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.
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.
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.
Here at the Brickworks Museum, we have just renewed our status as an Arts Award Centre. Over the summer we will be developing programmes to engage young people with art at the Museum through both the Discover and Explore programmes offered by Arts Award.
Heritage is inspiring – a stimulus for art, literature and learning at all levels and across all audiences. This is an ethos that underpins everything that we do here at the Brickworks Museum, and one that we are hoping to develop thanks to the Arts Award programme.
The Arts Award provides various levels of qualification for young people who have connected with art in all of its forms. The remit is broad – from traditional art forms like painting and sculpture; to photography, music and dance. In our dusty, industrial setting – full of textures, colours and contrasts – we are certain that we can develop an engaging programme that supports young people through an artistic exploration.
This addition to our existing educational programme will hopefully engage a new audience, and a more diverse one, providing an introduction to art, to heritage and to the museum.
Facebook is generating a great deal of interest at the moment with calls from all sides for people to boycott it. We here at the museum do find it very valuable. Whilst understanding that the problems being discussed need at least clarification we rather hope that our audience carry on using the platform.
Why? When you run an industrial museum with a subject as hard to sell as bricks any form of ‘word of mouth’ advertising is incredibly useful. We have always found that one of the main reasons people visit is because a friend has told them about us – without that recommendation perhaps the idea of a museum of bricks is one step too far!
Facebook gives us an online version of this. If one ‘friend’ recommends a visit instead of one person picking this up lots do. For us it is, therefore, a hugely valuable marketing tool and when your marketing budget would feed a gerbil for less than a week it really does make a difference.
Another interesting questions is are we a ‘bot’? No, is the simple answer. The museum Facebook page is a legitimate not-for-profit business page. This places fairly hefty limitations on what we are allowed to do. For example we are not allowed to post on other people’s pages or actively go out there to promote ourselves (unless we pay for advertising). The best way we have found to reach out is to use our own personal pages and ask groups if they would share an event for us. Mostly they say yes. Sometimes they even get enthusiastically involved. It is a bit clunky but in terms of not abusing your presence on what is supposed to be a friends network it feels right to us.
To our friends on Facebook, we do understand the dilemmas but hope that you won’t forsake us!