The Hollybrook Brick Company, Kingswood, Bristol
The Hollybrook Brick Company, Kingswood, Bristol
BARTON Hill Rugby Football Club, which celebrates its 100th anniversary in three years time, has its clubhouse and home ground situated behind Speedwell School in Buncombe Lane. The club plays on part of a large playing field which stretches towards Lodge Causeway, but within living memory this large swathe of greenery was the site of a major industrial concern.
Surprisingly, details of these once extensive works are sketchy. Despite many excellent history books and informative histories about Bristol's rich industrial heritage. detailed information is scarce, and photos, remain few and far between. The area, now known as the Argyle Road Playing Field, together with adjacent modern house was the site of the Hollybrook Brick Company Chester Park brickworks. Here, for many years, natural clay deposits were exploited by a brick-making industry eager to supply many of Bristol's house-builders. The works expanded from modest beginnings in the mid-Victorian period to a large site stretching from Charlton Road to Whitefield Road in one direction, and Duncombe Lane/Clarence Road to Argyle Road, in the other.
The brick production here involved a number of key processes and the site had three distinct areas; pits, manufactory and waste. The clay pits themselves covered a wide area stretching from the site of the present- day cycle path/footpath, down to the Argyle Hall in Whitefield Road and a nearby large property called Linden House. It was in these pits, during the summer months, that the clay was extracted Before the days of mechanised clay extraction equipment it was all dug by hand .
The task of transporting the clay from the pits to the yard revolved around the use of drams (carts). These travelled along a fairly elaborate narrow-gauge railway network which linked the pits to the main manufactory. In the 1920s, a group of donkeys were employed to pull the drams but there is evidence to suggest that two locally-made Pecketts steam engines were later used. From the drams a number of conveyors transferred the clay to a series of plain,single-storey buildings. Here the clay was moulded and dried before firing. This was done in the kilns, the heart of the operation When the works expanded in the early 20th century to meet increasing demand, these got progressively bigger.
By the 1940s two huge kilns were in operation. One was a substantial bunker-like rectangular structure, capable of handling many thousands of bricks and the other was particularly distinctive, being a large circular kiln. At its very centre was a tall chimney stack. No less than six chimneys towered over the works. Similar to the long-gone ICI works at Netham, a large waste tip was generated. This was situated towards Chariton Road, overlooked by the tower of the nearby Cossham Hospital. Like many similar industries, brick-making required a mixture of both skilled and unskilled labour, although it's not clear how many people actually worked at the site. Brick-making tended to be a seasonal job and related to highs and lows in the building trade.
Around 1937, the Hollybrook Brick Co Ltd became Hollychrome Bricks Ltd. Twenty years later production ceased at Chester Park, although a second works at Vale Lane, Bedminster Down, managed to survive until the 1960s. After the Chester Park works closed the sprawling, derelict site became a magnet for local kids. Parallel to Argyle Road, there was a flooded old clay pit. On summer evenings it became a popular spot - known as the 'Lily pond'.
David Cheesley, in the Tempus published book Crews Hole, St George And Speedwell, recalls one incident. 'Adjoining Speedwell School was Duncombe Lane. On the other side of Duncombe Lane was a disused quarry, which had water at the bottom, estimated to be about 40ft deep. This was a magnet to us boys. We played there until one boy slipped down the side, broke his arm and probably would have drowned if he had fallen in the water.'
In the early 1960s the council began the controlled tipping of household waste into the old clay pits. This took some time, but when the pits were full the area was grassed over and the present playing fields created. The Barton Hill Rugby Football Club moved to the site in the late 1970s. The old kilns, chimneys and the associated buildings were replaced by a builder's yard. Later, new housing was built. Perceptively the developers based the houses around Kiln Close and Claymore Crescent.
A few old sheds from the works lingered on and were only pulled down in May of this year. Local historian David Stephenson said: 'There is almost nothing about the brick works in the local libraries. This is odd considering it was such a large industrial site There must still be people around who can remember it, perhaps even worked there, or, like Dave Cheesley, played on the derelict site There must be pictures somewhere of all those kilns, chimneys and clay pits.' If any readers know of any, or have any additional information, could they please get in touch.