The Story of a Brick

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I still regret that when I graduated in archaeology I couldn’t find a way of continuing to study Iron Age and Roman Iron Age material from Britain. But investigating the industrial history and archaeology of Bradford has many compensations. It does offer an opportunity, for someone unattached to an academic unit, to do original research. I can also examine areas which are unlikely to receive professional attention in the foreseeable future. At present I am mainly interested in shallow shaft coal mining and old Bradford maps. In both areas I am supported by a small group of like-minded individuals who, despite being busy with researches of their own, always seem to find time to lessen my ignorance. It’s really pleasant to work independently within a supportive group like that.

The local brick industry was my first introduction to Bradford industrial history. The multitude of marks on late Victorian, and early twentieth century, bricks fascinate a number of us for the insights they provide into manufacturers and production sites. If there are problems with identifying a rare brick there are several nearby brick enthusiasts to whom one may turn for help. Most of my brick collection is in the form of digital images but I like to have a few of the rarer examples of actual bricks to use in talks and lectures. Recently, Phillip, a very knowledgeable local enthusiast, was kind enough to inform me that a brick marked [H & B] was available on a long disused railway line. This line opened in 1875 and connected Shipley with Thackley, Idle, and Laisterdyke. It once formed a small part of the Great Northern Railway but has been closed to passengers since the 1930s. Being neither very observant, nor especially mobile, my first visit to the trackbed was unhelpful. I was consequently delighted when another notable collector, ‘Old Frechevillian’, phoned me to say he was interested in photographing the brick and had agreed with Phillip to leave the small object of desire in a more prominent position. This he did and now I have it. You might at this point wish to look at his own amazing collection of brick images on:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/34602128@N03/

So, what can we establish about the [H & B] brick. It’s a very large, and heavy, machine-pressed brick with no sign that it has ever been laid in mortar. There is always some uncertainty with bricks marked with initials rather than names but assuming it was manufactured in Bradford, as seems likely, the manufacturers were amost certainly the known brick-making partnership of Hopkinson & Bates. If so it is the only example of their work that I have ever seen although it should be remembered that many bricks were fired straight from the machines and were never marked. The first record of Hopkinson & Bates, Wood Road, Bowling Old Lane is in the White’s Trade Directory of 1870. The unknown individual who compiled a brick production file at Bradford Industrial Museum gave this partnership an existence in the years 1872-1875 and initially I believed I could confirm these dates from a variety of trade directories. The issue is evidently more complex than this since the London Gazette records that the partnership between Edwin Hopkinson and Haigh Bates was dissolved as early as September 1872 ‘by mutual consent’. The works are described as ‘Spring Wood Brick Works, at Bowling’. So the use of the partnership title in the Slater’s directory of 1875 must be a mistake.

The White’s directory of 1875 (available on microfilm at the Local Studies Library) does not mention the partnership but records a F(sic) Hopkinson & Co, Southfield Lane. I’m sure the initial letter is wrong and that E Hopkinson continued brick-making alone. His new premises were probably the ‘Aycliffe Road brickworks’ which Hopkinson had owned in 1871 with William Holdsworth as manager. Clearly the business was not a success and in 1875 the Bradford Observer records on August 11 that it was liquidated by agreement. A week later William Holdsworth (still as manager I assume) is offering the works for sale. He seems to have ended up owning it, until about 1885. William Holdsworth is a common name in the north of England. In the 1881 census I can find several dozen in the Bradford area alone, but no brick-makers and only this one man who is a contractor, in Bowling as it happens. I believe him to be the most plausible source of the [WH] bricks found in Bradford, and I assume that all the references to a man of this name in Bradford Trades Directories are to this single individual who was later a well-known contractor.

What happened to our brick-makers? The census taken in 1881 records that Haigh Bates, a brick-maker, lived at 50 Haycliffe Road in 1881: just down the road from two talented archaeologists of my acquaintance as it happens. As I have said Edwin Hopkinson at one time owned the Aycliffe Road brick works. At the time of the 1871 census two men of this name lived locally, a 34 year old grocer and a 41 year old ‘engineer’ in Bowling Old Lane, the engineer I suppose is the man. He was married to Lydia and also appears in Bowling in the 1861 census. Two men, S & E Hopkinson, were Bradford engineers who developed an apparatus for reducing smoke nuisance from chimneys. I cannot find him in the 1881 census and I wondered if he had died. I can find his wife Lydia and his children still living in Bowling however. Edwin is not with his family but Lydia uses the marital status ‘married’ not ‘widowed’. Where did he go? When did he die? Does anybody know more?

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