How is it that brickworkers were paid less when it rained? What is a green brick? And why was it crucial to handle wet bricks with the flat of one's hand only? Find the answers to these questions at Bursledon Brickworks in Southampton. The site which is now an industrial museum tells the whole story from the digging of the clay to the firing of the bricks. The most exciting parts are dealing with the people who worked here: the men sitting astride the hopper of the brick making machine and sticking their necks out by picking stones out of the clay; the boys that helped to run the brick press; and the barrow men who moved tons of bricks every day. Once a month the factory comes to life again, with the amazing machinery being steamed up and operated as in former times – a spectacular experience for visitors since this is the only surviving steam-driven brickworks in the country. Furthermore steam days provide the opportunity to ride a narrow gauge railway that once connected the clay depots to the factory. Not least the industrial heritage site boasts a large collection of brick making technology as well as bricks, tiles, land drains and other clay building materials.
„BBC“ reads the imprint on the bricks. In this case, though, it doesn’t refer to the well-known British radio station but means Bursledon Brick Company. When Edmund and Robert Ashby, Quakers from Middlesex and partners in a successful builders merchants in Southampton, started the brickworks in 1896/97 they focused on mass production. In its heyday the factory produced 20 million bricks a year, thus setting standards the smaller brick yards in the area were unable to compete with.
The economic success was partly due to the brickwork's location adjacent to a rich seam of clay, the navigable River Hamble and the new Southampton to Portsmouth railway. As early as 1903/04 the owners extended the factory by adding an even larger production complex. In those days the clay was dug by hand in pits close to the buildings and nearly 40ft deep. Skip wagons of a special design were loaded with the clay and gravity would propel them down to the factory where they were hauled up to the top level of the brick making machine via an inclined plane. After the Second World War a small locomotive was put into service but with the pits getting too far away for this to be practical an overhead cable system was introduced. Mechanised digging started in the 1930s. After that the site’s technical features largely remained the same. That was one of the main reasons for the closure of the brickworks in 1974 – machines and working conditions were not at all ready to meet current health and safety requirements. For the implementation of an industrial museum, however, the preservation of the machinery's pre-war situation was a lucky coincidence. Although most of the abandoned site was demolished the oldest buildings survived, as well as their machinery and equipment. Together with the comprehensive collection of clay artefacts and brick making tools they are a unique example of Victorian brick industry.
|Recommended duration of visit:||2-3 Hours|
|Duration of a guided Tour:||45 Minutes|
|Access for persons with disabilities:||For details see website|
|Infrastructure for Children:|
|Visitor centre on site:||yes|
|Gift and book shop on Site:||yes|
April to October:
Wednesday, Thursday, Sundays 11am–4pm