Brick Making

Did you know that the area which is now Woodlands Residential Park in Main Road was once a site for making bricks, as was the area between Burndell Road and the disused canal (now the Downview estate). These two sites were operated by Sarah Sparks - the former from 1895-1910 and the latter from 1901-1938. There was also a third site operated by Raymond Brown, a Felpham builder, at Yapton Gardens (behind West View Drive) in the late 1930s.

Bricks and their raw materials are heavy and therefore expensive to transport and it was necessary to make them as close as possible to where they were going to be used. Small brickworks used to spring up when required to meet local demand and in the late 1890s there were some 175 brickworks and brickfields scattered across Sussex.

But how do you make bricks? ls it as simple as chucking some clay into a mould and heating it? Well yes... and no! First you need the right sort of clay. Yapton lies on the aptly named brickearth which gives a fertile soil for crop growing but is also suitable for the making of good quality bricks. Brickearth is not in fact clay at all but is a silty loam. The gritty silt gives the material its strength and other minerals contribute to its quality and durability. This gives a brick which is hard, strong and does not shrink excessively on firing.

Several techniques were used for firing the bricks but perhaps the easiest, and the one used by Sparks, was clamp-burning. A clamp consisted of an open stack of green (unfired) bricks built up in layers with air spaces left between them. The stack sat on a bed of fuel and the bricks themselves also contained an amount of fuel which had been incorporated with the brickearth before moulding. This meant that, once the clamp was set alight, it became self-burning. The clamp, which might contain from 50,000 to 250,000 bricks, was then encased either with turf and clay or with under-burnt bricks from a previous firing, set alight at one end and left to burn until all the fuel was used up which could take 3-4 weeks depending on its size.

Brick clamp

The advantage of this method over kilns was that much greater quantities of bricks could be produced and at a reduced cost. However there were a number of drawbacks and in bad weather conditions losses might be considerable. Part of the art of brickmaking is to determine the correct temperature for the process - the ‘maturing’ point is the temperature which produces the densest structure in the fired material without it distorting or melting and varies according to the raw material being used. Too high a wind could raise the temperature such that the bricks became warped and over-burnt or fused into a solid mass. Conversely, insufficient heat resulted in under-burnt bricks which were too soft for most purposes. Nevertheless, ‘clamp bricks’ were the main product of most of the brickmakers along the South Coast and the Sparks’ field produced about 800,000 bricks a year.

Incidentally, the term ‘brickyard’ implied the presence of a kiln, whereas a site where clamp-burning was practised was usually referred to as a ‘brickfield’.

Geoff Westcott
July 2006

(Originally published in Yapton News & Views, September 2006)

Previous page: Traditional Remedies
Next page: Gravestone Inscriptions