Draped or extruded? We have both!

Land drains. We have quite a few as it happens. Personally I have always held a secret interest in these hollow lengths of clay. They were so important to enable us to grow enough food to feed a rapidly increasing population but maybe we don’t celebrate them enough. Anyhow, following a recent Facebook post showing just a small selection of our land drain goodies, I have been asked to share further photos of our collection. In particular here is an example of an early land drain made from a rectangle of clay placed over a wooden former (BB2014.1.739). This horse-shoe shaped drain would have been stood on a flat tile. There is an example of an extruded land drain with a cross-section of horse-shoe/arch (2015.34) and also an example of a collar (2017.6.16). The museum also has a selection of tools used to create the ditches in which the land drains were placed but that will have to wait for another day. Or better still, come on down to the museum and see them for yourself.

Projects continued!

The winter projects are slowly progressing but the pressure is on now to get it all finished before 24th March when we open again. The cafe kitchen is still in pieces but the end is in site and it is going to be an exciting change. The volunteers – especially the Trust – are looking forward to real coffee for their meetings.

Meanwhile we have been undertaking training in costumed interpretation. The aim is to set up working days at the museum showing how some of our brickmaking machinery worked. We will wear the costumes that suit the date of the machinery ranging from 18th century hand brickmaking to Edwardian machine made bricks. It is going to be challenging getting the costumes right. There is little information as to what people wore when doing mundane tasks.

Finally, our New Foundations Project has properly begun. We were awarded a round 1 pass by the National Lottery Heritage Fund which is brilliant news. Architects have been appointed and we are busy getting the whole project moving. This is an ambitious one for the museum but if we can get it to work it will create a truly sustainable future.

New Year, New Projects

Happy New Year everyone! This is a busy time for us. No visitors but plenty of projects to undertake before we open again at the end of March. The site is particularly cold in the winter and difficult but still the projects get done.

This year we are updating our children’s play area. The old equipment needed to be taken down. It has lasted us really well and was in a pub garden for many years before we ‘rescued’ it. However, the rot has been creeping in and now it has to be recycled into something new. The new design for the play area is shaping up well.

Site clearance also happens in January and February – before the birds start nesting. We do end up burning a lot of our scrubby bits. Not necessarily the greenest solution but composting would take years and we don’t have anything that would turn it into chippings.

Meanwhile, our admin team are reviewing the health and safety documents ready for another season. The team is growing steadily and the wealth of experience the volunteers bring is impressive. Other admin type tasks are marketing related. All the What’s On websites need our events added. This is a labour of love as each event has to be logged with all the relevant details. The better sites remember your details from event to event but some, alas, don’t and you have to put them all in each time.

The volunteers who restore and look after the machinery undertake similar projects all year round. They will be working on the boiler, the squeak in the steam engine – which they think they have now fixed – and restoring more cutting tables. We didn’t know how many of the latter we had until they started restoring them.

Finally, if that isn’t enough to be getting on with, we are going to work on the cafe. We have a grant for a proper coffee machine. This will vastly improve the cafe offer but we need to re-jig the counter to fit it in. Once all of these are in place we will be ready to open again. 10 weeks to go…no pressure!

Inspiring Learning at the Brickworks Museum

Whilst a brick museum might not be an obvious choice for a school trip, we run a popular series of hands-on learning sessions for schools, uniformed groups and adults with special educational needs.

We explore STEM challenges through brick bonds and building experiments; materials through the story of the three little pigs; history and the Victorians in the UK’s last surviving Victorian brickworks; and we explore art in all of its forms.

 

Our established and growing education programme is available in a range of budgets to suit visiting schools and every workshop is tailored to your class and topic. We can also cater for larger groups.

If you are interested in booking an educational visit to the Brickworks, get in touch today via admin@bursledonbrickworks.org.uk.

That’s my Grandad!

Last week a lady and her husband visited us, all the way from Australia. That in itself is exciting! But then she told us that her Grandfather was in one of our football team photographs. We had a good chat, and exchanged details about the individual and other men in the photographs. I was able to add some extra information to our, unfortunately, rather limited records of ex-workers. I am hopeful that we’ll be in contact again, by email, and that her knowledge of family history will help with a World War One research project that we have in the pipeline. Piecing together the story of the Brickworks and the lives of the many workers and their families is one of the most enjoyable parts of working at the museum. If you recognise anyone in our historic photographs, or have information on a person who once worked here please do get in touch. We would love to add your stories to our archive.

Wonderful Wednesdays

Throughout the summer we have hosted Wonderful Wednesday activities for families. Playing to our strengths of STEM learning, art, clay and of course bricks; we have covered topics from adopt a brick, to terrific tiles, to making mosaic coasters.

One of our favourite, and most popular, sessions was our slime workshop. The brickmakers had to get the perfect mix of sand, water and clay to make the 20 million bricks a year produced at this site. We challenged our young visitors to get the perfect mix of PVA glue, borax and food dye to make good quality slime…and they smashed it! The education room is still, six weeks on, covered in glitter.

We also took advantage of the nice weather and challenged our young engineers to make paper boats capable of holding bricks, and set the chocolate brick challenge in which our amazing architects had to design packaging that was splash-proof, drop-proof and crush-proof. Every package was tested by being thrown off of the roof, into a pool of water, and then crushed… with a brick! We’re pleased to say that every chocolate brick survived the trials, though none of them survived being eaten by our participants!

We continue to strive to engage family audiences with varied and innovative activities. If you don’t already, please follow us on Facebook to keep up to date with all of our events.

Gemma Ingason; Education Officer

Kilns

It is always interesting talking kilns with others! The kiln in the photo is in Lincolnshire and would appear to be a continuous kiln very similar to ours – the chambers are all connected to each other and they seem to connect to the chimney. But….these eight chambers are all in a line! How did it work? Our kiln moved the fire around in a continuous circle going from chamber to chamber. To do this the chambers were all linked to each other like a necklace. The fire could then travel from chamber to chamber for as long as you wanted it to. We believe our kiln burnt continuously for over 80 years.

We have searched our texts and can’t find another kiln where there are eight chambers in a line. What would be the point of linking them if they don’t make a circuit?? Puzzling – if anyone out there knows the answer please get in touch. There are at least two groups who would like to know!

 

Access for All

The Brickworks is a huge site – built in 1897, the founders weren’t thinking about visitor comfort. The floors are bumpy, we have ‘authentic’ dust, and the large and complex site can be difficult to understand.

Huge steps forward were made after the receipt of a Heritage Lottery Fund grant in 2014. New interpretation panels and exhibits walk visitors through the Museum in a comprehensive and intuitive way to tell the story of bricks, brickmaking, and this incredible Victorian site.

Here at the Brickworks Museum, we are always striving to increase access to visitors from all backgrounds, ages and abilities.

We have a tactile map of the site in reception, an online access statement, visitor lift and accessible facilities. Thanks to a grant from the South East Museum Development Programme we are also a Makaton friendly site – confident to use hand signs to communicate with visitors to bring the site to life.

In the coming months we will be adding a social story to our website. These are simple pictorial guides used by visitors who might be nervous about the change of routine involved in coming on an educational visit. A social story serves as a simple introduction – familiarising visitors with our site, staff and facilities.

 

If you are thinking of visiting our site and have any questions about access – as a regular visitor, or as the organiser of a tour or educational visit – please do not hesitate to get in touch. We are always happy to help.

Gemma Ingason – Education Officer

Holiday Bricks

All of us working at the museum find it difficult to get away from bricks. Long suffering relatives and friends have to put up with being dragged off to unlikely locations to find interesting bits of brick related history.

However, in the north east of Scotland you have to resign yourself to seeing an awful lot of stone. One exception was in the small harbour town of Brora. Driving through on the main road you suddenly come across a short terrace of brick built houses. They look strangely out of place. Once back home a bit of research was needed to find out the who, what and why!

The brickworks at Brora  were started in 1814. It was around this time that the Duke and Duchess of Sutherland were ‘improving’ their land by clearing off the local tenant farmers. Farming sheep was the new way forward and the small farmers had to be moved off the hills to make way for them. The clearances were harsh but the Sutherlands did try to help by finding new work for their tenants. Having moved them to the coast they set them to work in the fisheries and created a new brickworks. It must have been strange to have been farming one minute and then brickmaking the next.

The brickworks ran for twelve years before closing in 1826. They re-opened in 1873 before finally closing in the 1970s – around the same time our brickworks closed. In the photo you can see a large Hoffman kiln with its chimney so at one point they were obviously making a fair number of bricks.

Photo of Brora Brickworks from www.scottishbrickhistory.co.uk

Why are we special?

 

Restored pug-mill

As I sit at the front desk shivering slightly despite the bright sunshine outside I wonder what it is about the Brickworks that makes it so special. It is, undeniably, wonderful. Is it the bricks and mortar? Well obviously I have to say yes, we’re a former brick yard and brick museum after all! The building is beautiful, in its ‘shouldn’t really still be standing’, slightly haphazard kind of way. The way railway track was used to make the first floor, the red of the brick, brown of the wood and white of the lime wash. The machinery that makes you gasp in awe and the steam engine that makes you think ‘they knew how to build things to last’. The smell of the steam engine when its running is glorious, less so is the damp and dust of the collections store, but nonetheless I like it as it helps me feel present as I search for a brick. History seeps out of every wall, each cog, gear and brick mould.

Installing the horse-powered pug mill
The kit we take to outside shows

But its the people that bring the Brickworks to life. The volunteers, my volunteers, never cease to amaze me. Their enthusiasm, passion, commitment, knowledge and skills make me smile every day. Without them there would be no Brickworks. We would lose this special place. So this is a thank you, to all our wonderful volunteers.

To the brick makers, cake bakers, Facebookers, weed pullers, tinkerers, steamies and welcoming faces. And a thank you to our visitors, your joy and positive feedback mean so much to us all. Please spread the word, and give some thought to making the cross-over from keen visitor to essential staff, we really do need you.

One page of our visitor book