NEWSLETTER No. 23. July 1979.
The Brickmaking Survey.
Two members have supplied interesting articles on the history of brick-making in Sussex. Mr. M.J. Leppard, who is the Editor of the Bulletin of the East Grinstead Society, has sent a copy (No. 26) of the May 1979 number of the Bulletin, which contains an article by the late Mr. R.H. Wood entitled "Some notes on Hackenden Brickyard". This includes not only a description of brick-making processes at the yard but also maps, photographs and drawings of tools (copies 25p. from Mr. Leppard c/o Barclays Bank, East Grinstead). Mr. F.M. Avery has kindly allowed me to see an advance copy of his history of the Burgess Hill potteries and brickworks, which he is hoping to have published in the Sussex Genealogist and Local Historian in the near future.
Groups have visited two existing brickworks recently (see separate reports) and a meeting of all members concerned in the Survey will be held in the autumn. In view of the difficulties caused by the fuel shortage to members travelling from a distance, we are hoping to hold this meeting in the morning of the day chosen for the Society A.G.M. (notice in the next Newsletter).
In the meantime work is proceeding with the recording of Brickmaking sites
throughout Sussex. More helpers would be welcome in all areas, but especially
around Billingshurst, Haywards Heath and Rye, as no work has been done in any of
these districts so far. A sheet of notes has been prepared by Mr. O'Shea for the
guidance of members involved in recording sites and copies are available from
him or from Mrs. Beswick, Turners House, Turners Green, Heathfield, East
The East Grinstead Society hopes to include an article on other brickworks in the East Grinstead area in their Bulletin No. 27 to be issued in September. Our Chairman receives copies of the Bulletin which he is pleased to loan on request.
Wind and Water Mill Mystery Tour
The party then proceeded to Brightling Sawmill TQ 686201 which, in contrast to Park Mill, is in a state of neglect. The cast iron wheel was manufactured by Neve Bros., the Heathfield Millwrights in 1891 and drove a saw bench through a system of belts. Major repairs are needed to the roof which are being put in hand by the newly formed Sussex Heritage Trust with the help of a grant from Rother District Council. It would then be possible for members of our Society to restore the water-wheel and saw-bench to working order. Like all projects of this nature it is difficult to envisage the use to which the restored building could be put, particularly as it is situated on a private estate and without mains services,
After a break for lunch the party proceeded to Punnetts Town Windmill at Heathfield TQ 627208. This smock mill was a shell until the 1950's but has now been restored to working order by its owner Archie Dallaway (whose family have been millers here since 1800) using a second-hand wind shaft and agricultural machinery - a unique example of what can be achieved. Cross-in-Hand Post Mill TQ 557218 was next on the itinerary and considering she was working until 1970 it is now in a sorry state, minus its sweeps and with a severe head tilt. Inside the machinery is all intact and one can still feel the atmosphere of a working windmill. This fine example of a local millwright's skill, Medhurst of Lewes, will hopefully be restored soon by the owner and the local council.
The final mill on the tour was Nutley Post Mill TQ 451291 superbly restored
and maintained by the Uckfield and District Preservation Society. Although not
capable of grinding, we saw the sweeps turning, one pair having common or cloth
Thanks are due to our guide, Frank Gregory, who played such a leading part in
the restoration of Nutley Mill, and who, with his vast knowledge or mills,
answered our many queries, as well as organising an excellent lunch stop.
High quality Fairlight clay is available on site and contains virtually no
stones so that only simple crushing and consolidation to remove air is required
before passing to the actual brickmaker who adds a coating of sand or tinted
sawdust to control the colour. The bricks are then dried in oil-heated chambers
and finally passed to one of two similar coal-fired beehive kilns. Each kiln
holds 30,000 bricks which remain in it for about 10 days.
This privately owned brickworks makes about ten million clamp fired building bricks and specials each year and is sited on an exposure of the Tunbridge Wells Sand formation of the Hastings beds. In fact the works also use the Grinstead Clay which is a subordinate bed of this formation and sometimes the blue Wadhurst that intrudes into the strata from below. A massive strate of sand-rock is discarded at the pits.
Immediately the party were impressed by the functional simplicity of the works layout and the evidence of the very good housekeeping that was apparent on all sides. Although in principle, the sequence of operations was naturally much the same as members will have noted during earlier visits to other works using the same process, nevertheless, this opportunity of witnessing the pitch of efficiency which clamp firing can be brought to, was invaluable to those of us who are at present making a study of the industry.
Briefly, the process proceeds as follows: Clay from the adjacent pits is brought by dumper truck to the "weathering" stockpile where strata strains are relieved in the material over a period of time. At a manual charging grid, "Coalite" breeze is added to watered clay sufficient to provide a self burning aggregate of say 10% combustibles. This mixture is fed into an edge runner grinding mill which has provision for more water admission and is fitted with a grid base ensuring that any rock is reduced to at least 3/8ths inch grading. The ground mixture falls into a bladed pug mill which extrudes the plastic material into wooden moulds having metal frogs and which are pre-sanded. Pressure is automatically applied to fill out any corner voids and the mould positioned for manual release of the green bricks onto a metal pallet and via a second operator from a transfer table to a drying oven trolley. The triple brick mould is then sanded again for re-cycling. There are three such moulding stations and they feed green bricks into the drying chambers at the total rate of 43,000 bricks each working day. The transit time through the chambers or ovens is 2½ days. There are three ovens and they are propane gas fired to 220 degs F with a fully saturated outlet temperature of 100 degs F. During this time moisture is reduced from about 20% to 2%.
The dried green bricks go straight to the three firing clamps the trolleys being conveyed by fork lift trucks which in turn also are used to stock the finished products. The firing clamps are hand built ("crowded") each clamp being under a permanent housing and when finished holding 1,200,000 bricks. To ensure stability the cross section is given a saucer shape and the bricks are slightly spaced so that 10 occupy the space for 12. A grid of already burnt bricks are first laid to give air admission and to provide a foundation. Next comes an 8 inch thick layer of coke breeze, the top 2 inches of which is finer grade to serve as a support for the first layer of green bricks. 30 layers complete the height of the clamp after which a double external cladding of already burnt brick is provided. An ignition oven is formed at one end of the clamp and filled with 3ft timber logs. As the wood is consumed so coke breeze is rammed in until the clamp is alight across its full width. The full operating temperature is 950 to 1,000 degs centigrade and this hot zone once established, moves along the length of the clamp slowly but automatically. In fact it is possible to construct the new clamp quicker than it burns and one end is ignited before the other end is built.
Later a second ignited oven is started at that other end. A clamp of this size takes ten-weeks to burn through Although some oxidising zones are present in the clamp, much burning takes place under reducing conditions thus leading to varying colour in the finished brick according to whether the iron content has gone to ferric or ferrous oxide
In all there about 40 workers and the process yields a high proportion of
first quality bricks which are despatched by road haulage Some have been
SHIPLEY WINDMILL CENTENARY
During the mill's active life there were several other nearby mills due to the dependence of the local farmer on the miller, and the limited range of horse-drawn wagons, After the First World War the supply of electricity to farms enabled them to do their own grinding or, alternatively, with the introduction of the internal combustion engine the corn could be transported to the larger power-driven roller mills. Coupled with rising wages and idle days due to lack of wind (although Shipley did not suffer in this respect due to a stand-by steam engine), the fortunes of wind mills rapidly declined and many were demolished or allowed to fall into decay as did Shipley,
During the 1950's a Friends of Shipley Mill Society was formed and with the help of the West Sussex County Council the mill was fully restored, being opened in 1958 as a memorial to Hillaire Belloc, the last owner of the mill,
The Friends of Shipley are to be congratulated in having organised a very successful Centenary Celebration as, besides the viewing of the mill, there was a 'Country Fayre', I understand that the local parson prayed for wind but his plea was unheard, there not being a breath of wind all day. Touring the mill and seeing her three pairs of stones one realises just how large this mill is and the force of wind that is needed to turn her patent shuttered sweeps Millers of a century ago were only too willing to decorate their mills with bunting at the slightest excuse, for example jubilees and coronations, a fact that is attested by old photographs. It is a pity that Shipley was not dressed overall for her Birthday May she continue in good health for the next one hundred years.
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