Bricks and Brickmaking around Milton Creek
Stock brick making started in Kent c. 1700. The Kent yellow stock made its name in the 19th Century. Murston became the brick making centre of the area, adding to Sittingbourne’s overall growth.
In the south east of England, the sub soil in the fields is mainly brown earth suitable for making bricks, there is also an abundance of chalk another ingredient for yellow bricks. However, for the Kent yellow brick (known as London stocks), there was a further required ingredient: Town Ash, commonly called breeze. This came from recycled Victorian household rubbish from London brought by barge. In the 1800s this was screened to extract the ash, what remained was then stored in vast heaps to decompose. Ingredients for the yellow stock were 64% brick earth, 25% ash, 11% chalk.
Between 1830 and 1870, brick making employed over 50% of the local population.
- 1835-1850 – Muggleton’s Brickfield from Adelaide Dock up to the Golden Ball orchard. The field was taken over by George Smeed in 1860.
- 1840-1845 – McKenzie Brickfield was halfway along the old Moat Road, about where the go-cart track is now. This field was taken over by George Smeed in 1860.
- 1843-1845 – Ashington Brickfield was where the present All Saints Church was built. The field extended North East to the now Dolphin Road and Westward on the other side of Church Road. The field was taken over by George Smeed in 1860.
- 1846 – George Smeed started making bricks at Murston; he also had fields on land in the Shortlands Road area. Within 14 years he owned rapidly expanding brickfields, shipyards and a fleet of barges stretching north from the main line railway down to the Swale. He became known as George Bargebrick
- 1848 – Annual output of bricks was 30 million
- 1850 -Smeed established a Roman Cement mill on this land and later a later one at Adelaide Dock
- 1863 – Smeed builds gas works at Murston
- 1865 – John Andrews joins
- 1870 – Smeed leased land at Murston to the Burnham, Brick, Lime and Cement company, who built two cement bottle kilns at Murston. This company finished cement making in Murston late 1890’s
- 1875 – Smeed forms Smeed Dean Co. with his son-in-law George Hambrook Dean
- 1860-1870 – Smeed built 150 houses for workers in Lower Murston
- 1880 – Smeed Dean alone producing nearly 50 million bricks a year
- 1881 – Smeed dies aged 69
- 1924 – Dean dies
- 1926 – Smeed Dean sold to Dunstable Cement Company
- 1928 – merged to form Red Triangle Group
- 1931 Acquired by APCM – Associated Portland Cement Manufacturers. The name was changed to Blue Circle Industries in 1978
- 1995 – The only remaining brick plant was sold to Chelwood Brick and later became The Brick Business, it is now called Smeed Dean Works and is owned by Wienerberger. The plant is fully automated and still produces Kent yellow stocks today
- Huggens Brickfield 1830. Tram Road Crown Quay Lane Sittingbourne. Transferred to Wills and Packhams 1870, they ceased brick making during the 1960s
- Burleys brickfields (1875-1945) were next to Wills and Packhams at the top of the Tram Road. They also had a large field in Church field behind Holy Trinity Church Milton which closed in 1958. They also had a wharf on the Creek opposite Murston Brickfields, where they unloaded London refuse
- Gransden’s brickfield was between Milton workhouse and the Creek. It closed in the 1900s
- Wood’s was between Gransden’s and Burleys. It closed 1928
- On the other side of Holy Trinity Church there was a field named Cornfords which closed about 1914
The Brick making Process
- Farmers leased land to brickmakers – hence the name Brickfields
- The brickearth is first washed and pumped with washed chalk into washbacks at the brick works
- This settles to form clay called Pug, which was then layered with the soil (Town Ash) in the hand berths. In later times, Town Ash was mixed separately, as was chalk in some systems
- The materials were mixed in mills. Early mills were controlled by steam engines this was in the days of hand berth making. Later mills and machines had electric motors
- Brickmakers worked in gangs of 6: 3 men, 1 youth and 2 boys. They were paid by piecework
- Hand berths made bricks one at a time, a Moulder would make approximately 900 per hour
- A Flattie would cut and roll a wad of Pug the size of a brick
- The Moulder would throw the wad into his mould and strike off the surplus Pug. He would then turn the brick onto a board
- A Barrow Loader placed the brick and the board onto a Hack Barrow
- A Pushy would wheel the loaded barrow of 30 bricks to the Drying Hacks, where an Off Bearer would set the brick, minus its board, onto long hack boards
- When dry, the bricks were built into clamps by Setters to be burnt
- Machine berths also had driers and kilns for drying and burning bricks, the kilns were either Hoffman kilns or automated tunnel kilns
- Machine berths had either three, six, seven or eight bricks per mould. An automatic machine with either a seven or eight brick mould makes approximately 10-12 000 bricks per hour
- The bricks once burnt have to be graded into their various grades by Sorters. In the Kent yellow stock system this is the only manual job done in today’s process
- In modern semi-dry processes, water is added at a first milling stage. This has now done away with the wash back, wash mill and pumping plants
Decline of Brick making in Area
- 1926 – American ‘Auto-brik’ machine replaced the need for manual labour
- 1929 – Introduction of 500-ft (154m) long tunnel kiln through which cars loaded with bricks ran on a railway track
- 1939-45 – Brickworks closed for most of war