The Brickmakers of St Albans

James Vass


St Albans


James Vass was born in London about 1805, and was working as a bricklayer in St Albans as early as 1839. In 1864 he took over William Bennett's brickyard on Bernards Heath, but it seems likely that this was only for a short time.

Some relatives were bricklayers and builders.

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

Thomas Vass and Sarah Cook married at Redbourn on 26th May 1800 and it would seem that their children were:

Joseph Vass, bapt. 12th April 1801 at Redbourn
George Vass, bapt. 9th January 1803 at Redbourn
Mary Ann Vass, born 2nd Jan 1804, bapt. 8 Oct 1806 at St Sepulchre, London
James Vass, born 20th Sept 1805, bapt 26th Jan 1806 at St Sepulchre, London

James Vass married Maria Pettit on 21st October 1827 at the Abbey, St Albans, and if she was the Maria Pettit who was christened on 2nd August 1789 at Ayot St Peter it is perhaps not surprising I have found no evidence of any children as she was nearly 40 when she married..

The first definite occupation information I have is that he is listed in the 1839 Pigot's directory for Hertfordshire as a bricklayer living at Queen Adelaide Street, St Albans. Later he resided in St Peters Street, St Albans, when he voted in the 1847 election, when he gave out bribes. He accepted bribes in the 1850 election, and gave evidence in to the enquiry in 1851 on more than one occasion. The 1851 census shows the following entry for St Peters Street.

James VASS





Maria VASS




Ayot St Peter

In the 1850 and 1855 Post Office Directories he is listed as a bricklayer in St Peters Street and in 1862 as a builder in Fishpool Street. In the 1861 census he was listed in Fishpool Street next door to Christopher Miskin. Unlike Miskin, and as in 1851, he is not shown as employing any men. In the last quarter of 1863 hew married Rebecca Wells.

The following advertisement appeared in the Herts Advertiser in 1864:



Begs respectfully to state that he has taken the old-established and well-known BRICK and LIME YARD, situate on Bernardís Heath, and for so many years carried on by the late Mr. William Bennett; where he intends to produce first-class BRICKS, at the lowest possible prices, which he doubts not will give complete satisfaction to all who may favor him with their orders.


A stock of fresh-burnt LIME always on hand.

St Albans, August 4th, 1864.

In 1866 and 1870 he is listed as a builder in London Road, St Albans. On 24th December 1870 the following small advertisement appeared in the Herts Advertiser:

J Vass begs respectfully to state that on and after January 1st, 1871, the business of builder, etc., hitherto carried out by him, will be conducted by Joseph Vass and George Vass, his nephews.

In the 1871 census he is listed as a builder in London Road, this time with Rebecca (58, born Ayot St Peter) as his wife. Next door was 34 year old Joseph Vass, also a builder, and his family. James is listed as having died in the last quarter of 1872, aged 67. In September 1871 a court case relating to a theft from Fred Barford's brick field refers to "old Jim Vass's copper pump" and it may be relevant that the first reference to Fred Barford making bricks in in 1868 - and he may have purchased or hired brick making equipment from James Vass - who appears only to have made bricks for a very short time.

Shortly before he died he was selling off building land in St Albans as the following advertisement from the Herts Advertiser of 3rd August, 1872, shows:


SEVERAL LOTS OF FREEHOLD LAND tithe free and land tax redeemed. Price £1 per foot 100 feet deep. Situate near St Peterís Church, St Albanís. - Apply to Mr. Jas. Vass, London-road, St Albans.

James's brother George would appear to be the George Vass who was living in George Street, St Albans, in the 1851 census:

George VASS



Bricklayer & publican


Sarah VASS





George VASS




St Albans


Married Dau.



St Albans

Elizabeth VASS




St Albans

Joseph VASS




St Albans

Fanny VASS




Abbots Langley

Catherine VASS




Abbots Langley

Moses Cohen





George (formerly builder) and Sarah are listed as living in New England Street, St Albans in the 1881 census. This census shows his son George Vass as a bricklayer living in Lattimore Road, St Albans. While the family clearly worked with bricks there is no evidence they also made them.

In addition the following table lists the occupations of Vass heads of household living in St Albans and listed in the 1901 census - which shows a strong link with building and bricklaying in the family - but no sign of brick making.

Arthur Vass 24 Bardwell Road Bricklayer
Arthur Vass 21 Cornwell Road Bricklayer
Charles Vass 26 Hatfield Road Steward of Labour Club
George Vass 48 Alma Road Builder
Herbert Vass 24 Cornwell Road Bricklayer
James Vass 52 Fishpool Street Bricklayer
Joseph Vass 40 Old London Road Gas Worker
Thomas Vass 28 Oster Terrace Auctioneer's Clerk
William Vass 28 Keyfield West Bricklayer


May 2006

Lesley Rasti (lesleygraham @t from Victoria, Australia wrote: I would like to give you some info on Mary Ann Vass B 1804, St.Sepurchre, Holborn. She married William Stone B 1803 Islington, and travelled with her children to Victoria, Australia, aboard the Ellen. She died on the 10th of Aug 1889 in Carlton, Victoria. I am her 4x great grand daughter, Thank you for your web page it has filled in some gaps for me as I have very little info on my Vass line.


February 2012

Jon Mien (who is researching St Albans public houses) wrote: The Vass name interests me as James Vass had an interest in several pubs in the town, not just as tenant. Here's the list of pubs that he was tenant of:

  1. Cock & Flower Pot - Fishpool St: from 1828 to abt 1835

  2. Blue Lion - Portland St: abt 1836 - abt 1837

  3. Queen Adelaide - Adelaide St: abt 1838 - Abt 1844

But his relationship to the local pubs goes deeper than that as he appears to have owned the freehold to a couple as well:

  1. Verulam Arms - Dagnall St: he appears to buy the freehold of a pub called the Robin Hood that was at the bottom of Dagnall Lane just before the road went out into the fields around New England Fields. He knocked down the pub cutting a road there instead, but building the Verulam Arms on the next plot to the south. This was in the 1852-53 period and he still owned the freehold in the 1860s.

  2. Harrow - Verulam Rd: This opened about 1841 (now trading as "Mokoko") as a beerhouse and probably purpose-built by James Vass. He owned the freehold until around 1850.

I assume these were speculative works as the population of St Albans and the thirst for beer were increasing. Maybe an inspection of these two buildings will uncover brickmakers' marks. I'll take a look next time I am around this way.

George was his brother, then he too was a publican at several St Albans pubs as was a Thomas Vass at the Wellington in the Market Place around 1900.

If you can add to the information given above tell me.

Page reorganised July 2009 - with information from some more press cutting, etc