Researching Bridgwater tile-makers
The Bridgwater tile industry was defeated by changing fashions and yet the old tiles still grace the roofs of villages around the town to this day. For many years the market leader was the town’s own tile, the Bridgwater, described as a ‘Double Roman’ and said to have been invented by the town’s tile-maker, William Symons.
Various designs for the local tiles are on show at the Somerset Brick and Tile Museum in Bridgwater, set up in the 1990s by Sedgemoor District Council in an old drying shed adjoining the town’s last surviving kiln, Number 6. This was the site of the former Barham Brothers of East Quay, Bridgwater, makers of “bricks, tiles, cement and plaster, glazier’s putty and district agents of Pudlo cement waterproofer.” Although the company, formed by Alfred Barham and Francis Forster, was a relative latecomer to the tile-making scene – they opened around 1858 – their workplace was well chosen being not only close to the riverside landing stage, but also to the new railway line linking Bridgwater and Bristol which was completed 17 years earlier.
Of the hundreds of tile-makers in the region, little in the way of a paper trail survives. However, some of Barham’s company’s wage books and stock catalogues can be found at the Somerset Heritage Centre in Taunton along with useful trade directories. There is also a small amount of archive material including trade magazines at the Blake Museum in Bridgwater. As for records of former tile-makers and their families who ended up in the workhouse, the Somerset Heritage Centre’s archives have local Board of Guardians’ minute books (1836-1930), admissions and discharge lists (1916-1931) and the births and deaths register (1866-1914).
The Somerset Brick and Tile Musuem