Bricks in your wall were made on the doorstep

Gloucestershire Echo - - NOSTALGIA - Robin BROOKS nos­te­[email protected]

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IF you live in Chel­tenham and your house dates from the first half of the 20th cen­tury, there’s a good chance the bricks from which it’s built came from Bat­tle­down Brick Works.

The Town Hall, the old brew­ery in Hen­ri­etta Street, the Gen­eral Hospi­tal, plus many other land­mark build­ings, are con­structed from Bat­tle­down’s prod­ucts and for many years the firm was a ma­jor em­ployer.

The en­ter­prise was founded in 1897 when broth­ers Roland and Harold Webb bought the Bat­tle­down Brick and Terra Cotta Com­pany from the Rev­erend Arthur Ar­mitage.

Thrust­ing en­trepreneur­s, the Webbs in­her­ited a thriv­ing coal mer­chants busi­ness in Tivoli from their fa­ther.

They di­ver­si­fied by trad­ing in gravel, sand, turf and lime. Then in a sep­a­rate ven­ture they took leases on the Win­ter Gar­dens (where they staged Bri­tain’s first recorded in­door ten­nis tour­na­ment) and Mont­pel­lier Gar­dens.

The 30-acre works site oc­cu­pied Coltham Fields, that area of town bounded by Hales Road, Rose­hill Street, Hay­wards Road and Bat­tle­down Ap­proach.

To­day, Queen El­iz­a­beth play­ing fields stand where the clay pits were – and the in­dus­trial es­tate in King Al­fred’s Way stands on what was the works com­plex.

Backed by the Webbs and direc­tors such as John Had­don (half of the well­known Chel­tenham re­tailer Shirer & Had­don), the well-funded com­pany in­vested heav­ily in new brick pro­duc­ing plant. Soon 30,000 bricks were be­ing pro­duced a day.

The lo­cal clay was un­usu­ally hard, so to make it work­able wa­ter was added along with ‘grog’ – a mix of ground, baked clay, ashes and sand.

This gooey blend was then ex­truded in a con­tin­u­ous line and cut by wire into bricks mea­sur­ing 4in x 3in x 9in ready for fir­ing.

Bat­tle­down bricks had six flat faces, dis­tinctly dif­fer­ent from mould-made bricks of other firms that had a ‘frog,’ or re­cess.

The ad­van­tages were greater struc­tural strength and the need to use less mor­tar.

The dis­ad­van­tage was that they were more ex­pen­sive to pro­duce. Webb’s bought all other Chel­tenham brick­mak­ers and by 1907 Bat­tle­down was the only place pro­duc­ing bricks in town.

By the 1960s the Lon­don Brick Com­pany (of which wartime Chel­tenham res­i­dent Nor­man Wis­dom was a di­rec­tor, in­ci­den­tally) was the largest man­u­fac­turer of its kind in the world and Webb’s sim­ply could not com­pete.

The lo­cal firm went into vol­un­tary liq­ui­da­tion in 1971.

Bricks were be­ing man­u­fac­tured on a com­mer­cial scale in Glouces­ter cen­turies be­fore Chel­tenham even ex­isted.

In Ro­man times, the city’s pub­lic build­ings were made of stone, but brick was used for much of the do­mes­tic ar­chi­tec­ture.

Gle­vum’s brick­works were found close to the present day site of St Oswald’s Pri­ory, which at that time stood on the south east bank of the River Sev­ern, or Sabrina as the le­gion­naires called it. When the Ro­man em­pire ended, the brick­works con­tin­ued to func­tion.

Each brick was stamped RPG, which stood for Rei Publica Gleven­sium, mean­ing ‘from the pub­lic works at Glouces­ter.’

The spread of brick-built hous­ing in the late 17th cen­tury en­cour­aged the growth of brick­mak­ing on Al­ney Is­land.

A lo­cal busi­ness­man named Philip Greene had a works mak­ing bricks there by 1659, us­ing clay dug from the Ham, as well as Wain­lode Hill.

This was shaped in wooden moulds, then fired in kilns fu­elled by coal brought up river from the For­est of Dean.

John Blanch – a rich city draper and bene­fac­tor who lived in Bar­ton Street – built an almshouse in Glouces­ter from bricks made at Philip Greene’s works and wrote to rec­om­mend them as “ad­mirable at six shillings [that’s 30p] a thou­sand”.

In the 19th cen­tury when rail­ways ar­rived on the scene, bricks were needed for the con­struc­tion of bridges, viaducts and build­ings. In Glouces­ter, brick­mak­ers re­turned to source clay from much the same spot as Ro­man slaves had done al­most two mil­len­nia be­fore.

Dig­ging out this clay re­sulted, by the 1890s, in a man-made lake known as Tabby Pitt’s pool, which stood ad­ja­cent to Archdea­con Meadow on ground now oc­cu­pied by Gouda Way.

Clay from the pool pro­duced the hard en­gi­neer­ing bricks used to build St Cather­ine’s viaduct.

Glouces­ter was ex­pand­ing in the 19th cen­tury and new brick­works opened to meet the de­mand of new hous­ing es­tates. One of these was Whit­field’s brick­works.

Chel­tenham Town Hall

St Cather­ine’s viaduct, Glouces­ter

Harold Webb

Tabby Pitt’s pool

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