The history of Clophill, Bedfordshire, UK
Including historical descriptions, maps and statistical analysis.
Most villages have a history of local brickmaking and Clophill is no exception. Before the time of the internal combustion engine the only means of local transport was horse-drawn. Bricks are heavy and are required in large quantities to build a house.
It was much more economical to make bricks locally with the best materials that could be found. Although Clophill nestles below the Greensand Ridge there is overlying clay to the north suitable for brickmaking.
The brickmaking-process started with the digging of the clay in winter which was then left to weather. In the summer the clay was mixed with sand, by hand at first and later in a pugmill. The bricks were moulded by hand in wooden moulds then left undercover to dry.
A brick clamp is one of the oldest methods of firing bricks. The unbaked bricks are stacked with fuel under or among them and then the fuel set on fire. The outside of the clamp may be insulated by packing earth or mud around it. Later updraught kilns known as Scotch kilns were used. These were permanent structures with one or more firing chambers around the circumference.
At Great Linford, Milton Keynes, there are two fine examples of Scotch kilns.
The local clay in Clophill produced a soft red brick which can be seen in many buildings around the village.
There is also a yellow brick that was made in the Arlesey Brickworks called "whites".>
Sometimes the fire was too hot and the exposed ends of some of the bricks overheated and started to vitrify, turning a dark shade of blue. These were not wasted but used to produce patterns in the walls.
The history of brick and tile-making in Clophill stretches back to at least 1619 where an inventory of the belongings of William Burden that lists a "Claphill tyle kiln".
There are many references in the records to brickmakers living in Clophill right through to 1850 when Slaters Directory lists George Crouch as a Brick and Tile Maker.
Mary Phillips in the "Clophill Story" says that Susan Heath, widow of the brickmaker Tristrum Heath, lived at 2 Mill Lane in 1666.