Punishing tests that proved Hamblet's bricks the best
"Joseph Hamblet was a true Black Country entrepreneur who progressed from humble brickmaker to brick manufacturer on the grand Victorian scale. He was born in Dudley in1819 and is recorded in the 1841 census as living in Darby End, Netherton with his wife Caroline (nee Grainger) and two children. His occupation at that time was reported simply as brickmaker. Ten years later in 1851 and obviously with an eye to business he acquired a small brickworks on part of John Edward Piercy's 'Oak House' Estate at Ireland Green, West Bromwich, near to the junction of Oak Road, Gads Lane and Albion Road. He ran this modest manufactory, the Piercy Brickworks, successfully in partnership with a Mr Parkes for a number years.
"By the early 1860s Hamblet had became sole proprietor as well as manager and from this point onwards the business steadily grew until the site covered many acres. The main marl hole from which the raw material for the brickmaking process was drawn was served by an inclined railway which passed beneath Albion Road to link with the brickworks on the other side of the road. A large range of clayware products were made over time, from floor and roof tiles to kerb edgings and large specials as described by your correspodant, Mr W Inkson. However, blue engineering bricks were the firm's speciality and mainstay. Due to their strength and durability, and before the widespread use of reinforced concrete, standard blue bricks were the material of choice in civil engineering works such as sewers, canal and railway structures, and the larger 'specials' were also much used as embellishments (plinths, corbels, parapet copings, etc on public buildings, churches, houses and even garden walls) to which they imbued strength and a sense of permanence. Brick output at Hamblets peaked at between 400 to 500 thousand bricks per week in the 1890s, ranking Joseph Hamblet as the largest and most famous brick manufacturer in West Bromwich (there were seven others at that time). Its nearest competitor was Wood & Ivery, situated at the nearby Albion Blue Brick & Tile Works with a weekly make of 200-300 thousand bricks.
"It is a mark of the pre-eminence of J. Hamblet and Wood & Ivery as brick manufacturers that their bricks were selected, together with other samples produced elsewhere in the country, by engineer Henry Ward, Assoc. M. Inst. C. E., for use in conducting 'Experiments on various Bricks to Ascertain the Resistance to a Gradually Increasing Thrusting Stress'. The results of these strength tests were presented to the Institution of Civil Engineers in London in a paper entitled 'Brickmaking in 1886' and published later that year in The ICE Minutes of Proceedings, (Paper 2057). Hamblet's bricks proved the superior, requiring, on average, a force of over 16,000 lbs / sq. in. to completely crush them.
"Joseph Hamblet died on 12 May 1894 at Oak House, West Bromwich and was succeeded in the business by his grandson, Joseph Davis Hamblet (known as Joseph Hamblet, Jr). Four years later the business became a limited company, the Hamblet Blue Brick Co. Ltd. Interestingly around that time a contemporary edition of Kelly's Directory of Staffordshire lists, amongst West Bromwich's promient residents, Joseph Hamblet's widow, still living at Oak House, whilst her grandson is recorded in residence at Lombard Street.
"The brickworks finally ceased trading in 1915, brought about by a shortage of labour and scarcity of fuel due to the Great War. The estate was reported sold by auction in the Birmingham Evening Mail in 1919.
"The legacy of the Staffordshire brickmakers' craft lives on in many surviving buildings and structures around our region, although nothing remains of the brickworks themselves; the only evocation of this long vanished industry today is to be found in the local street names - Claypit Lane, Hambletts Road, Piercy Street, and Wood Lane."
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