The Rea Brickworks

The Brickworks and Victoria Cottages, Lower Rea Hempstead

By Daphne Chappell

Whilst researching my family history I was surprised to find that the meadows around the cottage where I was born were once occupied by a brick and tile works. The O.S. map of Lower Rea, Hempstead, dated 1888, clearly showed our childhood home, a large mid-eighteenth century farmhouse divided into three to house agricultural workers, and a row of six red-brick cottages that stood nearby. In the meadows, adjacent to and behind our home, several buildings are shown, one of which was large and round. The site is marked Rea Brick and Tile Works and the cottages nearby are named Victoria Cottages.

In 1888 Lower Rea was in the parish of Hempstead which lies on the River Severn two miles south-west of Gloucester. Hempstead was once part of the estate belonging to Llanthony Priory and was much larger than at present because it included part of the South Hamlet of Gloucester to the north and part of Quedgeley in the south. The main body of the parish, east to west, once extended from the Tuffley slopes of Robinswood Hill to the River Severn plus a narrow peninsula of land, known as Rea, running along the river to the south. In 1885 a major rationalization of boundaries saw Hempstead occupying only the land lying within the broad loop of the Severn, plus the Rea, now divided into Upper, Middle and Lower Rea.

My maternal grandparents had moved to Lower Rea around 1914. My grandfather Sidney Clarke was, according to season, a salmon fisherman and a hedger and ditcher; he worked in the area all his life. Granny Sarah, widowed in 1948, moved out ten years later. They had six children but at no time had I heard any family members mention a brickyard close by.

Then my memory was jolted, I suddenly remembered childhood ‘dens’, built with old bricks found half buried in the fields: fishing for newts and tadpoles in ‘Frog’s Hole’ a large, deep-sided pond and the much larger, deeper stretch of water we called ‘Blue Pit’, a field away and strictly out of bounds. ‘Blue Pit’ was reached by ‘Black Alley’, a wide cinder path that ran along the top of a ridge of high ground parallel to the river. The alley had a very steep, cliff-like bank along its 500 yard length, dropping down into a wide, deep basin in the river meadows below – old clay pits? The history is there on the ground, but when did the Rea Brick and Tile works open, who were the owners? Was the row of red brick cottages built for brickyard workers? Was the business successful and when did production cease? I wanted to know more!

Jan Broadway in her informative article - (Transactions, Bristol and Gloucester Archaeological Society 2003, Vol 121, pp 233-241) - tells us that the clay from the ditches of the Common Ham on Alney Island in Gloucester was used for making bricks from 1649. Several brickyards were in operation including one at Llanthony and another at Hempstead. I went back to old maps to see if I could pin down when Lower Rea brickyard went into operation. The 1839 tithe map of the area showed only the cottage where I was born and in the meadow alongside, just a wharf and a fishery bank. The next map was linked to the 1871 census; both it and the census itself recorded only the cottage I knew alongside the river.

The Victorian County History tells us that in the Rea area at Hempstead, a ridge of high ground composed of Lower Lias clay runs through the meadows and at Lower Rea, where the clay is fairly extensive it was used for brick making. I could find no indication as to when the brickworks started. In fact the first mention I found anywhere was a report in The Gloucester Citizen, March 7th, 1874 when one James Gardener, a labourer of Quedgeley, pleaded guilty to ‘stealing coal, value 2d, the property of the Rev. Canon Lysons, from the Lower Rea brickyard at Hempstead’.

Now, at least, I had a time slot and a name.

The Lysons family were inextricably linked to the Rea brickworks. The Rev. Samuel Lysons, vicar of Rodmarton, inherited the Hempstead estate from his father the Rev. Daniel Lysons. Samuel, the new Lord of the Manor, took up residence in the family seat at Hempstead Court in 1838 and began improving poor areas south of the city building houses, a church, schools and charitable clubs. He was rural Dean of Gloucester from 1865 until 1876 and was installed as honorary Canon of Gloucester Cathedral in 1867. He died in 1877.

Samuel’s will, written in March 1875, states that his eldest son Lorenzo George was to inherit the estate also mentioning that Lorenzo had been ‘adequately provided for under the will of my late father’. A codicil to the will later that year made Gertrude, Samuel’s third wife who he had married in 1872, the main beneficiary. In 1876 a further codicil to the will made various small bequests and stated that should his wife Gertrude pre-decease him the residue of the estate would go to his son Daniel George. As it was Gertrude outlived Samuel.

In December 15th March 1877 – the following appeared in the Gloucester Citizen –

I hereby give notice that on and after this date Charles Arthur Oakey of Gloucester is NOT AUTHORISED to TAKE ORDERS, RECEIVE MONEYS, or in any way act as my Agent on my behalf

T. Coker Beck, Manager of Rea Brick Yard Quedgeley, near Gloucester

Charles Arthur Oakey was a bricklayer by trade, acting as Agent for the Brickworks. T. Coker Beck, was a relative of Gertrude, Samuel’s widow. He was also an executor of Samuel’s will and seemingly managing the brickworks.


Two years later a large advertisement in the Gloucester Citizen in March 1879 informed builders and contractors that the ‘Rea Steam Brick and Tile Works, Quedgeley, Gloucester’ is the cheapest and best yard for building materials which can turn out 120,000 bricks a week and an unlimited supply of Lias Lime. The advertisement went on to inform prospective customers - ‘sample bricks, Lias, white and red and the Poole’s patent-interlocking tile, equal to slate at half the cost’, to be seen at Mr James Moore Architect 1, Brunswick Rd, Gloucester. For sample work, blue Lias brick see Mr John Bellows’ chimney from Clarence St’. Sample work .white brick and Poole’s interlocking tile, see Mr Goold’s office in Northgate St, opposite the Spread Eagle Hotel’

Later that year ‘Blue Lias Clay Lime and Semi-Dry Pressed Lias Bricks at 20s per thousand’ were advertised. Flower pots too, ‘perfect in shape and colour, hard, durable and light, and will not grow green’ and ‘square seed pans and red and white ornamental vases’

The advertisement indicates that the Rea brickyard had been considerably modernised. Until the nineteenth century clay workings were small affairs and production was seasonal. Clay was dug by hand in autumn and weathered over winter before being hand-thrown into wooden moulds and formed into bricks. Bricks were fired using the simple method of mixing a pile bricks and fuel and igniting. With no control over temperature bricks were often overheated and rendered useless by distortion or under fired and too soft for use, a slow and unreliable process. With the coming of the steam engine, brickyards became more sophisticated with permanent kilns and drying sheds, engine and machine houses. Now titled Rea Steam Brick and Tile Works someone had spent a lot of money on machinery and equipment and as well as being able to turn out 12,000 bricks a week was producing lime, flower pots and seed pans, even ornamental vases. To produce those quantities of bricks and other goods means a considerable workforce was employed and as the yard was modernised so the row of six brick cottages was built. Victoria Cottages were certainly built to house brickyard workers. The census taken in 1881 names the occupiers of five of the six cottages and gives their occupations -

Thomas Priday -‘Brickyard labourer’. William Merrett - ‘Engine Driver at Brick Works’. Henry Steel ‘Carter at Brickworks’, (lodging with him two brickyard labourers, Henry Powell and William Jeffery.) John Parry - ‘Potter’, Samuel Crockford - ‘Brick and Tile maker’ with lodgers George Powell and William Vick,labourers. In ‘our’ house were Richard Cale,labourer in a BrickyardWilliam Tomlins, LimeburnerandJoseph Priday, labourer in a Brickyard.

Still unclear as to who owned and modernised the brickworks, I luckily came across the 1880 street directory for Gloucestershire, with the entry -

LYSONS Capt. Lorenzo George (late 23rd Royal Welch) living at The Bungalow, Hempstead. A trade entry against his name reads ‘brick tile, drainpipe, Bath brick and patent tile manufacturer and lime merchant, Patent Steam Brickworks, Rea Brickyard, Hempstead, manager F. O. Stephens’, the first indication that Lorenzo owned the Brickworks.

Then, all guessing and assumptions were confirmed by an Indenture found in Gloucester Record Office(D177, uncatalogued binder) Drawn up in February 1881, it not only named the brickyard owners, past and future, but also provided a map illustrating the location and use of each building and named the surrounding clay pits. Two schedules attached to the Indenture lists the content of every building, naming every single piece of equipment.

The approximate date some of the machinery became available is perhaps an indication as to when the yard was brought up to date. For example –

The large round building that had been so prominent on the 1881 map was the latest type of kiln. Patented by its maker Hoffman in 1858 it was a continuous kiln capable of turning out large quantities of bricks at a steady, constant rate from a circular ring chamber with a large chimney at the centre. It could be used for firing bricks or limestone. There are reports of Hoffman kilns being installed in brickyards around the country c.1865-1870.

The 40 horse power Cornish Boiler also mentioned in the schedule was installed by Daniel Adamson. Adamson’s firm was operating during 1860’s - 70’s

Whittaker of Accrington who provided the Clay Mill or Sieve Pan operated from 1870.

As to the owners, the Indenture names Thomas Nelson Foster of Bayshill, Cheltenham, Lorenzo George Lysons, Major in Her Majesty’s Army and George Francis Riddiford, of Gloucester, Gentleman, who were leasing the Rea Brick and Tile works to Charles Henry Grey Jenkinson, City of Westminster, Civil Engineer. The lease was to run for twenty one years, the lessee able, at seven or fourteen years, to opt out.

Thomas Nelson Foster had set up an oilseed crushing mill at Bakers Quay on Gloucester Docks in 1861-2 and continued to modernise his business over the years, extending his mill and installing the latest machinery.

Riddiford was a solicitor. (The firm later became Haines and Sumner)

Jenkinson was a member The Institute of Civil Engineers, born in London he was lodging at 10 Brunswick Square Gloucester in 1881 described as a ‘Brick and Tile Maker and Engineer’

So it seems Lorenzo Lysons had been building up the brickworks and workers accommodation for some time in order to offer it as a going concern. The Schedule shows he had installed the very latest machinery, doubtless in collaboration with Thomas Nelson Foster who was himself modernising his oil crushing business. With cottages built for workers Jenkinson must have thought the brickworks a good bet when he signed the lease.

In December 1881 according to the Gloucester Citizen ‘Mr C H G Jenkinson, proprietor of the Rea Brick Works’ had treated all the workers, their wives and families to Christmas fare. ‘In the afternoon wives and children sat down to an excellent tea and in the evening the men partook of a substantial meal of roast beef and plum pudding’………. ‘they heartily drank the health of their employer, thanking him for his kindness in providing for them so bountifully, wishing success to the brickyard and expressing their thanks to the foreman and his wife for the trouble they had taken in preparing for them’

But things went wrong and despite more advertising it appears things went downhill. In May 1882 a notice in the Gloucester Citizen shows that Jenkinson was dissolving a partnership with one James Galway, by mutual consent. They had been operating as ‘Galway and Jenkinson, Brick and Tile Manufacturers, Civil Engineers and Contractors of Rea Brick Works’. Galway was not mentioned in the Indenture and doesn’t seem to have been connected to the brickworks. Quite how Jenkinson managed to get out of the lease is not clear but he seems to have disappeared at this time and in October of the same year the Brickyard was once again for sale or lease, advertised ‘with immediate possession. Apply Wiltons and Riddiford Gloucester’ But no one wanted to take it on and in 1883 Hempsted Court itself, together with related properties including the Brickyard and workers cottages, was up for sale by auction having reverted to the ownership of the estate.

Again the brickyard failed to attract a buyer but in 1888 a William Critchley was accused of ‘stealing wire from the Brickyard at Rea, property of Mr. Lloyd-Baker of Hardwick Court’. Lloyd-Baker was squire of Hardwicke at that time. Was he just leasing the brickyard or just the land? We don’t know. However we do know that the Brickworks eventually fell into disrepair and was dismantled.

According to a report in the Gloucester Citizen 1895, Arthur Gardener aged 20, a labourer of Elmore, was admitted to the Gloucester Infirmary unconscious on May 11th after a fight broke out in the Plough Inn, Quedgeley. It seems some men had been pulling down the tall chimney stack at The Rea Brickworks, Hempstead and after collecting money from some sightseers, who came along to witness the fall of the chimney, they adjourned to the Plough where an argument and a fight broke out!

A lease dated 1896 shows that William Watts of Weir Cottage, Elmore, leased the land with the remains of the brickworks and claypits from the Hempstead estate in order to grow withies. For the first three years it was rent free - probably because he would have had to clear the old brickwork buildings etc. and make the land good - but afterwards at a rent of ten shillings a year. He was to ‘manage and cultivate the said premises as osier beds at the best and most approved mode and to plant new setts as and when required’ He also had the agreement of the landlord to grow potatoes.

William Watt’s was still the occupier in 1903, his rent had increased to £1.00 a year. He was still leasing the old brickworks land in 1918, when the remainder of the Hempstead estate was sold and was now paying £3.00 a year. The land he leased was to be sold with the right for nearby cottagers to cross the land to draw water from the Severn.

In 1918 the ‘Remaining portion of the Hempstead estate’ was advertised for sale by Bruton Knowles. Several estate farms, 270 acres of land, the (Indian) Bungalow, ‘cottages at Lower Rea’ and ‘allotment land’ are included. It seems the land at Lower Rea was sold to local farmers who presumably cleared the remaining brickyard buildings and used the meadows to graze their cattle. A few photos taken in the late 1920’s early 30’s exist, showing various Clarke family members in the fields around the cottages; by then all that is visible is an old wooden shed. We have never found who bought what; my grandparents never spoke of their landlord. Perhaps deeds of Victoria cottages exist somewhere?

As to why the brickyard failed? This was probably due to continuing improvements in travel and transport. Small brickyards, which essentially had less storage capacity for their stock, were gradually taken over by larger firms. Even with the cost of transport added in small, local brickyards were priced out of the market. In the Rea brickyard’s case getting bricks out of the yard must also have been a problem; they often suffered complaints from the public of narrow lanes being blocked to the extent that a road across the fields to the canal was proposed, as can be seen on the map accompanying the Indenture. Also, a report in ‘Proceedings of Cheltenham Natural Science Society, Vol. 1 (4), 1910, entitled ‘Brick making in Gloucester’ perhaps reveals another reason for the failure -

Lower Rea. This brickworks, abandoned now some thirty years………… the clay was found to contain too many limestone nodules and ‘gryphites’ (Gryphae arcuata) to be suitable for brick making and the works were consequently abandoned, but not until a considerable sum of money had been spent on plant and developing the workings’.




J & DC October 2015  

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'The Rea Brickworks' page
Photo: Illustrative image for the 'The Rea Brickworks' page

Courtesy G.R.O. D177 Uncatalogued binder

This page was added by Daphne Chappell on 21/10/2015.
Comments about this page

As a child I lived with my family in Grove cottages,middle Rea (now demolished and I think rebuilt as severnside) I remember being told about the "blue pit" and going there shooting rabbits with my father.  As a youngster it always seemed a lonely place and a bit frightening, we were told that a young boy had drowned in there and it was bottomless. I think the boys last name was Bingham. A Mr Stone lived in Indian bungalow and then a Geoff Mann.

By mark russell
On 02/05/2016

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