The Bedfordshire landscape is still dominated by the huge chimneys of the Stewartby brickworks. The iconic 90 m high brick structures were designed to carry away the waste gases particularly sulphur oxides, that were dangerous to livestock in this largely farming landscape.
Brick clays were extracted here on a monumental scale integrated with the brickmaking which was highly mechanised from the beginning. Bricks were already being produced in the area by 1897, making use of the shale-like clay which contained 20% moisture and could be pressed into a brick and fired fast without drying. Carbon in the clay reduced fuel needs by a third, creating a brick that was faster and cheaper to produce than any other in the UK.
Amalgamations produced the London Brick Company in the 1920´s, owned by Sir Harley and later by his son Sir Malcolm Stewart. The London Brick Company was the largest brickmaker in the world, dominating the London market and driving many small local brick makers out of business. It was Sir Malcolm that built Stewartby, putting up the first houses in 1926 just outside the gates of the Works. Stewartby is a time capsule containing houses, church, village hall and school in a Conservation Area.
Just down the road, in new Visitor Centre at the Marston Vale Forest Centre, is an exhibition celebrating the history of this prodigious industry.
The London Brick Company also dominated the landscape at Fletton south of Peterborough, where huge brickworks were located. Fletton brick clay has produced large numbers of dinosaur skeletons, some of which are found at Peterborough Museum, given to the City by Sir Harley Stewart.