Review – Brick: a social history

1 min read

Carolyne Haynes
The History Press, £18.99
ISBN 978-0750991933
Review James W P Campbell

In England we are so surrounded by brick, much of our cities and towns being built out if it, that we are in danger of taking it entirely for granted. Carolyne Haynes’ delightful paperback book sets out to change this. She introduces the reader to the joys and intricacies of English brickwork, and most particularly to some of the stories behind those who made it. This is not a dry academic study, but a book written to be enjoyed as an introduction to this fascinating subject through the ages, by someone with a strong background in presenting bricks to the general public.

The book opens with a partly biographical introduction. Here Carolyne explains how she was herself introduced to the subject, through her work at the Buriton Chalk Pits, south of Petersfield, and the Bursledon Brickworks Museum Trust in Swanwick, a village near Southampton. Through these roles, she became fascinated by the people behind the works. This is very much their story.

The book is arranged chronologically. It begins with an extremely good explanation of the clays found across the United Kingdom, and their use for making bricks. The book is worth purchasing for this alone. It goes on to explain that bricks are not made of pure clay, detailing how they – and lime mortar – are made. Chapter 2 looks at clay in Neolithic England, but the story really begins in Chapter 3 with the Romans. The chapters that follow are generally short and informative, making the book both easy to read and difficult to put down. Sections on prices and living costs from accounts are intermingled with social history, providing a background to each period. Carolyne is clever in her use of secondary accounts to draw together a fascinating story, but it is in the later chapters that we get the book’s biggest contribution to scholarship in the publication of the oral history of the last years of the Bursledon Brickworks, collected through interviews with the people who worked there. It is a hugely informative end to this affectionate tribute to brickmaking in England from ancient times to the present day.

This review appeared in CA 358. To find out more about subscribing to the magazine, click here.

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