Brickmaking in Wing

Wing is situated on the upper edge of a band of blue marl (gault) clay that runs across Buckinghamshire. This clay is highly prized for brickmaking purposes, so it is possible that there were local brickmakers taking advantage of this for some time prior to the opening of the first commercial brickmakers in the hamlet of Littleworth in 1859.

There were two separate beds of clay at the Littleworth site. Clay from the upper one was used for bricks, while the lower was used for tiles and pipes.

geological map of Wing Buckinghamshire

Brickmaking

Brickmaking was a physically arduous task. The clay needed to be dug out of the ground in autumn, and left to settle over winter. Time and frequent turning ensured that, come spring, the clay was nicely weathered. Around April the process of brickmaking began in earnest when the clay was then further broken up and any stones in it removed (either by hand or, later on, by rollers). Water and sand was added and the clay was then kneaded – by men or oxen treading on it – into a homogeneous paste.

This finished clay was popped into moulds to form the brick, then out of the moulds and stacked up to dry out. Finally, the dried bricks would go into the kilns to bake.

Rothschild Cottages on Vicarage Lane

The brick and mock-Tudor Rothschild Cottages in Vicarage Lane, Wing, were built around 1880.
photo © Alex Coles July 2005

Brickmakers could spend all day in cold and wet clothes digging up the clay in autumn, spading it through the winter, then work up a sweat tempering the clay in spring and lugging around the end product (a single brickmaker could make 5,000 bricks – by hand – each day) after that. It would not have been an easy or pleasant occupation. While it was a comparatively well-paying job, it was also seasonal which meant brickmakers would have had to seek other labouring employment at times in order to keep their families fed.

While bricks have been around since Roman times, they started to become more common for housing in Tudor times. In 1784 bricks became a source of revenue to the government when the Brick Tax was introduced. This was initially based on the number of bricks so naturally enough the size of bricks began to increase in order to get more bang for your buck, however officials soon got wise to this and maximum mould sizes were strictly monitored. The tax was abolished in 1850 at which point bricks became a much more popular choice as a building material. This, combined with the innovations of the industrial age that mechanised aspects of the process, meant that commercial brickmakers began to proliferate throughout the county including in Wing.


The Industry in Wing

The GODMAN family, who were living in Wing when the parish records began in 1546 and were around through to 1700 or so, may have been brickmakers. At least one branch moved from Wing to Hayes Middlesex in the late 1500s where they were known to work as brickmakers, a tradition that was passed down in that family through to the 1800s. However we don’t have anything specific (yet!) recording them working as brickmakers while in Wing, or indeed anything to identify brickmaking as an occupation or industry in Wing until 1859.

Map of Littleworth brick field

Map of Littleworth showing the brick field and kiln

In that year, Richard HARRIS established a brickworks in Littleworth, just north of Wing. You can see the location of the brick field and kiln marked on the 1885 map above. The exact nature of the business is described as “brick, roof & floor tile & draining pipes manufacturer” in the 1869 Post Office directory.

Richard was a Wing-born farmer and miller in his early 70s who lived at the Wing Mill on Aylesbury Road. He had not married until his late 40s, and had no children (however it looks like he may have informally adopted his nephew Thomas). We can surmise Richard was well-off enough to invest in a new venture, and saw an opportunity with the plentiful local materials and the abolition of the Brick Tax. However he didn’t have the practical experience in brickmaking, so the brickmakers themselves were recruited from outside Wing.

brickyards ad 1863

Leighton Buzzard Observer, November 1863

The 1861 census lists the following brickmakers, all living in Littleworth:
George TRUEMAN age 43, born Biddenham Bedfordshire
Thomas DENTON age 32, born Marston Buckinghamshire [actually Beds]
John FOOKS age 30, born Husborne Crawley, Bedfordshire
Samuel JONES age 21, born Greenfield, Bedfordshire

George had previously worked in Totternhoe and Marston Moretaine (both in Bedfordshire) as a brickmaker, as well as a taking a job as brickmakers foreman in neighbouring Slapton. However his immediate role before moving to Wing was apparently in Islington as a greengrocer and carman – it would appear he was not suited to this as in mid-1859 (once living in Wing) he was forced to file a petition of bankruptcy. Brickmaking proved to be a much more lucrative employment for him.

Workmate and neighbour Thomas had been born in Marston Moretaine, where the main industry was brickmaking, and although he is listed as an ag lab there in 1851 it seems likely that he subsequently moved into brickmaking and was recruited to Wing when the Littleworth brickworks opened in 1859. Quite possibly he had worked with George Trueman before in this capacity. We do know that fellow brickmaker Samuel was George’s nephew.

Another employee, although perhaps not an exemplary one, of Richard Harris during this period was George CLARKE who was the foreman in 1865. When employed he was contracted to work until Michaelmas, however we find him in court due to having absconded on 19 August (evidently for a better offer as he was found in the brickyard of a different Mr Harris in Leighton Buzzard).

Richard Harris died in 1870, and it looks like George Trueman (listed above) then took over running the business. Was he able to purchase the business from the executors of Richard’s estate, or was he simply managing it? Either way, George is listed as a brick and tile manufacturer in the 1876 Harrods directory. He also appears in the 1877, 1883 and 1887 directories.

Assisting George at the brickworks over this period was:
John RUST who gave his occupation as brickmaker of Littleworth when baptisting son George in 1866
Joseph CHESHIRE, age 55 in the 1871 census, born Whitchurch Buckinghamshire
Samuel JONES in the 1881 census (now giving his birthplace as Fliton Bedfordshire)
Albert JONES, age 21 in the 1881 census, born Luton Bedfordshire

Joseph Cheshire had moved to Wing from Whitchurch some time in the 1860s but had worked as a brickmaker all his adult life so brought plenty of experience with him. Samuel Jones, meanwhile, had brought his son Albert into the trade!

George Trueman died in 1887. He had been heavily involved in the Congregational Union Chapel in Littleworth which was just down the road from the brickworks, and the Chapel received a bequest of £200 in his will. There is a monument to him in the Chapel (does anyone have a photo of this? The Chapel has been closed for a number of years). His brickmaking relatives, nephew Samuel Jones and great-nephew Albert Jones, were two of the major beneficiaries of his will.

Brickmakers stacking the kilns at Littleworth in the 1930s

Brickmakers stacking the kilns at Littleworth in the 1930s

The brickyards then passed into the hands of Webster & Cannon. This firm of Aylesbury builders (one of the largest commercial builders in southern England) already had one brickyard at their Aylesbury premises, and the Wing yard gave them extra capacity. They are recorded in the 1895, 1899 and 1903 directories for Wing, but appear to have sold it in 1905 or 1906. The Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies holds Webster & Cannon’s sales ledgers for the Wing yard for the full period of their ownership.

Workers for Webster & Cannon living locally over this time are:
Samuel JONES in the 1891 and 1901 census
Albert JONES in the 1891 census (he’d moved on to Soulbury by 1901)
Richard JONES age 28 in 1901, born Littleworth Wing Buckinghamshire (another of Samuel’s sons)
Thomas SAMUELS age 40 in 1891, born Leighton Buzzard Bedfordshire
John LOVELL age 40 in 1901, born Burcott Wing Buckinghamshire (carter)
Lawrence FAULKNER age 24 in 1901, born Wing Buckinghamshire (sands pit manager)

It would appear that Lawrence Boyd Faulkner purchased the Littleworth brickyard from Webster & Cannon when they sold it in 1906, as he’s recorded as proprietor in the 1907 directory through to the 1935 directory.

I believe the brickyard finally ceased operations some time in the 1960s.

Useful Links

There are also a number of interesting books you can download and read from Google Books, for example:
* A Rudimentary Treatise on the Manufacture of Bricks and Tiles, Edward Dobson, 1850
* Book of English Trades and Library of the Useful Arts, Richard Phillips, 1818
* A Dictionary of Arts Manufactures and Mines vol 1, Andrew Ure, 1844