Brick Boating

Working the Waterways: NarrowBoat, Autumn 2017

Christopher M Jones

Chris M. Jones examines the craft used in west London’s brick-making industry during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Long before the canal age, buildings in London were largely constructed of bricks as there was no stone quarrying in the region. This encouraged a local brick-making industry to develop, exploiting large clay deposits in Middlesex, Kent and Sussex. The expansion of London and the building of the Grand Junction Canal were catalysts for increased brick production, with the canal providing an ideal means for transporting the finished bricks into London, and also taking away waste materials that could be recycled in the brick-manufacturing process. Brick-making expanded further after government excise duty on bricks was abolished in 1850. Brick-making was a seasonal trade and took place in the summer months. Brick-makers would work as agricultural labourers during bad weather and in the winter, while women workers would take on laundry and cleaning work. The main ingredient required for brick-making was brick earth, dug out to a depth of some 4ft, which was then mixed with coal dust, cha…

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