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A Shout From The Attic: Work - 9

...When the chambers were broken open – reminiscent of Howard Carter opening the Tomb of Tutankhamen – the heat would still be intense, so the drawers wore leather guards over their fingers and thumbs. Everyone wore clogs in the brickyard as protection against the heat from the kiln floors...

Ronnie Bray goes to work in a brickyard.

Bricks Without Straw

I went and got a job at The Huddersfield Brick, Tile, and Stone Company that had, by 1951, reduced itself to a brickyard, having nothing more to do with tiles or stone. It had two good-sized kilns of the continuous firing kind. The chambers ran round the kilns, so that one kiln would be filled with bricks by setters, then the doorway was bricked up and smeared over with a coat of lime and cinder mortar to prevent loss of heat or gas. A couple of chambers away burnt bricks were removed and stacked in the yard ready for collection.

The fires were maintained by a firer who worked on top of the kiln but under a roof. There were plenty of windows around the upper floor, all of which were glassless. There were rows of firing holes, each with a round cast iron lid of six inches diameter, which the firer lifted with a steel rod, hooked at the end, then shovelled in some slack coal. He had to wheel the coal up a steep ramp to the firing level from a big heap at the foot of the ramp. Except for wheeling heavy wheelbarrows up the ramp, firing was a steady job.

After several days of continuous firing, when all the bricks had been fired, he would put no more coal into the chambers, but would advance the fuel which was ignited by the heat from the previously fired chamber. His was a perpetual journey around the kiln supplying fuel in the correct quantities to the right chambers.

When the chambers were broken open – reminiscent of Howard Carter opening the Tomb of Tutankhamen – the heat would still be intense, so the drawers wore leather guards over their fingers and thumbs. Everyone wore clogs in the brickyard as protection against the heat from the kiln floors. Between the rows of bricks were wedges of coke. We took the coke home in sacks and burned it on our fires. It was an excellent fuel.

The works foreman was known as Rowley – his name being Roland. He was a nice, kind gentleman with a quiet sense of humour. Our day started at 7 am, but because of the odd assortment of people who worked in the brickyards, we rarely had a full team in the brick production shed at start time. Rowley would say, “If I ever come in and find you all working, I’ll die of shock.” He was in little danger of early death.

What I liked about the brickyard was the variety of the work, and the changeable daily round as different needs required me to perform a variety of tasks. It seemed like the answer to my interminable boredom.

I enjoyed the brickyard work, hard and demanding as it could be, and liked most of my fellow workers.

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