Early references to fire brick manufacture in the UK

1776 – 1847 – William Weston Young (1776–1847) Quaker Entrepreneur of Bristol and Glamorganshire; artist, botanist, wreck-raiser, surveyor, potter, and inventor of the firebrick. (Silica fire brick ?)

William Weston Young, born 20 April 1776, Lewin’s Mead, Bristol, England, into a devout Quaker family, the third son of Edward Young, a Bristolian merchant and Sarah (Sally) Young (née Weston). He was educated at Gildersome Quaker boarding school in Yorkshire, which among other things gave him a rudimentary knowledge of science which he was to apply in his invention of the silica firebrick.

Young’s experience of firing ceramics, together with his familiarity with the region as a local surveyor and his amateur interests in geology enabled him to conceive of a heat-proof, blast-furnace brick, using silica found in large deposits at the head of the Neath Valley. The process of “vitrifying” the walls of a ceramic brick-built furnace had been patented by William Harry, of the Swansea Valley in 1817, but Young’s solution was to build the whole furnace from a “silica firebrick,” made with a 1% addition of lime, to bind the blue-grey “clay” of the Dinas rock. The idea being that the interior of the blast furnace would vitrify and be vastly more durable and ultimately economical, than a mere veneer of silica within a comparatively fragile ceramic shell. Young made early experiments with the recipe and fired his trial bricks at the Nantgarw Pottery kilns, while he and Pardoe finished the Billingsley porcelain for sale between 1820 and 1821 when he finalised his recipe.

1822, Young applied to the Marquis of Bute to lease the lands near Craig-y-Dinas, Pontneddfechan, in the upper Neath Valley for a period of twenty-one years. Young had the lease, and the patent (No. 5047) but had no funds left to set up the required brickworks. He sought financial backing from a number of sources, including his extended family once more and on 19 October 1822, the Dinas Fire Brick Co. was established in a partnership involving David Morgan, a Neath Ironmonger, John Player and Joseph Young (William Weston Young’s older brother). (W.W. Young was a party but could not be a partner in the final enterprise, owing to his previous bankruptcy in 1802 at Aberdulais watermill.) A brickworks was built at Pontwalby, about a mile downriver from Craig-y-Dinas.

The lucrative company, which sold bricks to industry across the world, transferred through many hands, but the Young family, held their shares throughout, finally passing via Joseph Young to his son William Weston Young Junior (1798–1866). (William Weston Young had no children). From “The Dinas Firebrick Co.” to “John Player & Co.” in 1825, to “Riddles, Young & Co.” in 1829 and finally, becoming world-famous as “Young & Allen” in 1852, the company brochure later mentions that it had supplied firebricks to Swansea’s White Rock Copper Works for forty years.

The Dinas Firebrick Works experienced some financial and technical troubles during 1829, and Young laid out further monies to support his nephew William Weston Young Jr.’s stake in the company, but the company traded at limited profits for some time, requiring Young to start painting commercially yet again, this time in watercolours of the Neath Valley, where he’d moved once more, to Fairyland House, near the Ivy Tower on the Mackworth Estate, Tonna, Neath, Glamorganshire. In 1835, Young published an eighty-five-page, illustrated book Guide to the Scenery and Beauties of Glyn Neath, published by John Wright & Co. Bristol and sold by Longman, Rees, Orme, Browne & Co. London MDCCCXXXV. The naive but charming book comprises a prose guide to the Neath Valley and is illustrated with landscapes, scenery and decorative topographical and geological maps.

Young’s wife; Elizabeth died following an awkward fall in March 1842, prompting Young to publish in 1843; The Christian Experience of Elizabeth Young, as a tribute to her, again published by Young’s friend John Wright & Co. Bristol.

William Weston Young’s profit share from the Dinas Firebrick Works was ultimately a very modest pension, and he died in relative poverty in Lower Mitton, Kidderminster on 5 March 1847.

Source Wiki

A Scratch in Glamorganshire’, by Keith Tucker, which concerns the building, by George Tennant, of the Tennant Canal from Aberdulais to Port Tennant … “it is recorded that in 1821-22 William Weston Young invented a method of manufacturing fire bricks of a superior quality at Pontneddfechan. With his partner, David Morgan, a Neath ironmonger (he) erected works at Pont Walby. The DINAS fire brick was a product of such extraordinary and exceptional fireproof qualities that it became renowned throughout Europe and America. The works operated under different owners until 1920. Had George Tennant continued his geological studies he may have acted upon the same discovery with enterprise. This further poses the question ‘Did William Weston Young obtain his knowledge of the refractory properties of Neath valley clays from the Tennant family?” (Note – SBH – George Tennant, born in 1765 and the son of a solicitor in Lancashire, moved to the area in 1816, after he had bought the Rhydings estate).

<1822 – Daily Gazette for Middlesbrough (15/03/1872). Covering the death of Sir Joseph Cowen – … About the year 1822, Mr Cowen married, and at that time became associated with his brother-in-law, Mr Forster, in a small fire-brick work at Blaydon Burn. Those fire-brick works are, in all probability, the oldest of the kind in the country …

Below – 08/02/1834 – Perry’s Bankrupt Gazette – Riddle Thomas Hooper and Herbert, John Matthew Young, and William Weston Young, Jun, manufacturers of the Dinas firebrick, Neath, so far as regards W. W. Young, Jun, 11th Jan. Debts by the remaining partners

08/09/1933 – Port Talbot Guardian – William Weston Young by George B Hammond Esq, part IV. The next advertisement is dated 09/10/1822 and is as follows.  To be sold by auction by Mr T Aubrey (by order of the trustees of Mr W Weston Young, on Monday the 28th October 1822 and on the following days until the whole be sold on the premises of Nantgarw. A large assortment of Nantgarw porcelain, richly painted and gilded, comprising dessert and tea services etc.

The public are respectfully informed that the proprietors of the Nantgarw Works having now given up the manufactory, this will be the last opportunity afforded them of purchasing this beautiful porcelain. From the above, it will be seen that Mr. Young’s affairs had gone into the hands of Trustees. He had assisted Billingsley without avail and then carried on the works himself at his own risk, but failed of success. He was evidently surrounded by financial difficulties but strove against them with a brave and loyal heart, entering into new undertakings with fresh ideas, pluck and hope. Meanwhile, he made a manly appeal to the people of Glamorgan (not for personal assistance) but for funds to save the Art which he dearly loved from being lost to the county. This appeal was published in “The Cambrian” of October 19th, 1822. Young’s predecessors had previously appealed in vain in 1814, to the Lords of the Committee of the Council of Trade for assistance to the industry either financially or by increasing the duties on French china. After the sale of the Nantgarw Works, there is a lapse of ten years in Young’s diary, but in the meantime, he was devoting his attention to other enterprises. He had already discovered a process for making the famous silica bricks from sand obtained at Dinas Rock, and he had acquired a lease in 1821 from the Marquess of Bute in connection with this undertaking. There is extant a copy of an agreement (which a few years* ago was in the Geological Museum, London) between David Morgan of Neath, ironmonger; and William Weston Young, of the Parish of Newton Nottage, a land surveyor. This document is dated 2nd of February, 1822, and is as follows:– “That he (Morgan) shall not make bricks or any other articles from the same (Dinas) sand without the consent of W. W. Young, who does also on his part, agree to bind himself in the same manner and under the same penalties (£5,000) not to reveal the said method to any other person or persons or to make any firebrick or other article for sale from the same sand without the consent of Mr. D. Morgan.” There are no, records as to the personal, financial success he obtained from this undertaking, but that he was the first to manufacture these bricks is confirmed by Dr Percy, the eminent metallurgist, in his standard work on Metallurgy, where he says:— ” This brick consists almost entirely of silica. It was invented by W. Weston Young in 1822 (? 1821) who established a company for its manufacture and obtained the material from Dinas, the well known rock of that name in the Vale of Neath. When set in its own cement for very high and continued heats the Dinas brick certainly will exceed in duration any other known brick.” As is well known these bricks are still made in this district, and until recent years the late Col. Young, of Preswylfa, was connected with the Vale of Neath Fire-brick and Cement Co., Ltd. The David Morgan referred to above had his ironmongery business in Market Street. He is the same David Morgan whose name (with that of H. Rees) appears on the one shilling and the sixpenny tokens, in silver, issued in 1811, at Neath. Wm. Weston Young left Nottage about 1823 and went to Stoke Prior to take up his salt speculation, and it is stated that there was general lamentation at his departure. His salt explorations did not turn out financially advantageous to him, but others reaped the benefit of his foresight, labour, and outlay. After he had been compelled to abandon his sinking, presumably from the lack of funds, his successors are said to have found brine within a few yards of the spot where Young had stopped.  In 1829 he evidently returned to live at Neath for under a date of Dec 1st 1830 his wife writes in her diary ” Fairyland, Neath. We have been settled here for more than a year. The concern in Worcestershire in which my husband engaged, given up. Opening at Neath.” It is said that in 1826 he induced some friends to spend some thousands of pounds in developing the Gnoll Colliery. This speculation also was not a success. I find in the I.lantwit-juxta-Neath Parish Vestry Book references which apparently refer to this and have endeavoured to trace the site of the colliery and the particulars of the taking with a view to verifying W. W. Young’s identity in them, but so far I have not succeeded. I am informed by Miss Violet Young, his brother’s granddaughter, that W. W. Young came to Neath to search for coal and looked for it on the wrong side of the stream. (To be continued) …

18/09/1936South Yorkshire Times – An article on the opening of Genefax House – a new home for General Refractories Limited … Mention should be made of the acquisition of N. B Allen and Co Ltd, Hirwaun, South Wales which was established in 1822 and made and sold the very first silica bricks manufactured in this country …


1739 – Fire brick manufacture at ‘The Old Works’, Amblecote, Stourbridge?

20/07/1756 – Manchester Mercury – Ships arrived at Liverpool. The ‘Squirrel’, R. Litherland, master. Arrived from Chester (NW England) with a cargo of fire bricks. (Note – SBH – From shipping intelligence reports in the newspapers, the Port of Chester seems to have been the main centre for shipping fire bricks in the 1750 – 1780 period so was the first manufacturer of such located nearby?)

26/08/1757 – Pue’s Occurrences – From the Dublin Society. The remainder of the premiums promised by the Dublin Society for the year 1757  … To the person discovering a new fire clay emulating the Stourbridge clay, within 20 miles of a seaport and producing a sample not less than 300 weight, £20.

Below – 12/01/1764 – Bath Chronicle – Jacksons, Head of the Key, Bristol stocking fire bricks.

20/10/1764 – Newcastle Courant – Premises at Low Mill, the ironworks called Low Mill situated within 1 mile of Egremont and 6 of Whitehaven, Cumberland for sale  … One other building containing an air furnace and other conveniences for the craftings, necessary for the supplying the several branches of this wor, also a mill for grinding and preparing fire clay for making bricks and pots. There are also kilns and all other conveniences for making and burning the same …

Below – 22/11/1768 – Manchester Mercury – Samuel and John Hope, surveyors, Upper end of Deansgate, Manchester start up a stone and marble business but they also stock fire bricks for sale.

Below – 24/04/1771 – Caledonian Mercury – Fire bricks previously manufactured on the South Shore near Newcastle have now moved the Northside of the River Tyne near to the glasshouses. Orders to Joshua Henzell one of the proprietors at the Glass Houses or to Calib Scaife at the bottle works Leith who can produce certificates of their good quality from gentlemen who have used them for several years past.

Below – 31/05/1773 – Saunders News Letter – Edward Chetham, North Strand, Dublin, Republic of Ireland.

31/07/1775 – Chester Chronicle – Shipping intelligence. Cleared outwards from the Port of Chester. The Sugar Loaf, Master Wey, destination Newry, Northern Ireland, cargo oak bark and fire bricks. Also, the Isabela, Master Martin, destination Stranraer, Scotland, cargo oak bark and fire bricks.

Below – 12/06/1776 – Saunders Newsletter – Richard Dowling, Dublin, Northern Ireland … large fire brick backs for grates, fire brick bearers and common fire bricks for sale …

17/04/1779 – Newcastle Courant – Fire bricks to be sold at Stella on the River Tyne, near Newcastle. Fire bricks and clay of the same quality ground fit to lay them with: they have been much approved of by many who have tried them. Orders will be attended to on applying to Mr Henry Fleck at Stella, who will deliver any quantity of the bricks at five pounds per thousand, and the clay at two pounds per ton. N.B. A large stock will always be kept on hand.

Below – 12/06/1781 – Manchester Mercury – Fire bricks for sale in Liverpool.

Below – 09/08/1785 – Dublin Post – An article stating that the importation of fire bricks from England will likely cease following the discovery of a fire stone quarry at Ballycastle. Also on Mr Tennysons Estate, a strata of loam has been discovered which stands the fire much better than Stourbridge clay from which fire bricks are made and exported to Ireland. The Stourbridge clay is prohibited from export unwrought.

06/08/1791 – Caledonian Mercury – Culross Fire Clay.  The discovery of a vein of clay at Culross, 11 feet in thickness, similar in properties and equal in quality to that of Stourbridge, has led to the proprietor for some time to turn his attention to applying it to niche other uses, exclusive of the manufacture of glass-house pots, as at the same time that it will extend the sale of his clay with the material benefit to several branches of manufacture.

Fire bricks and indeed bricks of every kind made in Scotland have long been complained of. A want of proper shades or houses for drying bricks undercover in this variable climate, with a want of skill or rather a proper method in burning them, has been more the cause of the inferiority of the common bricks made in this country to those made in England, than any imperfection in the clay of which the bricks were made. As to the manufacture of fire bricks, it is but of late date in Scotland. They are made of a kind of fire clay called in this country DAAK, which accompanies the strata of coal. These veins of fire clay or dank (daak?), are thus forming, for the most part, the roof or pavement of a vein of coal and are frequently mixed with particles of coal and of iron. The sort of clay here described, according to the managers of the glasshouses, has not, in any one instance, been found to reflect the heat of a glasshouse furnace without either melting away entirely or suffering such a degree of fusion as to become porous and unfit to retain liquid glass. The reverse of this is the case with Culross fire clay and bricks made of it must, of course, be preferred for the construction of glasshouse furnaces, air or reverberatory furnaces and other purposes wherein fire bricks are required to stand the higher degrees of heat.

The best Stourbridge clay having for some time sold at the extravagant price of 40 shillings per ton, exclusive of freights and other charges, manufacturers of bricks could not afford to purchase it. They were therefore obliged to supply themselves with the inferior kinds of fire clay to be had at the collieries and which could be purchased for as many shillings as an equal quantity of Stourbridge clay would cost of pounds. The proprietor of the vein of Culross clay having fully considered this matter and the prejudice occasioned to certain trades by their not being supplied with the best materials, proposes therefore to promote the establishment of a manufacture of fire bricks on his estate, to be made of his best fire clay. He has every accommodation requisite for the manufacture, such as mills for grinding and preparing the clay, with a very large supply of water, shades and extensive buildings for drying the unburned bricks and for protecting the burned bricks from injury by weather together with coal in the greatest abundance. adjoining to where the works are intended to be carried on. He will engage to deliver at a fixed price, any quantity of coal or clay necessary for the works.

He has been blamed by some uninformed but well-meaning friends, for having at once dropped the price of his clay for the manufacture of glasshouse pots to one half of the price of Stourbridge. They say that it will be believed that the reduction of the price proceeds from a known inferiority in the quality of the clay offered for sale; but this is by no means the case, and indeed must appear to anyone who has read with attention the late advertisement, wherein the quality of the clay is warranted at the risk of its price.

The conduct of the proprietor of the Culross vein of clay in reducing the price preceded from a knowledge that the price of Stourbridge clay must fall in consequence of competition, that it was better for him to reduce the price at once to what he knew it ultimately would come to, than to haggle with the consumers of the article or to fight the proprietors of the Stourbridge vein of clay by repeated reductions of a few shillings at a time in the price. Beside he was convinced that a less price on a great trade was to be preferred to a great price on a small trade and was at the same time, more profit worthy.

Proceeding on these ideas, the proprietor means still to make a very comfortable farther reduction in the price of his clay for such part of it shall be used for the manufacture of bricks on his estate. By what is proposed, the consumers of fire brick will be supplied at a cheap rate with an article made of best materials and manufactured to the highest perfection and which will obviate the necessity that they are under of making use of clays of an inferior quality. This proposed farther reduction in the price of the clay is only intended for such clay as shall be manufactured into bricks on the proprietor’s estate. A manufacturer of fire bricks of clay of so superior quality, so favourably situated must have the advantage over all the other establishments of that kind in this part of the kingdom. Those who engage in it may reckon on an extensive fall to the glasshouses on the east coast of the island, for bricks for the construction of their furnaces instead of the firestone now used.  There are other uses, on a very extended scale to which Culross clay may at the reduced price be applied. They will be communicated to those who enter into terms with the proprietor who, besides engaging to supply them with coal and clay at a stipulated price, will take a share in the proposed undertaking. There is an excellent dwelling house adjoining the works for the manager, with a kitchen garden, office-house and every accommodation for a family. None need apply but persons of character, activity and able to conduct and carry on the intended branch of business. Culross Abbey. August 3rd 1791.

12/12/1791 – Caledonian Mercury – At the brick and tyle manufactory – Adjoining the Frigate Bridge, upon the Musselburgh Road, are manufactured and sold, common brick, pan tyle, plain or glazed, and stock price; pavement brick of different dimensions, and branders for malt kilns, hot-houses, and stoves. All sorts of brown potter ware. Water pipes, of different bores, for conveying water. Chimney – head cans and flower pots of all uses, crucibles of fire clay. Orders addressed to William Jamieson, mason in Edinburgh, or Mr Chistie, Shore-Dues Office, Leith will be particularly attended to. For the accommodation of such as may have occasion to receive their good by water carriage, a small quay is lately built upon the mouth of the Frigate Burn, where vessels of a light burden may receive their goods.

20/10/1794 – Caledonian Mercury – The coal on the estate of Houston in the County of West Lothian to be let … there is likewise an inexhaustible bed of clay fit for pottery or fire bricks…

19/03/1801 – Caledonian Mercury – Coal and ironstone in the baronies of Callendar and Falkirk and in the adjoining lands belonging to Mr Forbes of Callendar … The ground contains various beds of clay fit for common bricks; there is also clay proper for making fire bricks of the best quality and lime may be had at a very moderate price by water carriage …

Below – 07/04/1809 – Morning Advertiser – Carmarthenshire, South Wales – Farm of Cwmgelwr … fire brick manufactory to let.

29/05/1809 – Aris’s Birmingham Gazette – Wanted a good fire brick maker, one who understands how to mould, set and burn them well in the Stourbridge Way.

05/12/1821 – Aberdeen Press and Journal – Fire bricks. Landing ex-Newcastle, a quantity of fire bricks of excellent quality and to be sold on moderate terms. Apply H. Morren, Marischal Street. 04/12/1821.

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