England Earthenware Occupations, Bricks, Cement, Clay Pipes (National Institute)
The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course English: Occupation Records-Professions and Trades and English: Occupations-Military & Services by Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).
The Romans were the first to make bricks in England, much thinner than modern ones and still to be seen re-used in later church buildings. After their departure in 409 AD there was little brickmaking for a thousand years, mainly because dwellings were constructed of more readily available and inexpensive local materials like stone, flint, cob, wattle-and-daub and timber. It was after the suppression of the monasteries (1540) by Henry VIII that wealth became better distributed and more building took place. Brick was then in demand, especially in areas having little suitable stone, for larger houses, schools, and other community buildings. London has no building stone and after the Great Fire in 1666 wood was discouraged; brick that could be made locally was the cheaper alternative to importing granite or limestone from other parts of the country. Whatever the building material chimneys, which were first seen in the 16th century, were invariably lined with brick to lessen the risk of fire in wooden houses, and to prevent the erosion of stone by sulphur fumes emitted by coal fires.
Early bricks were brought from the Netherlands as ballast in the returning wool ships and mostly used in East Anglia or in port towns such as Exeter and Topsham, Devon where many such buildings survive today. The next development was Flemish brickmakers setting up their kilns in England and bringing with them their families and associated workmen such as puggers and bricklayers.
In time brickworks sprang up in all clay districts; they were fired in kilns heated by wood, and later by coal, and transported from the mid-18th century along the network of canals and in the 19th century by rail. Itinerant brickmakers frequently worked on or near building sites until enough bricks had been made for the job, and then moved on to another building site. Researchers may encounter references to the tax imposed on bricks from 1784 to 1850, coinciding with the mass movement of country folk into towns during the Industrial Revolution and the increased demand for housing by the rapidly growing population.
Mechanical means of mass producing bricks started in 1858 and the small brick companies started to die out in favour of larger enterprises. Extensive brickworks in Bedfordshire and Huntingdonshire, situated on the Oxford Clay, supplied the huge markets of London, the Home Counties and the Midlands. At Fletton near Peterborough, Northamptonshire 150,000 bricks a day were being produced by the end of the 19th century. Such mass production for building, hand-in-hand with that of Welsh slate for the roofs, created those monotonous rows of Victorian artisans’ houses with their prolific chimney pots jarring the view as one approaches English cities by train.
The intricacies of the brickmaking process can be found in Hammond (Bricks and Brickmaking. Shire Publications, 2001), Hurley (The Book of Trades or Library of the Useful Arts. Vol II. Wiltshire Family History Society, 1991) and Manners (Country Crafts Today. Gale Research Company, Detroit, Michigan, 1974), and a history of the industry in Chaloner (People and Industries. Frank Cass, London. FHL book 942 U3ch, 1963), Bailey (The Industrial Heritage of Britain. Ebury Press/Book Club Associates, 1982) and Hammond (Bricks and Brickmaking. Shire Publications, 2001). Dixon (A Heritage of Anglian Crafts. Minimax Books, Peterborough, Northamptonshire, 1981) describes one of the few remaining hand brick works existing exclusively to supply replicas of old bricks for restoration work, for example at Hampton Court, Windsor Castle and modest cottages. Campbell-Passmore (Old Occupations: Brickmaking. Family Tree Magazine Vol 7 #2, 1989) describes a search for a brickmaker ancestor who started out in Scotland, moved to the Isle of Man then South Wales before emigrating to California.
Cuffley runs a brickmakers index. In his second career as a quantity surveyor (estimator) my father frequently referred to Flemish bonding of bricks and to a popular brick called a sand-faced Fletton. Now I know where these names arose.
Portland cement, the most important of the building adhesives, is a mixture of powdered chalk and clay mixed with water and is the basic ingredient of concrete. It was first manufactured in the early 19th century and derives its name from the fact that it resembled a building stone quarried at Portland, Dorset. There seems to be little written about the workers, but Chaloner (People and Industries. Frank Cass, London. FHL book 942 U3ch, 1963) has a history of the industry.
Tobacco came to England from the New World in the late 16th century and was at first smoked in silver pipes, then clay ones having thin stems. The 7” ones were called cutties and those 13” or longer were termed churchwardens. James I imposed heavy taxes which restricted tobacco to the wealthier ranks, and also had the effect of promoting smuggling. When these taxes were lifted in the mid-17th century the occupation of pipemaking grew to meet the rising demand, especially in coastal ports where both inland and export markets could be tapped. Late in the 18th century the taking of snuff became more popular with a consequent decline in clay pipe making, which was worsened by the introduction of cigarettes and briar pipes in the mid-19th century, and died out completely by the early 20th.
Production was done in small backyard kilns by families, using particular kinds of pipe clay prevalent in south west England and other parts. Since the product was brittle plenty of broken ones were discarded and frequently surface in town gardens all over England. Pipe makers stamped their names or initials on their pipes and this occupation is one of the few that can claim personal identification of objects made by an ancestor. Details of the industry are given by Ayto (Clay Tobacco Pipes. Shire Publications), Manners (Country Crafts Today. Gale Research Company, Detroit, Michigan, 1974), Peter Hammond (Was Your Ancestor a Pipemaker? Family Tree Magazine Vol 4 #10, page 4-6, also runs a tobacco pipe makers index) and Lewcun (Pipe Makers and Pipe Making in Somerset and Dorset. The Greenwood Tree (Somerset and Dorset FHS) Vol 21 #2, page 55, also runs clay pipe makers index), and Scott and Scott have written on smoking antiques (Shire Publications). The London Tobaccopipemakers’ Company is now defunct and very few records survive, including only eight apprenticeships indexed by Webb (London Apprentices Volume 12. Makers of Playing Cards Company 1675-1760; Musicians Company 1765-1800; Saddlers Company 1657-66, 1800; Tobaccopipemakers Company 1800. Society of Genealogists, 1998).
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