Town mouse on a chance conversation

I can only apologise. There we were on the train to Devon, my publisher and I, yakking away about the launch of War Memorial. Then, in less than the time that it took me to find the lavatory, she’d started a conversation with the lady opposite, who turned out to be cataloguing photographs of the Medway Valley. A bit of luck.

One of the Medway sites included the brickworks established by Thomas Cubitt, the heroic builder-developer whose energy created Pimlico. It was only when we drew into Exeter that someone politely observed that it was supposed to be a quiet carriage. How British!

Brickmaking had been a dreadful trade. Around London, claypits were dug just ahead of development, so the brickmakers were necessarily a rootless lot. Bricks couldn’t be made in frosty weather, causing destitution in winter. Women and young children laboured beside the men, and it was hot work, which led to drink. Cubitt’s brickworks, however, would have been a model of its kind.

The great organiser was also a benevolent employer. I was able to use the photographs from the train in a talk at the Westminster Boating Base-it stands on the very wharf where the Medway bricks would have been unloaded.

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