Newland Firebricks : some notes

(Page created 03/08/10)

by Jonathan Wignall in the CIHS Newsletter, April 1990

Amongst the materials turned out in clearing the site (of Newland Furnace) were numbers of large firebricks which had formed the furnace lining. These fireclay “lumps” as they were termed, can be found all over the hamlet of Newland, and date from successive re-linings of the furnace which would take place at intervals of perhaps ten years or so. Lumps which were not badly worn have been re-used, and one forms a keystone with the initials H A R & Co (Harrison, Ainslie & Roper) and the date 1854, suggesting that firebrick linings had come into use at least a decade previously.

Linings were commonly made to suit the internal shape of individual furnaces, and dimensions were frequently changed on relining to try and improve smelting performance or correct areas of greatest wear. Different sizes were thus needed for each course of blocks, and their production became a speciality of areas where high quality refactory clays could be found. For example, when the North Lonsdale furnaces were first erected at Ulverston in 1874, firebrick lumps came from:-

J.Cliff & Sons, and Wm Ingham & Sons, both of Wortley near Leeds

Wm Stephenson & Sons, of Newcastle and Wooler

Chapman & Co, Darlington, and

Henry Parfitt, Cwmbran, Monmouthshire.

Fireclay bricks to back up the lumps came from Darlington and from John Walker of Kingswinford, near Stourbridge, a noted firebrick centre. Bricks have been found at Newland bearing the imprint “Fisher, Stourbridge”.

Of more Cumbrian interest are the Newland bricks and lumps impressed “Lucock”. One of these can be seen in a wall of the charcoal drying house at the blacking mill just upstream of Newland, which was rebuilt after a fire in August 1884. Dr.Marshall immediately identified this Lucock as the drain tile supplier to Sir James Graham of Netherby Hall, during his pioneering land reclamation work around Longtown in the early 19th century.

Tile drainage was a relatively new concept, and in 1829 Parson & White’s Directory stated that “during the last five years about 800,000 tiles have been made annually … by three manufacturers near Carlisle, Bowness, and Langrigg”. They listed Robeert Lucock as brick and tile manufacturer at Langrigg, in the parish of Bromfield, near Aspatria.

The 1847 Mannex directory again lists Rt. Lucock as a tile maker at Langrigg, but also at West Curthwaite. The entry for Plumbland Parish is more revealing:- “Lucock, Rbt., mfr. fire bricks, flags, ridge and agricultural tiles, ornamental chimney tops, gas retorts, crucibles, etc, etc,”. The date of the establishment of this branch of activity is not known, but the enumerator’s note for the 1851 census ascribes an increas in the population of Plumbland to “additional collieries and limeworks”.

In 1858 there was no mention of such works in Plumbland, and coal mining in the parish was “dormant”, although the same publication (Mannex, 1860) states that Langrigg tile manufacturing was carried on by J. Lucock.

In 1867 a pit was sunk at Gillhead, Flimby, by Messrs Lucock & Carlton to produce coal, fireclay and gannister. The Whitehaven News for 18th January 1872 carries an advert “Gillhead Colliery and Brickworks for sale, apply Mrs. Lucock, Broughton Moor”. Again, in January 1876, “FOR SALE by private treaty; Gillhead Colliery and Brickworks near Flimby, in use by representatives of the late Mr. Joseph Lucock”.

Oliver Wood states that the pit was taken over by Henry Graves in 1878, becoming the Gillhead Coal & Firebrick Co. in 1897. It passed into the ownership of Workington Iron & Steel Co. in 1917, and was finally closed by the NCB in February 1959.

The 1883 directory lists Richard Graves, colliery proprietor and firebrick manufacturer, Gillhead, Flimby. It also lists “Henry Grave, tile maker” at Langrigg. The West Curthwaite Brick & Tile Works then apparently belonged to James Beaty, stonemason, of Holly Cottage, Thursby. Neither of these works appear in the 1901 directory, but Henry Graves then had a brick and tile works at Hayton, and red sandstone quarries at Hayton and Aspatria “employing a good number of men”. In 1883 Henry Graves had quarries at West Newton and the West Quarry, Aspatria. In 1910, Kelly’s directory listed various members of the Graves family owning quarries at Castle Hill, Aspatria, Howrigg and Shawk quarries, Rosley, and at Plumpton near Lazonby. The family continued to quarry at Shawk until after 1935, and on Lazonby Fell until the early 1950s; one of the last quarrymen there was Beaty Graves. It would be interesting to know if there were any family commections with the Beaty of West Curthwaite, or with the Lucocks. There were still members of the Graves family in the Lazonby area in 1979 … but this is digressing a long way from Newland!

I have not looked for makers’ names at Duddon, or elsewhere. However, it would seem that the period of firebrick manufacture for Newland lies between the mid 1830s and 1878. One brick bearing “N 1 B” may be marked for Newland/Backbarrow, or perhaps course 1B, as Fell states that Nibthwaite Furnace ceased work in the 1750s, which would place it in the sandstone lining era, bringing us back to the Graves family once again…?