Brora Brick and Tile Works, Brora, Sutherland

Brora Brickworks, Clyne, Sutherland.

Canmore

T M Hunter operated in Brora until 1949

The brickyard at Brora started in 1814, closed in 1826, re-opened in 1873, and was taken over by the tweed firm, Hunters, in 1914. They ceased operations in 1949, but the brickyard did not close until the 1970s.

The Brora Brickworks, which lay to the west of Fascally House, is clearly visible on the OS 2nd Edition Map (1907). These were linked to the enormous clay pit on the opposite (north) side of the road by an extension of the tramway. As with the colliery, both the area of the works and the clay pit have been landscaped since their closure – the clay pit becoming the Brora recreation ground.

Below – 1813 – Farey’s mineral map – Brora Coal Works but showing an entry to the West marked ‘clay pit’ and an entry to the North East marked ‘good brick clay here’

26/03/1814 – Field report by Robert Bald – The clay near the Engine Pit tho’ rather course and free, will I think made good Brick. A Brick Table can immediately be set agoing and if the clay is found suitable for Tyle, the requisite Buildings may be ready next season, tis not possible to accomplish this at present. The flat ground near the pits is very suitable for such a work and the Clay can be melled by aid of a water wheel which will be a great convenience.

04/07/1814 – Countess of Sutherland – There is already an excellent Brick works begun that is to say 20,000 bricks are made. The first few hundred were not well burnt, but they have built a good cottage with noggin (brickwork built up between wooden quarters or framing). The rest are good but as the man who makes them is a drunken fellow, we can discharge him if it appears proper and Young need not employ another

05/09/1816 – Caledonian Mercury – A report by the Highland Society of Scotland on the County of Sutherland … a passing reference to gentlemen prior to attending the show inspecting local industries including the brick and tile manufactory at Brora …

28/07/1874 – The Scotsman – Highland and Agricultural Society’s Show at Inverness –  His Grace the Duke of Sutherland, himself having reaped the benefits of draining the land, sends from Brora, the only manufactory in Sutherland, a collection of bricks, tiles and pipes suitable for agricultural purposes …

30/05/1881 – Aberdeen Press and Journal – To builders – Expected daily, a cargo of very superior building bricks from the Duke of Sutherland’s Brickworks, Brora. Special terms ex ship. Samples can be seen on application to Mr John Hector, Agent, 81 John Street.

1882 – Brora Brick Works – George Greig Manager.

06/04/1885 – The Scotsman – Sutherland Brora – For the season, furnished cottage, 5 rooms, kitchen, conveniences, garden, beautiful healthy situation near the sea. Boating, bathing etc can be had. John Melville, Brick manufacturer, Brora.

1886 – John Melville, brickmaker, Golspie, Brora.

Below – c.1889 – Brora Brickworks.

Brora Brickworks c.1889

Below – 14/10/1897 – North Star and Farmers Chronicle – Down Brora coal mine –

1907 – >1915 – The 1985 publication ‘A survey of Scottish brickmarks’ suggests that John Melville was the owner.

1912 – 1913 – John Melville, brickmakers, Brora Colliery and Brickworks.

01/11/1927 – Edinburgh Gazette – A petition having been presented to the Sheriff of Inverness, Elgin and Nairn, at Inverness, at the instance of T. M. Hunter Limited, Brora Brick and Tile Works, Brora, in the County of Sutherland, for Sequestration of the Estates of Andrew Ross, Coal and Brick Merchant, sometimes at 1 Wells Street, Inverness, and now or lately at 43 Wells Street, Inverness, his Lordship of this date granted Warrant for citing the said Andrew Ross to appear in Court on an inductee of fourteen days from the date of citation, to show cause why
Sequestration of his Estates should not be awarded; of all which Intimation is hereby given. 28th October 1927.

>1928 – <1937 – The 1985 publication ‘A survey of Scottish brickmarks’ suggests that Thomas M Hunter Ltd were the owners.

1938 – List of mines in Scotland – TM Hunter Limited, Colliery Brick and Tile Works, Brora. Hugh Wotherspoon, manager.  18 employed above ground and 13 below ground.

1941 – 1942 – T.M. Hunter, brick and tile manufacturer, Brora Brick and Tile Works.

<1954 – The 1985 publication ‘A survey of Scottish brickmarks’ suggests that the Brora Brick Co were the owners prior to 1954.

1954 – Sutherland Bricks Ltd were the owners.

23/11/1954  – Glasgow Herald – Brickworks in Brora to re-open  – Operated by a new company.  Brora brickworks, which went out of production, last March, are to be restarted on Wednesday next.

They will be operated by a new company, to be known as Sutherland Bricks Ltd.  There are only two directors, Mr W R Sutherland, of Golspie, and Mr W Stuart Sutherland, of Brora and Golspie.

Mr W R Sutherland is a director of Alexander Sutherland Ltd., one of the largest building contractors in the North of Scotland, and Mr Stuart Sutherland has hotel interests in Brora and is an Edinburgh stockbroker.

Brora brickworks were previously run by Brora Coal and Brick Company, Ltd., who went into liquidation last March.  The liquidator asked for offers for the coal pit and brickworks.  The pit, with the help of the Highland Fund, was purchased by the miners themselves and is now known as Highland Collieries, Ltd.

GOING CONCERN

When it seemed as though the brickworks might have to be broken up Mr John Rollo, chairman of the Highland Fund, approached Mr W. R. Sutherland and Mr Stuart Sutherland, who immediately expressed their willingness to do what they could to save this important industry for Brora and the county of Sutherland.  The fund offered a loan and that was accepted.

Mr W. R. Sutherland and Mr Stuart Sutherland along with some friends decided to form the new company.  After prolonged and difficult negotiations they purchased the brickworks as a going concern.  Work on the necessary repairs and alterations were started, and it is expected that the first bricks will be on sale by March next.

The new company, whose aim is to expand into the production of agricultural tiles and drains, are to employ 20 men who will be drawn from Brora, Helmsdale, and Golspie.  It is hoped, by adding the new products, to increase the labour force through time

Brora tile works

15/02/1953 – Brora Brickworks to send Bricks by Sea – Improvements are to be made in Brora Harbour, Sutherland-shire in anticipation of the opening of a brickworks there which may “export” part of its make by sea to other districts in the Highlands, Sutherland County Council have instructed a consulting engineer to report on the necessary improvements to the harbour.
The committee’s decision was made after Sir David Robertson M. P.  for the constituency, described plans for building a £70,000 brickworks at Brora.
In addition to supplying bricks for the Highlands, it is hoped to “export” to the principle centres in the south.  Transport would have to be by sea because of the high costs of road and rail freightage.
The engineer’s report said that to reconstruct the present Brora Harbour-it belongs to the Sutherland Estate and would have to be taken over-would cost £27,500.  But even then there would be a risk because of the exposed position of the river mouth and the nature of the river itself. The British Clayworker  15/02/1953

Jan 1961 – The British Clayworker – Brora Coal & Brick Co Ltd.  Brora Sutherland –  have for sale 30 cwt platform truck.

Nov 1961 – The British Clayworker  – Brora Mine Re-opens – Brora Colliery, the oldest pit in Britain, re-opened recently with the twenty-five men who lost their jobs with the closure last April back in the pit in the new role of part-owners as well as workers.
For a five-figure sum, the Highland Fund Ltd has acquired the pit from the liquidator of the Brora Coal & Brick Co., and, with the goodwill of the miners, will run it on co-operative lines.
By agreement each miner will take out with his weekly pay two shares of 5s. each and will receive a dividend at the end of the year after the Highland Fund has been paid a nominal interest of 3 per cent and provision has been made for repayment of capital, depreciation and the normal charges.
It is estimated that, on an annual output of 8,000 tons, the miners will be able to own the pit themselves in five or six years.
Mr John. Rolls, chairman of the Highland Fund, is chairman of the new company and he and two of the directors, Messrs. J. A. Cuthbertson (vice-chairman) and Mr MacNeil Weir, are giving their services free.  The miners’ directors are Mr John Hume, manager, his deputy. Mr Donald Gregory, and a coal face miner, Mr William Dunn.  If the miners wish the board to remain after they own the pit, the businessmen have agreed to do so.

Coal mining in Brora goes back for 400 years.  The brickworks, on which a large capital sum was spent to modernise and equip, remains in the hands of the liquidator for sale.
The joint industry of coal and brickwork was largely the inspiration of Sir David Robertson, M.P., who has helped to bring about the resumption of work in the pit.  Mr Rollo, who is sixty, and head of Rollo Industries, Bonnybridge, said recently at Glasgow, that the resumption of the pit meant not only work for the twenty-five miners but new hope for their 120 dependants.
It was estimated that there were fifteen years’ reserves of coal on an annual output of 8,000 tons and some 200 ft. Lower there were reserves of about 13,000,000 tons.

05/01/1962 – Brora Brickworks  – Glasgow Herald.

NEW HIGHLAND INDUSTRY

Brora Brickworks – The official opening on Friday of this week of a new brickworks costing £70.000 at Brora, in Sutherland, focuses attention on the progress of industrial schemes in the counties of Caithness and Sutherland.

As recently as last March Mr John S Banks, chairman of the Caithness and Sutherland Local Employment Committee, said that these two northern counties were not unjustified in feeling that stability was at last on its way and that the fluctuations in employment which were so prevalent in the past would recede and give way to more vigorous and prosperous times.  He was referring to the benefits to be derived from the atomic energy plant to be built at Dounreay, the peat utilisation scheme at Altnabreac-both in Caithness-and the Shin hydro-electric scheme in Sutherland.

BIG LABOUR FORCE

About £24,000,000 would be expended on these contracts, he added, and a labour force of about 3000 men would be required for about four to five years.  Now to make the picture brighter for the farmer comes the Brora brickworks project, which will employ about 20 men and produce about 6,000,000 bricks a year, besides agricultural tiles and drainpipes.  This will make Brora one of the most industrialised villages in the country.

It has a wool mill whose tweeds are exported all over the world, a distillery, a coal mine (the only one in the Highlands) a briquette plant, and now a brickworks, which will be the only one north of Inverness.  Lairg Brickworks ceased production last June, and it is not known whether they are to resume operations.

There was a brickworks previously at Brora-the plant was dismantled and sent south at the beginning of the last war because of the lack of labour-but this new venture is on much more ambitious lines.  Mechanical diggers will be used in the clay pits, and Hoffman (Manchester) kilns have been installed.  If Sutherland County Council’s negotiations with the Sutherland Estates over the acquisition of Brora Harbour are successful the brickworks will benefit enormously, for its products will then be able to be transported much more cheaply than by road or rail and so will be able to compete with other such producers.

HARBOUR FACILITIES

Brora Harbour at present is silted up, and the council’s engineers have estimated that it would cost £38,000 to put it in order to take large vessels.  Last year Sir David Robertson, M.P., who is chairman of the Brora Coal and Brick Company, Ltd., told the Sutherland County Council that the local clay was so good that Brora bricks could be sold as a facing brick.  The key, however, was transport, he added if Brora bricks were to gain a national market.  They proposed to charter diesel-ships, and so they wanted a harbour that would take ships at all times and enable them to get out fully loaded.

Now it remains to be seen whether the county council will be able to go on with this project, and there may be information on that point when they meet at Lairg on November 29.  Brora’s transformation since 1949 has been remarkable and credit must be given to the constituency’s member of Parliament, Sir David Robertson, who has been the man behind the mine, the briquette plant, and now the brickworks.  In 1949 when the mine was threatened with closure after nationalism Sir David stepped in and formed a company to take over.  It is estimated that there are from 20,000,000 to 30,000,000 tons of coal in the Brora field.

01/03/1963 – Aberdeen Press and Journal – The Duke of Edinburgh is to pay a visit to Wick and Brora and visit Brora Colliery and Brickworks. ….The colliery the oldest pit in Britain was re-opened in 1961 after a five-month closure by the Highland Fund, who enrolled the miners as shareholders. The brickworks, which were opened in 1818 by the Marquess of Stafford, was closed in 1940 but re-opened in 1954.  In 1961 they were again closed but were re-opened last year by a new company – Sutherland Bricks Ltd.

27/03/1964 – Northern Times  – Brora Colliery continues to operate profitably and provide employment for 27 men, it is stated in the annual report of the Highland Fund.

The report reads: “The success of the colliery is undoubtedly due to the magnificent leadership of Mr John B. Hume, managing director and colliery manager, and his two working directors, Mr W. Dunn and Mr C. Mackay, along with the efforts of the miners.

The report also stated that Brora brickworks, which has also been assisted by the fund, had also developed considerably under the guidance of Mr W. R. Sutherland and Mr W. Stuart Sutherland, who were to be congratulated on the success of this venture which directly employed 26 people.

30/11/1967 –  Faith In Brora Works justified the Brora firm of Sutherland Bricks Ltd. revived 13 years ago with the aid of a substantial loan from the Highland Fund Ltd. has operated so successfully since that the loan has been redeemed almost in full. The Highland Fund have now translated their interest in the brickworks to an investment in shares. Brora Brickworks, which had been inoperative for many years, was revived in 1954 when the former M.P. for Caithness & Sutherland, Sir David Robertson, installed new plant in the works. It will be recalled that Sir David also saved the Brora coal pit when it was threatened with closure. The miners, also with financial assistance from the Highland Fund, took over the pit and have operated it successfully. An excellent example of a small works which by efficient and determined management operates profitably in a “remote” area. The brickworks now employs 28 men. It uses the dross from the nearby pit to heat the kilns. Mr W. R. Sutherland, of Alexander Sutherland Ltd., the Golspie building contractors, who with Mr Stuart Sutherland was instrumental in saving the brickworks, has this week disposed of his shareholding to Mr W. Stuart Sutherland of Golspie, who becomes managing director. The other board members are Mr Hugh Fulton and Mr Douglas Stewart. Representing the Highland Fund on the Board, Mr Stewart’s wide experience of operating a small industry in a remote area has proved invaluable to the Sutherland Brickworks Ltd. during their period of expansion. Grig or & Son Limited 20 Hamilton Street.

07/03/1970 – Aberdeen Press and Journal – Merged – Two well-established brick and drain tile manufacturing firms in the North and Northeast have merged to provide a more efficient service to their customers. They are the Cruden Bay Brick and Tile Co., Ltd., who have premises at Cruden Bay and Tipperty, and Sutherland Bricks Ltd. Brora. Mr Ronald Bannerman. director and general manager of the Cruden Bay company, who acquired control of Sutherland Bricks, said: ” We will have a better service all round, and continuity of employment for the people working at the places. The Cruden Bay company have a total workforce of 50 and Brora 25. No expansion programme or extra jobs are planned for the near future at any of the works”

Below – 09/03/1970 – Aberdeen Press and Journal –  Cruden Bay Brick and Tile Co Ltd have acquired control of Sutherland Bricks Ltd, Brora.  The merging of these well-established Companies will provide a more efficient service to the Agricultural and Building communities in the North and North-east of Scotland.  Although both companies will continue to operate as separate units, their joint activities will be aimed at the production of sufficient bricks and drain tiles to satisfy the needs of the area as promptly and as cheaply as possible. Mr W. Stuart Sutherland of Sutherland Bricks Ltd. will continue to be actively associated, with the Company and to serve on the Board of Directors. A. Middleton, Secretary, Cruden Bay Brick & Tile Co. Ltd.

Below – 10/03/1970 –  Aberdeen Press and Journal – Works manager required.

Below – 27/10/1970 – Aberdeen Evening Express – Cruden Bay Brick and Tile Co Ltd incorporating Sutherland Bricks Ltd, Brora.

Below – 24/12/1970 – Aberdeen Press and Journal  – Sutherland Bricks Ltd wish their customers a Merry Christmas.

Below – 23/03/1971  – Aberdeen Press and Journal – Sutherland Brick Co advert.

Below – 20/04/1971 – Aberdeen Press and Journal  –  Cruden Bay Brick and Tile Co Ltd incorporating Sutherland Bricks Ltd, Brora. Stockists of spigot and faucet pipes and general building materials. Works at Cruden Bay, Aberdeenshire and Brora, Sutherland and Tipperty Ellon and Aberdeen Depot, 17 Back Milton Road, Aberdeen.

08/06/1976 – Aberdeen Press and Journal  – Sutherland Bricks Ltd offer to sell a piece of land to Sutherland District Council to use as a refuse dump.

14/02/1978 – Aberdeen Press and Journal  – Sutherland Bricks Ltd are threatened with the compulsory purchase of land by Sutherland District Council after unsuccessful attempts to come to an agreement on a sale of land for a refuse dump.

Below –  The following photographs have been kindly forwarded by Ronnie Mackay of Brora.

The old Brora Coal pit and brickworks

Below – The Brora brickyard.

Below – The pithead.

Below – Pit stack.

Below – Part of the Brora brickyard.

Below – Entrance to one of the brickwork kilns.

Below –  The dug clay was taken into the works via the sliding door in the nearest building.

Below – The crushing building.

Below – The coal pit from Rockpool.

Below –  Coal pit and brickworks

Below – Coal pit and brickworks c. 1962.

Below – Coal and brickworks c. 1909

Below –  Clynelish Quarry c. 1899

Below –  Clay Quarry.

Below –  Brora brick workers c. 1929

Below – Brickworks building and yard.

Below – Brickworks and coal pit

Below –  Brick kilns

Below – Coal pit brae and coal pit. The demolished brickworks are to the left and behind of the lady with the dog.

Below –  A lady sat at Brora brickworks – origins unknown.

Many thanks to The Brora Salt Pans Research Group and Ronnie Mackay for their assistance in creating this page.

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