While bricks are known to have been made in this area from an early date (ie Mamre was built of brick in c.1820) these would have been produced for specific buildings rather than as part of a local brick-making industry. As with many local industries there is little documentary evidence about the establishment or operation of St Marys brickyards and what little information we have is largely based on oral history.
The earliest reference which has been found for brickyards in the village area dates from August 1884 when the Nepean Times reported that “There’s nothing like bricks in South Creek just now; three new brick kilns starting, T.R. Smith’s, William Fleming’s and Hall and Turner’s” (1).
In 1886-7 Wise’s New South Wales Post Office Directory listed Charles Gilbert and James Royal as brickmakers of St Marys, but in a description of the town’s industries in 1890 no mention was made of these yards (2). Similarly, when Sands Directory began including country commercial listings in 1901 no brickmakers were included on that or any subsequent list. Other people who are locally believed to have been associated with the local brickmaking industry include William Thompson and a Mr. Mitchell, but no documentary evidence has been found to confirm this information.
In William Fleming’s obituary in 1897 (3) it was stated that he had been a successful brickmaker with extensive establishments at both St Marys and Penrith. However, it was concluded that “Lately…through modern machinery, he could not keep up to other competition, and both establishments were closed down.”
From the available information it appears that brickmaking at St Marys reached its hey-day in the mid-1880s. This coincides with the rapid growth of the town during this period, but despite the continued growth and consolidation of the 1890s, it seems that economic forces and changing technology had led to the closure of the towns brickyards by that time.
No documentary evidence has been found which would help to determine the location of St Marys’ brickyards. However, the oral history programme undertaken by Mr. Bert Evans has identified three sites which are locally believed to have been used for that purpose. These include William Fleming’s brickyard which is believed to have been located on the northern side of Gabriels Lane, between Charles Hackett Drive and Princess Mary Street; William Thompson’s brickyard on the south-eastern corner of Andrew Thompson’s tannery site, between Saddington and Vincent Streets ( see the image below); and Mr. Mitchell’s brickyard on the southern side of Wilson Street, between Pages Road and Barker Street.
Historical Information Relating to the Development & Layout of the Site
Little historical information has been found about the operation of St Marys’ brickyards. In 1884 it was reported that three new brick kilns were starting operation, but in a description of the town’s industries in 1890 no further mention is made of these yards (4).
No descriptions, photographs or plans of these sites have been located.
Physical Evidence Identified by Site Inspection
No standing structures, brick pits or other archaeological remains have been identified which would have related to the operation of brickyards within St Marys.
Of the sites identified through oral history sources William Fleming’s has been modified by the extension of the St Marys Primary School and the construction of a car parking area on the western side of the school grounds; William Thompson’s has been redeveloped for housing along Vincent Street; and Mr. Mitchell’s is now an open paddock.
Potential Archaeological Evidence
No information is available about the form of the yards or what technology was employed, and there is no documentary evidence to confirm their precise location.
In the two cases where the sites identified by oral tradition have been redeveloped it is considered that little, if any, archaeological evidence would remain. However, in the case of the third site it is more difficult to assess the potential for archaeological evidence. This site is vacant, although some sections have been disturbed by earth-works. There are no surface indications of extant archaeological features. However, without any information regarding the technology employed in the yard and the types of developments associated with its function it is impossible to assess whether the yard would have left any impact on the archaeological record.
In this case it must be concluded that the potential archaeological resource of this site is uncertain and can only be assessed either by more detailed documentary evidence or professional archaeological investigation.
There are no standing structures related to the development of brickworks at St Marys.
Little, if any, significant archaeological evidence is likely to exist in the areas locally believed to have been developed as William Fleming’s and William Thompson’s Brickyards. The site identified as Mr. Mitchell’s brickyard may contain significant archaeological remains, but will require professional testing to confirm or deny the existence of the potential resource.
- Nepean Times, 23 August 1884
- Sydney Mail, August 1890 : p 251
- Nepean Times, 20 November 1897 Section 2.6
- Nepean Times, 23 August 1884
Sydney Mail, August 1890 : p 251