The Brickmakers of St Albans

The Blanks & Lefebure Brickmaking Machine


St Albans

[Unless otherwise stated family information comes from the IGI, VRI, and census data.]

Partial Draft


Bricks have been made on Bernards Heath, St Albans, Herts, from the 15th century to the beginning of the 20th century. Jacob Reynolds took up the tenancy of Heath Farm in 1871 and he was definitely making quality bricks by the end of the 19th century, which were used to build St Saviour's Church, the City Museum, and a number of quality houses. However some of the bricks bearing his initials are almost certainly hand made.

Documentation of the brickworks on and around Bernards Heath is poor, and much of what is known for the later 19th century comes from press reports on subjects such as inquests of children drowned in flooded clay pits. However on 23rd June 1894 the following news items appeared in the Herts Advertiser.

Brick-making Machine. – We understand it is proposed to form a company, with a capital of £50,000 for the purpose of placing on the markets of Great Britain and Ireland, the "Invicta" brick-making machine, invented by Messrs Blanks and Lefebure of Sydney, New South Wales. It is claimed for this machine that it produces bricks by the semi-dry process at a cheaper rate than any other machine, and the bricks have been pronounced by competent experts in Australia to be superior to all other machine-made bricks. The machine is at work, or shortly will be, at Messrs Reynold’s brickmaking works on Bernards Heath.

This is of interest because it is the first explicit reference to Jacob Reynolds making bricks (although unsourced modern accounts suggested he made them earlier) and the first explicit reference to the use of automated brickmaking machinery at any of the brickworks on Bernards Heath. This report looks at the type of machine that was installed and the probable link between the Bernards Heath brickyard and Sydney, Australia.

The Blanks & Lefebure Brick-making Machine

The following description of the Blanks & Lefebure brickmaking machine was published in The Australian Star of 14th November, 1890.


A trial of this machine, patented and manufactured by Messrs. Blanks and Lefebure, of the Trivuta Foundry, Mitchell-street, Glebe, [Sydney, NSW] took place at their works on Thursday, November 13, before a large and representative gathering of gentlemen interested in brick manufacturing. After a few remarks by Alderman Conlon in reference to the firm the machine was started by Alderman Lucus. The Contrivance is capable of turning out 1680 bricks per hour. All present expressed their admiration and satisfaction at the mode in which the machine turned out the work. Messrs Blanks and Lefebure are to be congratulated on the result of the trial, and deserve the success this invention is sure to bring them. After a few complimentary remarks by Alderman Lucas the proceeding came to a close. A few remarks respecting this machine will be of interest. The inventors, after years of experience, have designed and introduced the above, with a view to supplying the market with a machine which will make bricks of a uniform size from almost any kind of hard brick material. Simple of construction, very powerful, efficient, and moderate in price, the machine is self contained, requires very little power to drive it, and takes up a small space. The density of the bricks can be regulated at will by means of a novel adjustment gear whilst the machine is working. Special attention has been given to lubrication, large wearing surfaces, and easy renewals. The materials are the best of their kind, and workmanship of the highest quality. Some idea of the working of the machine may be gathered from the following:- The machine presses the bricks both at the top and at the bottom at one time by means of cams secured to a powerful shaft. When starting the machine the chargers, being fitted with brick material, move forward from under a shoot by means of a cam on the main spur wheel and a rocking shaft with two levers. When the chargers have arrived above the mould the material falls into them. Immediately after this the top stampers drop on to it, pressing it firmly into the moulds, thus ensuring a full charge. The top stampers rise quickly, and immediately after the chargers move back for the purpose of recharging. The top stampers drop the second time on the material in the moulds, when it is drawn down by a pair of cams on the main shaft, and at the same time the bottom stampers are forced up by another pair of cams, which are attached to this same shaft. These combined operations cause very powerful and equal pressures on the top and bottom of the bricks. The top stampers then rise for the second time, followed by the bottom stampers with the bricks on them, and when these are level with the top of the table the first operation of the chargers is repeated, at the same time delivering the bricks to the operator attending the machine. Both the top and bottom stampers are heated by steam to prevent the material adhering. The machine passes two bricks at a time, and is driven by a belt and heavy spin gear. From the success of the trial and the pleasure experienced by those present no doubt the machine will command a large sale.

Two patents are listed in the UK Patent Abridgements of the time, one of which would appear to be directly relevant, and the other could be a modification for moulding pipes and tubes.

The references are:

1891, Patent 2071 Blanks G.W. & Lefebure, R. February 4, Moulding Bricks.

1895, Patent 12892, Blanks G. W., July 3, Moulding pipes and tubes.

Add notes on UK patents plus illustration

In describing the Excelsior Brickworks, Nora Peek and Chris Pratten say:

"It is strange that the May 1893 schedule of plant at the works (on page 23) made mention of only two brick presses. For on November 26, 1892, "The Australian Mining Standard" had reported that the Glebe engineers and ironfounders Messers Blans [sic] and Lefebure, had recently patented their locally made "Invicta" brickmaking machine in the Australian colonies, Europe and the US. Of the twelve machines that had been sold by the makers at the time the Standard's report was written, five were claimed to be then in use at the Excelsior works at Croydon. The report stated that no less than 17 separate and especial advantages are claimed for the new machine …if in practice only half is achieved that the patentees claim for it, the machine should revolutionise the trade."

Then follows an engineer's drawing of the machine - which was printed in the original article in the Mining Standard.

"The machine is guaranteed to make perfect bricks of one density, out of any kind of brickmaking materials - such as shale, ironstone, sandstone, clay &c in either dry or semi-dry state. This in itself is no slight gain. Then again, the bricks are stamped so solid and hard by the machine that they can be handled and placed in the kiln, and stacked to almost any height without injury to the bottom layers: they will stand up and remain perfectly true whilst they are being burnt, and thus prevent the obstruction which so often takes place in the ordinary course of brickburning. So easily controlled is the mechanism that a lad may conduct all the operations, and turn out 1200 perfect bricks an hour. Four horse power is sufficient for driving purposes."

George Walter Blanks

Write up what is known about him and his origins

Frederick Blanks and the St Albans Cricket Club

Write up what is known about him and his links with Jacob Reynolds

R Lefebure

Write up what is known about him and his origins


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