Brickmaking in Heyford
There seems to have been some degree of brick making in Heyford right throughout the 1800s. This is illustrated by the references below. You can see from these that there were always two or three people employed in brickmaking, but the number seems to have increased sharply during the 1880s. It was probably during this period that brickmaking became more mechanised and that the brickyard in Furnace Lane expanded to become an important industry in the village.
1822 George Baker’s ‘History of Northamptonshire’ mentions Nether Heyford, including a reference to ‘a brick kiln towards Stowe field’.
1827 Bryants map shows some brick kilns just S of the canal and E of the railway
1849 Whellan’s directory lists three brickmakers
1851 Census return lists William Braunston of Brickyard House, aged 50, brick and tile maker. Also Richard Haynes, brick and tile maker
1861 Census lists one brickmaker and one brickyard labourer
1864 Kellys directory lists John Judkins, brickmaker
1869 Kellys directory lists Joseph Johnson, brickmaker
1871 Census lists William Towers of Furnace Road, aged 33, brickmaker
1881 Census lists 7 brickyard labourers
1891 Census lists 16 brickyard labourers
So from the 1880s until the 1930s Heyford had its own brickworks. It was situated in Furnace Lane, beyond the canal, beside the railway, on the site where Wickes now operates. It was on part of the Heyford Grange Estate owned by the Judkins family. The claypit and brickyard were leased to Henry Martin Ltd of Northampton who employed around 15 men. The only one now left to tell the tale is Bill Nickolls who worked there in his late teens from 1930 until 1934. Bill is now aged 84 and it is to him that we owe our thanks for the memories of the brickworks from that period.
Blood, sweat and tears
The clay, known as blue clay, was only dug during the winter. It was dug directly from the pit by hand using special shovels with extra long cutting blades. The pit which was about thirty feet deep can be seen in the photograph just behind the row of cottages in the background. Before they reached the clay they removed the topsoil and also lumps of lime which could be burnt in the kiln to use for the garden. They started digging at the top and worked downwards. Enough clay could be dug through the winter months to ensure brickmaking through until October. The pay was one shilling per square yard. The clay heap was kept moist by pecking it (making holes into the heap) and watering it.
On Easter Tuesday the workforce was doubled for brickmaking during the summer. The clay was barrowed to the brickmaking machine and put into the mincer. This ground up the clay which was then passed downwards between two sets of rollers and came out in a big slab. From there it was cut into bricks eight at a time, and then into a barrow for taking away.
Sadly one of the men died in the mincing machine. His name was Teddy West. He was a small man, but one of the most committed workers, always first to arrive in the mornings and well respected by all the others. Unfortunately he used to wear a sacking apron which on one occasion became tangled in the machine and he was drawn into it. His death was a shock to them all.
From the brickmaking machine the bricks were taken to the yard and stacked. Here they were covered and left to dry before going into the kiln. The stack was later turned inside out to allow for even drying. The pay for turning was 5d per thousand. Bill Nickolls remembers turning 25,000 in one day, but the record was set by Ron West who turned 30,000.
The kiln was ﬁred by coal. There was a siding off the main railway and so the coal ‘slack’ was brought by train. You can just pick out in the photograph the letters of the LMS truck immediately to the left of the Bricklayers Arms. It took ten tons of coal to start the kiln and so once it had been started it was kept going twenty-four hours a day. The kiln consisted of a number of cavities joined by holes and so the fire went from one to another. The clay bricks were put into the kiln, baked, and then taken away red hot for stacking in the yard.
It was hard work. All the pay was piecework. The brick-making process was continuous and all men had to keep up the pace to ensure a smooth flow of work. Bill Chapman, George Record and Bill Watson were wagon fillers in the pit. Feeding in the clay on the top of the brickmaking machine was Bob Sargeant. At the bottom on brick cutting was Reg Matthews. There were three ‘runners away’, that is taking the clay bricks from the machine – Bill Goodman, Bert Oliver, and Bill Nickolls. At the top of the kiln were the brick burners Henry Allen and ]o Collins. ‘Runners-in’ to the kiln were Bill Nickolls and Ron West (Teddy’s son), and there were two ‘drawers’ jack Nickolls (Bill’s brother) and Bill Nightingale to take the fired bricks away.
The Brickworks and Bricklayers Arms in the 1930s
Note the clay pit between the chimneys just beyond the rooftops in the distance. You can also pick out an LMS railway wagon just to the left of the Bricklayers Arms.
Heyford bricks Were used in a number of local buildings. This included the four sets of four council houses in Furnace Lane built in the 1920s and the three pairs of semis lower down on the other side. All these Were built by Mr Denny. Other bricks went further aﬁeld. There was a contract with Pratts for half a million per year. These were taken by horse and cart and loaded onto a narrowboat for shipment down the canal to Watford. 3” bricks sold for 38s per thousand and 2 5/ 8” for 45s.
In 1938 some of the men agitated for an increase in wages but Henry Martins either wouldn’t or couldn’t pay. He decided instead to close the brickworks and so brickmaking in Heyford came to an end. The site was sold to Mr Beck who owned Heyford Hills although he never developed it. It was used during the War by Weedon Barracks for sorting war goods returned from the front. Then some time after the war a cinder track was laid for holding bicycle races. In the late 1950s the pits were ﬁlled in with waste from the building of the M1. In 1965 some factory units were built on it and since then it has been used for light engineering and warehousing.
The same view in the 1990s
Instead of the clay pit you can now see the roof of the warehousing at Wickes.
The Bricklayers Arms has had its top storey removed and is now a private dwelling.
Extract from The Story of Heyford – Volume 2 of 4 – Chapter 8 Published December 1998