Lambs Brickfields, Rayleigh

Some history and memories

By Sid Barker

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Lambs Brickfield at Rayleigh was situated to the south side of Hambro Hill, where Upper and Lower Lambricks are now to be found (hence the names of these roads). Originally it was known as The Rayleigh Brick and Tile Works. I do not know when Brick production started there. It was probably late in the 19th Century or early in the 20th. The earliest reference so far found to it is a notice dated 30th March 1907 in the London Standard announcing a liquidators auction sale of the entire 22 acres of land, buildings and machinery. Later there is a report of a geological survey carried out in 1925 by Essex Field Club and it would appear that it was still called the Rayleigh Brick and Tile Works, so presumably whoever bought the business at the auction continued trading under the original name. I do not know when Lambs took over the works.

The site covered the 22 acres from the public footpath on the brow of the hill just above the houses in Upper Lambricks down to the railway bridge at the bottom of the hill. It then followed the route of the railway line. The southern boundary was the ditch at the bottom of what is now the gardens of the bungalows in Cotswold Avenue.

The main entrance to the works was by means of an unmade road where Lower Lambricks is now. There was a small black weatherboard cottage at the junction with Hambro Hill, although whether this was part of the brickfield I do not know. At one time, so I was told, there were also two or three old cottages on the side of the road adjacent to the railway bridge, which appear to be shown on a 1939 map, and according to the 1907 auction notice there were 5 newly erected workmens cottages, so maybe they were the ones near the bridge. Some of the bricks remaining from the demolition could be found there in the 1950s and there were also some domestic flowers still growing there. I was also told that the land behind was at one time used as a rubbish tip by Rayleigh Urban District Council. It is possible that there were one or two pits there that had turned into ponds as I seem to recall some willow growing.

The unmade road carried on straight until it came to the first of the works buildings when it curved round sharply to the left and then again sharp right and into the main yard. At this second bend was a large well with a brick wall around it. Rumor had it that during WW2 the works had been a depot for sorting out ammunition and other military items and the well was supposed to be the full of old rifles. There certainly was some truth in the ammunition depot rumor as we often found old hand grenades, mortar bombs etc (all dud!) in the ditches and undergrowth.

These buildings were still extant until recently when they were demolished and can still be seen on some older versions of Google Earth. The main clay pit, partially filled with water was at the back of the yard and was dug out of a very steep slope, having very steep cliff_like sides which are still in evidence today. Sand martins used to nest in holes in the clay. There was a pump house in the water and a narrow gauge railway line ran from the pit up to and through an opening high up in a building which presumably housed a pug mixing machine. The trucks were the small side-tipping type often seen in quarries, and must have been hauled up and down by means of a cable attached to some type of powered winch.

I recall that one day we found one of these wagons on its side and tried to put it back on the rails but ended up dropping it on a friend's younger brother's foot!

There were a series of other brick buildings as well, some more modern in design than others. These were probably the drying sheds, machine and Engine houses and the offices referred to in the auction particulars. For some time after the works closed they were used by Grant Bros. Removals of Rayleigh as storage warehouses and later by a firm of Antique shippers, although the rest of the site had been built on.

To the north of the pit was what we called The Ravine, a long deep ravine-like excavation in which we spent many happy hours playing soldiers, our guns being either stout sticks or the metal legs off old fashioned bedsteads.

One day in the early 50s a geologist was carrying out a survey of the pit sides and we spent all morning spying on him thinking he did not know we were there, but it turned out on speaking to him later that he knew he was being watched from the start.

The largest building was the kiln block, surmounted by a very high brick chimney which was a landmark for miles around. According to the 1907 auction particulars it was a 16 chamber kiln block, lined with fire bricks, and capable of holding 400,000 bricks. There was also a railway siding coming off the main Southend line alongside the kilns, so that railway wagons could be loaded with bricks. The type of brick made there that I remember was a soft stock which broke quite easily. When they were loaded they were stacked with straw in between them. According to the 1907 auction particulars bricks manufactured in those days were the finest coloured red moulded bricks, wire cuts, which were probably the stocks and superior quality engineering bricks.

The other entrance was by way of an unmanned level crossing at the top of Preston Gardens. This had both a vehicle and a pedestrian gate and as I recall an electric bell used to ring warning of an approaching train. Preston Gardens was an unmade road with only Preston House in it. The surface was made of red brick dust and when it rained heavily a lot of this was washed down into Down Hall Road, leaving a thick deposit in the middle of the road.

Immediately across the crossing was a large brick-built washroom/toilet block, and in the early 50s a detached bungalow was also built there which I believe was home for a watchman and his wife and family.

In the 1950s bricks were not produced on a full time basis, which is surprising considering the building boom that was developing after the war. It is possible that the deposits of the type of clay needed were running out. Every so often when bricks were being produced a workforce would arrive and smoke could be seen coming out of the chimney. Usually the only employee on the site was the foreman, a very friendly man called Jack. There was also a manager who paid regular visits. He had a lovely open top car with large running boards and used to park it at the top of Preston Gardens. We kids used to delight in pressing the hooter and sometimes he would get so annoyed he would move his car across the level crossing into the factory yard out of our reach. I understood Lambs had another brickworks at Wickford so whether the labour force was transferred from there as needed or recruited locally on a temporary basis I do not know.

Lambs also had some lorries with dark green painted cabs with a picture of a lambs head on the cab doors. I recall their phone number was Rayleigh 1.

We kids were always tolerated and allowed to roam freely without being chased away, although we usually steered clear of the actual works buildings and yards, and kept out of the way when production was in progress. We never engaged in mindless vandalism or stealing so were probably not seen as being any trouble, and of course Health and Safety was a thing of the future in those days.

Much of the 22 acre site was overgrown and there was quite a collection of flora and fauna. There were many fox earths and it was not unusual when walking past a clump of bushes for a fox to come running out. There were also adders and grass snakes. A friend's father who was an expert amateur rose grower use to obtain the root stock for his standard roses from the wild roses that abounded across the site. Usually hot weather resulted in the grass and undergrowth catching fire, which used to delight us and always led to the arrival of the Rayleigh Fire Brigade in their ex WD red painted Matador towing a trailer pump. They always managed to beat the fire out, although there was nothing it could really damage.

Our favourite spot was what we called “The Old Black Shed” This was an odd shaped open ended corrugated iron building painted black which stood alone in the south east corner of the site. There was a remnant of narrow gauge railway track outside (Buffers?) but it was the inside that held the main attraction to us, where there was a large iron construction, which vaguely resembled the boiler of a steam engine, but what intrigued us was the fact that it rested on stacks of long metal boxes which had obviously contained either ammunition or some type of light bomb or rocket. We spent many an hour with borrowed tools trying to prise these boxes open, convinced that their contents were still in situ, and were very disappointed to find that in the end they were empty!

I have been told that on the slope leading down to the Black Shed were examples of rare orchids, although cannot remember them and as a youngster would not even have known what an orchid was. Probably today it would have been deemed a site of special scientific importance and building would not have been allowed.

In 1938 Lambs objected to plans by the then Rayleigh Urban District Council to purchase part of the land for a cemetery, stating they had just invested £500 in new machinery. They would not object to RUDC buying all their land, but selling part would make the brickworks unviable.

Then in 1939 RUDC were planning to build houses there and Lambs again objected, but war intervened and nothing further happened.

When production eventually ceased the site was sold to Wiggins the builders who built the present day roads and houses. The tall chimney was blown up and the kilns demolished in about 1956. Because of the close proximity of the railway line the demolition of the chimney was carried out at 2am in the morning after the last train had gone through, in case it fell the wrong way, which it did not. Some of us stayed up to watch. The chimney was silhouetted against the night sky so we had a good view of it falling. As I recall the explosion was a little disappointing as we were expecting a huge bang, but it was more like a sharp crack of a rifle. I have never figured out why most of the old factory buildings were left standing in what is the middle of a large housing development.

I’d also like to record my thanks to my very old friend Professor Bernard de Neumann who not only jogged my memory about one or two things I had forgotten from 60 odd years ago, but also found the auction notice in the newspaper archive.

This page was added by Sid Barker on 27/07/2014.
Comments about this page (Add a comment about this page)

Very interesting, I played in the park as a kid in the late 90s and always wondered what those buildings were and why they were in the middle of a housing estate. Thanks for publishing the info

By Jimmy
On 08/09/2021

I have read above and found all information very interesting, having lived in Upper Lambricks for fifty years - since 1964.

By Lee Thompson
On 23/04/2015

I have been having a play with the new old-maps web site over the last few days and I think that links to individual map tiles are possible and in some considerable detail as well!

If this works here is a link to the 1923 5 inch O/S map of the Hambro Hill Brickworks showing the standard gauge track layout, the signal box (S.B.) and the signal posts (S.P.) protecting the siding.

By B. Meldon
On 25/11/2014

Thanks Brian, I've just asked old-maps to see if they can put an appropriate message on their site when we click on one of the existing old-maps links we have. At the moment all that happens is that nothing happens - which is a rather unsatisfactory situation.

By Bob Stephen
On 20/11/2014

Please note that the direct links to the old-maps web site no longer work.
The web site had been changed this week (Nov 2014) so that direct links to full maps are now impossible and detailed views are only permitted if you pay a £9.99 monthly subscription!
So after 10 years the old-maps web site is now of little use to the historian.

By B Meldon
On 20/11/2014

All I can remember of the siding was that it was in front of the block of kilns and sometimes there was a rake of open wagons there which were loaded with bricks. There certainly was no signal box by the early 50s.

The kilns were in one big block, built out of red brick with the chimney in the middle and as I recall a dilapidated corrugated iron roof over the top. I think there were holes in the roof of each individual kiln so that coal or coke could be shovelled in for the fires. Presumably the tin roof was to keep the weather out. The bricks at the bottom where the intense heat was were misshapen, fused together and full of clinker. They would have been used for hardcore or the construction of garden walls. ( There are many examples of this type of front garden wall still extant in Leigh on Sea and Westcliff).

It was also possible to drive a lorry up to the kilns, alongside the railway siding. I remember going there in about 1954 with a local builder to load his lorry with bricks. This was done by hand. Loaders wore rubber pads on their hands, cut from old inner tubes and formed a chain tossing anything up to 12 bricks at a time, and catching them between both hands, before tossing them to the next man in the chain. (As a 10 or 11 year old I could only manage 3 or 4 at a time).

I recall being told that the top of the chimney had been rebuilt and was previously a different shape.

The kilns would have been situated between the west side of Lower Lambricks and the railway, approximately in front of the recently demolished buildings.

The unmade road from Hambro Hill is not shown on the 1939 map but appears on the 1954/5 map so presumably was constructed during the 1940s as it was always there in my memory.

Maybe if the site was used for some military purpose during the war the roadway could have been put in to facilitate the movement of vehicles without the inconvenience of having to use the level crossing at the top of Preston Gardens. Originally this roadway followed the route of Lower Lambricks and the veered round to the left alongside the first of the recently demolished buildings and into the main yard of the works. It could be that if the plans submitted with the original planning application for development by Wiggins are still around somewhere they could show an accurate layout of the works as it was.

I remember once seeing a photo of the rear of the brickworks at one of Ernie Lane's slideshows of old Rayleigh and presume this is now in the possession of Mike Davies of Rayleigh Through The Looking Glass.

I believe that the houses on the Lambricks development were built over a number of years.

By Sid Barker
On 15/11/2014

The exact location any layout of the standard gauge siding can be seen on the 1929 O/S map:

When the map opens up remove the blue background by clicking the icon in the top right corner that says "Switch Print Extent Off". It may thereafter be possible to magnify the map one level by clicking the + arrow on the left. If you go too far then click the - arrow (RDCA-Admin).

The siding started at the end of the railway embankment that is behind the gardens in Lower Lambricks. The points were about 50 yards to the SW of Preston Gardens. Preston Gardens was the original entrance to the brickworks with a level crossing across the tracks.
There was also a catch point and a short spur that was interlocked with the main points ensuring that no vehicle on the siding could get on the main line unless the main siding points were switched. There was a small signal box on the far side of the line that controlled the siding and the approach signals.
The railway property ended at a gate across the siding at the brickworks access road.
This is all shown on the map above.
Today the land is still owned by the railway and is noticeably wider than elsewhere on the line and although much over grown the foundations of the signal box also remain.

There was no standard gauge loco used and the siding was operated by railway company locos.

By B Meldon
On 07/11/2014

I live on the Lambricks estate and would love to see any old photographs people may have - either of the site as the brick works or the houses when first built by Wiggins. I'm also interested in the railway and understand that there used to be a siding connected to the 'up' London bound line that came off the mainline where the top of Causton Way now stands. Again, any photos or memories people have would be interesting.

By Danny Hickey
On 07/11/2014

The ‘Thundersley Brickworks near Rayleigh’ was probably the one located on Burches Road. See this 1938/39 O/S map:

The following old-maps link(s) used to work but are now broken due to a commercialisation decision by old-maps. If you want to see the equivalent free-to-view maps at low resolution go to the old-maps website and navigate to the relevant location and map type (RDCA-Admin).

Again it would appear that this brickworks had periods of disuse and production over the years. There is an ‘old kiln’ marked on the 1923 map in a slightly different location and of a different shape to the kiln on the 1938 map above. The clay pit shown on the 1938 map has also increased in size from the ‘old clay pit’ marked on the 1896 map.

There was, I think, until quite recently the remnants of the brickworks buildings on this site, but it is private land.

By B Meldon
On 04/08/2014

Just to add that while in the ownership of Theophilus Sneeds Eli Plowman the actual trading company changed names several times. On more than one occasion the existing company was voluntarily wound up and the assets, i.e. the brickworks and land were sold to the new company. But for each new company T.S.E Plowman was either the sole director, sole shareholder or both. The explanation for this is pure conjecture, but it could indicate periods of brickmaking followed by periods when the works was closed.
The scale and capacity of the brick making equipment on site was quite large and would need a sustained high level of demand for bricks. Running at a lower capacity would probably be uneconomic and this may explain the alternating periods of use and disuse of the brickworks. But that is just conjecture on my part.

By B Meldon
On 01/08/2014

Many thanks to Mr Meldon for his further interesting research, which sheds a lot more light on the rather chequered history of the brickworks.

William Clover lived and worked at the Boreham Brickworks for many years, and died on 4th February 1900 leaving effects of £4267 8s 11d, quite a sum in those days.

In the 1901 census, two of his sons, William and Frederick John are shown as living in two of the cottages on Hambro Hill, both giving their occupations as Brickmakers and Employers so it seems that they continued to run the business until it was sold. Another of the cottages was occupied by a stationary engine driver and another by another brickworks employee. There is no mention of a 5th cottage.

In the 1911 census the cottages are numbered but only 1 to 4 are listed and only one is occupied by a brickworks employee (Labourer) the other occupants being gardeners or nurserymen. I wonder what happened to No 5 again.

William Clover is shown as a Brickmaker at Thundersley Brickworks near Rayleigh (I wonder whereabouts in Thundersley that was?).

Frederick John married at Lambeth 4th October 1906 giving his occupation as Brickmaker living at Alverstoke, Hants and in the 1911 Census he is listed as a General Shop Keeper of Hardway, Gosport Hants.

We cannot remember the diesel locomotive or the narrow gauge track across the yard, but it may have been removed by the time I was allowed to play over there. My first memory of the brickfields is when as a very young boy I used to go along the railway embankment with my father picking dandelions for food for his rabbits when I went into the unlocked toilet block to use the facilities.

Although the black weather boarded cottage is not shown until the 1939 map, I think it was older as this would only make it about 12 or 13 years old when I first saw it and I certainly retain the impression that it was quite old by then. Maybe it was missed off the 1938 map.

I wonder now whether the works were used as an ammunition sorting depot at the end of the war when there was much surplus ammunition and armaments to be sorted and disposed of.

By Sid Barker
On 01/08/2014

After some more research here is some more info on the Brickworks at Hambro Hill:

The brickworks was in existence by 1899.
Ornamental as well as best quality red facing bricks were produced.
The original owner was one William Clover of Hogwells in Boreham. He died in 1900 and the brickworks was sold as ‘The Hambro Hill Brickworks’ by his executors on 28 October 1901. The sale catalogue included 22 acres and five newly-erected brick and slate cottages.

A poster advertising the 1901 sale and the sale catalogue are in the Essex records office: D/DS 184/12 and D/DS 184/11.

It was sold to Theophilus Sneeds Eli Plowman (yes that is one man’s name) of Stanpit Shefford in Bedfordshire who already had a brickworks in Bedfordshire. The conveyance document for this sale is also in the Essex records office: D/DGs E112.

In 1906 the manager was one W J Wescombe.

On 20th December 1920 a receiver was appointed and in 1921 the brickworks was in the ownership of the Brick and Tile Manufactures Corporation Ltd. and then in 1923 the Pressed Brick & Tile Co. Ltd.

W.T. Lamb & Sons purchased the concern in December 1926.

The equipment included a Tangye stationary engine and gas production plant as well as a six track tramway tunnel dryer. The 2 foot gauge tramway ran throughout the yard and into the drying chambers.

The loco used on the tramway was a 1935 Ruston Hornsby four wheel diesel works no. 174528 of 1935. It arrived on site sometime during WW2, second hand from the Canewdon Sand and Ballast Co. Canewdon Brickworks at Ballards Gore. From here, Hambro Hill, the loco went to W.T. Lamb & Son’s other brickworks on Nevendon Road in Wickford sometime between 1953 and 1955, it was later sold for scrap when the Wickford works closed in about 1962.

By B Meldon
On 31/07/2014

I think I can narrow the start date down and go back a bit further than 1907.
The Raleigh Brick and Tile Company Limited are in the 10th Annual Board of Trade Report of 1901 that was published in October 1902.
There is no brickworks shown on the 1898 O/S maps.
So it looks like it started between 1898 and 1902. Probably in 1902.
Here is a link to the 1923 1:2500 O/S map that shows the brickworks and five dwellings on the side of the road adjacent to the railway bridge.

The following old-maps link(s) used to work but are now broken due to a commercialisation decision by old-maps. If you want to see the equivalent free-to-view maps at low resolution go to the old-maps website and navigate to the relevant location and map type (RDCA-Admin).

The small black weatherboard cottage at the brickworks entrance road junction with Hambro Hill dates from 1939.

There was a narrow gauge railway locomotive used at this brickworks at one time. I will look up the details and post them later, but from memory I think it was a two foot gauge Ruston that came second hand from Canewdon brickworks at Ballards Gore.

By B Meldoon
On 30/07/2014
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