Visit to Burseldon Brickworks

Sunday 25 June 2017

On a very wet Wednesday afternoon on 25th June 2017, 24 intrepid members and guests turned up at Bursledon Brickworks for what turned out to be a fascinating and informative visit. Carolyne Haynes, the Museum’s Project Manager, gathered us in the warm and dry and gave a most informative talk about the history of the works which encompassed the reasons for it being where it is, its most productive time and its eventual demise, transformation and regeneration into a museum.

Brickmaking was common all along the south coast with many works located from Fareham to Southampton. The early days of Bursledon Brickworks were in Chandlers Ford where there were already brickmakers in action. The new business was formed by two brothers, Robert and Edmund Ashby, who were Quakers and partners in the large builders’ merchants Hooper and Ashby. When the clay started to run out at Chandlers Ford, they looked for a new source and found it in Lower Swanwick. With access to the river and the railway, plus a huge seam of suitable clay, it was perfect. The factory was designed to run all year round, and could make vast quantities. It is estimated that 20,000,000 were made a year at the works once it was in full production; it employed 150 men. The mass production of bricks made them cheaper than the hand-made bricks produced by smaller companies which were either swallowed up or went out of business. The area was also known for its strawberry growing, the plants enjoying the clay/sand soil which was also needed to make viable water — and then to the pistons which pushed the mixture through the extruder. It was a fantastic sight and we were all fascinated. When the engine was at full power, it was chastening to realise how relentlessly the men would have had to work to keep up with the machine: no stopping for a breather — and also, of course how hot, steamy, noisy and dirty it would have been.

The bricks would spend between 10 and 15 days in the ten large drying sheds. Once they were ready, a new gang of workers would take them out to the kiln to be fired. The kiln at Bursledon is a rare example of a continuous kiln. These were designed with a series of kiln chambers. At any one time some would be firing but others would be cool enough to be emptied or filled. Each day or two the fire would be moved on to the next chamber. Including Sundays this formed a rough 14-day cycle. In order to get the right temperature the kiln chamber would be actively burnt for three days and nights to reach a temperature of 1,050 degrees. When they had finally cooled the bricks went off to market. Until the 1950s they would be moved by rail or boat, but lorries replaced these — this could be exciting as the straw used to pack them often caught fire.

When the brickworks finally closed in 1974, the M27 going through its grounds being a large factor, it was almost forgotten, and was extremely lucky to avoid the fate of so much in the area of being used for housing. It was eventually saved by Hampshire Buildings Preservation Trust and is now Grade Il*-listed and the only known survivor of a steam-driven Victorian brickworks in the country.

We ended our day with tea and cake and a display of old photographs of the area around Swanwick put on for us by the Burridge and District Local History Society, which was much appreciated. It was still pouring with rain when we left!

The Brickworks Museum is an independent museum and relies on visitors for its survival. Once a month on a Sunday the machinery is all steamed up for special themed events. The museum is open three days a week, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday from April to October. Do visit for more details.

Visit to Bursledon Brickworks
Visit to Bursledon Brickworks