The Brickie, New England Street, St Albans, 19th century
Jane Waudby (jane.waudby @t ntlworld.com) of St Albans writes: As an off-shoot from organising a street party some of the residents of Abbey View Road, Offa Road and Ver Road have recently formed a Local History Group. One of the items of interest is The Bricky and I was wondering if you have come across any information regarding this Brickworks while researching the Bernards Heath area?
One of the problems I came across in researching the Bernards Heath Brick works is that there are very few direct references to the clay pits and brick kilns and their location. In many cases these would be temporary in that someone wanted some bricks for a major building project they would dig a hole in a suitable area nearby, and build the temporary clamp kilns nearby. For instance old Gorhambury House was built of bricks which were almost certainly made on the estate but the surviving accounts do not identify exactly where. In some cases where the subsoil was suitable the bricks are said to have been made from the material excavated to form the cellars. The earliest map of Bernards Heath, dated 1726, shows a brick kiln - and also shows a large "bumpy" area - which are undoubtedly the evidence of many small clay pits which were dug and abandoned over the preceding centuries. When the Midland Railway opened there was much building between the town centre and the station, and brickworks were set up in the area. The same happened in the 1880's and 1890's with brickworks immediately adjacent to new housing developments in the Bernards Heath area. If the pits were near housing they would have become rubbish tips and eventually vanished from sight.
Of course one can find references to brick makers, and to builders and bricklayers who may have also made bricks - but if any address is given it is likely to be where they lived rather than where the brick pits were. This means that most of my locatable references come from law reports in the press (mostly after 1860), the Sandridge manor records (of no relevance to the Brickie), and the published calendar of law cases. Records of bricks being used in public buildings frustratingly rarely say where the bricks came from.
This is all a rather longwinded way of saying that I have virtually no information which can unambiguously be linked to the Brickie. However the following references may help:
1582: Thomas Hall, M.D., and Margaret his wife gave the claypits, 9 acres of land in the manor of Kingsbury in St Albans, for certain doles and to pay the usher £2 a year. [from records of St Albans School]
Victoria History of Hertfordshire, Vol 2, 1908
Hall. The clay pits belonging to Thomas and Margaret Hall were the playing field adjacent to the garage at the junction of Verulam Road and Folly Lane. I think that they probably included the pit on the other side of Verulam Road, adjacent to New England Street. A payment of £2 a year still comes to St Albans School from their charity.
Frank Kilvington, Letter dated 17rh February, 1997
If you find any names of brick makers that can be linked to the Brickie let me know and I may have further details about them on my files.
[P.S. I have another interest, in I have a vague memory of playing on the Brickie when, as a young child, I spent a holiday with my grandparents Walter and Bertha Locke, of Abbey View Road.]
See also St Albans Brickmakers
Jane Waudby (jane.waudby @t ntlworld.com) replied: Thanks for your reply, I have been somewhat wrapped up in the Street Party we held last Saturday to thank you properly. Thanks for the possible leads we will follow these up in due course. We had a lot of interest shown in our Local History Group at the party, so hopefully it will go from strength to strength.
Can you remember what number your Grandparents lived at as one of our possible projects is to trace the history of the houses in the three streets. If you have any photos we would love to see them and possibly copy them.
W.R. Locke in garden of 2 Abbey View Road, in 1937
My grandfather, Walter Richard Locke, retired from his job in Hemel Hempstead in 1926 and moved to Copfield, 2 Abbey View Road, St Albans, shortly afterwards. He worked at Harrow until he retired in 1935, and by 1938 had moved to Westcliffe on Sea, where he lived throughout the war - apart from a period working as surveyor at Watchet, Somerset, where my parents and I were living. After the war he returned to 2 Abbey View Road, and remained there until about 1950, when my grandmother became ill and they moved to Devon, initially with their daughter, Muriel, wife of Norman Clarke, at that time Bishop of Plymouth.
2 Abbey View Road, St Albans, in about 1930?
Edward Williams (edward.williams @t barcap.com) of New England Street, St Albans writes: I've lived on New England Street for a couple of years. Can you find any photos/info of the street pre 1950's? The street has a park opposite that is called the old Bricky. More info on this might lead to info on the street.
As described above there are problems in identifying brick works and their owners but some information has become available since the original enquiry, although it doesn't really take us much further as to providing a precise date or brickmaker's name for the brickworks. However I suggest some places where answers might be found.
The City of St Albans (1902) includes the following description of the area:
A Roman Brickfield and Kingsbury Castle. By passing down Dagnall Street we reach an open piece of land upon the right, having a bank upon the opposite side upon which houses and are now built. The great excavations seen here is supposed to have been caused by the Romans who used the soil for making bricks; the Saxon times it formed the eastern defence of the Castle of Kingsbury, erected by the Kings of Mercia, :and covering a large portion of the elevated land. The last vestiges of this Castle disappeared in the reign of King Stephen. By turning to the right along New England Street we reach Verulam Road and see the Hospital; to the left of which lies another and much larger excavation, also a Roman brickfield, but now a public pleasure ground.
Unfortunately modern research suggests that Kingsbury Castle may have been a Victorian "invention" and is unsupported by archaeological evidence. As a result there must be some doubt on the assumption that the Romans made bricks here. Perhaps more significantly it does not mention that it was the site of brickworks within recent memory.
Some information is available from pictures and maps. St Albans Museums have a picture of "The Brickie Park" from the 1960's (and two later ones which show part of it) on their web site, and another post World War II picture of some houses in New England Street. They have an engraving (circa 1880) of the Abbey which shows cattle in the Brickie Park in the foreground, and a watercolour from 1867 from a similar viewpoint which suggests that the area where the cows were circa 1880 was much less even in 1867. The area is shown simply as open ground in the large scale OS map survey of 1877 but is marked as a recreation ground in 1897 revision.
The pictures and maps suggest that it was probably no longer a brickworks in 1867, was very unlikely to be a brickworks in 1880 and was definitely not a brickworks by 1897, The problem is to date it before this date. There was a lot of brick earth in the St Albans area, so bricks would often be made near to where they were used so, for example, the Brickie may have been active when nearby Portland and Mill streets were being built in the mid-19th century - see Pound Field, St Michaels, St Albans, 19th Century. However the location is sufficiently near the town centre that brick may have been made there since the 16th century or earlier.
One possible source of information could relate to The Brickie becoming a recreation ground. It could be part of the bequest of "Clay Pittes" by Thomas Hall and his wife Margaret in 1582. Historical Records of St Albans (1888) mentions a new scheme for managing St Albans School drawn up in 1879:
One of the most important features in the new scheme is the transference to the Grammar School of the proceeds of the charity lands of Thomas and Margaret Hall. Originally only £2 per annum was derived from this source, which sum went to the under-master. The field brings in £50 per annum, which now becomes part of the income of the School, with the stipulation that the governors shall give certain small sums of money annually to the poor of St. Albans and Hertford.
So what happened to this property? Does the school still own it? Does it have records relating to this charity land which identify its location as being (or not being) the location of The Brickie? As the area is now a recreation ground it may now belong the the borough council - so do their property department records have the old deeds, or other records to identify the name of the previous owner? Such evidence might establish whether The Brickie was part of Thomas Hall's charity.
If containing the school and the borough council draws a blank there is another possibility. St Albans Central Library, in the Maltings, has a series of late 19th century trade directories and it might be possible to use these to discover approximately when the recreation ground was created. You could then look at the City Council Meeting minutes (I think on microfilm at the library) to find dates when the matter was discussed. The editors of the Herts Advertiser (copies on microfilm at the library) were very interested in the history of St Albans - and in reporting the council meetings (or in associated correspondence about the same dates) they may well have said something about the history of the brickworks as it was known at the end of the 19th century. However the 1902 account quoted above may suggest that all you might get is a general statement about Roman Bricks and Kingsbury Castle. More usefully there might also be some comments about the land being unsuitable for building because the brick pits had been used as rubbish tips (this was quite common in the area) - making it difficult to provide firm foundations.
Let me know what you find - and if you get some names and dates I may be able to comment further.
If you can add to the information given above tell me.