Wherstead Red bricks / Brickyards in Ipswich
Des Pawson, who runs his Museum of Knots & Sailors Ropework
from 501 Wherstead Road in Ipswich, sends this intriguing piece of
lettering, impressed into the 'frog' of a red house brick. He writes:
"Here is a piece of lettering that will be hidden in the older
buildings of Wherstead Road. Wherstead Reds, were bricks made at the
brick works that is now the ski slope. Our house, built 1924, used
Wherstead Reds throughout. It is a nice thought that one's house is
built from the local earth...
... For good measure the name of our house from the same year
in stained glass over the front door." (Des also points out the
all-important full stop in the leaded light sign.)
courtesy Des Pawson
The brick itself definitely does not looks as if it has been
turned out by the million in a factory. It may not be particularly
‘public’ (even though, as a piece of lettering, it surrounds many local
people in their homes), but it’s certainly historic lettering. It's
a little like one of those conceptual puzzles: you know it's there a
thousand times over, but is completely invisible, unless you have one
or two spares, like Des. Our thanks to him.
In the 19th century many more Ipswich
brickyards are recorded:-
1. 'The Potteries' at the eastern end of Rope Walk.
2. Bolton's Brickworks in The Dales was one of the
biggest in Ipswich, also that in The Grove above it.
3. Orwell Brickyard on Hog Highland, between
the east bank of the Orwell and Sandy Hill Lane ('The Lairs') in the
area now called
4. Another yard existed, accessed via a lane beside the
Maypole public house on the old Norwich Road (an area also,
confusingly, called 'The
5. A brickyard in California,
situated close to Bloomfield Street.
6. Valley Brickworks in Foxhall Road.
7. A brickyard is marked in Suffolk Road, off Cemetery
Brickworks (named after the nearby Holy
Trinity Church) was situated between Fore and Back Hamlets; its
claypit was later the site of Ransome's wartime aircraft works, 'the
9. A brickyard between Woodbridge Road and Spring Road.
10. There was a brickyard in Hartley Street (which still
exists) in Over Stoke.
11. The Broom Hill
brickworks east of the Norwich Road.
Brickyards in Ipswich
(we'll add more detail about further brickyards when they become
The London clay found in the Ipswich area makes excellent bricks
for building. In 1589 the late Henry Wiseman was described as 'a
brickstriker' denoting the action of cutting off, or striking off, of
the excess clay from the top of a brick mould. Among his effects were
burnt and unburnt bricks and paving bricks with logs, brushwood and
whins (gorse), presumably for kiln-firing. Perhaps Wiseman had been
working the brickyard in east Ipswich shown on Ogilby's 17th century
map as 'Claypitt for Brick & tyle' (see detail below).
William Robinson in 1771
advertised 'fine Rubbing Bricks and black Cornice, red Pantiles and
glazed ditto, and all sorts of Bricks and Tyles'.
'Rubbers', despite the same name as erasers, were actually
fine-textured bricks which could be rubbed and shaped into decorative
features which would have been difficult to achieve using a
mould. See the Ipswich coat of arms on Gatacre School as an example.
Ogilby's map 1674
Our Ropewalks page contains a larger
detail of this area from the 1674 map. Working south from the Church
Helen (upper section), we cross St Helens Street (then called 'Great
Wash Lane' to the west and 'The Road to Woodbridge' to the east) past
the houses and yards lining the street, through some orchards and
thence to 'Claypitt for Brick & tyle'. It is
notable that 'Rope Lane' (south of and parallel to today's Rope Walk)
disappears off to the west, with 'Rope yards' below it.
Clearly it made good sense to build your kilns
close to the place the
clay was dug. A similar siting is the brickworks which once stood
behind the St Clement
which gave, along with that shown in the 1974 map (above), its name to
'The Potteries': the area south of Rope Walk.
The clay here was dug from the foot of the sloping parkland belonging
to Hill House, later Alexandra Park.
This eventually led to the noticeable 'cliff' which can be seen rising
up from the
footpath from the Kings Avenue/Milner Street corner, behind the Suffolk
New College site to Back Hamlet.
See also our page on Potteries for
'Ipswich ware'; also Ropewalks for
another ancient industry in this part of Ipswich.
The Grove & The Dales Brickyards
Another well-appointed brickworks was also the last to close
in the town, in 1958: Bolton's in The Dales. This and The Grove
brickworks on the other side of Henley Road, which closed much earlier
had been served by a railway branch from the East Suffolk Line near
Westerfield Junction. The parapet of the bridge which carried Henley
Road over the branch line can still be seen near Henley Grove – today
signed 'The Grove'.
[Information from Malster, R: Wharncliffe
companion to Ipswich see Links]
This detail from the Ipswich map 1930
shows the branch railway line which went under Henley Road and Dale
Hall Road, deep into The Dales workings – a quarried area which is
now a public park. By the date of this map the line was marked
'Disused', as was the
Grove works, but not so the 'Brick & Tile Works' in The Dales. By
that date the bricks would have been transported by road.
(Incidentally, some of the Victorian houses called 'Grove
Cottages' in The Grove, off Henley
Road, are brickmakers' cottages, presumably made from the products of
their own brickyard.) Another feature of note is Dale Hall, still
standing in 1930 left-of-centre on this detail, with the East Suffolk
Line trimming the edge of its gardens.
"It has been referred to as 'Ipswich's forgotten
railway'. Rail enthusiast David Barton of Sunningdale Avenue, Ipswich,
has sent information about the rail line, which took a route through
what is now mainly a residential area. The narrow gauge line linked to
the main East Suffolk line between Westerfield Road and Henley Road. It
served the Grove Brick Yard at Grove Farm at the end of the cul-de-sac
off Henley Road. Three cottages, which are still there today, were
built in 1880 for the employees. The manager of the site lived at
Boulder House which was where June Avenue is now.
The line carried the products of the works to be stacked for reloading
onto the main line. On the return journeys the train carried coal to
the kilns. The largest brick works was where Dales Road and the modern
roads around are now. The rail line passed under Henley Road where the
entrance to the sports club is today. One parapet of the bridge is
still beside the road. The line then passed under Dale Hall Lane and
through where Baronsdale Close is now.
The line then dropped down the hill to the brick works operated by
Rosher and Company until 1901 when it was taken over by Bolton and
Laughlin. The Grove Brickworks had closed a century ago, but the Dales
Brickworks, then trading as A. Bolton and Company, worked until 1959
when the last batch of bricks were fired.
& Laughlin's brickyard
I have not been able to find out exactly when the rail line stopped
working, but it seems it was soon after the First World War when driver
Joseph Patterson retired and after decades of work the locomotive was
probably in need of expensive work or replacement. This, combined with
the fact that brick works now had better access to Norwich Road, might
have brought the end of the rail line. It must have been an impressive
sight as the little locomotive puffed its way up the hill from the
works, to take the bricks to be loaded onto the main line trains.
There were several brick making sites in Ipswich. Most bricks for the
expanding town over the centuries were made in the town or surrounding
villages. Most of the houses built before the Second World War in and
around Ipswich were built with local bricks.
The sites not only made bricks. They also made roof tiles, chimney and
flower pots. Over two hundred years ago there was a kiln in St Helens
making chimney pots, tiles and bricks. The area of Ipswich where the
Suffolk College is now was known as 'The Potteries' because of work in
the area. Trinity Brickworks was between Fore Hamlet and Back Hamlet.
This works closed around 1910 and hangers were built by Ransomes Sims
and Jefferies in the pit and aircraft were built there for the Royal
Flying Corps. There were also brick works where Myrtle Road is now.
Also at the Orwell Brickyard at Hog Highland, now Cliff Quay beside the
River Orwell (see the
1930 photograph below) and between Woodbridge Road and Spring Road. In
the Victorian period there was also a brick works where the recreation
ground in Sherrington Road is today. The Valley Brickworks in Foxhall
Road also had it own railway sidings.
Other sites included Cemetery Road and Spring Road. A reminder of this
lost trade is the public house 'The Brick Makers Arms' on the corner of
Howard Street. The clay for making the bricks and tiles was dug from
pits. Those now living around where the brick works once were will
often find that if they dig down a little in their gardens that they
are on heavy clay soil." [Extracts
from Kindred Spirits (see Links), David
Kindred's excellent local history and recollections resource.]
Jen Greatrex has supplied a fascinating article about the Dales brickyards,
published in 1981, particularly interesting given Jen's family
connection to the local industry and the Dales light railway – her
great great grandfather was driver Joseph Patterson.
Richard Adderson and Graham Kenworthy's
excellent book Ipswich to Saxmundham
(see Reading list) has useful information
about the light railways which served industries in the area. The 1928
map of the Westerfield Junction track layouts (below) clearly shows the
Great Eastern Railway running east-west with the stations and junction
to the east of the level crossing. Incidentally, the lines into the
station terminus closest to the Railway Hotel are serving Colonel
Tomline’s Felixstowe Dock & Railway Company. The tracks here were
eventually lifted but that station building, weather-boarded and with a
characteristic roof, is now a private house beside the present
‘through’ station and reached by a curving, hedged drive from the road.
The small detail which interests us here is at the west where 'the
branch to the brickworks left the yard in the bottom left-hand corner,
but had been removed by the time the area was surveyed for this plan.'
The photograph caption reads: “Looking west over the level crossing in
1911, the photographer has captured a quiet morning in Westerfield
yard, although the crossing gates are open and the signal is cleared
for the passage of an up train. By the gate, a horse waits patiently
while its owner unloads coal from a railway wagon. At the far end of
the yard we obtain a rare glimpse of the line which served the Dales
Road brickworks, a mile or so distant, Another little-known industrial
line [the book also deals with the industrial branch serving industry
around the Hadleigh Road bridges, today site of the new ‘Bacon Curve’],
it was lifted in 1927 after some years of disuse.”
The close-up shows the light railway which served the brickyards
leaving the Westerfield Junction yard
to the left, just before the furthest wagon.
Geology and archaeology of the Dales
Beds at Ipswich
In the “Geology of the Country around Ipswich, Hadleigh, and
Felixstowe” Mr. Whitaker drew attention to the probable existence of
Oldhaven Beds at Ipswich. On p. 11 he gives particulars of a section in
Stoke brickyard. Below the London clay at this spot occurred fine buff
sand separated from the Clay by a thin pebble-bed containing fragments
of shells. The buff sand was doubtfully referred to the Oldhaven Beds,
while it was thought that the pebble-bed should also be included with
these rather than regarded as a basement-bed of the London Clay. Below
this doubtful Oldhaven sand occurred sands and mottled clays of the
Reading Series. It was shown in the memoir that this pebble-bed
occurred over a great part of this district with an outcrop along the
valleys of the Gipping and the Brett. As a rule it rests on sands
referred to the Reading Series, and is classed by Mr. Whitaker
sometimes as basement-bed of the London Clay and occasionally as
Recently in Ipswich I came across a very clear section of these beds in
one of the brickfields, and as they here show a rather unusual facies
it seems worth while to draw attention to the section, especially as
the beds contain many fossils at one spot. The section occurs on the
north side of Messrs. Bolton & Laughlin's brickfield between the
Norwich and Henley Roads. The brickfield is situated almost due north
of Brook's Hall, and about 100 yards south of the railway line, but
apparently at the time of the Geological Survey there was no brickfield
at this spot; the pebble-bed, however, was shown in another pit (which
still exists) a little further westward, and was included in the
basementbed of the London Clay by Mr. Whitaker."
By Henry Bassett. Geological Magazine (Decade IV) /
Volume 10 / Issue 10 / October 1903, pp 453-456 [http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=5041296]
One tangential feature of the Bolton &
was its use by archeologist and historian James Red Moir (1879-1945), who
lived nearby. His work on East Anglian pre-history included
investigating the bed of stones at the foot of the Red Crag sand
exposed in the brickyard workings. In 1910 he published his findings,
conjecturing that flints found at the base of the Suffolk Crag had been
shaped by early man. These included beak-like
flaked flints (eoliths) claimed, somewhat controversially, by Moir to
relate to the evolution of the Palaeolithic hand-axe. The
'sub-Crag' location suggested that humans able to make tools lived in
the Tertiary Period: over two million years ago. It is
now largely accepted by experts that Moir's eoliths were created
naturally and cannot be seen as evidence of early humans here. However,
Moir, and his colleagues appear to have been right about the timescale
of human occupation in East Anglia: finds at Happisburgh (pronounced
'Haysboro'), Norfolk lead
archaeologists to conclude that early humans lived there 800,000 to 1
million years ago… No doubt, the controversy will
continue. An information board 'Legends of Broom Hill'
was unveiled in May 2016 in front of the ancient 'Reid Moir Oak' on the
south east triangle of Broomhill Park at Westwood Avenue at the
junction of Valley Road which has information on James Red Moir, Sir
Anthony Wingfield (1488-1552), the oak tree itself and Brooks Hall.
[UPDATE 2.8.2016: "I was just
reading about James Red Moir on your site. I worked, in the summer of
1991, in Ipswich Museum and Christchurch Mansion: a quite wonderful
job. In the museum's archaeology section, there is a large (but mostly
unseen by the general public) collection of James Red Moir's 'beaked
tools'. They were given the official title of 'Rostro Carinates', if
memory serves. To my (inexpert) eye, they looked natural, not worked –
anyone who lives round here and who has dug a garden over can attest to
the weird shapes flint can manifest itself. Best regards, Ian Luck." Many thanks to Ian for getting in touch.]
Orwell Brickyard (Hog Highland)
courtesy Britain from above
The image above shows the the River Orwell below the lock from the
eastern bank with Stoke Bathing Place across the river at the right,
on the Stoke bank. The Orwell Brickyard is central, close to the quay
and to the left of the roof with the sign 'GABRIEL'S'. Britain from
Above (see Links) has a range
of aerial photographs of this brickworks.
Bloomfield Street Brickyard
Above: within the Freehold Land Society's
estate another brickyard existed to the east of Bloomfield Street as
shown on the 1883 map detail above. Areas on turn of the century maps
to the east of Bloomfield Street and its northerly extension, Howard
Street, are labelled 'Brick fields'. The north-south road to the right
of this detail is Britannia Road. (See our California
page to see the empty space on the 1902 map where the brickyard once
understand that the extraction of brickearth here accounts for the
visible drop in the land seen in the back gardens of those east-side
houses. Presumably this brick-making activity was associated with the
'pioneering' activities of the early F.L.S. smallholders who earned
their livings in a variety of ways from the plots of land. The public
house The Brickmaker's Arms survives in 2014 at the top of Bloomfield
Street (at the corner of Howard Street and Spring Road) to commemorate
the trade. It appears that the brickyard mentioned
above which was situated between Woodbridge and Spring Roads were just
north of this.
The Valley Brickyard, Foxhall
This article appeared in the Ipswich
Society Newsletter, October 2013.
"Ipswich's oldest settlement:
An evening walk on July 11 2013.
We met by the 'soldiers' gate' at Foxgrove Gardens dip, where Foxhall
Road crosses the shallow valley we would follow that evening. Brick
clays show that this valley was occupied by a 'lake' in prehistoric
times. Robert Carr owned a brickyard here, between Foxhall Road and the
Felixstowe railway to the south. It was here in 1902 that archaeologist
Nina Frances Layard* discovered flint Acheulian hand-axes of the
longest lived human technology, indeed one that transgressed several
hominid species. In 1903 she employed two brothers to find flints,
which they did plus finding fossil elephant bones and a tooth of a
rhinoceros. Brickmaking here was abandoned by the early 1920s and the
site is now covered by the houses of Celestion Drive and Bull Road
[Formerly the sites of Bull Electrics and Celestion louspeakers].
Walking along Henslow Road we noted 'Henslow Terrace 1902' built of red
bricks, presumably from Carr's brickyard. A short diversion took us to
(modern-day) Churchill Avenue, where J.V. Todd excavated in the
brickearth at the former small-holding in 1957 and where I put down
boreholes in 1966 - neither found any hand-axes. Further along Henslow
Road a hand-axe was found in the garden of no.9 in 1942 - it is now in
Ipswich Museum. Excavations at the corner of Freehold Road and
Bloomfield Street were investigated by me in 1972 and by John Wymer in
1978 - again, no hand-axes were found.
Our last stop was at Starfield Close off Bloomfield Street. This was
the site of a brickyard in the early 1870s, but is now occupied by new
housing of 'imported' Oxford Clay bricks - what would Robert Powell,
brickmaker of Bloomfield Street (1870s) think of that? We finished the
meeting with thoughts on the lives of Ipswich people over 400,000 years
ago - the first Ipswich Society?
This fascinating perspective by geologist Bob Markham tells us
of Robert Carr's brickyard south of Foxhall Road and of Robert Powell's
brickyard to the east of Bloomfield Street, as described above.
(*Incidentally, the 2004 book Miss
Layard excavates: A Palaeolithic site at Foxhall Road, Ipswich,
1903-1905 by Mark J. White and Steven J. Plunkett is available
to borrow from Suffolk Libraries. George Miller
Chamberlain on Nina Frances Layard: "Who
was this woman? Without question, she was one of the most remarkable
English women to have lived. A great archeologist, poet, botanist,
humanist, radical thinker, and champion of the underdog. A heroine, now
almost unknown outside Suffolk, unsung in the annals of English
history, and not to be found in Who's
Who? or other reference books of famous or significant figures.")
Above: an evocative photograph found in David Kindred and Bob
Malster's book Ipswich memories
(2001) showing brickmakers in the Valley Brickworks on Foxhall Road
with a large, walk-in kiln in the background and their wares stacked up
high at the left.
Suffolk Road Brickyard
Above: spotted on an 1883 map of the Cemetery Road area, this
brickyard dug its clay from the rising ground leading up to the old
cemetery's higher levels. At the lower left is a 'Clay Pit', with some
evidence of extraction in the area around the three kilns. Suffolk Road
at this time was a short link to Norfolk Road; it was extended
westwards on the same line to meet what was to be Hervey Street.
Tuddenham Avenue (see our Off-licences
page) is a 1930s development heading uphill from the Norfolk
Road/Suffolk Road junction straight across the site of the brickyard.
See also a page about a lettered
brick in a mixed brick wall in Ipswich.
The Potteries and Ipswich Ware;
Ropewalks and the rope-making industry in
the east of the town;
County Hall for information and
maps relating to the County and Borough Gaols;
name plaque examples: Alston Road;
Cauldwell Hall Road; Cavendish Street; Marlborough Road; Rosehill area;
Ipswich & Suffolk Freehold Land
Society (F.L.S.); California
Street index; Origins of street names
in Ipswich; Streets named after slavery
Dated buildings list; Dated buildings examples;
Named (& sometimes dated) buildings
Street nameplate examples
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