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A Boy’s Eye view of the Brickfield

No poem this time, just a story as there is nothing poetic about a brickfield is there? To us in those days the brickfield was one big adventure playground. We knew all the men and they knew us so we wandered everywhere. It was not so good for the workers though. It was a tough life for them. Compared with wages today they were paid a pittance. They were paid 'piece work' and the moulders wage was only about £2 and those at the bottom end worked hard for very little. If it rained hard in the night some were called in to 'hack up' (put wooden shutters up at the side of the hacks to keep the rain off the newly made bricks).

The hand-made brick season only lasted during the summer for obvious reasons. Some workers were kept on during the winter to dig out the brickearth from surrounding fields. This was stored in the ‘washbacks’ (see photograph 1) and made ready for the following year. Others who were not required had to find alternative work (if they could) for the winter. You will see some byroads are higher than the surrounding fields. This is where the brick-earth was removed. The small companies that owned brickfields in the early days like the Co-op and Mercers at Frognal were gradually replaced by the big concerns such as Eastwoods and in Murston, Smeed-Dean. Some of the small owners were just businessmen and on occasions imported expert brickies from Essex, described by one man as a 'rough lot' but good workers. My background to the brickfields was that my grandmother's family were amongst them!

The first friend I made when I moved to Barrow Green in 1929 was Fred Boorman who lived close by. Fred's father, 'Brogs' Boorman was moulder in No. 1 Shed at Teynham brickfield so it followed that most of our Saturday mornings in the summer were spent at the Teynham 'field'. After we had run our Saturday errands, we would make our way across 'the line' through the allotments behind Station Row along the footpath by the sewage farm. As we approached the wash back at the rear of No. 1 Shed, Arthur Baker, the temperer, had just emptied a barrow load of 'pug' into the mill. At a table inside the shed the 'flattie' carves enough of the mixture from the mill to make a brick and rolls it in grey sand. It is then passed to the moulder. 'Brogs' slams it into the mould, scrapes off the surplus and places the newly made brick onto a board for the barrow-loader to load on his long slatted barrow. When full the 'pusher-out' takes his barrow load along the iron tracks to the hacks where the 'off bearer' stacks the green bricks in such a way that the air may circulate and dry them. [After the bricks were dried in the hacks they were burnt in the kilns, but we kept away from this operation.] He glances at his watch. It is nearly time to change places with the moulder to give him a break in the fresh air.

While all this takes place, Fred and I arrive at the shed. “Shall we have a 'clear up', Dad” asks Fred. We liked to think we were helping. The grey sand would get spread about so we swept it back into the corner where it was kept. In doing this we uncovered the step to the front of the shed. This was alright until the 'pusher-out' hit the step with the wheel of his barrow (normally the step was covered by the sand). What he called us boys I cannot repeat! We made a hasty retreat outside and helped Tommy Luckhurst rake the sand in the adjoining sand pit. If the outburst was really bad we scampered over to the stables to wait for Ned Sparks to come in with the horses. Outside the stables was a water barrel and a pump over a well. We watched in awe at the amount of water and how quickly the horses drank from the barrel. When the water was low we pumped like mad and filled the barrel up again. It was beautiful pure water from the well. We often quenched our thirst too.

I learnt to ride a bicycle at the brickfield on Fred's Dad's bike. The cycle was too big to ride in the ordinary way so we learnt to ride with one leg through the crossbar. The day I went home having mastered the art of riding, instead of congratulations I was rewarded with a slapped backside for getting one sock smothered in grease from the bicycle chain! Some reward!!!

Doug Stubbings.

Teynham Parish Council Website