Memories of Roy Jennings of Whittleford Road
In the 1950’s the hole behind Haunchwood Road, which was Clay hole 1, was called the Stadium, where lads played football. It was so named because of its sloping sides and flat bottom giving the appearance of a stadium and there was talk of this being made into a proper football pitch until glass was discovered making its way to the surface.
Clay hole 1 – now Vale View Open Space
Clay hole 2 – known as the Clay Pool
Clay hole 3 – now Hawthorne Common
Clay hole 4 – land behind and adjacent to the Bucksford Public House
The last hole to be worked was hole no 4. Truck lines passed through a tunnel under the Bucks Hill Road some of the structure of which still remains a few yards away to the right in the trees when facing the new buttercup entrance feature. A man with a red flag used to stop the traffic passing along Bucks Hill when explosives were being fired to loosen the clay. If the trucks were not clipped together properly when the track came to the incline of the tunnel under the Bucks Hill Road they would run away and there was the danger of someone having a fatal accident. Mr C.T.Smith of Haunchwood Road died here in 1963.
When down the clay hole there were four trucking lines, which went to the face of the clay seams.
There were four trucks of differing clay (e.g. red for hard reds (engineering bricks) plus blues and fire clay) which made up what was called ‘a journey’ in order to fill up the big ‘hopper’. One week fire clay would be collected, another blue clay etc. The trucks travelled along a double track with one track going one way to collect the clay and the other track for the return journey fully loaded. On returning with their load the four trucks were lined up ready for their contents to be tipped into the ‘Tippler’, and then down a 45 degree slope into the hopper. A bell was sounded as a signal when the hopper was ready to be pulled to the ‘Top Mill’
The hopper was then pulled by a steel rope winch about one inch thick up the slope to the ‘Top Mill’, where the clay mixture would be milled and processed into fine clay. The hopper was then tipped up sending the clay into the rollers and crushers. Water was added and it was mixed together with what was called a skewer. The clay was then taken along a belt and went through another set of rollers to remove the excess water. In later years the ‘Top Mill’ was modernised and the process was made speedier.
When the clay was ready it then went into a large hopper, then stacked in trucks in blocks one foot square and taken to the drying areas where the articles were made. The drying areas were under-piped drying sheds. After the bricks etc. were formed they were taken to the kilns to be fired. The colour of the end-product depended on the original colour of the clay and the position placed in the kiln when firing. The ones on the bottom of the kiln were more red in colour.
Two or three days were spent on brickettes and then other days were spent on blue bricks. There were kilns at both ends of the brickworks. At the western end brickettes and chimney pots were fired and at the eastern end pavers and coving. The men who placed the bricks in the kilns and afterwards removed the baked bricks were called ‘setters and drawers’.
After modernisation in the mid-sixties the clay ceased to be dug out entirely by hand, which though hard work had resulted in a purer clay product. Mechanisation therefore resulted in a digger being used, which caused lot of vibration resulting in landslides and unwanted material to upset the mixture and therefore the purity/quality of the clay deteriorated. Limestone and other rubbish in the mixture caused the bricks to crack. This was probably the main reason for the closure of the brickworks.
Due to the speed with which the clay was then extracted it was then transported by road from Bucks Hill, along Whittleford Road, over Stockingford Railway Bridge No 30 to Haunchwood Road and then left through the Haunchwood Brick and Tile Company main entrance, via Railway Bridge Number 31 to the brickworks to be processed and made into articles such as special block pavers – 2 inch thick pavers, diamond patterned and plain, hand made coving, brickettes, some of which were bevelled called bullnose and some oval ones. Chimney pots, engineering bricks and many other items were also made.
In freezing weather coal fires were lit near the tubs of clay to stop it going hard. The steel rope that was used to winch the hopper up to the top mill was three quarters of an inch thick (19mm) covering a rope in the centre (the core), which was the thickness of a pencil. If this steel cable split the situation would be dangerous as the hopper could run away with life and limb at risk. As a safety precaution the cable carried two phone wires and if these two wires were touched together manually it caused a bell to ring as a warning. The person touching the wires together could get an electric shock especially if wet. Men used to use a bit of wire with rubber in the centre to touch the wires together in order to avoid this. When the bell rang a man would immediately turn everything off. Any damage to the steel cable was repaired with a special tool called a ‘Podger’, which was used for splicing (rejoining/interweaving) the steel together.
When the kilns were fired thick black smoke would often spread out over the neighbourhood the worst affected being those downwind of the brickworks. After the building of the Camp Hill estate in the 1950’s when the kilns were being fired you could not see the estate for thick black coal smoke. The complaints about the smoke from the brickworks may have been a secondary reason for the eventual closure of the brickworks.