BRICKS and BRICK MAKING

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There are five steps needed to make bricks:-

 

 

STEP 1 - is called WINNING, or mining the clay.

 

 

 

Because the steam shovel was not invented until 1879 early brickmakers had to dig for the clay on site with hand shovels. This was done in autumn. The early brickmaker chose his clay by it's color and texture and based on his experience. He sought clay that was located just under the topsoil to minimize the hard work of digging it with hand spades. The clay was exposed to the weather so that the freeze-thaw cycle of the winter could break the clay down and allow it to be worked by hand. The winter made the clay soft and removed unwanted oxides.  

 

STEP 2 - PREPARATION of the clay

 

 

 

In the spring the clay was then able to be worked by hand. It was necessary to either grind the clay into a powder and screen it to remove stones or the clay was was placed into a soaking pit where it was mixed with water to obtain the right consistency for moulding. It was kneaded with the hands and feet to mix all the elements of the clay together. This step was called tempering or pugging and was the hardest work of all. In the mid-1800's horse driven pug mills were invented. (below)

 

 

 

The clay was removed from the soaking pit or pug mill by a temperer who delivered it to the moulding table.

 

 STEP 3 - MOULDING.

 

The assistant brick mouder was called the "clot" moulder and he would prepare a lump of clay and give it to the brick moulder. The brickmoulder was the key to the operation and he was the head of the team. He would stand at the moulding table for twelve to fourteen hours a day and with the help of his assistants could make 3500 to 5000 bricks in a day. He would take the clot of clay, roll it in sand and "dash" it into the sanded mould. The clay was pressed into the mould with the hands and the excess clay removed from the top of the mould with a strike, which was a flat stick that had been soaking in water. This excess clay was returned to the clot moulder to be reformed . Sand was used to prevent the clay from sticking to the mould.

 

 

 

Forming the Brick

brickmaker

For centuries bricks were moulded by hand in wooden moulds. These were four sided and rectangular in shape with no base or lid. Moulds were placed either directly on the ground or on a roughly made brickmakers table. Bricks made on the ground are generally pre 19th cent. 

 

They were known as 'place' bricks and often contain grass impressions. From the 19th cent rectangular block of wood, smaller than the mould dimensions, would be screwed on the table which created the brick's 'frog'. Sometimes letters were carved in the frog to identify the brickyard owner.

With the advent of steam power brickmaking became mechanized wherever volume justified it. Steam driven extrusion plants with nine overhead wire cutters produced ten bricks every few minutes.

 

 

   STEP 4 - DRYING

 

 

 

The moulded bricks were stacked in a herring bone pattern to dry in the air and the sun. The moulded bricks were first left to dry for two days at which time they were turned over to facilitate uniform drying and prevent warping. During this time tools called dressers or clappers were used by "edgers" to to straighten the bricks and obtain a smooth surface. After four days of dry hot weather the bricks were sufficiently hard to allow them to be stacked on end in a herringbone pattern with a finger's width between them to allow futher drying. This area was called a hack or a hackstead and the bricks were covered under roof or with straw to protect them from the rain or harsh sun. After two weeks the bricks were ready to be burned.

 

 

Firing by Clamp


One of the oldest methods of firing is by clamp. A clamp is a temporary construction of unfired or green bricks which is dismantled after firing and could be erected near the clay source.

 

clamp

Clamps varied from yard to yard but there were general rules which most followed. The floor had to be level and was made of burnt brick. Channels were often made in the floor and filled with fuel, usually breeze (crushed coke) but any fuel would suffice and wood, furze, charcoal were also used.


Next came three or four layers of green bricks which were placed on edge and then another layer of fuel was added. After this, green bricks were packed closely together to a height of 14 or 15 feet. The bricks were 'dished' or tilted inward to prevent injury to workmen during firing.


Sometimes the outside was sealed with wet pug. Most clamp bricks had a small percentage of breeze added to the clay during manufacture. This helped to 'self fire' them and ensured that a good temperature was reached.
Clamps contained 30,000 to 150,000 bricks. An average size would take two or three weeks to burn out, although larger ones could take as much as ten or twelve weeks.

 

 STEP 4 - DRYING

 

If fired bricks were on hand they were used to construct the outer walls of the kiln and the surface was daubed with mud to contain the heat. If no fired bricks were availible the kiln was constructed entirely of green or raw bricks which were stacked in such a way as to act as their own kiln. These kilns were called clamps or scove kilns. Wood and coal were used for fuel.

 

Even after drying in air the green bricks contained 9-15% water. For this reason the fires were kept low for 24-48 hours to finish the drying process and during this time steam could be seen coming from the top of the kiln. This was called "water smoke". Once the gases cleared this was the sign to increase the intensity of the fires. If it was done too soon the steam created in the bricks would cause them to explode. Intense fires were maintained in the fire holes around the clock for a week until temperatures of 1800 degrees F were reached. The knowledge and experience of the brickmaker dictated when the fireholes would be bricked over and the heat was allowed to slowly dissipate over another week.

 

When the kiln was disassembled the sorting process began. If only raw bricks were used, the bricks from the outermost walls were kept to be burned again in the next kiln. Some bricks which were closest to the fire recieved a natural wood ash glaze from the sand that fell into the fires and became vaporized and deposited on the bricks. These bricks were used in the interior courses of the walls. Bricks that became severely over burned and cracked or warped were called clinkers and were occasionally used for garden walls or garden paths.

 

The best bricks were chosen for use on the exterior walls of the building. Those that were only slightly underfired had a salmon color and early bricklayers knew that the porosity of these bricks would help to insulate the structure and they were placed on the innermost courses of the wall.

 

 

Firing by Updraught Kiln


Updraught kilns may be as old as clamps. These were known as Scotch kilns and were permanent structures with one or more firing chambers.

updraught kiln

The kilns were built of burnt brick. Flues ran under the perforated floor from one end to the other. Green bricks were stacked on the chamber floor with small gaps between them to allow the heat to circulate.


The open top was covered with old burnt bricks and turf or pug to help conserve the heat and prevent draughts that would cause uneven firing. The kilns had to be stoked regularly day and night for at least three or four days.


It was quite common to see flames rising from the top of these kilns when firing. The death knell sounded for many small yards in 1939 when Blackout Regulations were brought into force.


A later development came to be known as a Suffolk kiln. These were fired on the same principle but smaller and set into a bank. One reason for this was to provide ease of access for loading or setting, another was for insulation


Firing by Downdraught Kiln


The downdraught kiln was far more efficient than the Scotch or Suffolk. Firing was much easier to control. They were often circular in structure with about eight fire holes.

 

downdraught kiln

Inside the fireholes were baffles or 'bag' of firebricks. It had a domed roof and a perforated floor under which ran a flue leading to the chimney stack.


The circular or 'beehive' kiln had a capacity of about 12,000 green bricks. Coal was lit inside the firehole grates and hot gases were directed upward from the baffles and then downwards from the underside of the dome and through the stacked bricks by the draught from the chimney.


Altogether it took fourteen days or so to operate, with two days for loading or setting, three days for 'curing', two days for heating to full temperature, one day at full heat, then another three or four days to cool down and a further day to unload or draw.

Other Products of the Brickmaker


Bricks were not the only product made by the brickmaker. Ridge tiles, finials, chimneys and utility items such as drainage pipes were all part of the terracotta range of the brickmaker's art. Many products required expert modelling and an eye to the fashions of the day.

This finial was modelled by Island brickmaker Harry Pritchett in the 1920's

finial




DATING BRICKS

 

Bricks which form all or part of a building may have their date fixed by the history of the building. Loose bricks with a maker's mark in the frog can often be dated if the brickmaker is identified. Bricks without these guides are difficult to date with any precision. With a few exceptions, raw materials and firing temperatures have remained the much same for hundreds of years. What pointers there are merely typify a particular period, rather than confirm it.


Brick Dimensions


Brick size is often used as a guide to the general period in which they were made. In the course of time bricks have evolved through different dimensions, the most crucial dimension being thickness. Time has seen a gradual increase in the thickness of bricks but trends may have existed in some regions longer than others or even coexisted within the same district.

 

 

 


On the Isle of Wight the earliest known bricks, of the 16th century, are generally around 1 3/4in (4.45cm) thick. There were increases in size towards the end of the 18th century to 2 1/4in ( 5.7cm), although there is little Island evidence of changes as a direct result of the 1784 brick tax. Thereafter gradual size increases throughout the 19th century met, and sometimes exceeded, the modern standard thickness of 2 5/8in (6.3cm). These are only general guidelines and there may be plenty of buildings which demonstrate exceptions, particularly if the bricks were imported.


Bricklaying Bonds


Many different bonds are used in bricklaying: some of the main ones are shown here. Although bonds are not a reliable guide for dating, their variations can give an indication of the trends of time and place.

 


bonds

 

 

Bonds were selected for reasons of aesthetics, strength or economy. English was one of the first to be used and was common throughout the 16th and 17th centuries. Flemish became popular in the 18th century particularly when used as a design feature with alternate coloured bricks. Rat trap is not a strong bond but fewer bricks went further and its use may have been encouraged by the 18th century brick tax.


 

 

COMMENT

 

 

It is essential to provide housing at affordable prices for every person in the United Kingdom.  At present houses are kept artificially high.  For this reason life is harder for young couples starting out.  

 

Part of the reason houses are so expensive, is that the planning officers employed by town councils are not accountable to the ratepayer.  MANY ARE ON THE TAKE and in property themselves.  In addition, councillors are usually retired or well off, or perhaps do not need to work.

 

Instead of worrying about providing housing for the man in the street, they simply want to make their plot worth more.  It stands to reason.  If you had the chance to make your porperty worth more, what would you do?  Whatever the reason, councillors do not argue against some planning applications, but will argue against other identical proposals.  The opposite is also true.  Some planning applications are approved before they hit the committee room.  While other applications more in line with good planning policy, get a rough ride - delays - questions and requests for more details.

 

It really all depends on who is making the application.  If you are not on the list of friends and associates, you stand much less of a chance of obtaining planning permission.

 

 

 

THIS SITE CONTAINS MANY EXAMPLES OF COUNCIL'S UNREASONABLE BEHAVIOUR - With thanks to Action Groups across the country for the supply of real case history and supporting documents.  *THAT THE PUBLIC MAY KNOW*

   

 

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