Having just had the windows replaced, in my plotland cottage of uncertain age, possibly 1920s, and having been brought face to face with the startling soft red bricks of which it is built, I decided to research further. There were many brickfields in our area, as is well documented elsewhere on our site, but the predominant colour brick produced from the local clay is yellow.
I knew that the Manor Brick Company (which would have been the nearest) which operated in New Thundersley from the late eighteenth century until the early twentieth century, made these pale yellow London Stock bricks. Several villas near me are built from these, with decorative courses of contrasting bricks, as was ‘The Retreat’, a small single storey cottage in Manor Road, which was demolished in the 1990s. The buildings from the late 1950s onwards are made of pale pink Common Fletts.
However, a trawl on the internet (www.lambsbricks.com/about) turned up the history of W. T. Lamb & Sons, a ‘heavy side’ builders merchants, founded in 1901. They purchased their first brickworks in 1910, and subsequently owned brickworks in Essex and Kent: Wickford, Rayleigh, Midhurst, Rogate, Faversham, Godstone and Folkestone. The astounding thing, is that the company is still in the hands of the fourth and fifth generations of the same family. This company ‘supplied and manufactured bricks for the Victorian and Edwardian buildings of London and the South-East with fine handmade bricks, thrown and clamp-fired in Essex, Kent, Surrey and Sussex’. The founder’s great grandson, Robin Lamb, was kind enough to supply the following information from his late father, Antony’s book, ‘History of a Family Business, Bricks and Mortals’, which was published in 1991. He comments, ‘in that book reference is made to Rotherhithe and Chelsea Basin, in very early days of the then partnership between William Tribe Lamb and a cousin, Charles Tribe, which terminated after ten years, leading to the start of what we have today, founded in 1901’.
‘Benfleet [wharf] is indeed mentioned, as are two depots in the goods yards at Thorpe Bay and Southend, all three of which were opened in 1922/23, so the company name [on the sign board] showing up so prominently in the photograph [of the wharf at Benfleet] was only two or three years old, and not tarnished by adverse weather conditions’. ‘These three depots were opened to service some substantial housing developments being carried out by a major customer in the Canvey Island area’.
‘The “Southend” experiment continued on a gradually reducing basis until 1934, when due to lack of satisfactory representation locally, it was closed.’
‘Although we manufactured bricks elsewhere in Essex, Benfleet was merely a wharf, and not a manufacturing plant’.
‘However, our involvement in importing bricks from Holland and Belgium between the two World Wars, necessitated finding suitable wharves for handling substantial numbers of bricks, and these were, in the main, at Barking, Deptford and Charlton, and elsewhere in the South East, Shoreham and Portsmouth, on four specially designed boats which we helped to finance. Each boat carried 200,000 bricks, in the main, from Antwerp. The business was never re-started after the war, although we still import bricks, but on the basis of delivering direct to site’.
I would hazard a guess that the red rubber bricks for a small amateur building project in New Thundersley, would have come from the brickfields of Wickford, see article and pictures on the Wickford Community Archive site, www.wickfordhistory.org.uk/content/people/personal-memories-3/my_story_cyril_stiles, or possibly from Hambro Hill, Rayleigh, on which there is an article on the Rochford Community Archive site, www.rochforddistricthistory.org.uk, entitled, ‘Lambs Brickfields, Rayleigh’. The Rayleigh brickfields were probably operational ‘from the late nineteenth century, or early in the twentieth’, and were defunct by the late 1950s. They could well have been transported to South Benfleet, and unloaded at William Tribe Lamb’s warehouse on the Wharf. My colleague, Eileen Gamble, found a very atmospheric photograph of this, dating from 1925, which ties in beautifully with one of the dates suggested for my birth of my cottage. They could even have come from the Southend or Thorpe Bay depots.
These distinctive and highly decorative red bricks were used in the construction of Hampton Court Palace, Westminster Cathedral, Winston Churchill’s Chartwell House; for the replacement arches at Kensington Palace, for the award winning Hans Place project, and the ‘gauged squares’ of Fortnum & Masons. Lambs continue to be involved with some of the UK’s most historic buildings.
How a job-lot of these high status bricks ever ended up in a humble plotland cottage, is a complete mystery, but I am very pleased that they did!