was to be dug out of the 'malm banks', as the pits were called, and barrow loads were conveyed to the 'stools' where the moulder and his gang worked. As output from Millhead increased, there were eventually seventeen sheds with a gang of six at each shed; each man had a title and the Moulder was in charge of the gang.

The Temperer kept the mill supplied, keeping the pug as near as possible 1n good working condition. The Flattie cut out portions of the pug and shaped them as near the mould size as possible. The material was then passed to the Moulder, who stood alongside. He would throw the pug into the mould, striking off the overlapping edges. The moulded brick was then placed on a narrow shelf alongside, from which a boy, the Barrow Loader, would pick it up and place it on a specially constructed barrow - 28 bricks to the barrow. Finally, an older boy, the Pusher Out, conveyed the loaded barrow to the man who was setting up the bricks, the Off Bearer. He and the Moulder took it in turn to make the bricks, working 11/2 hours at a time.

The bricks were arranged in long rows about 3 feet high and 11/2 feet across, being built up in such a way that air could get in to dry them. In due course they were stacked in large cubical blocks and hardened by slow burning, ash and cinder refuse being brought from London by barge to fire the bricks. A certain amount of fine ash was also required to mix with the clay chalk, and a percentage of the ash brought from London was therefore passed through a large cylindrical riddle to sift out the fine ash.

On wet days, the lines of drying bricks were covered with 'hack covers' - portable roofs - and if rain came during the night an alarm bell rang and the men had to hurry down to 'hack up'.

The weekly output from each shed was about 40,000 bricks. The men were paid piece work at about 4s 6d to the gang for each thousand. This rate was conceded to the men in 1900 after a strike, when the men had asked for 4s 7d. There had been a strike three years previously, when Rutters, who also had brickworks in Kent, gave the men in the south an advance of double that given to the men in Great Wakering. The Rutters soon had to give way.

The payment for the gang was distributed by the Moulder, the boys receiving about 3d per thousand. Normal weekday hours were 6am to 6pm and 6am to noon on Saturday. The men had three breaks, each of 30 minutes duration. Boys of 10 years and over were allowed to work as Barrow Loaders all through the brickmaking season, working from 6am to noon one week and 1pm to 6pm the next week.

The children at the village school whose fathers worked at the brickworks and who were not already working there, were allowed an extra half hour at the school's midday break to allow them to take their father's midday meal out to the brickfield. At 11.30am mothers with round pudding basins, covered with red and white spotted handkerchiefs, containing hot dinners for the 'brickies', would line the school wall. At the appropriate time the headmaster would come round to each class calling out 'dinner carriers here' and there would be quite an exodus. On wet days, when the stools could not work, the announcement was 'barge loaders and brick sorters only'.

The brickworks had its own engine driver; in 1881 it was William Wyatt, aged 42, living at Millhead. A carpenter was also employed - Thomas Wiggins, who lived in the village.

The brickworks at Landwick closed down about 1900 and the Millhead works about 1960, although a more recently founded brickworks is still in operation to the south west of the village.

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