As many local gardeners are all too well aware, there is a great deal of clay earth in this area. The “Geology of the Isle of Wight” refers to considerable deposits of sandy clay on the West Bank of Wootton Creek, in some places up to 30 feet deep, as well as other deposits on the Eastern Bank. This clay was highly prized as brick earth and we may well believe that bricks have been made in this area for some centuries.
The first documented evidence of brick making in Wootton is dated 1703. A lease of that date between Thomas Joliffe and John Lisle, for Wootton Farm contains a clause permitting the tenant to let 2 acres of land for brick making. This implies that in fact some brick making was already in progress, though possibly not as a business. In 1775 we find a reference to a brick kiln in an Assignment of land to one John Dunning. A later Indenture referring to the same property describes its location. The borders of the property were, on the South, Bridge Mead, and on the West, Brick Kiln Butts. Bridge Mead was the site where the Old School in New Road was built, which puts Brick Kiln Butts close to the School, possibly at the foot of what is now St Edmund's Walk, and probably to the West of what is now New Road, neither of which existed then.
No brick makers appear in the 1841 Census returns for Wootton, but 1851 two brick makers list Stephen Wright and Stephen Thompson. A William Light, lodger at Wootton Bridge Post Office, is recorded as a brick maker’s labourer, as are John Mew and James Mackett. At least one brickyard big enough to employ nine men existed. John Bignell appears to have been the owner (or foreman). The tenant of Wootton Farm owned a brickyard, though its location is unknown. The Churchwarden's Account Books for this period record that, from 1853-1856 the tenant Thomas Cooper was paying Church Rate on a brickyard as did the next tenant, William Groves, from 1857-1859.
This was a period when Wootton began to expand, with presumably a demand for bricks to build with. By 1861 there seems to have been one main brick making firm, Hobbs and Co, which may have employed the eight men recorded as brick makers. According to the 1871 Census returns Hobbs and Co were employing three men, and by 1881 ten men. The 1862 Ordnance Survey map shows widespread activity. There was a clay mill and kilns on the green to the rear of the Mill, clay pits to the West of what is now New Road at its Southern end and more clay pits and a brick and tile works at Lamb Leaze Coppice on the site of what is now Little Canada.
By the end of the century the site at the Southern end of New Road was occupied by housing. Though the population of Wootton remained small by present day standards at 134, it had still doubled between 1850 and 1900. The new houses would most probably have been built with local brick.
The brickyard at Lamb Leaze Coppice was still operating, as was the one at Ashlake on the Eastern side of the Creek. This still existed in 1909 as the bricks used to construct St Mark's church came from there.
An elderly resident writing in the 1970s (in the Parish Magazine) recalled that in the early part of the century two brothers named Cotton ran the brickyard . The 1871 Census records a John and Harry Cotton, brick makers, working for Hobbs and Co. The Cotton brothers possibly took over the brickyard on the death of William Hobbs in 1903 (Parish Register). The 1908 Ordnance Survey shows brickyards at Ashlake and Lambs Leaze Coppice, but by 1912 the New Road site may have closed. Kelly (1912) lists only Edgar Jenkins at Ashlake and there is no mention of brick making in Wootton in subsequent editions, though an article on Little Canada states that brick making was still being carried on in the 1920s, the brick being laid out to dry around the area of the present swimming pool By 1930, however this use of the site had definitely come to an end when a Mr Howarth bought the site and began to build holiday lodges.
Jill Billingsley and Doreen Gazey, for the Wootton Millennium Project
Old Wootton Bridge