The Brickworks Museum, Swanwick, 16th May 2024

The Brickworks Museum, Swanwick, 16th May 2024


The trip was a self-drive and 4 cars with 9 members arranged to meet up at the Brickworks Museum car park at 10:30 for an 11:00 start for the tour. On arrival we went to the onsite Café and had coffee and cakes while we also pre-ordered our lunches.

While we were in the canteen our guide Richard came and introduced himself to us and at 11:00 we started the tour. The Brickworks were founded in 1897 by the Ashby family who were successful builders merchants as part of the firm Hooper & Ashby. The Bursledon Brickworks Company (BBC) as it was known was situated on the site because there was an abundance of clay nearby and it had good rail and river transport links. The clay was originally dug by hand from pits that were 40ft deep close to the current building on the site. During the 1930’s mechanised digging was introduced as was an overhead cable system from the clay pits as they became further away from the brickworks. The brickworks expanded and by the 1935 was capable of producing 20 million brick per year. It carried on making bricks under various company names until 1974 when as part of the Redland Holdings company it was closed after the M27 split the site in two and the introduction of the Health and Safety of Work Act made the upgrading required to the works non-economic.

The site was left untouched and allowed to become overgrown it was only the after its discovery by a Hampshire County Council surveyor who got the site listed and after the National Lottery Heritage Fund Grant of £666,300 the Bursledon Brickworks Museum Trust was established and the site restored to partial use today.

There is a collection of buildings consisting of a room where the clay was sorted to remove stones etc. It was then put in the Bennett & Sayer Brick Making machine which is still in situ on the site. With the aid of an Archimedes Screw the clay was fed into the machine through a series of rollers and was “minced” before being finally made into a large oblong block of wet clay which was then cut into standard brick size by a machine similar to a cheese cutter with multiple wires. The bricks were then taken to drying rooms where they were stacked to about waist height to allow space around the brick while they dried out before being fired in the kiln. The kiln consisted of a large brick building with 12 chambers each capable of holding 26,000 bricks. The kiln would be constantly kept in use with bricks being heated to 1,000 centigrade and then reduced to 0 over a period of 12 days. The kiln was fed from above and it was fascinating to see the roof of the kilns with lots of little chimneys down which would be fed material to keep the chambers at the right temperature.

At its peak there were up to 300 people employed on the site from the ages of 7 – 70. Working conditions were hard and it was very physical labour especially for the men who had to load and retrieve the bricks from the kiln who would be expected to push barrows loaded with 50 bricks up to 15 miles a day in very hot conditions.  As a health and safety measure they were allowed to wear a wet knotted handkerchief on their head.

The brick making machines are all steam driven and have been restored and are run once a month onsite. After the tour we all returned to the café and had lovely light lunches. We were then left to tour the exhibition of types of bricks, chimneys, pantiles and finials on the upper floor along with a small collection of penny arcade machines as well as revisiting other parts of the site we had seen on the guided tour. It was fascinating to see the site and I can recommend it for a further visit on a day when the machines are up and running.

Kevin Barter


Posted in Questers Group.