What brick?

I spend a great deal of time studying maps, and writing about maps. Many people feel I should get out more: so here is the result of a Bradford history outdoor trip. Most readers will know Infirmary Field, a green space which begins at the junction of Westgate and Lumb Lane, and which for many years was the location of Bradford Infirmary. The Infirmary was already present in the first OS map of the area (c.1852) but was relocated between the 1932 and 1938 OS maps. At the rear of the site is a snicket connecting Westgate and Lumb Lane.  There has been much modern housing redevelopment in this area but the snicket may have started life as the back lane of Queens Street which, together with Kings Street, was once a terrace that ran parallel to it.

The perimeter wall separating Infirmary Field from this snicket is basically constructed of sandstone masonry, but has evidently been patched or repaired on many occasions and with many materials. A piece of rather sloppy brick-laying placed three bricks on their long edges to reveal the brick mark [P&S] placed in a rather whimsically shaped depression, or frog.

What brick Fig 1

They look like late Victorian machine-moulded bricks, although I have never seen any other examples of exactly this type, among the hundreds of Bradford bricks I have examined. Could the resources of the Local Studies Library be used to identify the original maker of these bricks? Sadly there is no ‘Bradford Brick Book’ in which you may identify individual brick marks, but there are a large collection of Victorian trade directories in which you can investigate local brick manufacturers. Brick works and kilns are marked on the LSL’s extensive collection of maps, and there are also newspaper advertisements and census reports.

Essentially I was looking for a maker who generated the initials P & S, where previous experience teaches me that ‘& S’ was likely (but not certain) to represent ‘and sons’. There seemed to be three possibilities. The least likely were Parkinson and Spencer, a Halifax company making refractory bricks and fireclay items, who survived well into the 20th century. They did not seem likely to have made Victorian house bricks which penetrated as far as Bradford.

William Pickard & Sons operated at Wellington Street, Laisterdyke and they appear in many trade directories: 1867, 1872, 1875-1880, 1881, 1883 and 1887-88. In the 1883 Directory, for example, they are listed as ‘William Pickard, builder, stone merchant and brick-maker’ and the works (probably called Wellington Works) could have had a 25 year existence. But there is a known mark [WP & S] which would fit this manufacturer better than the puzzle brick, so consequently they are only my second choice.

The most likely candidate seems to be the firm of Pearson & Son. Samuel Pearson was a Cleckheaton brick-maker who founded a contracting dynasty. His first contracting works was in Silver Street (off Tabbs Lane) in Scholes around 1856.

What brick Fig 2

His largely forgotten works in Bradford, which he probably acquired from a man called William Poulter, was known as the Broomfield Clay works and later Broomfield Sanitary Tube & Brick Works. In describing the work involved in taking the GNR railway line from Exchange Station towards Leeds in 1866 Horace Hird (Bradford in History, 1968) mentions the activities of Pearson & Son who took over responsibility for the clay excavated from a cutting. They created a ‘great mound’, and for 15 years 60 men were employed making drain pipes, chimney pots and bricks from this mound. One of their brick marks (which I have only seen in a damaged state) is [PEARSON & SON][BRADFORD] but [P&S] could easily have been an earlier alternative. Examination of the Heaton Local Board accounts for 1877 shows that Samuel Pearson & Son were supplying 15” ceramic pipes ‘to be delivered at the Turf Tavern’. Their works can be also identified on the 1871 map of Bradford, but apparently closed in 1885 when a ‘spoil bank’ was exhausted. The site is described as a ‘disused brick-works’ by the time of the 1895 OS map, and Pearson & Sons are not recorded in an 1898 trade directory. In the 1881 census Samuel Pearson is described as a retired brick-maker, born in Scholes, and living in Greenside. He evidently died in 1884 (worth £20,000) at the Elms, Scholes Road.

By the time of his retirement Pearson’s were already undertaking contracts in many major industrial cities. Samuel Pearson’s son was called George Pearson but the firm’s success was largely due to the energy of his grandson, Weetman Pearson (1856-1927), to whom Samuel transferred all his personal holdings. Weetman may have started as a brick manufacturer but the company he managed evolved into the great firm of Samuel Pearson & Sons which considered brick, tile and sanitary-ware making as only a very minor part of their activities. The firm undertook many contracts for the British Government and within a generation it became an international contractor. It was particularly associated with Mexico under the presidency of Porfirio Diaz. Canals, railways, and oil were among the company’s many interests. Weetman Pearson was eventually created the first Viscount Cowdray and died in 1927.  The company still exists as Pearson plc but has widely diversified its interests into the media, which is a very long way from a Bradford snicket.

Derek Barker, Local Studies Library Volunteer

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