I am doing a MOOC, massive open on-line course, about Portus, the port which served Rome built by the Emperor Claudius – well, he commissioned it to be built, he wasn’t there with a shovel digging out the basin, or laying the bricks for the buildings and warehouses. Bricks… I first wrote about bricks and brick-making in ‘Radwinter’ my genealogical mystery. Thomas, the main character, found that several of his ancestors had been involved in the brick trade, making them in the big factories serving the Victorian building trade which was so busy during the boom years of industrial expansion.
One of his ancestors, Robert Radwinter, started as a boy labouring in the local brickworks, but later he moved up and eventually became a manager. Here is an excerpt:
Perhaps at Robert’s age of thirty-three it wasn’t surprising that he had married, to Fanny Collins, and he now had a family, four little girls, and a boy, and he was still in brick making. I deviated slightly to look at the history of brick making… obviously it was an occupation that was thousands of years old, and was pretty much the same until the middle of the nineteenth century… which tied in with my family. As with many industries, over the centuries brick making had been small scale, just a couple of men, digging the clay, forming it into bricks, usually by forcing it into moulds of some sort, letting it dry, baking it in a kiln. There was a site I found which simply describes the process and how things changed, including the different kilns which were developed to be more efficient, hotter, safer:
Apparently, as well as there being brick works as we would understand them, settled in one place, there were smaller works set up where there was a lot of building going on. Castair had been a bit of a boom town in the nineteenth century… I wondered why Blechingley had so many workers connected to bricks.
There was an interesting piece of information which linked the improvement in sanitation and the clearance of many of the city slums, to the huge surge in brick-making. It boomed through the 1880’s and into the twentieth century. Clay was vital to the industry, and the sophisticated railway system and improved roads aided the efficient delivery of the raw materials in, and the finished bricks out.
Robert had moved and was living on the far side of Castair in Bunstead, which was now a ‘new town’ with masses of new housing… all made of bricks… Robert would have been busy if he’d still been here.
He was still married to Fanny (now there is a name which has dropped totally out of fashion and I cannot imagine it ever reviving) and his daughters were Mary, Jane, Annie and Susan, his son was William …
We went to the brick museum in Bridgwater as part of my research, a small place but very interesting, and my featured image is looking down the River Parrett towards it..
Read Thomas’s story here: