Bradford Bricks

In 1718 John Stanhope of Eccleshill wanted to build a new hall. He reached an agreement with John Brown1 who promised to “dig and throw sufficient clay to make 100,000 good stock bricks”. The bricks were large by modern standards, being 10 inches long, 5 inches broad, and 2.5 inches thick when burned. The agreement initially specified these dimensions after the bricks had been removed from the clamp, but the word ‘clamp’ had been crossed through and ‘kiln’ substituted. Mr Brown was to dig the clay at Eccleshill and he promised to provide tools, coals, and to build the kiln. The price agreed was 6 pence per thousand when the bricks were moulded, and an additional 5 shillings per thousand when the bricks were sufficiently burnt. John Brown came from Nottingham and this fact must indicate that no more local brick-makers could be found in the early 18th century.

The eighteenth century

A ‘brick pitt’ is marked in an area of Calverley enclosures2 (immediately south of Fagley Lane) in an undated early 18th century map (perhaps c.1720) drawn up as part of a dispute between Sir Walter Calverley and Mr Marsden, Lord of the Manor of Bradford. A generation later, in 1765, the old Thackley Workhouse was built. Cudworth3 records that among other disbursements of money James Booth, the overseer, “pay’d Mary Barker for 2500 bricks at 11s per 1000”. The price of bricks had clearly inflated since John Stanhope’s day. Cudworth4 also notes that when the Manor of Bradford and Allerton was auctioned in 1788 “Stone, Brick and Clay found there, added to the Coal Mines” were among the incentives offered to prospective purchasers.

Willmott5 examined the occupations of men in Bradford by examining Bradford baptism records which show ‘father’s occupation’ during some periods of the 18th century. During this century 9% men worked in building occupations, but these were “mostly masons, carpenters and joiners”. There were “few plasterers and fewer brick-makers”, but some brick-makers there evidently were. From place name evidence we would guess that in the late 18th century brick-making was quite widespread in Bradford. The area now occupied by Frizinghall Railway Station was once the Ryalls or ‘brick-kiln close’6. Cudworth7 again records that: “Manningham Thorp … was built by the late John Rand, Esq., upon a plot of ground called in the early part of the century Brick Kiln Close”, and in 1793 an area of Manchester Road opposite the Primitive Methodist Church was known as ‘brick kiln field’8. Field names with brick elements, or buildings known as ‘Red Hall’, are common indicators of brick production and use within West Yorkshire9.There may not have been permanent premises on such sites since in Cleveland we know that brick-fields were leased by their owners for short periods to itinerant brick-makers10 who dug clay and fired hand-moulded bricks in specially arranged piles or ‘clamps’.

The nineteenth century

In this era we have better information about brick-making because of trade directories, newspapers, and census records. The numbers employed in brick-making were small, but possibly not as small as some of the compilers of the earliest 19th century trade directories would seem to indicate. James11, quoting Wardle’s Commercial Directory 1814-15, mentions stay makers, paper makers and vitriol distillers, but not colliers, quarry owners, or brick manufacturers. But by 1830 a trade directory12 records the presence in Bradford of ten brick-makers. These include: Anthony Edmundson (a brick-maker, brick-layer and stonemason of Brick Lane), and John Hudson who had a famous brick-making surname. The rapidly increasing demand for bricks may be linked to the final repeal of the various government taxes levied on brick production in 1850, but in any case Bradford was undergoing a period of rapid population expansion at this time which demanded the construction of cheap dwellings. Many brick manufacturers of the next few decades had alternative occupations. For example Samuel Haigh of Undercliffe was a farmer; William Harper, New Leeds and John Grainge, Brick Lane were beer sellers. But Edmund Balme, Manchester Road, and the Hudson family of Leeds Road and Wapping appear to have been specialist brick makers. Indeed the Hudsons (John snr., John jnr., William, and Pharoah) are the first Bradford makers who can be placed in a dedicated ‘brick works’. The Bowling Iron Company and Low Moor Ironworks would have had their own brick production and brick-laying capacity.

By the time of the 1856 directory13 we are decidedly in the modern era. Among the manufacturers recorded are some familiar names: James Fairbank, an important coal merchant and brick maker, was established at the Brick Lane colliery and was ‘sinking for coal’ near the bottom of Whetley Lane14. Edward Gittins had arrived from Leicester and was advertising his new patent-brick works at the junction of Wakefield Road and New Hey Road15. George Stelling Hogg came from Leeds and had established the first of his three brick making enterprises in Shipley. Finally George Heaton had leased land from the Earl of Rosse to dig coal and make bricks in Heaton Woods. But as late as the 1881 census I can only identify 204 people in the Bradford area who gave a brick production occupation to the enumerators. This number is dwarfed by coal miners, ironstone miners, quarrymen and textile workers.

Mud and the manufacture of bricks

Brunskill16 provides a clear account of brick production. Most clays will make a passable common brick, but early manufacturers soon sought out especially suitable brick clays for visible, or ‘facing’, bricks. The principal ingredients of natural clays are: hydrated aluminium silicate, sand, and iron oxide, but there are many other minor constituents. Brick making clays and shale were formed in many geological eras. Locally Carboniferous Coal Measures underlie the City as they do much of the North of England, from Nottingham to Baildon. These were formed in periodically flooded tropical swamps on the margins of a river delta. Mining down through the Coal Measures is like cutting through a pile of sandwiches with layers of shale, coal, ironstone and fire-clay. Fire-clay formed the ‘seat earth’ of some coal seams, and could be exploited to make refractory fire-bricks used to line chimneys or furnaces. The Coal Measures also contained commercially valuable deposits of brick-making shale; shale being a rock created by the heating and compression of mud-stones.

Traditionally, common clay was dug in late Autumn with narrow bladed spades called ‘grafts’. It was weathered in the winter frosts and then, in Spring, tempered with water and kneaded. This process was progressively mechanised; for example the pug-mill was a 17th century invention of rotating knives to cut, mix and prepare clays for use. With the resulting clay ‘paste’ an experienced brick-maker, his labourer, and a boy, could make more than two thousand bricks daily using wet or sanded wooden moulds17. Initially hand-made bricks were plain, but by about 1830 the mould was placed over a block of wood screwed to the brick-moulding table. This created a depression or ‘frog’ in the brick. By the mid-19th century many collieries were able to mechanically crush shale and the resulting product could also be used for brick making. The extracted shale was first ground to powder, then screened for stones, and finally mixed with water. The ‘paste’ thus produced was used in the so-called stiff plastic process. The shale paste was plastic in the old sense of being able to be permanently shaped or moulded. It could be extruded from a die, like toothpaste being forced from a tube, being finally cut up into brick shapes with wires. In practice many poor quality early bricks are found containing large stone fragments; these certainly can’t have been wire cut.

The paste could also be mechanically pressed into metal moulds. Soon many brick making machines had been patented. The well-known Bradley & Craven machine, made in Wakefield, had moulds which were rectangular depressions in a steel horizontal circular table. A press squeezed and finally ejected the completed bricks automatically. There was a third process whereby manufacturers used machines which were capable of taking portions of virtually dry clay, or ground shale powder, and mechanically compressing them into bricks. In any case bricks were often pressed a second time, when partially dry, the result being a denser, smooth-sided, brick with sharp edges (or arrises), a ‘frog’ on the upper surface, and perhaps a shallower depression on the lower surface. When the bricks were laid the bricklayer filled the ‘frog’ with mortar and placed it downwards.

The marking and firing of bricks

After about 1860-1870 machine-made bricks regularly carry impressed names or ‘brick-marks’. In this article such marks are printed in capitals between square brackets. It would appear that brass or iron plates, cast with the mark, were screwed into the brick moulds. The screw-head marks are usually still visible on the fired bricks. Brick-marks may include the manufacturer’s name or initials, the location of his works, or even the process used to make the bricks. Consequently marks can be most helpful in providing provenance. A mark reading [W.WOOHEAD ECCLESHILL POTTERIES] tells me all I need to know. It took me much longer to appreciate that the maker of [D.R] must be Daniel Riddiough, a brewer, brick-maker, and quarry owner resident in the Otley Road area in the late 19th century. Some brick-marks remain unattributable however, and some brick-makers (the Hudson family for example) are yet to be recognised as having a mark.

Traditionally new, or ‘green’, hand-made bricks were placed on edge to dry on a ‘heck’. This was an ordered pile of bricks placed in an open-sided shed on a slightly raised timber platform with some moveable rain protection. By the 19th century pressed brick manufacturers had developed covered drying halls with heated floors. The drier the ‘green’ bricks were when they came from the presses, the smaller the quantity of expensive fuel that was needed. Naturally the less the quantity of fuel that was used, the cheaper the whole brick-making process became. After wages fuel was the biggest single expense of the brick-maker18 so many local brick-works had access to their own colliery and, correspondingly, many collieries developed their own brick-works. When finally dry the bricks were ‘fired’. To transform clay irreversibly into ceramic requires a temperature of 950-1100 ºC, this being bright-red heat. Bricks can be fired in a simple ‘clamp’ which is basically a stack of bricks, capped with turf, and built on some suitable fuel with channels left for the hot fire gases to circulate, however larger 19th century producers would certainly have constructed a permanent kiln19.

Kilns are classified by the direction the heated air takes through the structure from fire stoke-hole to chimney. The ‘Scotch’ kiln was an up-draught kiln quite closely imitating a clamp. It was a rectangular chamber with an open top, and consequently did not require a chimney. Scotch kilns produced attractively coloured bricks, although they were wasteful of fuel. The ‘Newcastle’ design was a covered rectangular horizontal draught kiln with two fire-holes and a wicket at one end, and a single chimney at the other. It resembled a roofed Scotch kiln but reached higher temperatures, which made it suitable for the production of fire-bricks. ‘Beehive’ kilns were circular domed down-draught kilns used for the best quality bricks. Within the chamber hot gases passed up to the roof against the walls and were then reflected down through the set bricks and out to the chimney through a perforated floor. A small Beehive kiln was operated on a 14 day cycle and could hold 12-35,000 bricks each time. These kilns were favoured because it was easy to control the internal conditions needed to obtain particular brick colours. If plenty of air (with its oxygen) was admitted red iron oxides produced the colour ‘brick red’. In reducing conditions, with little oxygen, the bricks were blue-grey. Beehive kilns were often found in small works where several kilns could be served by the same chimney. It has been calculated that with two or three such kilns even a small works could maintain the production of 50,000 bricks per week.

The first continuously working kiln was patented by Hoffman in the late 1850s. Early examples were circular, but there was later an elongated oval version. Essentially the gallery in which the bricks were set was divided into 12 or more chambers, each with an external opening or ‘wicket’, and a flue with a damper leading to the main flue and chimney. A firing zone was advanced round the kiln by opening the flue dampers ahead of it. The bricks in each chamber were set, burnt, cooled and emptied in sequence, with the waste heat being used to preheat the freshly set bricks. Hoffman kilns were very fuel efficient, but required a permanent labour force. They are probably always associated with a fully mechanised works. As an approximation the production of 1000 bricks required 3 cubic yards of clay and half a ton of coal. Good Victorian bricks sold at 25/- per thousand. By the mid-19th century 2 (American) billion bricks were being produced annually in the UK. To give you some more figures I should say that a small railway bridge needed 300,000 bricks, and tunnelling employed 2 million lining bricks per mile!

The Golden Age

A Bradford Town Plan of 187120 shows two works on Wapping Road, those of Bradford Brick & Tile, and Holmes & Grainge. There is a single works at Whetley Hill near the modern Tile Street, and a tiny yard at the junction of Thornton Road and Duncan Road, which I believe was owned by James Fairbank. Beanland's brick-yard is mapped, but not named, on Harris Street. Samuel Pearson & Son's large fire-clay works at Broomfield occupies a large area within the curve of the Bradford-Leeds railway line north of Ripleyville. Pearson used the vast volume of clay dug from the railway cuttings, a process which kept 60 men employed for 15 years21. The only competing brick firm of any size was that of Pharoah Hudson22, the last working member of a family involved in this industry for 40 years. Hudson's yard cannot be located on the 1871 map with certainty but an unnamed brick-yard near the junction of Joseph Street and Leeds Road is a possibility. On a later topographical drawing, accompanying William Cudworth's Worstedopolis23, four brickworks are illustrated: the same works at Wapping and Whetley Hill, but also Daniel Riddiough's works on Airedale Road. During this period Shipley became well-known for the manufacture of fire-bricks24.

In the second half of the 19th century Bradford possessed a number of large contractors who owned their own quarries, saw mills and brick-works, and who would undertake virtually any construction or development project. The brick mark [A.NEILL] identifies the products of Archibald Neill (1825-1874) who was born in Scotland and whose large works at Fieldhead, Listerhills, employed 1000 men. He was engaged to build Westgate Station, Wakefield and also the Grand Hotel, Scarborough. In 1871 Neill was also given the work of straightening the Bradford Beck from Frizinghall to Bolton Bridge, and of constructing the sewage works. A press report stated that a good supply of clay was found during the work and 'bricks were being extensively made on the spot'25. Other large contractors listed in trade directories as brick manufacturers include: J & W Beanland (13, Harris Street), Squire and William Holdsworth (Wyke), S. Pearson & Sons (Broomfields), John Moulson & Sons (Birch Lane), and James Wilson & Sons (Spring Row, White Abbey). Cudworth recorded the achievements of the Pearson and Moulson families26 but life as a contractor was not always easy. The bankruptcy of James Wilson & Sons was a sensation27 . The grandsons of the founder, Joseph and Edwin Wilson, were described as timber-merchants, brick makers and builders. They had enormous liabilities of £130,072 and assets of only £15,181. The brick yard was worth a mere £7,875, but was seemingly profitable. It seems that the sons “followed their father's course” of erecting shop and house property, while borrowing on mortgages as large a portion of the cost as they could obtain. Their annual turnover was £50,000, but depreciation in the value of property, and various bad debts, led to the firm's failure. This catastrophe has a very modern sound.

The last Bradford Brick-makers

Financial and geological problems eventually reduced the number of local brick-makers. A relatively small number were responsible for the bricks in late nineteenth and early twentieth century Bradford buildings. Any visit to an allotment garden should reveal examples of their products. The Bradford Brick & Tile Company Ltd [BB&T Co Lim] had at various times works in Wapping Road, Beldon Road (Great Horton), Whetley Hill, and finally Seymour Street (Leeds Road). The company seems to have been founded by Halifax business men and to have been in existence from the late 1860s until the 1920s. By 1881 (and probably a year or two earlier) JS Briggs were brick-makers at Crossley Hall, Allerton, producing bricks marked [BRIGGS]. The third generation of this family consisted of several members of whom the most noteworthy was Arthur Briggs (1885-1980). Arthur kept the Briggs, Fairweather Green brick works going into the second half of the 20th century, and died a wealthy man.

Henry Birkby, the originator of the Storr Hill, Wyke, brickworks is mentioned by Parker28 to have been born in Worthinghead, Wyke, around 1830. He was connected with stone and brick trade most of his life being the foreman of Squire Holdsworth, contractor of Wyke, for 7 years until 1863. In 1869 he opened his own works for which he is famous. I believe he lost a hand in a brick-making machine accident. When he retired from business his sons continued brick making and the family owned the last working brick-works in Bradford. Other ‘big names’ among manufacturers of 20th century bricks that were imported into the City include: Brighouse Brick Co., Wilkinson (Elland), Armitage (Wakefield), Rushforth (Adwalton) and Whitaker (Leeds).

Brick mysteries

To feel completely certain that I have identified a brick-maker I need to have a name in a directory, a works on a map, and an appropriately marked brick, but in many instances this is not possible. Identifying the makers of bricks marked solely with initials is particularly challenging. [D.R] is probably Daniel Riddiough, as I have mentioned, but I know of two brick-makers who could be responsible for the rare [WH] brick, one of whom was the contractor, and Bowling alderman, William Holdsworth. Also rare are [T & S] bricks which I have seen in only one place, the walled foot path that runs at the back of Infirmary Fields connecting Lumb Lane and White Abbey Road. The mark is slightly obscured with lime mortar but may identify Thornton & Sons, just as [P & S] may represent Pearson & Sons, and [WP & S] William Pickard & Sons.

A brick marked [BCC] is commonly found in Bradford. I have noted it at The Bradford Royal Infirmary site (1937), the Odeon Cinema, Bradford (constructed 1930s), and scattered on demolition sites in the Leeds Road and Barkerend Road areas. Evidence that the brick is local to Bradford are the facts that no example is found in any internet collection of brick images, and that it is also unknown to the Brick Society. As mentioned, collieries commonly possessed their own brick-works. Thus a B… Colliery Company giving the [BCC] brick-mark is a very definite possibility: Bradford, Brighouse, and Birkenshaw would all be feasible. Another theory is that the initials stood for Bradford City Clay or City Ceramics. The difficulty with this theory is that such a name is not attested in any of the trade directories that cover its likely period of operation. A [BWB] brick mark, representing I assume Bolton Woods Brickworks, is already known from this area. In 1901 the Bowling Brick Co Ltd seems to have had premises at the Victoria Works (Rook Lane). A Bradford Corporation Brickworks is noted at the same site in the 1927 trades directory. Brick-marks [BOWLING IRON BRADFORD] and [BRADFORD CORPORATION] are known. A hypothetical ‘Bowling Clay Company’ or ‘Bradford Corporation Clay’ are possibilities but again, I must stress, entirely unattested in any trade directory.

What to see

Bradford is justly famous for its sandstone & flag quarries, but most Victorian stone buildings constructed from such materials also had brick chimneys, brick privies, and bricks under plaster and render. A million bricks are present in Bradford Town Hall29. Individual bricks can still be identified on allotments, old brick-work sites, and in decaying brick walls. There are also a very few local Victorian buildings wholly constructed of brick. In Frizinghall are a collection of terraces known as Bradley Street and South View, with associated shops having frontages on to Keighley Road. The bricks used are of the machine-made pressed type, and some houses have decorative terracotta panels. Even the half-diamond section wall copings are ceramic, and some of the walls most unusually consist of non-standard size bricks. They are presumably the products of the neighbouring Firth Carr brickworks, active around 1857-1874. The Midland Railway Company certainly constructed forty terraced houses at Midland Terrace, Canal Road for its workforce. The polychrome brick terraces are roofed with Welsh slate placing them around the 1850s or later, and the brick laying displays strict English bond pattern, with alternate courses of ‘headers’ and ‘stretchers’.

An example of a Hoffman continuous kiln of is to be found between Langcliffe and Stainforth in North Yorkshire. This huge construction, which amply repays a visit, is one of the largest and best preserved in England. It was used in the production of quick-lime, but generally continuous kilns were used for the firing of bricks. The late 19th century works of Julius

Whitehead at Clayton were primarily concerned with the manufacture of glazed fire-clay products, but a range of ceramics can be seen built into the famous chimney and cottages, or littered on accessible ground. A small area of brick paving marks the Wrose Hill brickworks half-way up Carr Lane, Shipley. The old brickworks of Rushforth, Adwalton have been much modified since their purchase by a hotel and restaurant chain, but it is now an appropriate place to toast the memory of a once distinguished local industry. Many machine pressed bricks are unmarked, and I would not be at all surprised if there are still marked bricks of which I have yet to see examples. Allotment holders, please see what you can find.


1 West Yorkshire Archives document reference: BCASTST/2/240.

2 George Redmond, A moment in the history of Bradford Moor. Bradford Antiquary (Third Series) 1985 1, 20.

3 William Cudworth, Round about Bradford. 1876 (reprinted 1968), 417.

4 William Cudworth, Manningham, Heaton and Allerton. 1896, 289.

5 Elvira Willmott, Occupation in eighteenth century Bradford. Bradford Antiquary (Third Series) 1989, 4, 67-77.

6 Bradford Central Library map reference: FRI 1840 Webster.

7 William Cudworth, Manningham, Heaton & Allerton. 1896, 94.

8 Ibbetsen’s Directory of Bradford. 1850, vi.

9 R.C.N. Thomas. West Yorkshire: a noble scene of industry. West Yorkshire Metropolitan County Council: 1971, 41 & Fig.27

10 D.W. Pattenden, Bricks & Mortar. Cleveland Industrial Archaeologist. 1984,10.

11 John James, Continuation and additions to the history of Bradford and its parish. Reprinted 1977, Vol. 1,97.

12 White’s Directory of Leeds, Bradford, and the Yorkshire Clothing District, 1830.

13 Lund’s Directory of Bradford. 1856.

14 William Cudworth, Manningham, Heaton and Allerton. 1896, 91

15 Leeds Mercury: 30th September 1854.

16 R.W. Brunskill, Brick and clay buildings in Britain. Yale University Press: 2009.

17 R.W. Brunskill, Brick and clay buildings in Britain. Yale University Press: 2009, 24- 25.

18 Bradford Brick & Tile Company: 1884 balance sheet. West Yorkshire Archives document reference: 10D76/3/147.

19 R.W. Brunskill, Brick and clay buildings in Britain. Yale University Press: 2009, 27- 43.

20 Plan of the Town of Bradford, revised and corrected by Dixon & Hindle, 1871.

21 Horace Hird, Bradford in history. 1968, 173.

22 Ibid.

23 William Cudworth, Worstedopolis. 1888.

24 William Cudworth, Round about Bradford. 1876 (reprinted 1968), 295.

25 Leeds Mercury: 22nd December 1871.

26 William Cudworth, Histories of Bolton and Bowling. Thos. Brear: 1916, 257-261

27 Bradford Telegraph: 12th March 1891.

28 James Parker, Illustrated Rambles from Hipperholme to Tong. 1904, 121.

29 Horace Hird, Bradford in history. 1968, 121.

R.W. Brunskill’s Brick and Clay Building in Britain (Yale University Press: 2009) is an excellent general guide to the manufacture and use of bricks. For local historians Stan Ledgard’s Forgotten Villages: Raggalds, Mountain and West Scholes (Bobtail Press: 2009) contains fascinating accounts of Morton’s Fire-clay works, and Julius Whitehead’s works at Hole Bottom, Clayton.


2 thoughts on “Bradford Bricks

  1. I went kayaking today. In the Allegheny River of Warren, I found a brick. Laying in the shallows of an Island located in the middle of the river, I found and kept this brick. Only the second half had the imprint of FORD. Excited to look up the history, I have found it to be from Bowling Iron Bradford. Wanted to find out more information and thoughts of sharing this photograph. If you would be interested to see and share?


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