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Bricks and Brickfields

Most of London was built using bricks made from the earth and clay directly beneath our feet.  A Land Utilisation map of 1800 shows that, as London was expanding, a ring of brickfields sprung up in all the surrounding suburbs. Wherever the ground was suitable, builders and developers dug the clay on tBrickfield viewheir sites and made it into bricks to build the houses in their immediate area, as transporting bricks was expensive.  Acton was a particular cluster, with brickfields in various parts of the borough, and stretching all the way into Notting Dale beyond Shepherd's Bush.

Brickfields Caption2For Bedford Park, the local brickmaker was Thomas Hussey and most bricks for the houses came from what was known as the ‘Acton brickfields’.  These were controlled by local landowners, such as the Church and the Goldsmiths Company. The parts that Thomas Hussey controlled were centred on 50 acres of meadowland, underneath what is now Stamford Brook and the streets around Wendell Park. These were leased to Hussey in 1876 by the Church who owned most of land in the area (hence local street names with a church connection such as 'Prebend' Gardens).  Commonly, a field would be excavated to expose the brickearth or London clay subsoil, which was then turned into bricks on the site by moulding and firing them in brick kilns.

brickdigging The Queen Anne style houses of Bedford Park tend to have two colours of main brick: 'reds' and 'yellows' made from two different kinds of material dug out of the sames holes in the Acton Brickfields. Brickearth, which is a sort of 'loess' or river sediment, tended to be found in the first metre down and made the bright red bricks used on the front. The deeper clay and chalk laid down in the Thames Estuary made the yellow-grey London stock bricks used for the backs and sides of the houses. 

However, for the ornate red brickwork and decorative features that appear on many facades and chimneys, Bedford Park's developers had to turn to Suffolk brickmakers, whose heritage of decorative brickmaking goes back to Tudor times and was linked to the Flemish brick skills imported across the North Sea. Other, more specialist, bricks such as engineering 'blues' were brought into London by canal from other parts of the country.  They arrived in the Thames by barge at the Grand Union Canal junction at Brentford and were brought up to Chiswick by boat.

brickies2Hussey sold bricks to Jonathan Carr for his developments at Bedford Park and used the profits to fund the development of his own houses around the north side of Stamford Brook Common.   Brickmaking was a smelly and anti-social business. The brickies were know for their drunkenness and gambling and the brickfields were a lawless expanse that even the local police were wary of entering. Writing in 1859, Mary Bayley commented: "The brick-makers themselves were said to be notorious types known for riotous living."

240px-Walmer rd kilnGrowing complaints from the new residents of Bedford Park and Stamford Brook resulted in a High Court case in 1890, successfully forcing Hussey to cease brick making.  He ultimately completed only four houses around Stamford Brook Common: numbers 32-38. After the brickfields were closed, local builders and developers were encouraged to dump their building rubbish in the pits to fill in the large holes that covered the area. This explains why, when digging deep in most gardens in Stamford Brook, householders turn up old glazed bricks, pottery and rubble. If you would like to see an example of a brick kiln, the last surving one near Bedford Park is in Walmer Road (near 'Pottery Lane') in Notting Hill Gate, illustrated in the photo on the right.