Sunday, March 02, 2008

Ruth Downie likes Flue tiles!

Ruth Downie's first novel (Medicus and the Disappearing Dancing Girls) was well received and her next novel about the Roman detective (Ruso and the Demented Doctor) is due out very soon. Check out her website/blog here. She lives in Milton Keynes, my old stamping ground, and not a stone's throw from the aforementioned Stewartby Brickworks.

But why does she merit a mention on this blog in particular? On two accounts. She's and author and she also likes flue tiles as confessed here. Books and bricks! She also mentions she digs at Whitehall Villa every year, so I checked out the Whitehall Villa Web pages and found they've done further work into flue tiles. In fact, they've had a go at making them. The only comment I will make is that I've seen some flue tiles with marks on the inside that hint that the former was in two pieces, and each half was pulled out from either end, which would make them much easier to remove.Their end product looks great and makes me want to have a go :-)

Looks like they've only got combed flue tile so far. I thought they were within the range of roller stamped flue tile - perhaps they've got that to come!

We don't get them up here in York (mutter, moan) I guess I was just spoiled on the first site I ever recorded tile - Beddington Roman Villa, Surrey.

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.