"Old Bricks - history at your feet"

Isle of Man


MANX brick, believed to be from the Glenfaba Brickworks, Peel, Isle of Man. Photo and info below by Phil Clayton.

Brickmaking in the Isle of Man

Although the Isle of Man is geologically diverse for its size, about thirty miles by ten, suitable clays were not widespread and there was a lack of fuel for firing. Early brick making seems to have been by using clamps, with sufficient bricks being fired on site for a single building. The first brick kiln was mentioned at the end of the seventeenth century but it was not until the nineteenth that any large scale working was practised, with the growth of tourism. At first the Island was visited by the wealthy but, with the development of improved transport – steamships from England and the Island’s own railway network – thousands of working class holiday makers started to flock to the Isle of Man each summer. This increased demand for accommodation, especially in the capital, Douglas, stimulated a brick industry and several brickworks were set up in the vicinity. All have disappeared with the spread of the urban area. A small works at Ballawillin, near the centre of the Island, was using a water powered pug mill and there is a brick stamped BALLAWILLIN/ST.JOHNS in the Manx Museum. It had ceased working by about 1892.

A large brickworks was developed at Ballacorey in the north of the Island. Possibly operating in 1825, worked ceased during the First World War but the concern was restarted in 1925 when it was re-equipped with a fourteen chamber Hoffman continuous kiln. Eight thousand bricks a day could be produced but it only appears to have worked for a year.

Possibly the largest and longest lasting brick manufacturer on the Island was the Glenfaba works at Peel on the west coast which opened around 1866. Changing ownership and name on several occasions, bricks were made here about 1900 by the ‘sand-lime method’ from crushed shale quarried nearby. A report of the same year stated that the works ‘are now in a very flourishing state, the demand for their sound, well-made bricks increasing concurrently with the activity of building operations on all hands. Their fine pressed bricks, it will be noted, are being used in some of the largest modern erections; the colour, a soft grey, being very agreeable to the eye, and the quality excellent.’
Raw materials were transported by a horse drawn plateway, built around 1885, from a quarry to the works, though why such an antiquated form of transport was built at such a relatively late date is hard to explain. As the plateway crossed the Isle of Man Railway line just outside Peel station accidents and derailments were not uncommon – in 1925 there were two collisions at the tramway crossing during one of which a horse was killed, and five years later another horse was killed when a train hit the horse wagon.

The work was very hard and dirty, pay was poor and there was no machinery to help with the handling of the bricks, but the brickworks did at least support many Peel families at a time when large numbers of Manxmen were having to leave the Island to find work.

The 1930s seem to have been the best time for the Glenfaba works as new housing estates were being built in various parts of the Island. In 1933 the Isle of Man Railway carried 3000 tons of bricks. The works made conventional bricks until 1965 when the deteriorating quality of the raw material forced a change to the manufacture of concrete bricks.

On holiday in the Island a few years ago, I was despairing of finding any stamped brick until I walked up Snaefell, the highest hill, and paused to look round an old lead mine where I found my MANX brick. The archivist in the Manx Museum at Douglas reckoned it had come from the Glenfaba works.

Sources :
Industrial Archaeology of the Isle of Man : Bawden, Garrad, Qualtrough and Scratchard : David & Charles : 1972
Industrial Archaeology of the Isle of Man, An Introduction : Manx National Heritage : 1993

An internet search for Glenfaba Brickworks will lead to several interesting threads.

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