There is only one company left in Britain still producing hand-made bricks – and their customers include the likes of Hampton Court. Tessa Waugh spoke to the gentlemen of H. G. Matthews.
Family-run H. G. Matthews is the only company in Britain still producing traditional, handmade bricks in a wood-fired kiln. Based in the Chiltern Hills, the historic centre of brickmaking, the company uses clay from its own farmland to produce about 12,000 machine-made facing bricks and 8,000 handmade facing bricks a day, in a variety of metric or imperial sizes.
In addition, some bricks are custom-made for historic buildings, such as Hampton Court Palace and, most recently, chimney and parapet repairs at The Vyne in Hampshire.
‘We use iron-rich clay, which can produce a wide spectrum of colours – rich reds, muted oranges, mauves and deep browns, depending on the temperature and positioning within the kiln,’ explains craftsman brickmaker Andrew Hales, whose evocative descriptions make the bricks sound like objects of beauty.
The method of making them has remained unchanged since the company was founded in 1923, with the clay going through several processes before it arrives on the brickmaker’s bench.
The forming of the brick takes a matter of seconds, as so ably demonstrated by John Lisley in the photograph below.
‘It’s like kneading dough,’ explains Mr Hales.
‘The maker throws a clot of clay onto the sanded bench, then swiftly rolls and turns it before picking it up between his palms, throwing it downwards into the sanded mould and removing the excess with a wooden strike.’
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