Wight Life

Dropping Bricks

by T C Hudson

Picture of an example of terracotta modelling

WITH THE CLOSURE of the Island Brick Company's Rockley works, there came to an end the Isle of Wight's connection with one of its most lucrative products; a connection that six generations of the Pritchett family had done much to maintain.

At the start of the nineteenth century, with the Island's seaside resorts in an embryonic state of development, there was an unprecedented demand for building materials. Before the end of the century no fewer than thirty brickyards were in existence. Many of the brickyards have completely disappeared, but others may be located by their clay-pits. One of the former was sited in Baring Road, Cowes, near Egypt Hill, and for some years Kiln Cottage perpetuated its memory, as did adjacent clay-pits within the wall of Northwood Park.

Uffa Fox has recalled Werror (Werrar) Brickyard on the west bank of the Medina, from whose drying-sheds he used to collect swallows' eggs. And in Harry Guy's book, Memories of a Cowes-born Lad, we are reminded that what became the Minerva boatyard of East Cowes was formerly Tommy Langley's brickworks where Harry and his father spent many hours working on the machinery.

Picture of a terracotta finial

Nineteenth century ordnance maps and the Victoria History of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight (1912), produced by the extremely helpful staff at our County Library Headquarters, enabled the writer to locate others: Alverstone; Ashlake (Ashlodge in 1862) between Fishborne and Wootton Bridge; Atherfield; Bierlay (Berelay) at Beach Copse, Niton; Bouldnor near Yarmouth; Lower Hamstead; Ningwood (one near Dodpits Farm, another near Ningwood House and Warlands); Ryde; Sandown (in Venney's Farm, Fort Place); Skinner's Grove, Newchurch; and at Staplers (near Staplers Farm).

Also near the Medina, Shamblers Brickyard was in operation. Its owners took full advantage of the river to solve transport problems. This was always a major factor when horse-drawn carts had continuously to bring coal for the kilns and to carry products to their destinations, where it was not unusual for a carter with a load of a thousand bricks to be unable to traverse the soft ground of a buildingite.

In his informative book, The Making of Bricks and Tiles, (the main source of the facts contained in this article), Francis Joseph Pritchett states that, in 1798, rebate tiles used for the first Parkhurst Barracks were made near Kitbridge Farm, eastward of Forest Road. These tiles, employed to cover the outside of timber buildings, gave the appearance of solid bricks. The author also discloses that an ancestor worked at the Berelay Brickyard, Niton.

Picture of an example of terracotta modelling

Between 1830 and 1840 'white' bricks were in great demand, not only for local work but for new buildings at Brighton. These were manufactured at a Ningwood brickyard. At Ningwood, too, the Island's first machine-made agricultural pipes were produced — a great improvement on the previous method of hand-moulding `horseshoe' drain pipes in two separate parts.

The Pritchetts, although God-fearing people, never lacked an eye to the main chance, and when, in 1850, a building estate at Gurnard came into being, Edmund (a non-Conformist local preacher) started his Elim Brickyard beside the Luck on Gurnard Marsh. This enterprise, by all accounts, was short-lived, but during its existence an enquiry from the contractor responsible for building one of the forts at Freshwater induced its owner to open his Jordan Brickyard near another stream that flowed into the Solent. A quay was built, thus enabling goods easily to be shipped to the West Wight. Today, a diminutive trickle close to the Woodvale Hotel is known as 'Jordan', and a nearby building estate has been named 'Jordan Close'.

In 1856, governmental regulations stipulated that all agricultural land be adequately drained and, influenced by a steward of the Ward Estate (whose dominion extended from Cowes to Freshwater), the Pritchetts created Hillis Brickyard near Marks Corner. For the next ten years these works supplied the required drainpipes.

Around 1866 two more brickyards were commenced, one at Sandford and another at Cranmore.