Brick Makers

An examination of the 18th century fire insurance records for Amersham reveals no thatched houses and only two thatched barns. This was not so much because thatch was a fire hazard, but because the local brick and tile industry had the capacity to meet most householders and tradesmen’s needs. Many of the brick and tile making sites around Amersham may be ancient, but others, particularly on former common land like Coleshill Green and Wycombe Heath, may have been transitory. A few of the sites are described here.

The place-name Brickwick seems to relate to a farm where brick earth could be found, rather than the site of a specific kiln. Bricks were in fact made at nearby Brick Kiln Farm, situated on the ridge between Amersham and Beaconsfield, where the road from of Coleshill branches off from the main road from Amersham to Beaconsfield. The farmhouse was demolished when this road was widened. To the east of the road are some very deep clay pits. The brick kiln is listed in Shardeloes rentals from 1739, when the tenement and kiln house was let to William Ayres at £7 10s per year. William Ayres, brickmaker, paid land tax on the same premises in 1800, but by 1839 they were occupied by James William Woodhams. In 1871, the same site was occupied by William J. Chennells, aged 37, who was farming 156 acres and running the brick kiln with the help of 8 men and 4 boys.

The original occupants of the house now called The Rosary were also brickmakers. Stephen Salter of Coleshill in the parish of Amersham in the County of Herts, bricklayer, was party to a conveyance of this site in 1681. The land included a close called Little Downs alias Clay Close alias Clay Pit Close. There is a very large clay pit about a quarter of a mile north of the Rosary. A good water supply was evidently important to Stephen Salter's business, for another conveyance of 1700 gives him detailed rights of access to a nearby pond.

And free liberty power and authority of ingress egress and regress way and passage to and for the said Stephen Salter his heirs and assigns out and from the lower part next the highway of the garden of or belonging to the said messuage or tenement in Coleshill aforesaid wherein the said Stephen Salter now dwelleth unto and from the pond in the kilnyard in Coleshill aforesaid now in the tenure or occupation of the said Stephen Salter or his assigns by and through the way or passage as it is now marked or set out on the lower part of the said kiln yard next the highway aforesaid containing and agreed to be and containing 4 ft in breadth all along from the hedge of the said kilnyard next the highway aforesaid into the same yard and so back again in the said garden hereinbefore mentioned

And also free liberty power and authority at all times forever hereafter to fetch take and carry away so much water out and from the pond aforesaid as the said Stephen Salter his heirs or assigns shall have use or occasion for.


Potters

The clay on the Chiltern plateaux is highly suitable for the production of bricks, tiles and pottery. This clay could be dug freely on Colehill Green where wood to fire the kilns could also be gathered. In 1735, it was noted at the Amersham manor court that Thomas Rogers, Thomas Wood, Hoare, Turpin and Richard Summersley had all dug clay on the common called Coleshill Green. They were to pay 12d a load for any clay to be got there in the future. In 1757, Richard Summersby paid £4 to be admitted to a cottage and kiln he had built on Coleshill Green. Some of the largest surviving clay pits are to be found on Red Lion Lane, about a quarter of a mile east of the public house.

The early tile industry around Penn is well documented and high-quality, elaborately-decorated Penn tiles have been found in many English churches and religious houses. The dissolution of the monasteries reduced the market for decorated floor tiles, but the industry no doubt carried on, serving a more local market. The deeds to Little Lands Farm include a 1670 mortgage of a messuage and tile kiln on the west side of Coleshill Green, then in the occupation of Thomas Deverel. In 1686, Henry Birch of Coleshill, tile maker, and William Bunce of Coleshill, potter, were parties to a deed to the messuage later to become the Fleur de Lys Inn. In 1723, a Winchmore Hill tile maker named Ralph Pusey left a will.

Early maps of Winchmore Hill show a kiln a few hundred yards to the east of the common on the road to Coleshill. This site belonged to William Bovington of Penn, who in 1726 insured two tenements at Winchmore Hill, one with a working shop, kiln house and stable in the occupation of Robert Hailey, potter, and the other in the occupation of John Hailey, also a potter. This site later became the chair factory of George Sawyer. The Potters Arms at Winchmore Hill is also an early site of a kiln. When Robert Charsley of Beaconsfield sold the premises in 1782 to Benjamin Walker the elder of Winchmore Hill, blacksmith, it was described as:

All that messusge or tenement wherein John Bovingdon formerly dwelt wherein John Robinson afterwards dwelt and wherein William Slade doth now dwells together with the pot kiln lately erected and built near the said last mentioned messuage or tenement situate lying and being at Coleshill in the parish of Amersham and County of Herts called or known by the name of Sansons.

The potters carried their stock of domestic earthenware to the neighbouring market towns by pack-horse. The 1798 list of able-bodied men in Buckinghamshire liable to be called up for military service does not cover Coleshill as it was within Hertfordshire. It does however list three pot-hawkers living at Woodrow and two potters in Penn. By 1851, there were 21 potters at Coleshill and Winchmore Hill, the largest employer being Sarah Slade, of Coleshill Green, who employed five labourers. The trade declined rapidly in the later 19th century, with competition from the Staffordshire potteries and the substitution of cheap iron-ware for many domestic purposes. A. Morley Davies interviewed Tom Sears, one of the last potters, who worked at the only remaining kiln at Winchmore Hill in 1909, but remembered seven pottery kilns operating in the immediate vicinity.