The Soft Reds of Brick Hill.

Brick Hill owes its existence to its geology. It stands on the Bracklesham Beds, a geological seam holding sand and brick clays.

From the mid 18th century, bricks were made at Brick Hill, and the industry seems to have grown in the mid 19th century.


Brick Hill and the brickyard. Ordnance Survey map, X.II. First edition, 1870. (With thanks to Surrey History Centre.)

But in 1902 John Henry Sturt, who had run a brick yard at Brick Hill, leased ground at Parker’s Hill for brick making. This was on the Common, opposite the Runic Cross.

Then there was a major fire at the brick field in 1907, and after this Sturt began his building business. Brick Hill stopped making bricks, and local employment shifted to building.

W,END Common Fire

The fire at Sturt’s brickyard, 1907. (Photograph by William End. Image courtesy of John End.)

What were the bricks from Valley End like? Why didn’t G. F.Bodley use local bricks for St. Saviour’s? The church was erected in 1867, when the brickfields were in operation, and he was inspired by local architecture in Surrey.

It seems that Valley End bricks were too soft. There is a photograph of bricks being delivered to Brick Hill. This was either done after the yards stopped working, or the builder found the local product inferior.

Hill View & Traction Engine

Bricks being delivered to Brick Hill. (Image courtesy of John End.)

There are stories about soft bricks at Brick Hill. In one house the bricks in the kitchen were so soft that it was not only possible to poke holes in the wall with a finger, but mice were nibbling through the bricks to raid the cornflakes in the cupboards. The kitchen walls were replaced with some urgency.

In the mid 1980s Rosemary and Andrew James moved to Brick Hill. Rosemary had been born Rosemary Anscomb, and was going to a house on a road known locally as Anscomb Hill, due to the many members of her family who had lived there.

Their cottage was very small. It had been built in 1886,  and was a good example of the older dwellings in Brick Hill,  built by local labour using local materials.

“The rafters were rough. The ceilings were lath and plaster. When my husband went up in the loft there was no wall between us and our neighbour. He bricked it up. They are quite thin walls here. There was an outside toilet here when we moved in. There wasn’t even a bathroom. There were two rooms, the front door, and as you walked in you walked straight into the front room off the doorstep. We had one room with a big chimney breast. Small room there, small room at the front, and they had a winding staircase, it was steep. At the end of the house there was a wooden extension, with windows in. That literally was the kitchen. There was a stone sink, one cold water tap. There was no electricity upstairs. It was tiny. There were fireplaces upstairs in the two bedrooms, but they were small.”

They wanted to extend the house, and preserve the character.

Rosemary’s father, John Anscomb, was able to help. His father Alfred had worked in the brick fields as a child before becoming a builder, and John himself had been a carpenter working for Sturt’s. He got involved.  “He was great; he did it at the age of 70. He was up and down the ladder and on the roof, and we had the roof off and everything else.”

The cottage had been built of bricks called soft reds. They looked for old soft red bricks in reclamation yards, but with no luck.


Re-used soft reds on Anscomb Hill.

So they demolished the internal walls, and spent one Easter cleaning the bricks. “Trust me, the bricks are very soft. I had to wire brush them and I had to be very careful. We had a few problems when we had to break them, or when we had to cut them.”

They then reused the bricks to face the exterior wall facing Anscomb Hill, where they remain as an example of local materials and a resourceful restoration!


Brick Hill and the site of the brickyard. Ordnance Survey map, SU9644 – 9764. Published 1971. (With thanks to Surrey History Centre.)

The M3 now obliterates the site of the brick field.



All quotes by Rosemary James.

With many thanks to Rosemary James.

With thanks to Frances Harding.

“St. Saviour’s Valley End 150 years,” by Sallie Buchanan. 2017.

Brick making at Valley End.

Brick making was carried out at Valley End from at least the mid 18th century, when Robert Stevens was given permission to produce bricks at Valley Wood. It continued for generations, and is remembered in the names of Brick Hill and the Brickmaker’s Arms.


The Brickmaker’s Arms. (Photograph courtesy of Ann Wolfe.)

The brick-fields are now gone, leaving very little behind them. Some were cleared at the end of the 19th century, as it was felt that they spoiled the Common. The site of the yard at Brick Hill lies buried under the M3.

It is hard to imagine what they would have looked like when they were in operation, or how the bricks were actually made.

But an article from 1936 talks about brick making in a village.  This could be easily be a description of the brick field at Brick Hill.

“During the winter the clay is dug out and allowed to weather. Just before use it is put into a “pug” mill, a tall cylinder in which knives are caused to rotate by driving a horse round and round. This makes the clay fine and workable.


A steam driven pug mill.

“The workers mould the bricks in rough shanties of wood and corrugated iron, standing at a bench. The bottom of the mould rests on the bench, and on it is put an oblong box with no bottom or top. Both are well sanded, and a ball of clay is thrown into the box, forced into shape, and smoothed off.

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Brick moulds at Amberley Museum.

“Next, a thin board is put over the mould, which is turned over, releasing the brick of wet clay. This is carefully placed on a barrow kept by the side of the hut. When the barrow is full, it is wheeled out to the drying shed.

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Moulded bricks drying at Amberley Museum.

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Hack barrow for moving moulded bricks to the drying sheds at Amberley Museum.

“Shed is rather a misnomer, for the bricks are built up in rows, and a portable roof of wood is placed on top. Often the sides of the wall are protected by boards, for it is most important to keep the rain off the “green” bricks. Rain is the brick-maker’s worst enemy, and may lead to a complete stoppage of work.

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“Green” bricks stacked under wood at Amberley Museum.

“A good worker will make from 500 to 800 bricks a day, but it is very hard work…

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Brickyard Drying Shed, Amberley Museum.

“The bricks are burnt in a cone-shaped kiln. The capacity of the kiln varies, but the average country kiln holds from about 25,000 to 35,000 bricks. About ten tons of coal are needed to burn the kiln during the two days that the fire is alight. Another week must elapse before the bricks are cool enough to remove from the kiln. (The kilns at Valley End may have used furze from the Common for fuel.)


A Victorian brick kiln in Winchfield, Hants. It was built in about 1830, and was used until 1939. (Image courtesy of Dignity Pet Crematorium.)

“Colour of the bricks varies according to the position they occupied in the kiln, and their nearness to the fire.

“The first touch of frost puts an end to the moulding of bricks, and then the digging of clay for the following year’s work begins again.”



“A village brick-yard,” by D. H. Robinson. Supplement to “The Farmer and Stock-Breeder”June 22nd, 1936.


“A village brick-yard,” by D. H. Robinson. Supplement to “The Farmer and Stock-Breeder”June 22nd, 1936.

“St Saviour’s Valley End,” by Sallie Buchanan, 2017.

With many thanks to Dignity Pet Crematorium, for permission to photograph their brick kiln and to include it.

With thanks to Amberley Museum.

I have not been able to get in touch with D. H. Robinson or his estate, or the Farmer and Stockbreeder, which finished publication in 1984. If anyone has any contact details, I would be very pleased to hear from them.