BRICK MAKING - TOUGH LIVING IN BONNYBRIDGE!

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The history of BRICK MAKING is a fascinating one - even the Egyptians had paintings in their tombs showing how bricks were made in the time of the Pharaohs.

Click on the picture to go to a website with more information about how the Egyptians made bricks.

It was VERY hard work, usually done by Jewish slaves from Israel.

 

 

However, even today near the River Nile people in the Third World are still making bricks in the same back-breaking way.

 

However, not all African Brickworks are like this - some are very modern indeed!

Click on this link to see "The Birth of a Brick" a short film showing how modern machinery makes modern brick making MUCH easier

 

The rocks under Bonnybridge are a rich mixture of minerals - especially coal and clay.

Although Bonnybridge never became one of the main coal-mining areas there was enough near the surface to encourage the development of industry. Later coal could also be brought in barges along the canal or by railway.

One thing that the area around Bonnybridge had  was lots of CLAY. However this clay is not the soft gooey stuff that you see on potters' wheels or like children's plasticene. This clay is a solid hard rock laid down millions of years ago a mud at the bottom of lakes and seas. Over the years it was squeezed to form a solid, hard rock like any other rock - but this rock could be crushed by hammers or machines into a very fine powder. This powder is then mixed with water to make the gooey clay which can be moulded into bricks.

Not just any old clay, but special clays which could be used to make a whole variety of different BRICKS and TILES.

There were quite a number of brickworks in the area, and the quality of the bricks was very high. They used the canal and the railways to move the bricks all over the country - and even abroad!

Company Name Location of Brickworks Dates of opening and closing
Bonnybridge Brick and Tile Works

(Bonnymuir Brickworks)

Bonnyside Rd 1836 - 1968
Messrs J Dougall & Sons

(Bonnyside Fireclay Works)

Bonnyside Brickworks, High Bonnybridge 1896 - 1967
Dyson Refractories

(formerly Bonnyside Fireclay)

High Bonnybridge 1967 -
Bonnybridge Silica & Fireclay Co Ltd (Griifith's) later known as Bonnybridge Refractories Ltd High Bonnybridge 1874 - 1972
Messrs John G Stein & Co Ltd - Milnquarter Firelclay Mine Milnquarter 1887 - 1971
Messrs John G Stein & Co

Castlecary Works (later known as GR-Stein Refractories Ltd)

Allandale (one of the biggest brick-making companies in the world at that time!) 1904 - 1980
Cannerton Brick Co, Ltd   1932 - 198?...
Broomhill Brickworks

(The Broomhill Firebrick Co)

Bonnyhill Rd 1915 - 1980
Alexander Campbell & Co (Roughcastle) Ltd   1897 - 1970
Glenyards Fireclay Co Greenhill 1913 - 1920
Greenhill Fireclay Co Greenhill closed 1922 reopened 1922 - 1952
Dykehead Ganister and Fireclay Co Litd Dykehead 1920s..

Clay mining in the area used the "room and stoop" (or 'pillar and room') method of mining.

Basically this meant keeping the roof from falling in by leaving massive 'pillars' of clay unmined to support the roof while digging away the rest to take to the surface.

To see a video of how this works in a MODERN mine go to this site.

You can visit Birkhill Clay Mine near Bo'ness to see what it looks like in real life. Here are some sample pictures.

Note how high and wide the 'Rooms' were, but the pillars also had to be wide to hold the weight of the roof. Tracks on the floor were for trucks taking the hard clay rock to the surface.

There are miles of tunnels like this under parts of High Bonnybridge and the countryside around it.

Visitors are taken round the mine (but always have to wear the hard hats in case anything falls on their heads!)

The mine is surprisingly warm underground - and many of the rooms are now flooded after years of not being used.

You can get to the Birkhill Clay mine on the Bo'ness to Kinneil Steam Railway.

Brickmaking was very hard work - clay had to mined, crushed, mixed with water and then pressed into the brick shapes before being moved to the furnaces to be baked hard. The furnaces (known as 'kilns') were fired by coal which also had to be moved around. Much of the work was done by machines, but a lot of work still had to be done by hand.

This photograph shows men moving the bricks around with wheelbarrows while one man stands at the entrance to a kiln with piles of coal waiting ready to fire the kilns when they have been filled with new bricks.

 

Not all the workers in the brick yards were men - this photograph shows a group of women workers who clearly also had very hard jobs to do.

Notice their aprons - probably made of old sacks, and their bonnets to keep the dirt out of their hair.

 

Brick-making was a very dirty job - but it was the only work available in the area and, although the wages were poor, people needed to work!

 

This large group of workers - men, women, girls and boys, worked for 'Bonnybridge Silica and Fireclay Company Limited (locally called 'Griffith's'). I am indebted to Mike McMahon for the photograph, and particularly to Eddie Kiernan for all the names. Eddie's father is in the picture (third down, extreme left) and a number of his uncles. Whole families worked in the brickworks as you can see from the names in the list below.

Click on the photograph to see a larger image.

The photograph probably dates from the late 1930s.

 

Christie Donohue, Andy Peat, Sandy Cairns, Cecil Ferguson, Tom McAndrew, Alec  Totten, Andrew McKim, Johnny Muir

John Wilson, Sammy Logan, Jackie Kerrigan, Billy Hagen, Will Monro, Charlie Reid, George Weir

Paddy Weir, Tommy Docherty, Andy Pettigrew, Hughie McCulloch, Davie Monro, Danny Smith, Archie Dempster, Tommy Docherty

Ned Kiernan, Robert Dunsmore, Mary Fairlie, Nora Keane, Jeannie Gordon, Lizzie Quinn, Jessie Quinn, Aggie Cairns, Will Ferguson

Tommy Monro, Johnny Hagen, Daniel Totten, Willie Hoggan, Tommy Fraser, Rab Cairns, Jock Cairns, Sam Lindie, Joe Conroy

Pat Conroy, Peter Hutcheson(?), Thomas Osborne, Tommy Monro, John Burns, Lewis Harvey, Hugh Ferguson.

 

 

 

 

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