The Marston Hill Brick and Tile Company, Priors Marston
In 1997, Alan Flint carried out research into the Priors Marston brickworks, and the resultant article that appeared in the Society’s Newsletter (Retort! Number 7) is reproduced here:
Coventry Evening Telegraph May 7th. 1954
HAND-MADE BRICKS AND TILES BRING VILLAGE FAME
By Charles Lines
Approaching Priors Marston, on the Northamptonshire border, from Marston Doles, as I did on an afternoon not long ago, a faint drift of blue smoke against a scarred hillside betrayed the presence of one of Britain’s smallest brickworks. The Marston Hill brick and Tile works lies beside a lane climbing steeply from this remote village with iys fine stone houses – just how remote the intending visitor discovers when he checks the local; bus service!
The modest office is a converted cottage, where, within living memory, a family of 13 lived. Of sheer necessity, some of the children were put out in the village to sleep. Here I talked to Mr. E.V. Alsop, managing director of this small, but flourishing concern, which has a very special fascination of its own.
There was a brickworks on the site about a century ago and Mr. Alsop told me that it was one of a number set up to supply local demands. It is believed some were used in the construction of Catesby Tunnel on the Great Central Railway not far away.
Now and again they find traces of levelled spaces where bricks were set out to dry in the sun and he had come across a circular track used by the horse which provided the only motive power in those days. The clay would be trampled by men with their bare feet. This brickworks had been closed for about 40 years when Mr. Alsop’s father brought the property in 1938 and it was temporarily closed again when the war came.
(This re-opening of the brickyard was reported in the Rugby Advertiser of February 3rd. 1939: “After being closed for more than 40 years, the Priors Marston brickyard is to re-open. A new company under the title of “Marston Hill Brick and tile Company Ltd.” has been formed to manufacture bricks and tiles on the site of the old brickworks, which went out of business largely owing to transport difficulties. The company has been formed by Mr. H.W. Alsop and two other friends, and its capital is £2000. For long past Priors Marston has been in a state of decline, and the inhabitants are pleased that the old brickworks are to re-open, for this means more employment and a greater degree of prosperity in this pretty old-world village.”)
Marston Hill specialises in hand made bricks and tiles of different types and sizes, enjoying a particularly good trade in the attractive briquettes so much in demand for “rustic” fireplaces. Two-inch facing bricks often in beautiful shades of red and gold, skirting and sill tiles are important products too, and I was shown specially shaped bricks for the mullioned windows of a house in Snitterfield, for which special moulds had been created.
Mr. Alsop said they could match bricks of almost any colour, and had had the pleasing task of making some to accord with the Queen Anne ones of Cottesbrooke Hall, near Northampton. I was sorry to learn, however, that owing to other demands, the works have not at present the capacity for producing hand-made roofing tiles, now so difficult to obtain. I did, however, see some delightfully weathered examples which had been produced at Priors Marston.
We went a little way uphill to the clay-pit, though which runs a valuable seam of silica – ideal for glass-making, but here used in brick-moulding – and also a less desirable layer of ironstone. No pumping is necessary to keep the pit dry, and the clay, extracted without machinery, is run down by gravity to the grinding shed, where it is prepared via “pugmill” attritor, and rollers.
Some, ready for tile-making, had the consistency of fine flour, I thought. Next, we visited Mr. Reg Taylor, who was busily hand-moulding bricks to the sound of the radio. He was dumping wet clay in a wooden mould, cutting off the surplus with a wire device, and turning them out like puddings on to a wooden palette. The moulds are made on the premises and the whole works is remarkably self-contained. Mr. Taylor makes about a thousand bricks in an ordinary day’s work, and these are next put down on a heated floor to dry for about three or four days before removal to one of the two kilns.
We inspected one of these coal-fired kilns, which take about a week to heat up, and found Ray smith filling it steadily with facing-bricks and skirting tiles which would come out gain in about two weeks. The Priors Marston clay, Mr Alsop said, needs very high temperatures. Tiles, for technical reasons, are not exposed to direct heat, being put in containers of fire clay called “saggers”.
The entire personnel, including Mr. Alsop and his co-director, Mr. Shaw, is only six strong. “Everybody works here,” Mr. Alsop told me, “and do the office jobs when we can fit them in.” In Mr. Alsop, I felt I had met a man supremely contented with his lot, and that this contentment seemed to spread through this little community on the hillside.
Copyright © Martin Green 2020