to Isle of Wight History Centre Isle of Wight Brickmaking History
Brickmaking Methods
Dating bricks
Some Island Brickmakers
List of brickmaking sites
The Island's brickmaking history has been subject to considerable research over past decades. This page incudes much of the available information on brickmakers and their works, together with some general guidance on brickmaking methods.

The Island's brick collection was started by the late Brian Evans. Jill Reilly added to it and
conducted most of the research herein. Additional material was supplied by Rob Martin,
Alan Stroud and other members of the Isle of Wight Industrial Archaeology Society


Forming the Brick
brickmakerFor centuries bricks were moulded by hand in wooden moulds. These were four sided and rectangular in shape with no base or lid. Moulds were placed either directly on the ground or on a roughly made brickmakers table. Bricks made on the ground are generally pre 19th cent. They were known as 'place' bricks and often contain grass impressions. From the 19th cent rectangular block of wood, smaller than the mould dimensions, would be screwed on the table which created the brick's 'frog'. Sometimes letters were carved in the frog to identify the brickyard owner.

With the advent of steam power brickmaking became mechanized wherever volume justified it. Steam driven extrusion plants with nine overhead wire cutters produced ten bricks every few minutes.

Firing by Clamp
One of the oldest methods of firing is by clamp. A clamp is a temporary construction of unfired or green bricks which is dismantled after firing and could be erected near the clay source.
clamp Clamps varied from yard to yard but there were general rules which most followed. The floor had to be level and was made of burnt brick. Channels were often made in the floor and filled with fuel, usually breeze (crushed coke) but any fuel would suffice and wood, furze, charcoal were also used.
Next came three or four layers of green bricks which were placed on edge and then another layer of fuel was added. After this, green bricks were packed closely together to a height of 14 or 15 feet. The bricks were 'dished' or tilted inward to prevent injury to workmen during firing.
Sometimes the outside was sealed with wet pug. Most clamp bricks had a small percentage of breeze added to the clay during manufacture. This helped to 'self fire' them and ensured that a good temperature was reached.
Clamps contained 30,000 to 150,000 bricks. An average size would take two or three weeks to burn out, although larger ones could take as much as ten or twelve weeks.

Firing by Updraught Kiln
Updraught kilns may be as old as clamps. These were known as Scotch kilns and were permanent structures with one or more firing chambers.
updraught kiln The kilns were built of burnt brick. Flues ran under the perforated floor from one end to the other. Green bricks were stacked on the chamber floor with small gaps between them to allow the heat to circulate.
The open top was covered with old burnt bricks and turf or pug to help conserve the heat and prevent draughts that would cause uneven firing. The kilns had to be stoked regularly day and night for at least three or four days.
It was quite common to see flames rising from the top of these kilns when firing. The death knell sounded for many small yards in 1939 when Blackout Regulations were brought into force.
A later development came to be known as a Suffolk kiln. These were fired on the same principle but smaller and set into a bank. One reason for this was to provide ease of access for loading or setting, another was for insulation

Firing by Downdraught Kiln
The downdraught kiln was far more efficient than the Scotch or Suffolk. Firing was much easier to control. They were often circular in structure with about eight fire holes.
downdraught kiln Inside the fireholes were baffles or 'bag' of firebricks. It had a domed roof and a perforated floor under which ran a flue leading to the chimney stack.
The circular or 'beehive' kiln had a capacity of about 12,000 green bricks. Coal was lit inside the firehole grates and hot gases were directed upward from the baffles and then downwards from the underside of the dome and through the stacked bricks by the draught from the chimney.
Altogether it took fourteen days or so to operate, with two days for loading or setting, three days for 'curing', two days for heating to full temperature, one day at full heat, then another three or four days to cool down and a further day to unload or draw.

Other Products of the Brickmaker
Bricks were not the only product made by the brickmaker. Ridge tiles, finials, chimneys and utility items such as drainage pipes were all part of the terracotta range of the brickmaker's art. Many products required expert modelling and an eye to the fashions of the day.

This finial was modelled by Island brickmaker Harry Pritchett in the 1920's


Bricks which form all or part of a building may have their date fixed by the history of the building. Loose bricks with a maker's mark in the frog can often be dated if the brickmaker is identified. Bricks without these guides are difficult to date with any precision. With a few exceptions, raw materials and firing temperatures have remained the much same for hundreds of years. What pointers there are merely typify a particular period, rather than confirm it.

Brick Dimensions
Brick size is often used as a guide to the general period in which they were made. In the course of time bricks have evolved through different dimensions, the most crucial dimension being thickness. Time has seen a gradual increase in the thickness of bricks but trends may have existed in some regions longer than others or even coexisted within the same district.

On the Island the earliest known bricks, of the 16th century, are generally around 1 3/4in (4.45cm) thick. There were increases in size towards the end of the 18th century to 2 1/4in ( 5.7cm), although there is little Island evidence of changes as a direct result of the 1784 brick tax. Thereafter gradual size increases throughout the 19th century met, and sometimes exceeded, the modern standard thickness of 2 5/8in (6.3cm). These are only general guidelines and there may be plenty of buildings which demonstrate exceptions, particularly if the bricks were imported.

Bricklaying Bonds
Many different bonds are used in bricklaying: some of the main ones are shown here. Although bonds are not a reliable guide for dating, their variations can give an indication of the trends of time and place.
Bonds were selected for reasons of aesthetics, strength or economy. English was one of the first to be used and was common throughout the 16th and 17th centuries. Flemish became popular in the 18th century, particularly when used as a design feature with alternate coloured bricks. Rat trap is not a strong bond but fewer bricks went further and its use may have been encouraged by the 18th century brick tax.


The Pritchett Family
name marks In the late 1760s Pritchetts, who were a brickmaking family in the New Forest area, contracted to supply bricks and tiles for the building of the House of Industry at Parkhurst. The yard was set up a short distance from the site. (The remains of the old clay pit now form the duckpond at the back of St Mary's Hospital). After completion of the Workhouse in 1770, Pritchett set up another yard at Kitbridge to supply bricks and rebate tiles for the erection of Parkhurst Barracks.

The tiles that Pritchett made were sometimes known in the trade as mathematical or brick tiles. They had a 'face' that corresponded with that of a laid brick, and when hung and pointed looked exactly like them. These were no cheaper to buy than bricks and they were still subject to the 1784 Brick Tax. They were, however, easier to use than bricks which required skilled labour to lay.

In 1800 Pritchett and his young son George, who acted as his pug boy (clay boy), opened a yard at Bierley near Niton. Over the years there followed many more, at Newbridge, Wellow, Ningwood, Tapnell, Gurnard, Cowes, Northwood, Sandford, (near Godshill), Gunville and Rookley.

William Pritchett, who was the great grandson of the original Pritchett to settle on the Island, had a flourishing yard at Hillis near Cowes. In 1905 he produced an illustrated catalogue which offered over 130 artefacts for use in building. These included ridge tiles, key stones, arches, chimney pots, terra cotta 'enrichments' for the garden, gate posts and finials fashioned as dragons, lions and eagles. His sons, William, Francis and Harry helped in the running of the yard until they too set up on their own. Harry was artistic like his father and many of the artifacts were modelled by him.

In this century the two brothers, Francis and Harry, together with Francis' sons, continued to run yards at Northwood and Rookley. They eventually closed Northwood and concentrated entirely on Rookley. In the late 1940s it became a Limited Company and by 1951, when Francis died, the Pritchett family were no longer majority shareholders. The Company continued operating until 1974 when Rookley Brickworks, the last remaining yard on the Island, closed.

Francis Pritchett's booklet on the family's brickmaking history -1798 to 1939 (pdf)

Illustrated price list from 1905

Examples of decorative products

Downend Brick Manufacturing Company
name marks Because there has always been a good supply of easily accessible clay, there have been kilns on the top of Arreton Down throughout the centuries. A few miles along the ridge towards Knighton there was a Medieval pottery kiln. In the early 19th century a brickyard was established close to the site of a Roman villa whose building materials had been fired and dug on the site. Oral tradition suggests that the brickyard was established in 1835. The 1861 Census lists Joseph Butcher (34) brickburner, his wife Jane(35) and their five children living at Downend.

It was not until 1926 that Downend Brick Manufacturing Company took over the small yard. By this time it had four brickmakers who worked only in the summer months. The Directors of the Company were Frank Moore, his son Martin, W.C.Smith of Smith and Whitehead, a small engineering firm in Newport, Frederick P.Spencer, a sportsman of Newport, and G.Cooper, manager of Wood and Co Ltd., Coal Merchants, also of Newport. Downend Brick Manufacturing Company continued to run the yard until 1957 when it was bought by the adjacent Fleming Estate. It operated under the new ownership for just over a year before closing in 1959.

Flux of Werrar
name marks There are several 'lost' yards along the west bank of the river Medina.These are found in old field names such as, Brickyard Butt, Upper Brick Kiln Ground, Lower Brick Kiln Ground. Since these yards are not shown on 19th century maps they must have been some of the first yards in the Island to make bricks.

On the Ward Estate map published in 1812 a brickyard is shown on the river bank on land owned by Werrar farm which at that time still belonged to Queen's College. Nothing is known of the family that ran it and it must have closed long before 1866 when Albert Edward Flux decided to open a brickyard there. His brother ran Werrar Farm and lived in the old farmhouse. Albert built himself a house and began a career in brickmaking. He discovered that there were two types of clay on the site, one firing red and the other cream which was an added advantage. Albert built two quays for barges to lay alongside to offload coal for firing and to take on bricks for the return journey to Southampton. These found a ready market among local builders.

It was not until 1920 when his son Sidney Albert joined him that the works bought the first lorry for Island deliveries. Since it had solid tyres and an open cab, it must have been a boneshaking and dusty business. Sidney's son, Raymond Sidney, joined the firm after the Second World War. Competition from large highly mechanized companies, together with mounting transportation costs and dwindling clay supplies, finally forced Werrar Brickyard to close in 1958.

Kent of Shanklin and Sandown
Jacob was one of thirteen children born to the Kent family who were builders in Shanklin. In 1869 he leased a piece of land from the White Popham Estate on the outskirts of town known as Batts Ground and set up a brickyard next to the slaughter house. It was not unusual for builders to make their own bricks as transportation was a difficult and costly business. Yards were sited as close to the building activity as possible, although Town By-Laws did not allow firing to take place near houses because of the risk of fire. Jacob and his brothers made bricks during the summer and built rows of houses in the rapidly expanding town in the autumn and winter.

By 1900 Jacob was running another yard at Cliffe Farm. He had also opened a yard at Sandown in 1880 which was situated at Street End, a triangular piece of ground lying between the two railway lines near Sandown Station. This yard had the advantage of a siding which solved delivery problems as bricks could be dispatched by rail to any Island station. Jacob died in 1913 and Alfred, one of his three sons, took over Sandown and Cliffe yards. By this time the lease had expired on Batts ground and was not renewed.

Cliffe yard probably closed before World War 1, possibly after Jacob's death in 1913. The Sandown yard continued until the late 1920s as there is a letter written by Alfred to a customer dated January 1927. In the years of depression following the General Strike transportation and fuel costs soared. This, coupled with mass mechanization, made handmade brickmaking uneconomic and Alfred sold his remaining yard about 1930.

Dowty at Totland and Newbridge
Henry Dowty set up in business as a blacksmith. Over the years he expanded his interests to cover china, ironmongery, house furnishing, farming, estate agency and brickmaking. He operated two brickmaking sites. The first, from the 1870s, was at Totland, while his Newbridge site was established in 1905. By this time, Dowty was one of the largest employers in West Wight

His product was sold locally and exported. At Totland the ships were loaded at Kings Manor quay on the River Yar. The Newbridge site was alongide the railway and was served by a siding. It was connected to the road by a track through Cook's Copse. Bricks were handmade or wire cut and, along with tiles, were fired in a Hoffmann kiln.

All traces of the Newbridge Hoffmann kiln were lost when the North Sea gas main to Freshwater was laid right through the site.

More about Henry Dowty

Nash at Newtown
There were three brickyards on Newtown Creek during the last century. The earliest was set up by architect John Nash in the late 1820s. His brickmaker was Isaac Sims.

Nash had acquired the Lower Hampstead estate in 1803 but did not build Hampstead House until much later. In 1832 a tramway was constructed which ran from the house to the brickworks quay. It took the form of a rectangular loop giving two routes to the shore. Wagons towed by horses conveyed building materials to the house and farm. Gravel and timber came from Southampton and Lymington by sea. The returning barges carried bricks for mainland builders. Bricks for the estate were loaded straight from the kiln into the wagons.

Although John Nash died in 1835 the brickyard continued to operate. In 1863 the church register records that a son, John James, was born to a brickmaker George Lindsay and his wife, Mary Anne. In 1884 John James emigrated to America. His son, George Nelson Lindsay, rose from a Wall Street messenger to become President of a bank. In turn his son, Congressman John V. Lindsay, became Mayor of New York.

Prangnell at Newtown
name marks When Lower Hampstead yard closed three brothers from a local family decided to explore the clay resources on the eastern side of the creek with a view to brickmaking. Henry Prangnell with his twin brother William and younger brother Alfred already ran a yard near Lymington on a stretch of coast directly opposite Newtown harbour entrance. They must have known that the seam of clay surfaced at Newtown harbour mouth.

They set up a yard at Fish House Point using a clamp to fire their bricks which did not require a permanent kiln. This site was short lived. In 1866 a ferocious storm broke through the narrow isthmus on which the brickfield stood and washed away the footing of the clamp. The brothers moved further up the creek to Lower Elmsworth, a low plateau on the inner side of the spit. They built a two chambered kiln on the edge of Clammerkin creek and a rough quay. A house soon followed.

The bricks they made became well known along the south coast. They found two types of clay which enabled them to produce both yellow (known as 'whites') and red bricks. These were transported by barge to Shoreham, Littlehampton, Chichester, Portsmouth and Southampton. The Prangnell home contained many decorative bricks for customers to see. On the lean to scullery at the back of the house was a magnificent barley sugar twist chimney which could be supplied if required.

Thomas Prangnell, son of Henry (one of the original brothers), was the last brickmaker. He lived on the site in the four roomed cottage with his wife and eight children. The family ceased brickmaking just before the First World War. Four of the children, Annie, Mary, Ned and Billy, none of whom married, lived there until 1954 without electricity, main water or drainage.

Jill Reilly's interview with Annie Prangnell (pdf)

Jill Reilly's interview with Bernie Hayward (pdf)

County Press article from 1953 (pdf)

Key elements of the Elmsworth site

200 pages of Jill Reilly's (unordered) research material on Isle of Wight brickmaking (pdf)

Intricate detail in local yellow and red bricks at East Cowes.

Elegant use of brick and stone at Rookley School House.

Chimney bricks used in a cottage wall at Yarmouth Quay.

18th century granary at a Brading farmhouse.

Fireplace in Carey's Mansion at Carisbrooke Castle. Built in 1584.

Barley sugar twist chimneys at Yarmouth ferry booking office.

Barley sugar twist chimneys at Shide

Terracotta detail at Whitecroft Hospital.

Gould Hibberd & Randall trademark on Charter House, Newport.

Downdraft kiln at Hillis. The Island's only remaining extant brick kiln.

Kiln remains at Carpenter's Lane, St Helens.

The brickmaker's table.

Scotch kiln at Dowty's yard, Ningwood.

Gunville brickworks and siding.

Building a clamp at Burnt House Lane, Shide.

Clamp at the end of Chale Terrace, circa 1900.


locationsource mapsOS grid reference
DownendOS 1862, 1908SZ 535 879
Highwood RookleyOS 1862/96 1908SZ 501 845
Main Road Rookley(Est 1924)SZ 510 841
StaplersOS 1862/96 1908SZ 522 888
Haseley1771 (Fleming)SZ 544 856
Peacocks HillSZ 635 863
Brickfields(horses)OS 1862,1908SZ 571 913
AshlakeOS 1862/98 1908SZ 551 924
CarpentersSZ 621 886
Carpenters SZ 621 884
Cement WorksSZ 614 874
Street End A (N West)OS 1862 1908SZ 594 848
Street End B (N East)OS 1862,1908SZ 595 848
Street End C (Mid E)OS 1862,1908SZ 595 847
Street End D (S East)OS 1862,1908SZ 595 846
Fort MewsOS 1862SZ 629 849
New Fm Nunwell (1773 Est.Map)SZ 597 877
Grange ChineSZ 421 821
Lower ElmsworthOS 1907SZ 426 921
Fish PointSZ 418 918
Brambles Br KilnCl. Mallet 1768SZ 424 908
Apes DownSZ 456 877
Shide Sidney LdgOS 1862SZ 502 883
WestministerOS 1908SZ 494 892
Colemans Lane(P'field)SZ 455 901
GunvilleOS 1908,SZ 478 887
Old PriorySZ 488 884
Kitbridge(18th C)SZ 485 896
Petticoat LaneOS 1908SZ 492 892
Parkhurst(18th C) SZ 494 903
Little LondonOS 1862SZ 501 900
St JohnsOS 1862SZ 498 885
Shide PotteryOS 1862SZ 500 884
Chale TerraceSZ 484 772
TapnellSZ 369 864
Copse LaneOS 1862SZ 345 879
Golden HillSZ 342 876
Clay/Tennyson RdSZ 335 871
The AvenueSZ 331 874
Middleton SW Sh`washOS1862SZ 331 866
SandfordOS 1867SZ 547 818
StroudwoodOS 1908SZ 579 905
Ivy CottageOS 1800/20/40/62/SZ 594 915
OakfieldOS 1908SZ 596 918
Preston FarmOS 1908SZ 599 914
Old KemphillOS 1908SZ 574 905
Troublefield1771SSZ 604 912
KemphillOS 1908SZ 575 905
Tyrol AsheyOS 1862 1908SZ 589 896
Ashey RentsOS 1862SZ 585 890
RowlandsOS 1862SZ 570 889
HaylandsOS 1862SZ 585 915
CutlersOS 1862SZ 589 912
Rosemary FarmOS 1862SZ 910 590
SmallbrookOS 1862,1888SZ 594 914
Queen`s BowerOS 1908SZ 568 846
Apse HeathOS 1908SZ 562 831
Winstone nr WroxallSZ 556 810
Yarborough, WroxallSZ 551 803
Borthwood(Edge Surv 1771)SZ 575 850
BeirleyOS 1862/1908SZ 511 781
Egypt Hill(Edg Surv 1771)SZ 484 964
WerrorOS 1862,1908SZ 505 929
ThornessSZ 459 929
Elim, GurnardOS 1862SZ 480 953
Jordan, GurnardOS 1862SZ 475 956
HillisOS 1862,1908SZ 471 937
Wyatts LaneSZ 485 935
PlaceOS 1907SZ 486 950
ShamblersOS 1862/97,1908SZ 499 947
MedhamOS 1862 1759SZ 501 937
AppleyOS 1862SZ 606 923
NettlestoneOS 1908SZ 629 906
Lower HampsteadOS 1833/62SZ 414 912
Bouldnor CliffOS 1862,1908SZ 378 904
Lower DodpitsSZ 406 884.
NingwoodOS 1862SZ 402 880
Bouldnor CopseOS 1908SZ 380 902
Batts GroundSZ 577 814
Cliff FarmSZ 562 812
AtherfieldSZ 453 753
LeeSZ 384 891
E.C.ParkOS 1862/74/96SZ 502 947
King`s QuayOS 1862 1908SZ 535 935
FollyOS 1862SZ 509 932
AlverstoneOS1862,1908SZ 522 920
MornhillOS 1862,SZ 518 884
ChipperwellOS 1896 1908SZ 508 883
BridgeOS 1862,1908SZ 546 921
LambsleaseOS 1898 1908SZ 549 927
Shore CopseOS 1908SZ 562 932

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