Stewartby Brickworks: January 2009

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Sep 21, 2005
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Most of the buildings I’ve explored were derelict before I started this website. Most fell into disrepair and disuse in the early to mid 1990s and were little more than modern ruins by the time I crept into them.

Stewartby Brickworks was different. Although the site had been slowly winding down, it was still a viable, thriving business a couple of years ago. (I remember driving past on a potential recee in the late 1990s). But it wasn’t the credit crunch which caused the demise of the biggest brickworks in Europe; it was the sulphurous emissions from the chimneys. These fell foul of the latest EU environmental emissions directive and it was uneconomical to install extraction plant. So the site closed early in 2008.

I knew about the closure date but felt uncomfortable about exploring the brickworks so soon after its closure. It felt somehow ‘improper’, trespassing over a site which was until recently a workplace; the kilns still warm after their perpetual furnaces were extinguished for the last time. So I left it for a year, amusing myself with more ancient ruins.

At the year’s turn, my thoughts returned to the brickworks and I scheduled it as my first exploration of 2009. As it turned out I was just in time. Demolition appeared to be underway and several of the former press sheds were stripped bare. The period between desertion, dereliction and demolition was extremely narrow at Stewartby and I’d almost mistimed it. But enough remained and we gained a good understanding (and some good pictures) of what Stewartby Brickworks was all about.


It was a cold and crisp January morning and the sun was bright and low. Our drive to the site had taken us past its western flanks where the enormous remaining chimneys pinpointed its location precisely. Huge banks of soil were piled up against the former clay pits surrounding the site and obscuring the view. It was alien and barren; a perfect hostile planet location for Blakes 7 who shot various scenes here.

Our route took us into Stewartby and we paused outside the Administration building. It was surprisingly squat and low and any architectural embellishments (such as the stone decorations on each corner of the roof) only emphasised the building’s lowly nature. The centre door was too big and "London Brick" was skewed to one side; was this proud entrance of the biggest brickworks in the world?

We turned around and retraced our steps.


A railway line bisected the site perfectly with a sleepy, nondescript station on the southern flank. A second level crossing could be seen further along the track within the Stewartby Brickworks site itself with an enclosed bridge far in the distance.

We decided to enter the western half of Stewartby Brickworks first, work our way north, and then cross the railway by way of the enclosed bridge. Hopefully this route would get us into the heart of the brickworks without being too exposed.

We’d also unconsciously selected a route which followed the brick making process in its entirety.


A battered enclosed bridge arched awkwardly over the road and we took a brief look. It would’ve made a novel entrance but the end was firmly blocked with a wire fence so we’d have to find another way in.

It was the remains of one of the main conveyor belts which took clay powder from the various clay pits around the brickworks and ferried it towards the pressing sheds. Clay was extracted by mechanical navvies, crushed by the side of the pit, and then transported to processing plant by these long spindly conveyors.

Stewartby Brickworks was surrounded by pits with the odd names of "L Field", "Coronation" (the alien planet for Blakes 7), "Quest" and "Rookery."


We walked on, admiring the remaining four chimneys which stood at the centre of the site. But twenty or thirty years ago, there would’ve been a forest of chimneys clustered on the horizon. Stewartby Brickworks was a shadow of its former self.

Once inside, we walked cautiously north, picking our way through the huge stacks of bricks which remained from the final firing. These were useful as they shielded us from the building site to our left (which looked like a new business park and was swarming with workers) and the huge industrial sheds on the other side of railway track to our right (where parked cars and open doors suggested that Saturday morning workers were busy).

Pigment Store




As the number of brick stacks started to thin, we were reduced to darting from pile to pile. Any open buildings became increasingly inviting and we quickly made our way into the first. A sign over the door stated "Pigment Store."


The Pigment Store hadn’t been cleared. Sacks of dyes and colours were still stacked on palettes, along with sample bricks and pieces of machinery. Some of the stock was still bubble-wrapped.

Several hardwood displays stood in a corner showing the colours and finishes available from Hanson.


The Pigment Store allowed us to move further north, but our route was looking increasingly exposed. We still had some distance to go, but the chimneys were getting nearer.

A huge belt of clay, known as “Oxford Clay”, stretches diagonally across England. This moist, malleable substance was formed over 150 million years ago as primeval seaweeds settled on the seabed and compressed and reacted over the millennia. This gives the clay a unique property which was discovered in Fletton, Peterborough: once the clay reaches a certain temperature, it combusts due to its high organic content and the resulting exothermic reaction supplies 75% of the heat required to fire it.
Therefore Oxford Clay was ideally suited for bricks as most of the fuel needed for firing was supplied by the clay itself. Furthermore, it was easy to extract, had uniform consistency and its natural moisture content (between 16-20%) ensured water didn’t have to be added. This ensured economical brick production; only limited fuel was required, the process was simplified with no water addition or drying sheds and the clay was easy to obtain.

Unfortunately, whilst the organic origins of the Oxford Clay gave it many attractive properties, the firing process resulted in oily fumes. Therefore enormous chimney stacks were required ensuring the foul smoke was dispersed on high winds. These towering chimneys became a characteristic architectural motif of the brickworks which sprung up along the belt of Oxford Clay; and the resulting bricks were named Fletton bricks in honour of the village where the clay’s advantageous properties were first discovered.


We gingerly approached the next building. It was a similar structure to the Pigment Store: single storey, brick built with a curved asbestos roof. A cursory glance inside revealed an empty shell so we pushed on northwards.


Our route across the brick yard took us past the last large industrial shed. A van parked outside made us nervous so we hurried on past; whilst attempting to look as if we weren’t in a hurry.

Sample Panel Store / First Aid




The next building resembled a zig-zag, the wings built perpendicular to each other, end to end. The first wing had a door labelled “Sample Panel Store” but it was locked shut.

A siren stood outside, mounted on a short metal tower. It looked a similar vintage to the old World War Two air raid sirens. I wondered if it was used to signal the change of shifts or really was a relic from the war.


The second wing was also locked tight but Tom found a door at the end of the building which opened. We quietly slipped inside only to find ourselves standing in a toilet.

Suddenly the silence was broken as several alarms went off. Electronic beepings and warblers wailed and we stood motionless, temporarily stunned by the cacophony. Tom wondered if we’d set off some form of "toilet alarm."

I peered out of the window. Lights flashed as the arms of the site's internal level crossing came down to block the road. "It’s just the level crossing." I stood by the urinal with the camera pointing through the smashed window and took a shot of the train as it sped by.


The final wing of the sprawling zig-zag building was labelled "First Aid". It was divided into several offices, each still fully furnished with paperwork strewn all over the desks and the floors. Hard hats, coats and shoes gave the whole area a Mary Celeste feel as if the workers simply got up and walked away, never to return.


We now faced a choice. We could either brave the level crossing and enter the heart of Stewartby Brickworks to explore the chimneys and kilns or continue north to the industrial sheds and take the more exciting route over the railway by the enclosed conveyor bridge.

We plumped for the more exciting route and moved north, now totally exposed, across the final expanse of concrete.

We walked towards a large brick built shed behind which could be seen several huge sheds all linked by various covered conveyors. Demolition rubble to our left suggested a building had recently been demolished, but it wasn’t until I studied some historical area photos that I discovered it was originally a kiln.

The final walk across the western brick yards took us alongside the demolished kiln towards the towering pressing shed. A conveyor led into its western flank whilst another conveyor emerged from the rear of the building and travelled over the railway into the heart of the eastern side of the brickworks.

The plan was simple. With our exploration limited by the short winter's day, we’d explore this building, walk along the conveyor, and then explore the kilns and chimneys.


How To Make A Brick
Mechanical navvies cut the Oxford Clay from deep pits.
The lumps of clay are placed in crushing machines where it’s reduced to small clumps.
Conveyor belts move the clay from the pits to the main works.
The clay is further crushed and processed to remove impurities until it resembles a damp powder.
The clay powder is mixed and tested to ensure its uniformity.
Any special finishes or dies are added as required.
Finally it’s placed in brickmoulds and double pressed to form an unfired brick, known as a “green brick”.
The bricks are taken by further conveyor belts through the pressing sheds to be stacked by hand.
The stacks are moved by forklift trucks into the kiln where they are fired for eleven days by a process called the Hoffmann principle.
The fired bricks are removed by forklift trucks to stacking sheds where they are checked and strapped ready for sale.

The Press Shed




The front of the building was missing, the brickwork scattered and damaged. It appeared that demolition had either removed a connecting passageway or this building was due for stripping.

We clambered over the loose bricks and rubble before leaving the harsh winter’s sun outside. We disappeared into the cold, damp interior of the press shed.


The eastern gallery comprised of two halves separated by yellow steel joists holding up the brick arches of the upper levels. Machinery still lurked in the bays to our left whilst the right half was mostly stripped bare.


Metal protective grills opened to reveal Whittaker's patented Double Repress Machine. All were driven by belt drives, coupled to an overhead shaft.


A picture taken during the war years showed female workers pressing the clay dust into "green" bricks. The clay was moved to each pressing machine via conveyor belts in the floors above.

The archival picture also showed tracks in the other bay. Green bricks were stacked on palettes before being loaded onto carriages which were pushed along the tracks to the kilns. These had since been removed.

Conveyor belts led to a brick built annexe to the east. A pile of green bricks were stacked at the entrance; these would never be fired now.

Moving further into the pressing shed revealed discarded pieces of another conveyor belt. But any track bed or other machinery from this bay had since been removed.

The passageway behind the Whittaker's Double Repress Machines was dark and covered in clay dust. Huge mounds of clay were piled into recesses to the right whilst the back of the machines were to our left.

Someone had scrawled "I hate this place" in yellow paint on one of the supports.


Hastily erected temporary fencing attempted to stem any falls of clay from the silent heaps, but some panels were starting to buckle and move under the strain.

The western gallery had been stripped. We don’t know if there was another row of repress machines installed here, but the hoppers in the ceiling above suggested clay dust was poured into something.


We reached the northern end of the press shed and looked back at the stripped and bare gallery. We both knew that our route would now go up.

Old archival aerial photos of the site showed further press sheds, kilns and chimneys to the north. But over the years, all this had gradually been demolished, replaced by sidings where gravel was loaded onto trains.
We climbed an external metal staircase up the side of an old brick building to get to the first floor of the press shed.


We soon found the conveyor system which supplied clay to the repress machines below and also ferried clay from the west of the site, over the railway line, into the eastern side of the site.


Peering over the conveyor belt revealed the second conveyor belt which travelled to the eastern side of the brickworks. A narrow walkway either side stretched off into the distance.

Eventually that was going to be our route across the site, over the railway, and towards the kilns.


We emerged above the galleries of the press shed. The conveyor stretched into the distance. Clay dust was delivered to the conveyor by means of hoppers on the second floor.
Everything was covered with a thick layer of clay dust. Hoppers in this floor lead to the machines below.

We moved halfway along the gallery and then took the steps to the next floor.


The second floor was the last to feature extensive walkways along the entire galleries. Steps lead up to pieces of equipment (for servicing) but this was the last continuous floor.


The floor was again thick with brick dust. Imposing fly wheels with wire-mesh guards probably blew up clouds of dust when the plant was operational.

We walked further along the narrow passageway getting covered in clay dust. At this point, we were half way along the gallery.

The view below was impressive. The first floor could be clearly seen with its open hoppers and various tools for shovelling the clay dust from the conveyor into them. The ground floor could also be seen far below.


When we reached the end, we ducked under the huge beams separating the western and eastern galleries and continued a journey along the other side of the second floor walkways.


As we walked back across the first and second levels, we discovered this huge tank still full of clay. It easily stretched about half the length of the gallery.


Our route back to the north of the building took us across another clay covered walkway, high in the roof of the press shed.

We now reached the small brick building situated at the northern end of the press shed. The conveyor belt lead out of the building and joined the conveyor which travelled across the railway line to the eastern part of the site.

The Conveyor Belt





There were two tiny walkways, one on either side of the conveyor belt. The structure stretched into the gloom, but sunlight streamed in through some of the broken windows which weren’t covered in clay dust.


Our claustrophobic route across the site continued. The floorboards were wooden slats supporting by the metal girders making the frame of the structure. Unfortunately the spans were too long for us to hop from girder to girder; we had to trust the slightly bendy wooden slats. The fall to the ground wasn’t that far, but it wasn’t something we wanted to happen.


A T-junction revealed a spur which dropped down diagonally back into the press shed. The clay dust and the wooden floor made it slightly slippery. We paused but decided to continue east.

We’d now walked a quarter of the length of the conveyor belt. At the T-junction, there were steps leading to a second floor, so we took those.

The second floor was a simply a small room with plant, switchgear and various controls. However, its four windows gave great elevated views over the rest of the site.

The view north showed the goods yard, railway sidings and the main railway track bisecting the site.

Our "crow's nest" also gave as a view of the conveyor building roof as it stretched across the railway to intersect another cluster of buildings. These were just as big as the press shed we’d left.


We pressed on. At one point, the floor beneath the conveyor belt disappeared and we could appreciate the drop to the ground below. It wasn’t that far, but it would definitely hurt.

The conveyor building widened as it travelled over the railway line. We sped up slightly, wishing to be out of the confined space (and not wishing to linger over the railway line itself).

However something didn’t look quite right.

The interior of the building was entirely stripped. We were left perched thirty foot in the air at the end of a conveyor belt which stopped at a sheer drop.

The remains of the conveyor continued into the opposite wall.


To add insult to injury, all the rubble and demolition appeared fresh. This work had been done recently and we missed documenting another press shed with all the equipment intact (if that’s what this building was).

The base of one of the chimneys could be seen isolated in the corner of the building.


There were some remaining pipes attached to the wall which could’ve been used to climb down but it wasn’t worth the risk.

Therefore we turned around and started back.


Our route back was much quicker as we didn’t dawdle. Not only had we lost time (and potentially light during the short winter’s day) but we were now going to have to take the exposed route across the level crossing.

The long derelict buildings at the end of the press shed soon came back into view. Plus it allowed us to take the slanting conveyor belt back into the press shed and explore the eastern brick extension to the building which we’d missed before.

We merged high above the eastern gallery, opposite our original entrance to the building.

The first floor walkway stretched away into the darkness. Pulleys and handles motionless, the clay dust in the hoppers above them destined to become demolition rubble instead of bricks.


The Brick Building




We looked outside at the elevated conveyor which promised a sneaky route into the eastern part of the site and had turned out to be a dead end. The brick building extension afforded some protection but we’d still have to walk in the open along the side of the railway before darting across the level crossing.


The route through the centre of the eastern brick extension was interesting and in some ways I was glad we didn’t get across the site via the conveyor belt otherwise we’d have missed this.

A conveyor lead through multiple partitioned areas, with lamps fitted in pairs along the conveyor’s length. It looked like some form of inspection or quality control took place here.


The mid-section of the conveyor had been stripped out leaving a mess of sharp, jagged metal and precariously hanging water tanks. Again, it looked like we were just in time as demolition had just started in this shed.


We’d reached the end of the shed and there was nothing for it but begin our exposed walk (or run) along the railway towards the level crossing.

I had a couple more photographs to take and then we'd risk the open site.


Our walk back across the site to the level crossing was brisk. We didn’t want to draw attention to ourselves by running, and didn’t want to walk so nonchalantly that one of Hanson’s patrols would see us.

So, we soon reached the level crossing and confidently walked across. We both noticed a number of Hanson vans in a car park two hundred yards away and decided to confidently ignore them.

Once over the level crossing we confidently turned left, and once we were hidden by a building, we charged along the road towards the kiln.

The Hoffmann Principle for brick firing from Oxford Clay
The kiln is built with a series of chambers. Flues are built from each chamber to the huge chimney stack; this allows the fire to move from chamber to chamber under control of air flows from the chimney.
64000 green bricks are loaded into each chamber. The bricks are already stacked and are moved into position by forklift trucks.
Once loaded, the entrance to the chamber is sealed with a "wicket" made from old bricks and a sealant.
The fire in the kiln gradually reaches the bricks (as controlled by the flues). Once the temperature reaches 400 degrees centigrade, the bricks ignite and fire themselves at a temperature of 950 degrees centigrade.
Once the combustible elements within the bricks have burnt off, the kiln is kept at the correct temperature by the addition of small amounts of coal dust added through bungholes in the top of the kiln. Only a half a tonne of coal is needed to fire one chamber.
When the bricks are fired, the fire is moved to the next chamber.
After the chamber has cooled, the "wicket" is broken open and fresh air is admitted to the kiln to cool the bricks and finish the process.
The kiln is then unloaded using forklift trucks. The entire process takes eleven days.
The whole process is continuous: bricks are added and unloaded from the chambers daily and the kiln itself is never allowed to go out.


The Southern Kiln




We’d finally reached one of the kilns. The brick structure rose up in front of us with an enormous chimney growing out of the centre. Its entire length consisted of arches separated by buttresses.


The chambers traversed the entire length of the kiln with a small arched wall along the centre.

The entire structure appeared to be constructed of dry bricks without any mortar. I assume the heat from the fires, and the kiln operating continuously, meant the bricks expanded slightly, locking the whole structure together. Without the heat, the bricks cooled, contracted and dropped out. Several bricks were hanging out of the ceiling, ready to fall. We didn’t venture inside as neither of us had hard hats and we felt they were definitely required.


The next chamber (and all the ones afterwards) was blocked by a centre wall. Again, it looked too dangerous to venture inside so we continued onwards.

The third chamber was showing more severe signs of imminent collapse. The same sad story was repeated as we walked past the other chambers.


Steps lead up to the roof of the kiln. Mindful that we were still in full sight of a Hanson patrol, and wanting to get either inside or on top of something, we climbed up.


The top of the kiln was covered in slightly spongy coal dust. The central chimney was an impressive sight, but it was the weird shaped cast iron covers which immediately caught our attention.


Steps lead up the side of the chimneys to cantilevered floodlight positions on each. The rest of the chimney was bare brick and there was no way further up (without ladders, scaffolding or rope).

We moved towards a small brick building located in the centre of the kiln’s roof. The "ground" sunk slightly underfoot as we picked our way through the maze of cast iron covers.


We found ourselves in a small kitchen/rest room. Like the rest of Stewartby, the area was littered with hard hats, discarded jackets and old papers.
We had lunch here, listening to the wind rattling against the window and imagining how hot the roof of the kiln got.

Suddenly we heard a shout. And another. We froze and listened intently.

"It sounds like a sports match" suggested Tom. A game had started on a sports field to the east and the wind was carrying their voices.


Mindful that the sun was starting to move closer to the horizon and we still had several buildings to explore, we left the rest room and ventured outside into the cold again. The wind was blowing from the east and it was starting to get bitterly cold.

To control and direct the fires in the chambers below, a brickworker called a "burner" would uncover the holes over the chambers in the kiln and add sprinkles of coal dust from a ladle.


The Second Press Shed




We quickly climbed down the steps and resumed our journey along the side of the kiln. We soon picked up pace and entered the large shed adjoining the northern end of the kiln.

This was the stripped out shed which abruptly ended our journey along the conveyor belt. We’d finally rejoined our original route.

We walked across the empty shed to see what remained.


I couldn’t resist a final shot of the conveyor belt, the structure which had almost got us across the site. From here, the strange second storey room built into the conveyor building could be seen (from where I took some elevated shots of the site.)

The mostly-intact press shed filled the southern part of the view with the brick extension and its odd U-shaped conveyor to the left.


Our route north now included several further sheds and the final remaining kiln. Tire tracks in the wet mud suggested regular patrols so we elected to move from building to building, keeping under cover as much as possible.


Looking back at the battered remains of the previous press shed showed the final stub of the conveyor building emerging high from the first bay and stopping short of this one. It looks like it originally turned and continued under this section of roofing, but had now been removed.


The Western Shed




The history of Stewartby Brickworks began in 1897 when B.J.Forder and Son opened two Fletton brickworks near the Bedfordshire hamlets of Wootton Pillinge and Elstow. Forder was ambitious, wanting to exploit the Oxford Clay belt, and needed partners to expand. One partner was Halley Stewart, a liberal candidate for Parliament, preacher, Politian and businessman. Whilst all these characteristics in one man seem contradictory, he used his political clout and business sense to strive and provide for the underprivileged, the workers and the poor. His appointment would have far reaching consequences for both the brickworks and the hamlet of Wootton Pillinge.


Border's And Son became a limited company with Stewart appointed chairman. The brickworks flourished and expanded and by 1910 the Forders brickworks was producing 48 million bricks per year.

The 1920s and 1930s saw huge consolidations within the brickworking industry as firms grew and merged. By 1923, all the smaller brickworks were rationalised into the London Brick Company And Borders Limited with Stewart’s son Percy at the helm as chairman.

This huge expansion of the brickworks was matched by a transformation of Wootton Pillinge. The Stewarts believed in sharing the prosperity generated by the brickworks and transformed the former hamlet into a model village for the 2000 workers now employed at the brickworks. The first fifty houses were built in 1926, with a memorial hall, general store and school following. As recognition to its benefactor, the name of Wootton Pillinge disappeared, and the village became known as Stewartby with the neighbouring brickworks now similarly rechristened.


When HRH Prince George visited the brickworks in 1934, the site was producing 9 million bricks per week and still expanding. Two years later, it was the largest brickworks in the world, trading now under the simple name of the London Brick Company as further mergers and takeovers rationalised the whole industry. It produced 500 million bricks per year.

The Second World War saw the brickworks supporting the war effort by supplying bricks for airfields and shelters, whilst diversifying into engineering by making parts for the Sten machine gun and finishing American tanks. The post-war years saw the brickworks reverting back to its original function, producing the bricks required for rebuilding the nation.


The 1960s and 1970s saw decline as the demand for bricks gradually diminished. The fires in some kilns were extinguished before being demolished along with their associated press sheds and chimneys. By 1984, the LBC was taken over by the Hanson Trust, but the decrease in brick making continued, and buildings and employees continued to disappear from the site.

By the end of its working life, there were only two kilns and three chimneys still in use, albeit producing a still impressive 135 million bricks per year. However, it wasn’t a lack of raw materials, lack of workforce, economic recession or strong competitor which caused the Stewartby Brickworks to finally close but the curious properties of Oxford Clay which made the Fletton Brick so economical to produce in the first place. The particular seam of clay beneath the Bedfordshire countryside was high in sulphur; and it wasn’t economically viable to equip the chimneys with the extraction plant necessary to remove these sulphurous emissions as required by the European emission directives.

Therefore the Hanson Brickworks finally allowed the kilns to burn out in February 2008 with the loss of 230 jobs.


The remaining two kilns, four chimneys and other buildings were Grade II listed as Hanson pushed forward with plans to redevelop the site for housing. However, the developer is unable to offer any viable plans for their conversion to new uses and faced with a 20th century folly, submitted plans for their demolition. The model village, itself protected by various listings, will remain and stand as witness to the industry which spawned it; but whether any of the former largest brickwork in the world survives as well is left to be seen.

The closure of Stewartby Brickworks cost 230 people their jobs and concluded the making of bricks in the Bedfordshire area. Given the rate of stripping and demolition, soon nothing will remain.

I thought about the "motivational" posters and slogans we found still attached to the walls. "It takes as much effort to make a bad brick as it does a good brick" screamed one. "Quality is your only future" said another in a patronising, finger waggling manner.

I disagreed with both.

The workers of Stewartby could've made the best bricks in the world. The brickworks would’ve still closed. In the end, Europe closed the brickworks due to the sulphurous emissions from the chimneys. No amount of hard work or sloganeering would’ve changed that.

The Northern Kiln




A kiln occupied the northern end of the site. Piles of bricks and storage sheds surrounded the old brick structure but the area felt cold and unused.


The chambers had the same construction as the previous kiln. We ventured into one, keeping close to the edge, to take a picture of the arched wall separating the two halves.


A similar chimney (the northernmost remaining on the site) stood in the centre of the kiln. But, unlike the one previously explored, the steps to the roof had been removed.

We were feeling exposed again, so retraced our steps back to the southern edge of the kiln.


Our way onto the roof the kiln was clear but getting to the steps was more problematical. In the end we navigated the huge piles of bricks blocking our way and stood at the foot of the steps.


Eventually we wormed our way to the stairs and made our way up. Instead of a tea room/rest room in the centre of the kiln’s roof, the tea room was located at the top of this brick extension. A small walkway led onto the kiln’s roof.

The kiln was even more dilapidated than the previous one. Grass and small bushes grew in the brick and coal dust and many of the cast iron covers over the chambers were missing.


Some of the covers were still extant at the sides of the kiln but most had mysteriously disappeared.


We had a clear elevated view across the rest of the site. The sun was sinking lower and the easterly wind (which would eventually bring the February snow storms) was really starting to bite.

We looked down some of the holes. The smaller ones situated over the chambers were shallower than expected, probably just allowing access to the area above the chamber’s roof. The larger holes, situated along the centre of the chambers, were much deeper.

Our exploration had now come to an end. We took some final shots across the brickworks and then prepared to leave. Rather than risk walking into a Hanson patrol, we found a way out by the northern brickyards.

As we walked down the road, we passed the sports field where a game of football was still in progress. It was their shouts, carrying on the easterly wind, which so alarmed us as we ate lunch atop the southern kiln.

The two remaining kilns and chimneys along with several miscellaneous buildings have been Grade II listed. Hanson are working with a developer to build houses (what a surprise) on the remains of the rest of the site.


However development notices attached to various telegraph poles within Stewartby Village gave notice that the developer was seeking permission to demolish the remaining kilns and chimneys.

I can understand this. The kilns are literally falling apart and finding a new use for them would be difficult. Similarly the chimneys would become nothing more than 20th century follies and would become more decrepit and dangerous over time, situated slap-bang in the centre of a modern housing estate.

Perhaps it’s better to let it all go. But that would leave Stewartby Village marooned in the centre of a series of clay pits without any reference to the industry which spawned and supported it. Plus it risks being dwarfed by a bland, boring modern development.

But as we walked back to the car, I was glad we'd visited the brickworks when we did. Only one press shed remained intact and it was important to see at least one building with its machinery still intact.


If the sulphur emissions were too high, then perhaps it's a good thing that Stewartby Brickworks finally closed. It certainly wasn’t the fault of management or of the remaining hard workers.

But I hope the workers disregarded the final "motivational" instruction stuck to the office walls, and drank themselves stupid at the final farewell at the Red Lion. What had they to lose?


A longer version of this text with more pictures appears on my urbex site.

All the best,


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Mar 2, 2009
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good info there mate nice one and wicked photos

i lived in stewartby for a year and had a looky around the brick yard . we lived in the old managers house ...or owners not shaw lol it was a biiiig house tho lol ... see the second photo that was right outside my house . god i miss that place sooooo chilled out
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Mr Sam

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Nov 1, 2007
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good to see so many pictures, liking the siren wonder if it can be hooked up to some power :)


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Apr 22, 2008
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That's a cracking report :)

Interesting stuff, I've sold thousands of Hansons bricks over the years, this is the first time I've seen the 'source', as it were :)


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Sep 29, 2005
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Sussex / Chester
I saw this when you Updated urbex|uk and was impressed by the effort you'd gone to with the write up. I particularly liked the breakdown building by building on the map.

I have a feeling that this siren is mounted on what was a support post for an Aerial Ropeway. I have a feeling that the present conveyor belt system was a post war addition as conveyors of that type were not that common before then.

I'm speculating a bit but that would probably mean that the siren was mounted up there post war? Interesting stuff anyway



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Severalls Hospital
Just to echo what's already been said -BRILLIANT work Simon! :)

Like the area shot of the Kiln, with the chimney still puffing-out smoke!!!

Also like the blue glazed bricks :cool:

An epic site. Did you get to see all of it before demo. begun?

Black Shuck

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Nov 25, 2008
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gt yarmouth
One of the best and well thought out reports I have ever seen on Derelict Places. Well done.


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Feb 24, 2006
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Great report, shame to see some of it has been demolished. This was in the big empty shed at the end of the east/west tunnel in August...



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Jan 25, 2009
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Awesome report Simon. You get the feel of the whole brick making process the way you have compiled the post. Cheers


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Veteran Member
Jan 13, 2007
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East Devon's Jurassic Park!
I could've sworn I'd already made a reply to this thread back along!!! :confused: Which is odd, as I'm very partial to brickworks and this one's an absolute delight! So many interesting aspects...totally love those cast iron covers! :mrgreen:
Great write-up as always, Simon. :)


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Jun 14, 2008
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Just noticed the "free & fixed" pulley on the brick press, some wonderful old gear there.


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May 13, 2009
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States ...
Fantastic job! I always have the desire to see all these great places people post about but yours is the first topic/post that actually almost made me feel there. Very nice ...