A visit to the Bulmer Brickworks, Sudbury, Essex

Last month we were visiting family in Essex and were invited to visit the Bulmer Brick and Tile Company at Sudbury and also the updraught kiln built by the Gestingthorpe History Group (see the previous post).  That adds up to a lot of kilns in one weekend! The brickworks has two downdraught ‘beehive’ kilns and the remains of two scotch kilns now used as buildings.

The brickworks is shrouded in trees and the kilns and sheds are arranged loosely across the site which is cross-crossed by paths and the rows of hacks that shelter the drying bricks. Split timber walls surrounding the two downdraft kilns also add a gentle and somewhat romantic air to what is actually a very successful manufacturing business. Bulmer are the leading suppliers of specialist bricks and tiles to the conservation and restoration industry making materials for everything from small local projects to Hampton Court Palace and St Pancras Station.

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Above, Tom is the name given to the downdraught kiln built in 2004-5. Peter Minter is standing in front of the hot kiln explaining its operation. It is essentially a copy of the earlier kiln built in the 30s.IMG_0316

There were three open-topped scotch kilns by the 1930s. Two survive as sheds today with pitched roofs on top and their fireboxes bolcked up. The one above is the most recognisable. The ground level on the left has been raised to that of the floor concealing five large fire-mouths. 

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Harry was built in 1938-9 to augment and replace the scotch kilns. Vitally as it turned out since they could not be used during WWII. The kiln was designed by Robert Darwen then principal of the North Staffordshire Training College in Stoke-on-Trent. It was completely overhauled and reconditioned in the early 2000s. The timber and tile lean-to around it protects the fire boxes and stokers and is all original. It was copied faithfully in the building of Tom. 

Harry was in the process of being packed. Sacking of the floor is there to prevent debris filling the flues beneath. The bricks are packed evenly spaced, wrapping around the bag walls. In the past when potters like Sam Haile and Marianne de Trey were working here pots would have been placed in top. IMG_0295IMG_0294IMG_0290IMG_0309

Above is a drying shed. Inside two fire boxes heat long flues running the length of the building on top of which bricks and other products can be stacked for drying. Below is. View of the current clay pit.IMG_0314IMG_0286

The chimney on the old pottery was the first twisted one they ever made c.1957. These have become a feature product. Now a house, the central heating flue is a little incongruous.  

Peter Minter has recently written a book on the brickworks which is now the primary supplier of specialist bricks for conservation and restoration of period buildings. Their products have been used on many major projects nationally from Hampton Court to St Pancras Station.
Peter Minter’s beautiful book The Brickmaker’s Tale is available from Bulmers price £33 – To order your copy email them at:BBT@bulmerbrickandtile.co.uk

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This entry was posted in Architectural Ceramics, Architecture, Folk and Country Pottery, Kilns and Kiln-building and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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