Bricks have been made in Britain from Roman times on and off. Originally they were made by hand and fired in rough clamps. Occasionally the brick moulder would scratch or impress his name on his products.



  A Roman roof tile (Tullie House collection) probably made at one of the local roman tile works.


roman rook tiles1

A pair of flat(Tegulae) and a curved (imbrex) roof tiles. One is inscribed Leg XX for the 20th Legion Valeria Victrix and the other Leg II for 2nd Legion Augusta. Roman Legions were often in charge of works especially in fronteir area such as Hadrians Wall. Tullie House Museum Carlisle. 

The romans also made hippocaust tiles to support the raised floors to allow under floor heating in bath houses etc.

hypocaust tile 1 


This tile is marked IMP for IMPERATOR suggesting ti was made on the instruction of the emperor.

hypocaust tile 3

The tiles were stacked up to give a support to the floor. (Tullie house)

The romans also used tubes maked from clay baked these fit together and because of the slight curved they were used as supports for curved roofs and domes.

roman vaulting 1

 (Tullie House)

In the 18th century machines were developed for making bricks. This allowed during the victorian period more bricks to be made with the name of the maker and or the works stamped on them.

 A selection of brick marks are illustrated with short potted histories of the works were known are linked below.
























most bricks are made from clay deposits. These are usually quarried and the clay worked to a suitable consistancy for moulding.  This was usually done by digging the clay at the start of the winter period and allowing it to stand over winter to allow the frost to break it down. It was then worked either by hand or by using a pug mill to get to the correct consistancy. Usually stones were removed from the clay or were crushed during the process. Ocassionally mudstones and shales are used to make bricks. These are ancient clays that have developed into rocks under presuure. They are usually ground to a fine powder before being formed into bricks. some bricks are made by mixing sand and lime and putting through a autoclave (high pressure and temperature, like a pressure cooker) to form 'Calcium silca' bricks. Others are now formed from concrete.


Firebricks are bricks made from a fireclay which allows the bricks to be subject to high temperatures without distorting or melting. These are usually used in industrial kilns and furnaces as liners. Fireclays are often assiciated with coal seams and is mined allong with the coal and hence the number of brick works associated with collieries.


Bricks have been made in a variety of shapes but usually they are a rectangular shape. Most handmade bricks are solid blocks.


The 'frog' ( a depression in the face of brick) was introduced into bricks in the early 18th century when pallet moulding was introduced. The problem was how to get the clay forced into all the corners. This was achieved by putting a block of wood in the base of the mould and this forced (kicked) the clay into the corners. This allowed deeper moulds to be used, speeded up the rate of production, reduced the amount of clay requred for each brick and it also reduced drying time for the bricks before they are loaded into the kiln, by increasing the surface area. They also have the advantage of improving the bonding of the bricks when they are laid. the name frog is thought to be derived either from a comparision with the area at the back of a horses hoof also called the frog or from the dutch word for frog kikker as derived from its use. 





A brick with a frog from Beaty Crown works



The next development was the perforated brick, these are produced by machines using dies.






A perforated brick.

An early patent for perforated bricks was by by Robert Beart from Godmanchester in 1845. This produced bricks with 24 either round or hexagonal holes. An early example was installed by Messrs Nelson at their Murrel Hill Brick works in Carlisle



There are a large number of bricks produced in non standard shape, these are usually called specials and allow fancy doorways, windows etc. to be built. Alot of brickworks also produced other clay products, the earliest ones often produced drainage tiles for fields, chimney pots, roof tiles and ridge tiles were also produced.





An ornate finial capping a slate roof. (house Wigton maker unknown)





A finial in the shape of a dragon. (house Wigton Maker unknown)


Fine clay could be pressed into moulds to take a detailed pattern and then fired to produce plaques and fancy details to decorate buildings. Production of clay flower pots became a speciality of some yards. Some yards especially those usiong fire clay moved into the glazed ware business. these varied from salt glazed drainage pipes for sewers.





A salt glazed sewer pipe from Jamiesons, Corbridge.


through to the fixtures and fittings for bathrooms, toilets and kitchens. Some yards specialised in making salt glazed brinking troughs etc. for farm animals.






A brick tax was proposed in 1756 but was rejected. However at the end of the War of American Independence in 1784 a  tax on bricks and tiles was introduced to cover the cost of te war. Originally the charges were 2s. 6d. per 1000 for bricks, plain tiles 3s per 1000, pan or ridge tiles 8s per 1000, paving tiles less than 10 inches square 1s 6d. per 100, paving tiles greater than 10 sq inches  3s per 100. All other tiles 3s. per 1000. The tax was levied on the fresh made brick or tile before they were burnt. therefore any bricks that were over burnt already had the tax paid on them, there was a 10% allowance for this.


In 1794 the tax was increased to 4s. per 1000 and in 1797 to 5s.


Originally as the tax was levied on the number of bricks there was a drive to make bricks bigger, allowing more 'brick' to be made per unit of tax. The treasury countered this by introducing a size bar by an Act in 1803. This stipulated any brick bigger than 10 ins by 5 ins by3 ins. were charged double duty. This measurement was of the brick fresh from the mould and so the burnt bricks would be smaller due to shrinkage. 


In 1805 the tax was increased to 5s. 10d. per 1000 at which level it stayed until the repeal of the tax. In 1839 the size of the brick was altered to one of volume with a limit of 150 cu ins. to allow the development of different shaped bricks. At the same time products used for land drianage were exempt from the tax if they were stamped with 'DRAIN'


The brick tax was repealled in 1850.  




Originally bricks were burnt in stacks and the fuel was mixed in with the bricks. This unfortuneately provide little control over the temperature reached in the bricks so on cooling it was often found that there was anumber of bricks that had been over burnt and had distorted and were of no use and also a number that were under burnt which had to be put in to the next batch. Over time there was a slow development in kiln design which tended to allow for better temperature control throughout the load and also increase in the number of bricks that could be fired. 


The simplest form of kiln after a clamp is a Scotch kiln. This consists of four wall with firing chambers along each side which allowed the hot air etc. to pass in under the load. The end walls usually have a wicket gate in them through which the bricks were loaded and these were blocked up. The roof is open and was usually covered with old bricks. These could be moved about to control the heat in the kiln allong with increasing and decreasing the amount of heat being generated at the fireholes.




An artist impression of a scotch kiln in use. (Geoff Brambles)



There was then a series of developments to increase the flow of hot air through the kiln from the stoke holes. these usually invloved the connection of a series of fles to a chimney to improve the draw through the load and then away from the kiln.


The Newcastle kiln usually had a chimney attached to the back of the kiln with the stoke holes and entrance opposite and this drew the hot air through the  load..





A Newcastle kiln at Askam. The chimney is on the rear wall. The wall in the front contains the doorway for loading the kiln in the centre and 2 stoke holes either side.



Improvements were further made by introducing baffles into the kiln so that the hot air was deflected up to the roof of the kiln which was usually barrel shaped and then drawn back down through the load to flues under the floor before going to the chimney. These so called downdraught kilns were either rectangular or cicrcular in shape.





a rectangual downdraught kiln at Carlisle Brick and Tile works, Cumwhinton. (now demolished)





A circular downdraught kiln at Errington's brick works Bardon Mills with chimney beside it.



All of the above kilns are single firing kilns, i.e they had to loaded  brought up to heat and the contents fired before they were allowed to cool and be unloaded. This is not efficent in terms of both man power and fuel. Ideally the kiln should allow continuous use with the waste heat being to heat the new bricks up before firing. This was first overcome by the Belgian Mr Hoffman. his kiln consisted of a series of interconnected chambers initially set in a circle but later usualy an oval shape. Each chamber had its own stoke holes on the roof and its own entrance in the outside wall and was connected to a central flue system. The connections to the flue system could be controlled to allow the fire to be drawn around the chambers in sequence so allowing the contents of each chamber to be heated, burnt and cooled in sequence. Sufficent chambers were needed so that chambers could be cooled unloaded and reloaded before the fire had completed a full circuit. This continual firing allowed greater economy of fuel as the waste hot gasses were drawn over the bricks to be fired and so heated them up and the air entering the kiln was drawn over the fired bricks thereby cooling them but also heating this air making the process more efficent.


Over time various alterations were made to the Hoffman style kilns.


Most modern brick works now use tunnel kilns were the bricks are loaded onto trolleys that are propelled allong a usually straight tunnel with gas jets in the centre to cause the firing.





Because bricks are heavy they are relatively expensive to transport compared to their cost of production. Originally most bricks were made on the site were they were required if there was a suitable clay supply.





Advert from Carlisle Journal 6th January 1860. This is the site of the Kingmoor brick works.







Advert from Carlisle Journal 16th April 1869. Presumably the clay had been dug earlier in the year for this project.





Advert from Carlisle Journal 10th April 1883. Beaty Bros. were one of the main building contractors in Carlisle at the time.



This usually meant that brick makers were itinerant people moving around the area making bricks on demand. It was only with improvements in transport (better roads and introduction of railways) which reduced the cost of transporting bricks that brought about the developent of brickworks, which again allowed development of machinery and bigger kilns. 





Bricks are usually laid in a specific order usually called a bond. There is aneed to prevent the vertical joints between the bricks from running in vertical lines otherwise the wall soon becomes unstable. Early building wall were usually built solid 2 rows of brick wide, to prevent each part seperating it was necessary to join the two leaves together by putting bricks longways across each wall. It is the frequency of these 'headers' that usually defines which bond it is.





FLEMISH BOND Has bricks laid alternately stretcher/ header. Occasionally headers are used which are either a white colour or black and this makes a pattern on the wall.




Flemish Bond brick pattern using white headers. A lot of the late 18th early 19th century cottages and terrace houses in Carlisle are built in this bond with white headers.






ENGLISH BOND This has alternate layers of stretchers and headers.




ENGLISH GARDEN WALL BOND. in this bond there is 2 or more rows of stretchers between the rows of headers.




An example of English Garden Wall Bond with hand made bricks.






To break up large walls of brickwork either the occasional courses of bricks laid in a different pattern are laid of features in the wall are highlighted by using different coloured bricks.







the use of white bricks around the door and window arches.






Black headers used to give a diamond pattern on the Tile Tower, Carlisle Castle.



The tile tower was built in 1483 and is possibly the oldest surviving brick building in Carlisle.


In some buildings the use of different coloured bricks are used to great effect to produce a stunning effect.






The inside of Tebay church. A pattern of white and red bricks. Very reminicent of some railway stations. (See publications)



Bricks have been used to produce sculpture.





A representation of a steam train in brick on the outskirts of Darlington by David Mach. 


I do have a talk suitable for local history societies etc based on brick making in the Carlisle area. (see talks section.)