Heversham Brickworks

An edited version of ‘Heversham Brickworks’ by Gordon Biddle in The CIHS Newsletter, April 1988, by kind permission of the author

Hincaster tunnel entrance (R.Baker, 2012)

A general meeting of proprietors of the Lancaster Canal Company authorised commencement of its14.5 mile extension northwards from Tewitfield on 16th March 1813. The engineering works were substantial, including 8 locks, embankments at Burton and Sedgwick, several major aqueducts, and a 380 yard tunnel at Hincaster.

In November 1813 the tunnel contract was let to William Williams, but in June the following year he went bankrupt and, as a successor could not be found, the company undertook direct control of the tunnel works. By July 1814 Thomas Fletcher, the company’s engineer reported difficulty in finding stone of the required quality but said that he had found a suitable bed of brick clay at Heversham. He recommended that the tunnel should be lined with brick above the water line, reserving stone for below it and about 15 – 20 feet of tunnel wall in from each end. He suggested that the company should establish the brickyard itself. His estimates for 3 alternatives were: Stone-lined tunnel – £35.6.8d per yard; Brick-lined tunnel – £21.9.0d per yard; Brick above water line – £28.9.11d per yard.

At this time brick as a building material was virtually unknown north of Preston, except for parts of the Fylde, and certainly was unheard of for civil engineering works. In November 1814, at a meeting at Burton, the canal committee was informed that a sample brick made at a Preston brickworks had been approved by T.Morris, a Liverpool engineer. The committee resolved to use bricks above the water line, and subsequent doubts about excessive salt in the clay were dispelled by John Dalton, the famous Manchester chemist. Just to be sure, Thomas Fletcher and Samuel Gregson, the indefatigable Clerk to the Company, were sent on a tour of the Midlands canals to see brick construction for themselves. They thought the work looked “weak” but conceded that it had stood for 40 years, and was certainly cheaper and faster to build. As a result the committee resolved to build the first 10 yards in from each end entirely of stone, but otherwise kept to their earlier decision to use brick above the water line.

In June 1815 Richard Chamberlain of Northants was engaged as superintendent of the tunnel works which it was anticipated would take up to 3 years to complete. John Harper and Thomas Collins, brickmakers, also from Northants, were taken on to supervise the actual manufacture.

In October 1816 wet ground at the south end of the tunnel caused a bulge in the arch, so the committee authorised an additional ring of 9 inch brickwork to give added strength, and in the following year noted that so far 2 million bricks had been made at Heversham.

By September 1817 the tunnel was nearly finished, and the committee authorised an auction of surplus bricks. The tunnel was completed on Christmas Day 1817, but it was not until 18 June 1819 – after delays with works elsewhere – that the ceremonial opening to Kendal finally took place.

with additional information from Simon Burgess…

It is not clear when the yard was closed for a further 100,000 bricks were advertised in the Westmorland Advertiser on August 8th 1818 “stacked in lots at the Brickyard”. In September 1820 a part of the land was sold at auction not as a going concern.

In 1845 the works was resuscitated to supply the nearby railway under construction. It furnished employment for 100 men and 30 horses so was obviously a fairly large enterprise even though it cannot have been in production for long as the Lancaster to Kendal section was completed in September 1846.

(Page created 19/04/05. Photo added 02/11/20)