Saturday, March 01, 2008

RIP Stewartby Brickworks, but ...

(Image from, by Tony Margiocchi)

I was brought up in Bletchley, Bucks, with the brickworks setting off my asthma on a regular basis, presumably when the fumes from the kilns floated to the west of the town. It could be said that bricks are in my blood stream! Those local brickworks were closed by the 1990s, but the nearby Bedfordshire brickworks survived, albeit losing many of its chimneys. However, I was sad to read that Stewartby has now closed, because it does not reach UK environmental regulations. Fair enough, but they were the last of the industry in Bedfordshire. However, there's a glimmer of hope - the chimneys and kilns have been listed by English Heritage, so there will be a monument to the industry. I feel an outing to Beds coming on :-)

Ian Jack writing in The Guardian, Saturday March 1st drew my attention to this story. In the article, he has some acute observations about brick:

Unlike, say, cotton spinning or wool weaving, brickmaking has attracted very little cultural attention. So far as I can tell, nobody has done for the brickfields what Arnold Bennett did for potmaking in Staffordshire or the British documentary movement did for cotton and coal. The last coal mine in South Wales closes and you have a story: a procession, memories, tears. At Stewartby on Thursday they had a private night out at the Red Lion in Elstow. Perhaps bricks are too ordinary, too ubiquitous. They've change little since they were made in the Indus valley 5,000 years ago. Perhaps also their factories have tended to be too far south to fit the traditions of industrial romanticism. Yet the story of brickmaking in Bedfordshire prefigures modern Britain in its early use of foreign labour and the growth of multicultural communities.

Brick is common, and that's what I like about it. It aint pretty, but provides shelter and because of that, it's important.

1 comment:

soubriquet said...

Sad fact that brickworks all over the country are cosing, due to the general recession. Some have a year's worth of bricks stockpiled and unbought.
In Leeds,I can think of numerous old brickyard sites, now covered over with industrial buildings or houses. When they go, so too does the clay, no more white-firing leeds firebricks, no more Armley blues and Wortley greens. And where, if the building industry wants bricks again, will we get them? Will we buy our bricks from China, shipped across the world, whilst under our feet lies the clay of England?