The following Scottish bricks were found by Consuelo Bravo Antúnez in the heart of the Atacama Desert, Chile. The Atacama Desert was a huge source of sodium nitrate (saltpetre) which was mined on a large scale until the early 1940s. The UK imported many many shiploads of the saltpetre and it appears they supplied many…
Birkhill Fireclay Mine, Avonbank, Polmont ( 3 sites) – Company name P & M Hurll. Established – 18th century.
The high-quality Glenboig fireclay deposits in the area of Birkhill have been exploited since at least the 18th century. The oldest shaft is situated on the east side of the river, just north of Tod’s Hill. Work here presumably continued until the beginning of the 20th century, as a Bradley & Craven steam mill was installed at the clay processing plant to drive the crusher, pump and pulley in 1906.
The second series of workings are further north and were started by P & M Hurll in 1913. At some stage during the 1930s electricity was installed and the steam mill was taken out of action. This was replaced by a 65 horsepower Fawcett Incla Mill. This could process 10 tons of clay per hour, compared to the 1 – 2 tons that the old mill could manage.
The third and largest shaft was opened in 1951 at a cost of £25,000. It was situated to the west of the River Avon and was approximately 2250 feet across and 200 feet deep.
The mines were worked on the ‘stoop and room’ method and all excavation was manual. After the clay was removed from the work face by pick and shovel it was loaded onto bogies and hauled by pulley to the surface, across the River Avon and up the scarp to the crushing mill. On average the clay face advances 4 feet a day, producing 100 – 120 tons of clay over the same period.
After milling the clay was loaded onto lorries or transported via the railway line. With regard to the latter, the clay went to Bo’ness and from there to Glenboig or the nearest shipping port.
All unmilled clay went to Glenboig however if the fireclay was milled it was separated into 2 grades – 1 for the production of refractories and 1 for export. The former went to Glenboig and the latter to areas as diverse as Pen Ang, the Philippines, Manilla and Afghanistan. Glenboig frequently returned broken bricks and the grog product was initially exported to Norway. Later however it was returned to Glenboig to be added to their clay mixture. The ground down grog (or chanet or chanot) was used in building and repair work and also in the manufacture of aluminium.
Tate and Lyle were one of the Company’s biggest customers as milled clay is used in the process of sugar refining.
The worker’s cottages on the left of the entrance drive were built in 1913. When the most recent mine was opened 21 men were employed. By the time the mine closed in 1980 only 9 men were working there, 4 at the work face and 3 at the mill, 1 on the pulley and 1 odd job man.
Production reached its peak in the 1950s and by the 1970s there were 6 miles (10 km) of tunnels penetrating 823m (900 yards) into the ground
In July 1980, P & M Hurll went into liquidation and the pump which had kept the mine free of water was turned off. By the end of 1981, the workings were merely subject to periodic inspection as they slowly filled with water. There were no plans for future activity.
A Mr Caine who had previously worked in the mine for several years was left in charge of making periodic inspections of the mine.
Bob McMillan, P & M Hurll, Gartliston Brickworks, Glenboig. A personal recollection states Mark Hurll leased the Birkhill mine at Manuel Junction near Bo’ness from Hamilton Estates in 1908 and the Company took over the mine in 1916 …
Video of inside the Birkhill Fire Clay Mine
Below – 10/10/2016 – The Birkhill clay mine entrance fenced off and the tracks leading from the mine to the railway above. 2 hutches still remain fixed to the rails.