Archaeological Remains of Brick Yards

The physical remains’ of the brickmaking industry depend largely on the technology employed in the process. Remains of brick making sites and processes before 1870 are rare. This is because so many of this period were close to major towns and have been absorbed in suburban development and secondly because these early yards were far less substantial than the later types.

The great majority of yards before the 1850s operated with man and animal. The technology of this period required the brick earth to be excavated and then mixed with various inclusions. It was then tempered which might mean leaving it for a period and then kneading it by hand or in a pugmill with, sometimes, settling pits close by to catch the slurry. The bricks were then moulded on a table or stool using a wooden or metal frame. The green bricks were then dried in sheds and finally burnt which, pre-1850, meant in clamps or kilns (1).

“Of such activities only the irregular pits where the clay was dug, or the circular horse walks, might survive, together with the reddened earth and broken brickbats of the early clamp where they were burnt.” (2)

It should also be noted, however, that the Products of these yards, the bricks, may still be seen in a number of structures.

From the middle of the century the introduction of steam power and increasingly sophisticated mechanisation changed the face of the brickmaker’s craft. At the same time numerous changes were made to the kilns and bigger and more efficient types were introduced into the yards. These changes have meant a far greater impact on the archaeological record.
Later nineteenth century and twentieth century yards were characterized by

“…sheds with a battery of grinding pans and brick making machines each capable of making up to 15,000 bricks a week and several kilns. At the back was the great pit from which clay or shale was won (often by blasting), roughly broken up and loaded via horizontal galleries and tip cars to the bottom of the main tramway.” (3)

Clay pits are, therefore, the most ubiquitous evidence of old brick making sites, however, as technology improved far more substantial archaeological remains may be expected on sites. In particular foundations of kilns and stacks as well as large quantities of wasters (damaged or poorly fired materials from the kilns) are characteristic of such sites. Evidence of the transportation system within and to the site may also be found; street names may indicate old site functions.


  1. Birmingham, J. Industrial Archaeology in Austrlaia., 56 – 60
  2. Ibid., 54
  3. lbid., 54