Bricking it

Not only did I know nothing about my family’s brick-making business, it turns out that I knew nothing about bricks, and how brick-making, ironstone-mining, shale-oil and coal-mining were connected to those awful blaize / blaze / blaes school hockey and football pitches. Scottish kids like me who fell face-first onto this brutal surface will never forget it. You might have experienced the same thing on something you knew as a “cinder” track. But for me it will always be “blaes” (this spelling is new to me), though the word now conjours up more than just skint knees.

Before he was married, David Laughland Scobbie (1886–1978) was living in the large family home (Beechworth, Newarthill) of his parents (James Scobbie and Mina Laughland). The 1911 census says that he, aged 24, was a “Brick Salesman” employed by a “Brick Manufactory”. David and Marion Young Dick (1884–1978 ) married in April 1913, as described here. In the wedding certificate, he is still described as a “Brickwork Salesman”. He then had a lifelong career with Triumph Toffee.

But what about the bricks? Well, it is likely he worked in a family firm.

The Scobbie brick businesses

In 1900, David’s father James Scobbie acquired the business and assets of a partnership carrying on business at Souterhouse, in Lanarkshire, under the name and style of The Rosehall Brick Company. (Scottish Brick History have a page on Rosehall which I presume is the right company.) The subscribers had been the sole partners, and the partnership was dissolved on the 1st April 1900. The acquisition meant James had to pay and discharge all the debts and liabilities.[1] (Is it too obvious I am using some original language that I don’t quite understand the legal meaning of?)

A Rosehall brick, image (c) from scottishbrickhistory.co.uk

There were two names associated with this notice in the Edinburgh Gazette: one was James Scobbie himself, whose signature was witnessed by Alex. Ross, writer, Hamilton, and Adam L Gow, Cashier, Hamilton; the other was David Laughland, witnessed by William Cook, writer, Glasgow, and Samuel S. Pincock, law-apprentice, 77 St. Vincent St. Glasgow; it was dated 1st May 1900. That previous partner was not David Laughland Scobbie, but a relative from the Laughland family of James’s wife Mina.

I presume this means that James and David were in partnership until James, aged nearly 47, bought out David. Each man used his own lawyers to end the partnership. David Laughland was, I presume, James’s brother-in-law, the sixth child of his family, aged 43, and a younger brother of Mina, James’s wife. (He married Maggie Fulton in 1889, and they lived in Glasgow, e.g. at the very grand-looking 11 Newton Terrace in 1901 and 1911, and had a large family of their own.) But the brick history site I’ve pointed to above makes it clear I can’t jump to simple conclusions, and that everything in business is more complex than I appreciate. And without personal documents, who knows why various decisions were made.

A Souterhouse brick (image 20170922_105052, one of several variants (c) Scottishbrickhistory.co.uk)

On the 18th of July 1902, James was “a Partner of the Souterhouse Brick Company, Coatbridge, residing at Beechworth, Newarthill” according to an announcement (Edinburgh Gazette, page 733) concerning the sequestration of someone called David Cameron, a builder of Holytown. James was being appointed as a commissioner.

Blaes from bings

I don’t know if these Scobbie businesses only involved selling bricks rather than manufacturing them, or what. I don’t know if all or parts of the brick manufacturing business and factory at Souterhouse (see here) were owned by the same company/companies as Rosehall (Shawhead), just east of Old Monkland cemetery and the North Calder Water. Scottish Brick History website (SBH) has newspaper clippings and information that suggests Rosehall Brick Works itself was established between 1897 and 1900 to exploit the bing of waste from coal mine(s) owned by Robert Addie & Sons Collieries.

On 25/08/1899 in the Hamilton Herald – Robert Addie & Sons Collieries’ 7th annual report was described, stating that during the course of the year Addies arranged with the proprietor of the Estate of Rosehall to build a brickwork on his property to use the large accumulations of debris there, which were very suitable for brick making and they believed the work would prove a source of profit to the company. See SBH Scottish Brick History on Rosehall.

The shale in at least some bings, the great hills of discarded underground rock of no value to the ironstone or coal miners, or maybe no further value as the post-processed waste of heated shale following oil extraction, turned out to be suitable for making bricks if crushed. I always thought bricks were made from damp clay, but it seems not. Anyway, it was a tough and dangerous business for workers, whether they were digging below ground level to extract clay, or mining, or quarrying bedrock, or from what must have been the loose and unstable bing material.

I also always thought those horrible hockey and football pitches (and tennis courts and running tracks) with a red surface of sharp stone fragments were made from something called “blaize” or “blaise”. A cruel pun on the soft felt that covers snooker and pool tables. Turns out it should be “blaes”, defined by Collins Dictionaries as “hardened clay or shale, esp when crushed and used to form the top layer of a sports pitch: bluish-grey or reddish in colour”. Blae – as in blaeberry – so I guess the stone sometimes had that beautiful red-blue-purple colour. My lack of competence in the Scots language and lack of knowledge of the outdoors let me down. Scottishmining.co.uk says “Blaes – mudstone or shale not containing much bituminous or carbonaceous matter, but generally sufficient to give a dark blue (‘blae’) colour”.

A blaes pitch in Edinburgh, 2005, (c) Richard Webb, who writes “The infamous Scottish “cinder” football pitch. More often seen in the wet West, this one is in Muirhouse, North Edinburgh. ” https://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/11121

The Glasgow Herald newspaper celebrated blaes pitches back in 1999, in a very evocative piece by, I presume, a former PE teacher.[3]

“From the mid-fifties onwards, almost every primary school in Glasgow had its own small pitch or kickabout area, and every secondary school, where there was the space, had at least one full-size football field and hockey pitch. Some schools, especially in the new housing schemes had as many as six or more pitches that were also used extensively by other community groups. All things considered, they were a very astute investment by the old Glasgow corporation, however many knees were skint as a result.”

“In winter the combination of rain and regular usage maintained the red ash at a consistency which allowed a bit of give. The worst time was after the long summer holidays, especially if the weather had been dry, or during May and June when the pitches were used for athletics. It took only a moderate Force 3 or 4 wind to generate a mild ash-storm. Anything above Force 6 and a class of children could resemble a crowd scene out of Lawrence of Arabia. Once I had to pacify a group of kids who were being pursued across the pitches by a mini-whirlwind of red ash and crisp papers.”

A coal bing at Fauldhouse, West Lothian, 2005 (c) Paul Birrell. From Geograph https://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/33138

Niddry Bing at Winchburgh is currently being quarried for 12 and a half million tons of blaes. I am still unsure about whether it was the raw blaes that were suitable for brick-making, or heated “cinder” bings following oil-shale processing. I guess it’s the redder-tinted ones (only familiar now to me from West Lothian, like the Niddry Bing) that contain blaes, but someone who knows about the industry might comment and set me right. If they remain barren and red, it’s because there is no nutrients or substrate for plant reclamation, or maybe because they are too porous… others end up grassy.

There was also a Scobie’s Bing at Fortissat, at Kirk o’Shotts … and yes, it was named for my ancestors, and the Geograph page says “The spoil heap at Fortissat mine (Scobie’s) was a local landmark till the 1960’s/70’s.” I have visited what is left of the bing, and the building ruins (Geograph has some pictures contributed by Jim Smillie, which had helped me locate the site) and have a sentimental piece of roof slate next to my bed, as a coffee-mat / coaster. More from me, one day, in posts on the Scobbie coal-mining history.

Some of the demolished buildings at Fortissat Colliery.

On a recent trip to the site (May 2019) my sister spotted that there were many old Souterhouse bricks in a bit of wall/foundation, and a reasonable example is now on a shelf at home. Magic.

As above – Souterhouse brick course in situ.
Plenty of debris is scattered around.

Cinder Tracks

In the USA, something similar seems to be the basis of “cinder” running tracks. It seems some naturally-occurring pumice-like combusted material could be used, as well as coal power-station cinders, both rather like the after-product of oil-shale mining by the sound of it. I’ll paste in a couple of paragraphs.[2]

Most cinder tracks are not and were not made of the left-over material from burning commercial-grade coal, but from a very common material known as clinker, which is a very porous brick-like substance created by the burning of coal seams in natural formations. Clinker is found in many areas of the country, and it varies widely in color and quality. Some clinker is a very light sandy brown, some is coal-black, but the majority of clinker is of red to brown shade, most commonly a reddish-brown. … Clinker comes most often from natural spontaneous combustion of coal seams caused by high contaminant ratios of pyrite and marcasite, which are ferrous compounds, both high in sulfur content. Other times ingnition is caused by lighting strikes or wildfire, only rarely have these been human-caused events. Because the non-combustable minerals mixed in low-grade coal beds resemble the materials used in brick-making, when these beds burn they create the brick-like substance knows as clinker, and commonly sold these days as pumice stone as a landscaping material. “

“By being both very hard and porous, it is an ideal material for a natural track surface, as it is very durable, stable, and drains water well. Our track at my high school was made of crushed pumice stone (red clinker, or “cinder”) that was abundantly available in the area due to the large coal deposits in the region. It was mixed with red clay as a binder, and heavily rolled to compact it. The cinders were sieved to between roughly 1/4 and 1/8 inch of irregular size, and made a satisfying scrunchy sound when you ran on the track.

Falling down during training or a race was a less pleasant affair, however.

Since the late 1960s, a rubbery all-weather commercial alternative from 3M (the makers of “Scotch Tape”) has been the standard material used in elite events, apparently. It is called “Tartan Track”. Yes really.

Who owned what?

SBH also mentions a 1905 court case giving compensation to the family of a worker killed by a fall of clay in the clay pit associated with his job at Rosehall Brickworks, that names Addies as the owners. (08/04/1905 – in the Airdrie and Coatbridge Advertiser.) So I am not sure who owned what. Just that the owners were not squashed to death at work.

These brick works were very near each other in the Shawhead area, and of course they had James in common (at different times and maybe in different capacities). He is clearly some kind of business owner. The brickworks were different entities on the ground too, as can be seen on this map (revised 1910, published 1912). The lower resolution images below show Souterhouse; a couple of fields to the south was Rosehall with clay pits (at Rosehall Colliery Pit No. 11).

Souterhouse Brick Works 1910 (published 1912) – hyperlink in text.
Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland.
Rosehall Brick Works 1910 (published 1912) – hyperlink in text.
Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland.

They were very near each other in the Shawhead area, and of course they had James in common (at different times). Probably he owned both. They were different entities on the ground, as can be seen on this map (revised 1910, published 1912). The lower resolution images below show first Souterhouse, then a couple of fields to the south, Rosehall (with clay pits at Rosehall Colliery Pit No. 11).

But I can’t be sure without a lot more research.

Below, on the 08/04/1905 – the Airdrie and Coatbridge Advertiser described a court case and decision regarding compensation regarding the death of a worker at Rosehall Brickworks.

<image from  08/04/1905 – the Airdrie and Coatbridge Advertiser to appear>

Auchinlea Quarry & Brickworks

Finally, I know that the family was associated with (or owned outright) Auchinlea Coal Company Ltd., and there is also an Auchinlea or Auchenlee Quarry + Brick Works Omoa. A catalogue of the Historical Model Railway Society has a photo of one of an “Auchinlea” wagon (as the basis for modelling).[3] But whose is it?

One day I might manage to work out something about the various coal mines, quarries and brick works, but that will take serious time in serious archives. In the meantime, the marvellous site Scottish Brick History has relevant raw information, e.g. here for Auchinlea and here for Souterhouse and here for Rosehall. It seems the quarry and brick works were separate from the coal company, at least some of the time.

Joseph Jackson in the Facebook group Once Upon A Time In Wishaw has two articles of note that I need to digest, and he gives useful references to doctoral research too.

On the relationship between the Auchinlea Coal Company and the quarry, he writes:

Originally called Omoa Quarry (later Cleland Quarry), Auchinlea Quarry belonged to S King & Co; then Auchinlea Coal Co until 1934 then finally Auchinlea Quarries & Brickworks Ltd. 
During 1923 Auchinlea Coal Company’s annual output was 160,000 tons of coal.
Auchinlea Brickworks was purchased by a Mr. Leggat (Senior) in 1931, and operated until 1976.

11/08/2018 – Joseph Jackson, from Facebook https://www.facebook.com/groups/1084723605036547/permalink/1142065202635720/

I am already learning more, since starting this, and of course it’s all too big for one post. The bricks have grown arms and legs, it’s too messy, and already there is too much here for a coherent story.
But I couldn’t just stick to the toffee.
(Boom boom!)

Pure dead coincidence!

There I was in April 2019 filling up my watering can at the allotment, and as the water from the tap gushed and splashed, my eyes drifted over the plot next to the tap. There were several bricks stopping a weed-suppressing mat from blowing away… including a nice Auchinlea one! Amazing! (Yes, I did, and yes, I replaced it with an alternative from my own plot.)

An Auchinlea brick found under my nose in Edinburgh.

NOTES and SOURCES

[1] Edinburgh Gazette, May 4th 1900, page 453 column 1.

[2] https://trackandfieldnews.com/discussion/showthread.php?100911-Question-What-exactly-were-cinder-tracks-made-of 07-28-2004 11:18 PM [accessed 05 / 03 / 2019]

[3] Photographs are available of Auchinlee & Auchinlea wagons, it is possible that the latter is connected to the Scobbie coal business rather than to the brickworks, despite the catalogue. Here’s the links:

[3] Those hazy days on red blaes. Herald 7th August 1999. [accessed online on 28/02/2019 at  https://www.heraldscotland.com/news/12275171.Those_hazy_days_on_red_blaes/ ]

See Allan Murray-Rust on specifically shale-oil bings, where the shale had been heated to extract the oil… hence “cinders” at Geograph https://www.geograph.org.uk/snippet/9333https://www.geograph.org.uk/snippet/9333  

Scottish Brick History – https://www.scottishbrickhistory.co.uk/ 

4 thoughts on “Bricking it

Add yours

  1. Strangely, I put down the book I was reading to enjoy your post about bricks, and when I picked it up again the next paragraph read “Brick was very rare in England from the time of the departure of the Romans until the 15th century, when it came into general use in East Anglia and other regions where local stone was scarce, or where the timber of the forest was beginning to run short” (p34 English Social History, G M Trevelyan) A bizarre coincidence!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I love a bit of synchronicity… unlike my somehow not replying till now, sorry about that. So – thanks for the comment. I’m particularly interested that wood was running short as early as the 15th C in some regions.

      Like

  2. I always thought that I was very lucky to go a school were the playground was just dust with a bit of grass. Dust was much more gentle to fall over on. I think my school wasn’t wealthy enough to afford blaes or whatever it might be called here in Australia. Our tennis courts were red crushed gravel of some sort – I guess that is probably blaes.
    I hope you find a souvenir brick.
    Thanks for visiting my blog
    Regards
    Anne

    Liked by 1 person

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