Victorian Brickyards of Flint and Denbighshire

Life in the Brick Works was hard

Life in brickworks, especially during the 19th Century, was one of extreme hardship and fraught with potential danger.  For the clayhole men there was always the possibility of rock falls, injury from faulty explosives or crushing from derailed clay tubs.  In the machine houses the brick presses, grinding pans and belt driven machines were an ever present danger.  Even working at the kilns presented its own dangers. 

Men were killed by falls of stacked bricks which had become unstable after expansion in the heat and some workers even fainted in the heat from the kilns and burnt themselves badly.  Even casual visitors to a works could be killed.  In August 1881, 13 year old John Hughes was visiting his brother at John Williams’ Brickworks in Connah’s Quay when he got too near the machinery and was fatally injured.  In 1858 a search for a missing boy at Saltney ended when he was found lying unconscious next to a badly smoking brick-kiln.  He later died and analysis of the smoke showed that uneven burning had created poisonous fumes which had engulfed him. 

An early photograph of workers at a brick press at J C Edwards Trefynant Works. Workers at Brick Works in Ruabon Before the parliamentary reform acts, boys would start their working lives from about the age of eight.  With no state pension facility a man might easily continue working into his seventies, if he lived that long and health permitted.  The worst a man might expect could be severe injury.  If he had no family to support him, he could easily end up in the workhouse. 

Note the unguarded state of the machinery.  The workers were paid for each number of bricks they could press from the machine and as the presses required frequent cleaning from clogged clay, they were constantly against the fitting of any guards which would slow down access to working parts and subsequently decrease their tally of bricks produced. 

The brick-makers employed boys to take off the new bricks and stack them to dry.  These boys would therefore end up carrying hundreds of bricks every day, six days a week.



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