In September 1980 Ann Los visited Crowle Brickworks as it was being closed down. This is her account and photographs of her visit.
Where ann has inserted text from one of the printed leaflets from the brickworks I have put this with a coloured background.
Innes Lee Industries
Site Visit 1980
Large flooded clay Pits of irregular shape and one rectangular shape surround the works on three sides – the railway line and Canal give a straight finish to the fourth side. The clay extracted is both red and grey and may be mixed in different quantities to provide a range of colours.
In the 1970’s the large rectangular pit was made by the sale of the underlying marl to the construction company for the M180 motorway to Scunthorpe . The top clays were removed and piled up for the Brickworks to use but this resulted in the different coloured clays all being mixed up. As one of the workers, George Broderick, said “There was some lovely red clay up end but they just mixed it up with the rest.” A layer of gypsum was found and if it get mixed up with the brick making clay it causes the bricks to explode when being fired. The gypsum however was extracted and sold separately as a mineral in it sown right. The conveyor belt used for this extraction was on the site 5/9/1980 near the railway line opposite he old kiln still with gypsum in it.
The working face carries in many places about three foot of loam, sand or overburden. This is of great value in the production of hand made sand stocks, as it possesses excellent red burning qualities. All other points on the clay face, the clay is covered only by 9′ of soils.Underlying the loam sand clays of varying natures in irregular formation will be observed. These are comprised of highly plastic clays from which roofing tiles, garden pots and the like are made.The main stratum Is composed of an outcrop of the upper Keeper Marls which at Crowle appears at the most Northerly point where these Marls are most suitable for brickmaking. Similar bands of clay extend through the country touching Nottingham, Derby, Leicester and turn across the country finishing in Somerset.The stratus shows a number of faults, being varied in composition, and teh various strata of different properties lend themselves to the production of clay goods in great variety.The main supply of clay is dug by a Ruston 10 R.B. Excavator, whilst certain clays for mixing are got by hand.Before the advent of the excavator 12 men were employed getting clay.
Extraction of Clay
The clay was dug by hand and loaded into Jubilee trucks, then hauled to the works along the rails by a horse. 12 men at least we’re employed getting clay.
In 1936 the horse was replaced by diesel engines and petrol locos. Mrs Took, wife of David Took, Office Manager 1980, remembers the locos running round the site and the noise they made. Tim Bailey sad the way they tore around, it was a wonder there wasn’t an accident Mrs Took had had a post card from a friend on holiday down south and it was of the preserved Crowle Brickworks Loco.
Some engine details
Richard Thomas & Baldwin Ltd
The firm gave a railway engine to the Foxfield Light Railway Society for restoration in January 1967. It was named “Henry Cort” 0-4-0 saddle tank, 3’2″ driving wheels. 23 tons weight 14″&20″ cylinders 400lb pressure 14030lb tractive effort. It was built by Packet & Sons in 1903 works no 933 for the Ebbw Vale Iron & Steel Co. Ltd and it was rebuilt in 1937. It later worked at Blisworth and Irthlingborough. (From preserved Locomotive H.C. Casseroles 3rd Edn. 1973)
UG No 69 1975 Page 8 to 69
Mosely Grammar School Cheadle NHS were given Ruston Hornsby engines by Crowle Brick Works. “The manager was helpful and allowed us to camp on site, where track and e Ruston were dismantled and removed to Cheadle in 1970. During 1971-1972 the other Ruston Hornsby was removed from Crowle to Cheadle.
Ruston Diesel 200L 354013 built 1953
Ruston Diesel 11/13HP 187057 built in 1937
Two diesel trains have been operating between the clay pit and Clay feeder at Redbourn’s brickworks at Crowle for the past 32 years, have been pensioned off.
In 1936 the horse that had pulled the Jubilee trucks full of clay was replaced by locos. Today an ex-WD our will take over the job.
The £8000 change over has been planned for a long time. The works manager Mr J. L. Draper says that the new system will be more flexible and more economical.
Until now three men have been employed on the job for taking the clay from the pit to the works; 2 on the loco and 1 on the excavator. Between them they have been shifting 24 tons each hour.When the new scheme gets into action the man who has driven the excavator for 2 years, Mr Syd Jackson (45) of Fieldside, Crowle will drive both the excavator and the lorry.
Mr Jackson estimated that 2 lorry loads is the equivalent of three train loads, and that he will be tipping clay into the new feeder every 20 or 25 minutes. (feeder cost 2000). At this rate 1 man will move as much clay as 3 men were in an hour.
The new road that has made this possible runs beside the 20″ gauge railway and has been made by Eccles Slag Co.
The base of the road has been made out of broken bricks from Redbourne.
Mr Draper said that the 2 diesel engines will go for scrap though the 2 petrol locos which were in service in 1936 may be preserved by light railway people.
from Scunthorpe Evening Telegraph 17/6/68
Extraction of clay continued.
The Ruston excavator was standing Idle in the pit next to the heap of clay dumped after he motorway clay had been removed – this gave an unusual clay face with unfortunately bits of gypsum in it. One man worked the excavator and they moved about 24 tons of clay an hour.
In 1968 when Mr J. L. Draper was manager £8000 was spent in to move the clay by an ex W.D. lorry. Only one man, Mr Syd Jackson of Fieldside l be needed to work the excavator, load the lorry and then drive it up to the walls of the new feeder 2000. One load will take 20-25 minutes and the lorry can fetch 36 tonnes :: one man can do the work of three on the new system. The Eccles Slag Co. have made a new road along the side of 20″ gauge railway for the lorry mainly of old bricks from the works. This system was still in operation when the works closed.
One of the three engines that provided the power had been moved to a museum but two remained in-situ not a sparking clean as in their day. Jim Bailey, who went to the works in 1945 remembers the engine room being forbidden territory to men with dirty boots – engines sparkling clean all the time and tended with love and care . these engines drive the various pulley wheels for the brick press, the wire cut machines etc. The pulleys were still in situ on my visit including the one for the ‘tudor’ machine although that machine had been removed. The exhausts from the engines were used to dry the bricks in the drying sheds being piped underneath. 41 to 43 tons of coal were used to drive these engines.
Boiler House, Lancashire Boiler, Crowle Brickworks
Two Lancashire boilers were installed (possibly 1973) to produce steam for the plant and they use 35 tones of coal a week. Only one was usable by my visit. The old railway siding came up to the boilers from the wagons- no siding now.
Three separate power units provide the motive power for the brick machines installed. On first thought , it may not soon be economical to have three engines when one could do he work . but the advantage is that a breakdown cannot stop the whole works as would be the case if one unit only were installed. All the exhaust steam fro the engines is carried in pipes to the drying sheds and introduced under a concrete floor properly designed for the drying of wet clay goods.
Two Lancashire oiler produce steam for the plant and about 35 tons of coal is used per week.
Until recently three separate engines provided the power for driving the three separate Brick Making plant, but these have now been replaced by one large steam generator which drives the whole of the brick making plant and in turn saves some 6/8 tunes of coal per week.
Those pans deal with the hard marls, grinding and screening to 1/8″ mesh before passing forward to the stiff plastic and wire cut machines for repugging down to the plastic state.
Mixers and Clay rolls
Two sets of clay rolls and the 8 long mixers further prepare the clay before it reaches the extrusion pugmill. By this stage the clay is of fine texture and in good plastic condition
Wet Clay Grinding Pans
The function of these pans is to break down the shapes of the clay, and to commence the process of plasticity. The rollers press the material through grids whence it is taken up by a mixer with two shafts fitted with knives running in opposite direction cutting and compressing the clay mass, and further increasing plasticity.
Water is added either in pan or mixer or both as required to bring the clay to the proper temper before extrusion b the plastic brickmaking machines which follows he pan and mixer.
The pugmill is the final in in the production of wirecut bricks. Any shape can be made by fitting a suitable type of Brick die or shaping device at the front or delivery point of the mill. These shapes are then cut to any size for example 2″, 2 5/8″, 2-7/8″ or 3″ on the wire cutting table.
The output of the machine is 28/30,000 bricks per day of eight hours.
After cutting, the shapes are loaded on barrows and taken for stacking (about six bricks high) in the dying sheds . drying takes about 10/12 days
The clay came into the works in the old lorry on a ramp tipped and then fed to the first pan on a conveyor belt.
Clay preparation continued
I was able to stand above this pan and look down into it – the silence of only seemed to emphasise the size of the two large rollers and the teeth of the cog wheels. I would love to see one of these working – not only must there be noise but there must be ‘smell’ as well of earth and water.
The partially prepared clay leaves the pan by another conveyor belt and this can be directed to which ever machine or plant needs the clay. Gravity is used ere as the pan is high above the brickmaking machines.
Use of clay
A stiff plastic Brick machine
At normal speed these machines (No. 1 and 2) make, by what is known as the stiff plastic process, 11,000 and 16,000 bricks per day respectively and are the heaviest duty Brick machines manufactured . the clay after being prepared by the dry clay pans, reaches the machines in powder form, and passes through the tempting mixer where water is added if necessary, then into vertical pug Mill where it is compressed into Brick shape in a mould which automatically stops under the long enough to be properly filled . the brick shape is then lifted from the mould and pushed under the press, where it is further compressed and made absolutely square. The small round pieces of clay one sees ejected from the under side of the press is the surplus amount of clay after a brick of the required thickness has been made.
Bricks made by this process do not need the preliminary drying time required by wire cuts. These bricks may go straight into the kiln if need be.
This very large machine was opposite the far end of the old kiln. It is in these machines that the large brass name plates were used. The aching was surrounded by old drying dumped clay but still had its safety guard on.
A single Bradley and Craven machine is also available for use in he event of a breakdown or for making odd sizes such as 2″, 21/4″ to order and saving loss of time on the main plant, arch bricks for kiln repairs are also made on this machine.
Wire cut bricks
This machine was still in situ with a brick shaped mouthful of clay ready to drop out. A large machine reaching from floor to roof incorporating the mixing pans as well. The clay is forced out of the die in the required shape in one long length – wire cutters bar circular in shape working in a pivot swinging motion cuts the bricks to the required length. Rollers ray the bricks along the table and may if desired impress the name on the side of the brick. Men load the bricks onto wooden lats and onto barrows at the end table ready to take them to the drying room. This machine made the last bricks produced at Crowle in July 1980.
Two diesel locomotives deliver 8/10 wagons of clay each from the clay pit (which is nearly 3/4 of a mile from the works) to a pan stage in the wirecut production plant. Each wagon is tipped into a clay feeder, which gives a regular stream of clay into the 11ft diameter wet pan.The rolls in the pan weigh 5 tons and are capable of breaking up any large pieces of clay and stone to a size small enough to go forward to the clay rolls via a 24″ belt conveyor.
This machine, which is capable of producing 25/28,000 rustic facings per day, is working to full capacity.
Recently we installed a very heavy wet pan 11ft in diameter to replace the original 7ft diameter pan. The clay is now much better prepared than previously and when alterations, including the addition of another et of grinding rollers and a second mixer are complete, products will be still further improved.This machine also prepares all clay for the hand moulding process. The clay is required to be much softer than for bricks to allow the moulder to form a good clot which, when thrown into the hand mould, will spread well into the corners and form a perfect shape.
The process is of particular interest at the present time. There is a great misapprehension as to what constitutes a Sand-faced brick. A common error is to confuse a Sand-faced brick with a genuine hand made sand stock.
The machine now in operation converts Brick shapes into sand face bricks, after the shapes have been previously prepared in Brick form, and sanded. Samples of this type are on blew and he difference between those and the handmade varieties can be clearly seen.
In pre-order days we also made machine sand faced bricks, by means of a “Monarch” soft mud machine, but during the war this machine was taken out to make room or the production of pipes which were then in great demand for land drainage schemes, and it has not yet been replaced.
This is a recent addition to the plant and was installed for the production of hollow goods such as drain tiles and flooring blocks. During the winter we have been producing approximately 3,000 3″ drain tiles per week.
The machine is also used for the production of Special shapes etc. which if made in the normal machine would tend to reduce output.
Clay which passes through this machine becomes rubber like in texture due to all the air being drawn off, and this makes clay easy to mould into difficult shapes as well as producing a stronger finished article.
A vertical pipe machine is used for making sizes larger than 3″
This machine which is in course of erection, is a new De-airing Brick or pipe making machine – a new process whereby it is possible to extract all the air bubbles from the clay. This greatly increases the plasticity or workability and results in the production of pipes and other hollow goods from clay not suitable for such products unless de-aired.
The machine was still in situ and Jim was proud to show the door that had to be shut tight to ensure all the air was removed from the clay – I think it was a Rawdon.
Hand moulders are working continuously on hand made products. Each moulder is limited to produce 900 bricks per day. The bricks are dried on the floor and are ready for the kiln in two days. Present output 15/18,000 per week. Pre-order output – 60,000 per week.
At the present time upwards of 10/15,000 hand made facings are produced per week in various sizes from 6″x3″x11/2″ briquettes to 12″x5″x2″. The demand for hand made continues to be in excess of capacity and orders have to be continually refused. Delivery at the present time is four/five weeks.
Clay s prepared at the wirecut machines and deposited near each moulders bench where it is warily accessible to the moulder. Two men, and a boy wheeling away make 1,500 bricks per day together.
It will be noticed that the bricks are placed on the doing floors on edge only and one Brick deep. This is because they are too soft to stack to a greater depth. A very large area of dying room is required for 10/15,000 bricks per week, especially as they take four days to dry. Each moulder has his own mark on the products, he has to enable faulty goods to be traced back.
The moulders are the most skilled men on the brickmaking ide and make all the special shapes and arches.
A large quantity of gauged and other arches are produced each year by this method.
Hand moulding continued
Hand moulding begins with the achitects/builders drawings being passed to the carpenter for specials; but even a simple stand brick begins with the carpenter making the moulds. I was lucky enough to find in the workshop of the carpenter and old architects drawing of window lintel details from which he would have made the moulds for the job – an individual mould for each Brick in the lintel; I was also lucky enough to find the drawing for a 5 mould hand made Brick and the mould all brass bound to go with the drawing:
The original carpenters shop was still there in a ruinous state – it was a framed building of wood clad with corrugated iron and painted black. The centre of the main building as an old iron stove – very small for the size of shop so it must have been cold in winter. The overhead main beams still had screwed/nailed to them some of the wooden panels to make the frogs in the bricks and I now have these in my collection. The best one is “J.W. Clarke 1935” an old manager of the works and ears are plane,others have numbers or letters on. All plates were made of wood in this shop although later I found metal ones. Among the rubbish on the floor was an old iron wheel from a barrow and various parts of barrows. The lean-to adjacent to the shop seemed to be the store for the timber and contained two old boards for the clocking in cards of the men. I think it was Olly’s grand father who had worked in this shop at one time.
The new carpenters shop was just as it had been left when the joiner left a few weeks previous. Hardly any one was allowed n the workshop to tamper with the tools etc. and the men that showed me round had as much curiosity as myself. I would have liked to look at the two letters in the store section – one cupboard had the last photo of Crowle UK which contained the old manager Mr Clarke – it was also covered with holiday postcards which would have contained the names of workers on the reverse side but I did not think of this until later. The men remembered photos post card size of Brick structures and a set of photos of Crowle Brickworks football team but these could not be found.
The store room at the side of the workshop as covered in shelves from floor to roof, full of moulds of various shapes and sizes and ages – many had a name or distinguishing code letter letter on the end. I did not touch any of these but would have loved to go through them. Was the mathematical tile found in the store shed of clay goods nearby produced in a mould or extruded on a machine with the correct die? I did find in the assortment of shelves on the other side of the store one of the name plates for the moulds including ones from ‘SANTON’ ‘BOSTON’ and ‘AXHOLME’ yards as well as 4 different plates for Crowle Works . these were all in metal and some in brass whereas the ones in the original carpenters shop were in wood.
The carpenter was also responsible for the construction of the sample oars – a picture frame containing the face of a brick to show it’s colour and texture. These were cut off the brick by a sawing machine near the power plant still there in 1980and then fitted o the frame with the name of the type e.g. “Crowle Multi-Rustics” a cream facing Brick with a smoother surface. Several of the old show panels were in this store and I wish that I had asked for them to give an idea of the bricks they made in the past. The notices for about the site to warn people of the danger of the old railway, of the old clay ponds and “PRIVATE KEEP OUT” had been the carpenters as job as a boy had even drowned in the clay it’s in the summer of 1980 – the shop still contained three of these boards.
The heat supply r the carpenters shop was an old age type cooker, the shad been n the site for any years and “Olly”, 70 years old could remember when the lunches for all the men had been cooked in this stove. The carpenter also had an old electric cooker in the corner as well – above which was an old nail it a collection of calendars on – the new ones being put n the top until the inevitable nude appeared.
Clay for hand moulding
This has to be carefully prepared and at the right elasticity or the work is impossible. The old timers could work out of much clay the mould use in a week and they would ‘pug up’ on a Monday morning i.e. all the clay they needed would go through the pug Mill mixed to give the colour needed then dumped by each moulders bench. According to the visitors’ notes he wire cut machine prepared the clay for the moulders and this was delivered to the benches on the clay barrows, previously illustrated in the early days – I did notice however some electric carts a little bit like those on railway platforms and I think hey would have been used for moving clay at the end.
It is interesting to note that the old carpenter never finished a barrow off until the lad it was meant for had held it in his hands ready to use – it must be made to measure so to speak as the heavy odds carried on them and the rough wet land conditions would have made life impossible for the pushers if they were too big or too small.
The weeks supply of clay was at the right hand side of the bench thus the ‘centre’ hole for the moulders feels was to the left of centre. (What if he was left handed?) A large iron framed U shape bow was used to cut the lump of clay off – the bow was dug into he pile d the wire rotated to cut off a lump. This was then placed on the right hand of he bench and the ‘clot’ formed – this takes a few seconds if all is well and is most important to get it the right size and shape – it is a bit like making bread to fit the loaf tin.
The mould is then oiled to make the using sand/sawdust mix stick to the sides – thus the clay sticks to this and not the mould – the Sand and sawdust texture the surface of the brick – the Sand gives a texture to the smooth clay and the sawdust burns out in firing leaving little Pits in the smooth clay surface – the clot must not touch the side of the mould as it is thrown in or the sides of the clot will be torn and the clay will stick to the mould. It is faster than the eye can see and involves a flick of both wrists together. The moulder does not press the clay down into the mould at all – the strength of his throw should be enough to fill he corners of the mould – he simply takes a smaller bow and cost off the surplus clay and returns it to the pile.
The top of the brick is then sanded with the sand/sawdust mixture and then the brick is turned out onto a bat and the mould is ready for use again. From the bat it is transferred to ours 5/6 bricks to a board and loaded onto a barrow. The frog with the appropriate name end up uppermost on the barrow. From memory these barrows stand waist height for easy loading and are open s the bricks are on the planks.
The frog also ears marks to identify which moulder has made the bricks. J.W. Clarke known to the men as John Willie knew each moulders mark off by heart and just by looking at a brick could tell who had made it. This gives a man the need to take a pride in his work r praise when it was due but also faulty bricks could be traced back o the moulder. A Green Brick in my collection i.e. unburnt has one pip top centre which shows it was one of Freddie who worked at Crowle in 1980. One of my moulds has two pips to the left of the frog and another has a pip at either side of the frog. A similar system operated at William Blyth yard Barton on Humber in marking the end of the tile. I was told by a friend that these marks indicated the particular yard of a firm where the bricks had been made us both Alderman Norman Bibby and the actual workers at Crowle said it was the mark or each moulder. N.B. In the latter days at Crowle only two moulders were working on hand bricks thus only one needed mark. In my earlier days of gleaning knowledge I thought these different marks indicated the kiln the brick had been fired in!
Hand Moulding Specials
The majority of Special shapes are made by hand rather than machine as the numbers involved does not warrant changing the die on the machine. Some special shapes however are common i.e. squint or splay as they called it at Crowle, or bull nose.
Crowle was well known for the small red fireplace bricks th their many shapes to give the nooks and corners in a fire place. Lee photographs of bricks and moulds for fire place.
The two drawings in the envelopes P29/30 of fancy doorway Cottingham 1936 and P33/34 of window arches Wakefield are detailed architects drawings of the feature. These were then taken to the carpenters shop and from these drawings the moulds were made for that job. The bricks were individually numbered and lettered so that all the builder had to do was put them up in order. The letter umber ticks were used for this. Some arches and lintels were available as a standard size pack if architects could use them but if not they were specially made for each job.
Two small moulds show the boy Scout emblem one with Crowle written on. I guess that the one with ‘CROWLE’ on the mould the right way was the sample made for the architects and the other is the mould used for the job. These are both in my collection.
A special made for Lincoln (Art College, I think) was the big three feathers of the Prince of Wales with a motto. This mould is still in the yard and is about 2ft by 2’6″. I would venture to suggest that it is unique. Only one panel was made in buff clay for over the entrance This was in living memory of the 1980 workers.
Mrs Took, wife of David Took in the office told me of a horses head that had been about the cottages for years but now lost. Perhaps there will be a mould for that somewhere.
As well as e two sheets of specials which was on the floor in the carpenter’s store just inside the door was a and drawn sheet of specials. It was on graph paper stuck to a board and varnished over. All the measurements were in imperial units.
One of the latest specials to be made must surely have been a mathematical tile. An old tile was sent to the works with a request for an order . few samples were made but the expense of handling and the thin delicate shape made he drying area needed enormous as they could not be stacked – thus this order was not accepted. The samples were in the office but I did not collect one of them.
The card opposite indicates the specials available from Crowle on their 1975 price list. I have added the letters from the chart in the carpenter’s shop. It seems to me that the number of specials available is unlimited – especially if you take into consideration the colours and textures available for each shape.
The skill of the brick moulder is dependent on the skill of the carpenter who makes the mould in the first place- between them nothing is impossible – I am certain of this with the craftsmen I have met.
Jack the Potter
This man was a well known worker at the Brickworks in the 19th century. He was a master Potter and came from the Midlands to work at Crowle. His father had paid for him to learn his trade so he would not let anyone arch him for long, stopping his job and going to something else until they went. His grandson Eddie Richardson still lives in Crowle today at No. 4, ?. He used his skills to make chimney pots, jugs, garden pots, baskets etc. and some of these can still be seen in the gardens at Crowle and no doubt the surrounding area. On this my first visit in the rain I was unable to find a sample of his work but I live in hope. (I wonder if he marked it with his name or initials?).
In spite of the great area covered by the drying sheds there s always a shortage of room. The floors are hollow and formed of bricks and concrete. Exhaust steam from the main engine is conducted under the floors and area being heated and can be regulated by valves.
Waste heat from the cooling bricks in the kilns is also drawn off by two fans and blown down amongst the bricks in the drying sheds. This air can likewise be regulated over any area by dampers.
These extensive drying sheds are all heated from underneath by exhaust steam, and the bricks take three to four days to dry before being ready for setting in the kilns.
Upwards of 150,000 bricks per week an be dried by this process, on the area available.
The drying of bricks is a most vital process to ensure satisfactory firing in the kiln. An incorrect drying time means the bricks may explode in the kiln or simply crank and pit which allows moisture in when they are used and the bricks fall apart.
Pressed and wire cut bricks are firm enough to be able to stack them 6 high on the barrows and on the drying floor and they should take 4 days to dry out. The hand moulds however are too soft to stack and must be laid out singly thus an uneconomical use of the drying area.
The drying is effected by the exhaust gas and after steam being passed under the floor of the sheds. These are hollow built of bricks and concrete (a bit like the Roman granaries). At one other yard William Blyth, Barton they do most of their drying in hacks outside by nature but no one seemed to have ever heard of drying outside here. The drying sheds and the moulders benches are all under the same roof to minimise the handling of the bricks and of course adjacent to the kilns – the only thing that over is the hot air.
Firing in the kiln
At the far end of the works past the Lancashire boilers i.e. at the end of the old railway siding was a cottage and beyond this the workmen told me they used to clamp burn and they claim the marks are still there. Time did not permit me to examine the area of long grass and weeds and the rain gave me no incentive. All men agreed this was correct and guessed at the date as the 1920’s/30’s.
Continuous Kiln Hoffman Type
In 1980 this was completely disused but very intact – the top had a healthy covering of grass, weeds including rose Bay Willow herb. The men showing me round could remember firing it and told me that each section was prepared over to make the draft. They pointed out repairs they had made over the years to keep the kiln going. The roof repairs were only made when the Kiln was full so that it was impossible to to fall in if there were a cave in. Large timber frames in one of the drying sheds were also used to support the roof while repairs were being done. The last repairs to the old Kiln were to the central piers opposite No 1 door and they had been done by George Bradwell using a substance they called “fanda” – it sounded like fine cement. George was also able to give me the moulds for making the fire logs as they call them or he side roof and top of the kilns. These are very rough with a lump of drainpipe hough to make the hole and the same find it substance is used.