The Origins of Building Bricks

Building Bricks and their Origin

The humble brick, a product of water and mud, clay, sand, lime, chalk, whatever came to hand locally, has been with us as a product manufactured specifically for construction, for a very long time.

In the “cradle of civilisation”, between the Tigris and the Euphrates, the use of bricks in building can still be seen today in remains of buildings some 7,000 years old, durable stuff.

Buildings from ancient civilisations can still be seen, from the Great pyramids to Greece and the Roman Empire. From the Inca pyramids to the Great Wall of China, all stand as not only monuments of their own, but monuments to the humble brick.

The first bricks in Britain seem to be those made by the Romans. All Roman bricks were particularly hardy because they were all ways kiln fired.

During the construction of the vast road systems that the Roman Empire required, centurions devised mobile kilns to be able to make bricks for road building continuously as the lengths of road were laid.

When the Empire retreated, the making of bricks in Britain came to a standstill. Wood, wattle and daub, reed and straw were used to build, and stone for large important buildings.

Not until late Tudor times did brick making and building come back into construction, probably driven by increasing arrivals of Europeans, particularly from the Low Countries where brick working was common.

The manufacturing process was a hit and miss, with kilns fired with wood, which burs ar differing temperatures, giving greatly different finished results.

Bricks remained a feasible but expensive commodity often made on the site of the proposed building. A pit was dug, and clay, water and whatever additives mixed in it by a normally horse-drawn mixing wheel.

The resulting clay mix, then pressed by hand into moulds and left to dry in the sun for three or four days before firing.

The industrial revolution and the need for durable high density housing saw the brick making industry boom, and by the 19th century semi mechanised brick yards were producing standardised size and grade of bricks.

The builders of canals and railways demanded differing qualities to house brick production, and stronger and even more durable engineering bricks were produced for the projects.

Today’s modern infrastructures use materials the Victorians could only dream of, but brick production continues apace, in fully mechanised, computer controlled brick yards, producing catalogues of brick type and style.

On construction sites the length and breadth of the UK, pallets and pallets of bricks can be seen today, ready for bricklayers to do what they have done for millennia, build and bond one brick on top of the other…..


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