Wherstead Red bricks / Brickyards in Ipswich

Wherstead Brickyard
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Wherstead red 42014 image
Des Pawson, who runs his Museum of Knots & Sailors Ropework (see Links) 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...

Ipswich Historic Lettering: Wherstead red 1   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Wherstead red 2
... 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.)
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Wherstead red 3Photographs 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 Greenwich.
4. Another yard existed, accessed via a lane beside the Maypole public house on the old Norwich Road (an area also, confusingly, called 'The Lairs').
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 Road.
8. Trinity 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 White City'.
9. A brickyard between Woodbridge Road and Spring Road.
10.
In Over Stoke there was a brickyard abutting Rectory Road on the site of the later Hartley Street (which still exists). It is shown on the 1867 map detail on our Stoke Hall page.
11. The Broom Hill brickworks east of the Norwich Road.


Brickyards in Ipswich (we'll add more detail about further brickyards when they become available)
'The Potteries'
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.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Rope Walk brickyard mapDetail of Ogilby's map 1674
Our Ropewalks page contains a larger detail of this area from the 1674 map. Working south from the
Church of St 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 Congregational Chapel 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.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Dales brickworks map1930 map
"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.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Dales brickworks 1   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Dales brickworks 2Bolton & 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.'
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Westerfield Jct.map1928 map
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.”
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Westerfield Jct.1   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Westerfield Jct.1 detail1911 image 
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 brickyard
"Fossiliferous Oldhaven 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 Oldhaven Beds.
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 & Laughlin brickyard 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)
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Orwell brickworks 1930Image 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
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Bloomfield St brickworks map1883 map
Above: within the Freehold Land Society's California 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 operated.) We 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 Road
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?
Bob Markham"

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.")
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Valley brickworks period1920s/30s?
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
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Suffolk Rd brickworks map1883 map
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.

Related pages:
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;

House name plaque examples: Alston Road;
Bramford 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 abolitionists.
Dated buildings list; Dated buildings examples;
Named buildings listNamed (& sometimes dated) buildings examples.
Street nameplate examples




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