This is a compilation of a series of three articles which were published in the Autumn 2010, Winter 2010 and Spring 2011 Teynham News. They were extracted and adapted from the book 'Bricks and Brickies', written and published privately in 1972, by F. G. Willmott with kind permission of his family who retain the copyright.
Eastwoods - Brick Makers
The firm of Eastwoods was founded sometime in the early 1800s, by one John Francis Eastwood, who had military connections and was once a serving commissioned officer, probably with the Duke of Wellington. John Eastwood once owned 'Wellington Wharf', Lambeth, named after the Duke of Wellington. This is the site where the London Festival Hall is built.
In 1813 Eastwoods were in business as Sand, Lime and Builders Merchants in Lambeth, which around the mid-1800s also seemed to be the hub of barge-builders and owners. By 1815 Eastwoods were well established as a prosperous private and family concern widely known, particularly in the Eastern and South-Eastern Counties of England, for its large output of stock bricks and flettons and its facilities for the supply of all builders' materials. It owned wharves, depots, a large fleet of river barges and road transport for the purpose of its business.
In the years that followed and into the 1870s many firms in Kent were expanding their brick making interests to keep pace with demand for bricks for the building of London and provinces. The cry for bricks was constant but with brickfields keeping up full production the demand was somehow met.
By the 1880s it was decided that a merger was to be formed between John Francis Eastwood and five other brick making firms: Edward Frederick Quilter of Suffolk, Joseph E. Butcher of Frindsbury, Josiah Jackson of Shoebury, John Woods of Singlewell and Charles Richardson of Vauxhall. Charles Richardson of Vauxhall had considerable business interests, among them a cement mill at Conyer and a brickfield at Teynham; his bricks bore the initial C.R. He owned wharves at Vauxhall and Conyer. Some of his barges were: Frederick and Mary Ann, 1852; Sophia, 1856; Frank, 1870; Mabel, 1873; Swift, 1874. Swallow, 1877 and Osprey, 1881.
The amalgamation of these firms and their business interests resulted in a large brick making empire which was capable of supplying hundreds of thousands of bricks by barge almost anywhere in London, Kent, and Essex. This empire came to be known as Eastwoods Co. Ltd; for many years after to be referred to by the old hands as 'The Companies'. In the years that followed, Eastwoods acquired more business premises and depots throughout London and streamlined many brickfields in Kent. In 1902 they became a registered company officially known as Eastwoods
Co. Ltd. Strangely though, it was the opinion of many employees that the Company was going downhill, and of many others to bankruptcy, as the Company now had an official receiver and manager, a Mr Arthur F. Winnie, of 47 Belvedere Road, Lambeth, and this was stamped on all the bargemen's orders and bills. Just before the 1914 - 1918 'Great War' the Company did decline and in 1915 became known as Eastwoods Limited. By the 1920s Eastwoods Limited had installed brick making machines in all of their brickworks.
Conyer (Butterfly Works)
The first brickworks that Eastwoods built at Conyer was in 1885, called Butterfly Works. It had only one hand-berth (Berth - a bench where the bricks are moulded) and four machine-berths. The machines were of American design and were constructed of wood and steel. The patent drier and kilns were made by Krupp, the then German steel works, armaments and ammunition company.
There were two theories as to why this works was called Butterfly. One is that the flues from the driers had butterfly-shaped dampers, and the other is for the beautiful butterflies that abound in the area. Many men used to catch them and mount them in sets as a hobby. This works was dominated by a large brick chimney. There was also a wind pump to pump any surface water into the washbacks, wherever it was needed.
Conyer (The Klondyke)
In 1895 Eastwoods built another brickfield below the Butterfly Works which comprised of six hand-berths and ten washbacks (Washback - a series of clay reservoirs) and was known as The Klondyke. It was on marshy ground so many of the cowls that were built subsided and would not burn, resulting in the loss of production. The field only ran for a few seasons, when it was decided that a complete new modern works was to be built further up on higher ground. As the building of the new works progressed the old Butterfly Works was demolished. In 1910 the old brick chimney was demolished, the new one, being built by bricklayers Bill and Sonny Austin, was two-thirds complete. This new chimney was to be over twice the height of the old one rising 185 ft from the base. Many workers were invited to go up to the top when it was completed and many did!
There were four flues running from this chimney from all points of the compass, out to two cowls (Cowls - stacks of bricks at the firing stage) where bricks were fed in continuously on rails. As one truck of dried bricks was pushed in, it pushed a truck of fired bricks out; this was a continuous kiln. By 1911 this works was in full production on an all-the-year round basis.
Conyer now had six 'Monarch' type brickmaking machines with a double pug (wet clay)-mill which thoroughly mixed the clay and the 'firing' (ash for burning) before pressing it into the moulds. The bricks from the presses were placed on cars which travelled through the tunnel driers for about 30 hours. The driers were heated by gasses and exhaust steam from a 180 hp Ruston steam engine which supplied the works with power.
The dried bricks were set on kiln cars which were pushed into the tunnel kiln or cowl. There were two cowls, a little cowl which held 33 cars of 3,000 bricks and a big cowl which held 25 cars of 6,000 bricks. These cars trav elled through the cowl in five days. The bricks were burned by fine coal, fed in from the top of the cowl, which burns in the 'firing' (firing - the ash that is mixed with the clay) in the brick, which was mixed with the clay.
After leaving the kiln or cowl, the bricks were sorted and wheeled to the stacks in their different grades. The whole process from making to sorting took approximately seven days.
To keep up a good supply of clay, the works had twenty washbacks. The clay was hand-shovelled into light side-tipping trucks which were loaded and clipped on to an endless hauling cable and pulled up to a stage above the brick making machine. A real old 'brickie', Julius Kemsley, who spent fifty-four years clay-digging, said: "Boy, I reckon I shifted more dirt than any man living today", Who is going to argue with that?
The clay for the Conyer Works was dug about two miles away at Stone Crossing and Deerton Street. There was a washmill in the pits which turned the clay into slurry and pumped it about two miles to the works where it was evenly distributed by means of wooden chutes into the wash backs. The small percentage of chalk that was added was dug from a pit near by. This chalk, along with the river mud, gave the bricks a nice yellow colouring.
Teynham (Teynham Field)
Eastwoods had another brickfield in Teynham called Teynham Field. It once belonged to Charles Richardson, but was absorbed in the amalgama tion. The field consisted of six handberths and washbacks and employed about fifty men and boys. It was connected to Conyer by a small-gauge railway which ran down to the wharves. This field was closed in 1939 and the area which was cleared reverted to farm land.
Eastwoods owned a number of houses around their brickfields. These were usually the small, terraced houses in which lived some of their key workers. At Conyer they owned a row of twenty-four houses called 'Eastwoods Cottages'. They also had another six, down on the quay. At the top of Conyer Creek they owned a big white house once called 'Creek House'. For Teynham Field they had the 16 cottages, 'Station Row', which were alongside their field.
Most of the properties, along with buildings on the brickfields, were main- tained by Eastwoods jobbing builder Henry Collins, who did this maintenance from the 1900s until his retirement. His job required an all round knowledge of general building, plumbing, slating, and glazing.
By 1934 Eastwoods Limited was one of the largest stock brick-makers in the industry, having extensive brickfields, providing 26 million machine made, kiln-burnt stock bricks per annum in Halstow and Conyer and a com- bined output of 54 million of hand moulded stock bricks a year from three fields at Shoeburyness in Essex and Teynham. In 1963 Eastwoods were absorbed into the Redlands Group which brought many changes including the eventual closure of Teynham and Conyer brickfields.
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'Brickies' (Brick Gangs)
Eastwoods brickfields were usually centred in rural areas where the main employment was associated with agriculture, as they were in Teynham. They were also on or near rivers or creeks so that the brickfields could make full use of barges as a means of transport.
An opening or expanding of a brickfield encouraged an influx of young men in search of work. In addition to working on the brickfield, many young boys would go as mates on the barges. Anyone working in connection with the brickfield was termed a ‘brickie’; even the barges were called 'brickies'. As the men would be laid off at the end of October, the end of a brick making season, some workers would need to find work on a farm, digging clay or sifting 'rough stuff', up until about the beginning of April, when the brickmaking gangs would be assembled. If, however, bad weather still prevailed and the gangs could not start work a moulder would subsidise a few thousand bricks in order to keep the men employed. The money was paid back at 2, 4 or 6,000 bricks a week until the debt was cleared.
The 'brickie' tradition was very much a family tradition. Like father, like son and in the early days, like mother, as women were once employed to do the lighter jobs of brick making, such as barrow-loading, etc. In the Great War many women were employed when the men were called up to fight. It was the accepted thing that when the young lads were old enough they would work in the brickfields alongside their brothers and fathers. A number of them were born alongside a brickfield, were brought up alongside a brick- field, worked there and retired alongside the brickfield.
With the retiring of many of the old hands it was found hard to train young lads to do the work. The young men would leave to seek the higher wages being offered in the towns which left many of the fields undermanned and unable to operate properly, particularly at Conyer. With the closing of the brickfields, not just Eastwoods', brickmaking became more condensed, until we now have a few modern brickworks producing far more bricks and only employing the minimum number of men. Bricks in 1860 were 8 shil- lings (40p) per 1,000; this has risen over the years to now, in 2010, of up- wards of £250.
In 1860, a brickmaking gang was paid 2/10d (abt 14p) per 1000 finished bricks which was shared by the gang like this: the moulder, off bearer and temperer received 10½d (abt 4.5p) each; the flatie received 5d (abt 2p), the pusher-out received 4d (abt 1.7p) and the barrow-loader received 3d (abt 1.3p). A sum of 3d was kept back to be paid as 'pence money' (Pence money - a form of bonus paid at the end of the season.).
The best earths for brickmaking are wind-blown clays with appreciable amounts of sand and silt, as the presence of the sand reduces the shrinkage that occurs when the clays are burnt.
You can see around Teynham where the sides of the road drop 6 - 10 feet (abt. 2 - 3m) in places where the clay has been dug. This clay or dirt was known as 'snapshot', as it got its name from the area in which it was dug. The system for digging the clay was simple. The first 12-15 inches (abt 600 - 380mm) of top soil was removed or 'uncallowing', as it was termed. Then two men went 'heading', cutting a channel wide enough to take a length of 1ft 111/2 inch (abt. 600mm) gauge rail track.
The clay was dug by the brickmaking gang during the winter and they were paid per thousand bricks; a volume of clay measuring 44 ft long, 8 ft wide, and 6 ft deep (abt. 14m x 2.4m x 2m) contained approximately 33,000 bricks. Hard times were had when the earth pits were frozen over, sometimes six weeks at a time.
The clay was dug from each side of the pits and shovelled into side-tipping trucks which were taken along the rail tracks and tipped into a washmill where it was agitated until it became a slurry. It was then pumped to the brickfield through a pipe and evenly distributed into the washbacks. This pumping was stopped every few days to allow the water to drain off and then more would be pumped in until the washbacks were full. The slurry was then left to dry out to the right consistency for brickmaking.
A washback was made up of a series of rectangular walls with earth banked up on the outside. Each washback had thick wood boards, dropped into a groove at each end, which sealed up the opening. Once the clay had solidi- fied it was safe to remove the boards and the slurried clay directed down a series of wooded chutes to where it was required. A brickfield usually had three washbacks to every two berths.
Leigh sand was used to roll a piece of clay in to stop it sticking, to dip the mould into so that the newly-formed 'green' brick would come out and to sprinkle onto the 'green' bricks to stop them sticking in the 'hacks'. This sand was dug from the sand-flats that abound at Canvey and Southend. The rights to dig the sand were owned by William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army who also owned brickfields at Canvey and Benfleet. To give the stock its yellow hue a small percentage of chalk was added to the brickearth during the slurrying in the washmill.
The basic fuel for brickmaking was 'rough stuff' or London mixture, as it was usually called. This material was the coke and ash from the house refuse bins in London. The refuse was taken to various wharfs in London. Barges would then take up a freight of bricks and collect a freight of 'rough stuff' from these wharves. It was once supposed that stolen jewellery was shipped away in the ‘rough stuff’ and at one time there was a big search on a barge when it was thought that she contained some.
It was a comparatively light cargo for a barge as it was comprised mostly of coke and paper and if the wind was right it meant a fast run back for more bricks. There was however the ever present danger of spontaneous combus tion and carbon dioxide fumes from the coke which the crews had to keep a watchful eye on. If the flame of their oil lamps began to get low it was time for them to go to the safety of the deck. On their way to the brickfields the barges were usually also accompanied by swarms of flies.
The 'rough stuff' was unloaded in a day by a gang of men, carted to a site and tipped in huge mounds to smoulder, smell and breed rats. There it was left for about a year for the vegetable matter to rot away, before being sifted and graded. Young boys would be employed at 2/6d (12.5p) a week in the 1900s to pick out the hardcore off the barrows. The boys used to set traps in the 'rough stuff' to catch starlings and sparrows which would be taken home to make a pie.
Anything of value found in 'rough stuff' was considered the moulders' perks. Sometimes the moulders found trinkets and brooches, particularly if the refuse came from Chelsea, where the big residential houses were. The remainder, like pieces of china and glass were dumped at places like the Conyer Marshes. The fine ash was mixed with the clay to fuse it with the pug during firing and form the brick. The big coke was laid under the cowl to burn or bake the bricks.
In 1965 it was found that the 'rough stuff' did not burn and produce the heat required to burn the bricks as householders had started using smokeless fuels that burnt practically away and the ash was virtually useless for brickmaking. After research and experimenting it was however found that the dust left from the coal washeries at Bettshanger colliery proved ideal and this was used in lieu.
Hand-berths (Berth - a bench where the bricks are moulded.) would make on average 40,000 bricks a week, working a 10 hour day; 50,000 bricks a week was considered good. But every gang tried to make a million bricks in a season, usually April to October, for prestige. If they succeeded they had a new pair of boots bought by the firm or paid equivalent money. It required a lot of luck as well as hard work to make a million bricks. An early start to the season, a good supply of clay, good weather throughout the summer plus excellent teamwork in the gang all contributed and had its reward.
A brickmaking gang comprised of six men who worked strictly as a team, headed by the moulder, who was the man that actually made the bricks. He was assisted by a 'flatie', whose job it was to cut off just enough clay to make one brick and roll it in Leigh sand, which was dug from the sand-flats around Canvey and Southend. It was then passed to the moulder who pressed it into the mould and then ran a small piece of wood, called a 'striker', over the top to level off the clay on top of the mould. To do this constantly they had to acquire a perfect rhythm. So strenuous were these tasks that the moulder and the 'off-bearer', who normally shifted the newly-formed bricks away from the bench, took hourly turns at moulding.
The 'green bricks' were loaded on to a long flat barrow by the barrow loader and were wheeled out to the hacks, where the natural drying took place, by the 'pusher-out' . This job required some strength and skill to wheel thirty green bricks, weighing 210 lbs (abt 95kg), balanced on one wheel. These five in the team could make a thousand bricks in the first hour and about nine hundred an hour after that, throughout the day. The sixth man in the team was the 'temperer' who made sure there was enough clay mixed up at the right consistency. The temperer used a three pronged fork with a thin blade along the bottom called a 'cuckle'. It was used to cut and dig the clay from the washbacks.
This pattern of work for the gang, each man with his own job, was evolved by generations of men and women working in the brickfields. When there were enough dried green bricks, now called white bricks, which were now 2 lbs (abt 1kg) lighter after the natural drying process, the crowders would start to build the cowl (Cowls - stacks of bricks at the firing stage), or clamp. They used a crowding barrow, which held seventy white bricks’'. A gang of crowders would comprise normally of four to five men.
The building of the cowl was a complete work of art, learnt by long experi- ence at the job. The width of the cowl was governed by the width of the cowl cloths, which were large tarpaulins placed over the cowl. Sometimes the crowders would try to get a few more bricks in making them a little too wide with gaps between the cloths.
To build a cowl, rows of bricks on edge 5 - 6 in (130 to 150mm) apart were laid down on the ground to form channels into which the large coke, sifted from the 'rough stuff', was laid. Further bricks were then laid on edge across these. As the cowl increased in height, the sides were battened to give a slope so as to prevent the bricks from toppling when they eventually reached their maximum height. It required four men on the side of the cowl. The bricks were thrown up five at a time from the man at the bottom, to the second man a quarter of the way up, who in turn threw them to the third man, who then threw them to the fourth man at the top, a height of 32 bricks or about 12ft (abt 4m). The outside of the cowl was covered with one course of finished bricks and the top was covered with two courses to make it waterproof.
When the cowl had reached some 10 to 12 ft (abt 3 - 4m) in length it was then fired at the bottom of the already completed end, so that the cowl was actually burning while the crowders were still building the remainder. When the building of the cowl was complete it was then fired at the other end so that the two ends burnt towards the centre. The complete firing would take some four to five weeks, depending on the wind and weather. If there was a back draught, this would slow the process down considerably, but on the other hand, if a following wind prevailed the crowders were kept busy to get the cowl built before it had burnt right through. During the burning process the bricks gave off a sulphur smell, which on a frosty day would hang about the area. If the bricks were stacked too tight in the cowl, the smell and fumes (or reek) could not escape, and the bricks would not bake or fire properly.
When the cowl had burnt through and cooled down somewhat, a brick- sorting gang would strip the cowl and start to sort and grade the bricks. A sorting gang consisted of four men who would sort the bricks into five or six different grades. As the sides of the cowl were sloped or battened during the construction, it was dismantled in much the same way. This made it safer for the sorters and lessened the danger of bricks toppling across a man's legs. A staging or platform would sometimes be used during the dismantling and building of a cowl. This platform was made of timber and measured 8 ft by 4 ft (abt 2.4 - 1.2m) and only had two legs, the other side being supported on the bricks, while the legs reached the ground. This helped to facilitate the handling of the bricks.
The best bricks, or first grade, were a good yellow in colour and all uniform in size. These were the Kent Stock bricks sometimes called yellow facings. Next were second grade, which were a mild straw colour and not quite up to top grade. Then there was the third grade called a soft place brick, which was a light orange colour. This could be used for interior walls or hidden work. The next were fourth grade or roughs. These were a hard distorted brick of an orange-brown colour, and were mainly used to build back walls and footings. Fifth grade bricks were burrs. These were over burnt bricks, dark brown and black in colour and were usually fused together in lumps which were broken up for hardcore. Then there were chuffs which were half- baked bricks, useless for building and were either reburnt or dumped.
Many other varieties of bricks came out of the cowls from time to time. Some were 'specials' picked out for a certain job. Then, 1st hards, 2nd hards, 2nd pickings, 3rd place bricks, 'chop roughs', some badly distorted bricks shaped like a chop. All these bricks were thoroughly sorted out by the gang who knew which brick was which and stacked them for sale in piles of so many thousands.
Millions of Kentish Stock were used in London and surrounding districts to build houses, the factory chimneys, warehouses, and huge railway viaducts. They were well suited to the polluted London air with its high sulphuric acid content, caused by the then coal-burning factories and chimneys. The bricks hardened with age and the polluted air caused a hard crust to form, which then made the bricks water resistant.
Brickmakers have always used river mud as an additive to their brick earth and Eastwoods were no exception. This was the blue river mud that is found, for example, on the mud flats and saltings around Fowley Island at the mouth of Conyer Creek. The 'muddies' dug out square lumps with a wooden spade or fly tool. This spade was made from beech or apple wood and measured 5 in. by 12 in (abt 130mm x 300mm); the edges were protected with an hoop iron. It was reckoned a square lump weighing 40 pounds (abt 18kg) could be cut and thrown up on to a barge.
Many of Eastwood's barges finished their days as mud-lighters, rigged with a lugsail. Kestrel did the mud work at Conyer along with LandraiI, Dabchick and Band of Hope. These craft were sank or hulked at Conyer. Kestrel and Dabchick were lifted up on to Butterfly Wharf during the 1953 floods, Kestrel was pushed off at high water by an army bulldozer after which she leaked badly. Dabchick and Band of Hope were broken up on the wharf in 1959.
Conyer dock, or Richardson's dock, was bought by Eastwoods in 1919 when they bought out the cement mills at Conyer. The loading berths in this dock were used to take away bricks from Richardson's, then Eastwood's Teynham Field. A small-gauge railway ran through the orchards and down to the wharf. This is now the footpath ZR681, known as the 'Tramway'.
In 1909 Goldsmith's steel coasters of the 'IC' class came to Conyer to load away 'burrs' for Woodbridge Haven. These ‘'burrs' were like a freight of stone, very heavy and could not be stacked in the hold. Goldsmiths 'IC' class were 240 - 250 ton steel coasters built in the Netherlands.
The London skippers did not like Conyer very much, for they used to have to lie in wait out in South Deep for enough water to come up the creek and then once up could be wind-bound for days on end. The skippers would congregate in the 'Ship' public house, which was then lit entirely by oil lamps and was always in semi-darkness. On one dark evening, one old skipper came in a bit quick and reckoned as how he had seen a big hippopotamus outside. Amid roars of laughter it was discovered it was in fact a big old sow, kept out the back by the landlord.
When Teynham Field closed in 1939, the barge Bedford loaded the last freight of 36,000 bricks to Wellington Wharf in Lambeth, London. Eastwood's had two other wharves at the mouth of Conyer Creek. One was Butterfly Wharf, which still exists and had two brick-loading berths; the other was New Wharf, with two unloading berths. Barges usually had to wait their turn to go on the wharves. The largest freight to go away from Butterfly Wharf was in 1928 - 80,000 bricks in Nell Jess a big moomie barge.(As far as we can find out a 'Moomie’ barge is possibly one that 'carried rubbish)