ear Southampton is a unique survivor from our brickmaking history- the only complete steam- driven Victorian factory left in the country. The large building complex is just how it was when it was built having never been updated during its long working life. The men who were working there in the 1970s were able to fly away on holiday but making bricks in the same way as their Victorian forefathers!

The Brickworks Museum N

T Article by Carolyne Haynes, Project Director & Author of: Brick – A Social History

specialists in colliery winding machinery. The brickmaking machine was, according to the manufacturers, capable of making up to forty thousand bricks a day. These were plain, ‘wire cut’ bricks with no markings on them at all. They quickly began to run out of clay at their Chandler’s Ford site and started a new plant at Lower Swanwick on the River Hamble. Here, there were big deposits of sandy estuary clay and excellent transport links via the river and the newly opened Portsmouth to Southampton railway.

The story of Bursledon Brickworks starts with Robert and Edmund Ashby. They were Quakers from Staines in Middlesex. The two brothers started manufacturing bricks at Chandlers Ford a few miles away from the current location. They set out to make a large number of bricks a year meaning they were on the market for one of the new, larger brickmaking machines that were appearing. They finally chose a stiff clay extruder manufactured by Bennett & Sayer Ltd, a company located in Derby who specialised in large clay handling machinery. The steam engine needed to drive it was bought from John Wood & Co from Wigan – later to become John Wood & Sons Ltd. –

The new complex was completed by 1897 and included the same combination of brickmaking machine and steam engine. It was unsurprisingly all built from brick and, for its time, forward looking being able to make bricks all year round. This was owing to the introduction of large, steam heated drying sheds. Most of the men at the factory were paid piecework and worked from 7.00 – 5.00. The stokers for the boilers and the engine driver would already be on site when they started. The stokers were working shifts covering day and night so that there was always steam being generated by the boilers ready for use. The engine driver would come in around 6.00 to give him time to get the machine steamed up and ready for work.

Once the steam engine was all powered up and the clay from the claypits had reached the top of the brickmaking machine (via an inclined plane) work could begin. The clay was dropped into the hopper of the brickmaking machine. Here it was given a first mix by an Archimedes screw with big cutting blades on a central axle. The clay was then sent through crushing rollers in order to remove problem stones and fossils which could spoil the bricks. Once through the rollers the clay went into a second hopper and Archimedes screw giving the clay a final mix before forcing it through a brick shaped die. The next stage was to send the extrusion over a cutting table to be cut into bricks. The cutting tables at Lower Swanwick used wires. The thickness of the chosen wires depended on how often the operators were willing to mend them. Sand was used to stop the newly cut bricks sticking together and would be sprinkled over the clay as it was extruded and cut. This was one of the jobs paid as a day rate and often given to youngsters just starting work.

Brick making machine 10 MAY/JUNE 2020

Two men worked at the cutting table and had what was one of the trickiest jobs to undertake. The machine didn’t stop and it was up to them to keep going at the same pace. First, a length of clay roughly eight bricks long was cut off, this would be pushed over rollers onto the cutting table by the next length of clay. Once on the table a lever engaged a ram to push the length of clay through the wire cutters. Eight bricks were made at a time. The final task for the two men on the cutting tables was to pick up four bricks at a time and put them onto barrows.

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