Beehives, so nineteen sixties

It’s a tall dome of a hairdo, it’s the name of a pub in Great Bridge, and it also happens to be a type of kiln used to make bricks.   This particular kind of oven (like the one pictured) was described in the 1970s as ‘characteristic’ of the Stour valley in the south of the Black Country (although they could certainly be found elsewhere).

Beehive kilns were used there to make ‘firebricks’, prepared from a local clay which made them very resistant to heat.  These were useful in a wide range of industries but especially the Stourbridge glass trade.  Our earlier post raised a comment about how firebrick-making fitted into the Black Country brick industry: this post is an attempt to start to give an answer.

Historic maps show at least 200 brick making sites have existed across a wide area of the Black Country (left).  On the other hand, the fireclay brick industry (right) appears to have been grouped in the south… the map shows a clustering of both fireclay mines and brickworks around the Stour.  So, on this evidence firebrick-making appears to have been a local specialism of a wider Black Country brick trade.

Our recent feature Changes on the Cut showed the disappearance of one beehive kiln in Brierley Hill (to the right of the photo here), flattened at some point in the last fifty years.  Many others have gone the same way since this photo was taken in the 1960s.  And, whereas the hair style will no doubt see occasional revivals (we love you Amy), the domes of brick kilns seem destined to remain marks of a lost landscape.

> The location of our disappeared kiln in Google Maps
> Both maps are from The Legacy of Factory Buildings in the Black Country.
> The painting of the beehive brick kiln is by Edwin Butler Bayliss and is held by Wolverhampton Art Gallery, details from Black Country History

2 responses to “Beehives, so nineteen sixties

  1. Thank you for your response. It seems likely then that, the occurrence of fire clay being localised, the production of these specialised bricks was too i.e. near to the glass cones which will have used them. I’m assuming that this is down to the specific geology of the area. I fairly sure Graham Whorton will know.
    It may be impossible to work out (original documents being thin on the ground, I fear) whether fire clay was discovered and exploited because of the needs of the glass industry ( and perhaps never used without its flowering as a BC industry?) or whether the cones were built where they were because the vital fire-clay for the pots was of such good quality and abundace in the locality.
    The other side of what I asked related to fire-bricks in furnaces. Any thoughts on this use? Obviously these were situated throughout the Black Country.

    Finally an oddity. Whilst researching West and East parks in Wolverhampton (for a talk on 21st September, 11a.m. at Wolverhampton Archives for benefit of Friends of Wolverhampton Archives), I found a reference to the glacial erratic boulder, now erected in West Park, which stated that it had been found “in a brick pit” in Oak Street, Wolverhampton.

    • Not a reply but an an amendment to what I wrote.
      The fire clay around Stourbridge was used for making the pots that were vital to the glassmaking process. The clay was formed into large hollow vessels (the pots) with an aperture for the craftsman to reach into and remove a lump of molten glass to blow on an iron. The fire-clay took several weeks to dry out before the pot could be used. Once properly dry the pot then had to withstand very high temperatures.
      But fire-bricks, as I understand it, would not have been needed in the glass industries. Sorry if I got confused.

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