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Costessey ornamental bricks are well known in Norfolk and East Anglia although the yard on which they were processed, was very small compared with the large concerns in the Midlands and other districts which turn out ordinary bricks by the million. At the busiest time at the Costessey yard employment was found for about 40 men and boys. Brick earth can be found in the majority of Norfolk villages and most estates ran a small yard to produce bricks, sometimes for cottages but mostly for farm buildings. On these small yards wood was the fuel used for burning.

The date when bricks were first made in Costessey is unknown, but old maps show a brick kiln on the Lodge farm, close to the main Norwich Dereham road and the Norfolk Agricultural ground. Probably after this yard was disuse another start was made in the West End of Costessey bordering on the Park, just opposite where Costessey Street branches off to Ringland. Clay, both red and white, was found by the Costessey boundary of the park, where the ground slopes to the river Wensum. Remains of the original kiln can still be seen, although the yard is now part of a small farm.

How many bricks were made before 1827 will never be known, probably not a large number. The then Lord Strafford who owned two thirds of the parish had just had the title restored and seemingly he wish to celebrate this by building a modern mansion in the Tudor style, using bricks not only for the sustaining walls but for the jambs and heads of windows and doors, cornices, battlements and to crown all, many ornamental brick chimneys of various designs. The period of the building has been given as 1827-1834, but much was never finished. Some windows were not glazed until everything had to be trim and taut for the visit of the Prince and Princess of Wales in 1866. If that great building was got together in seven years, it must have been a pretty hectic time on that small yard.

The architect was J. C. Buckler of Oxford who produced all the intricate design for cornices, doors, windows, pinnacles and chimneys. The pieces of brick for these were cast from wooden moulds. Members of a family in Costessey name Hastings were quite capable of copying the architect’s drawings and making full size patterns for the carpentry. This work for Costessey Hall, leaving many moulds ready for further use if needed, laid the foundations of the yard from which bricks were made and whilst dispatched for use in buildings over most of England.

Whilst the Hall was being built, George Gunton, himself the son of a brick maker, was employed there making bricks. He was asked by the then estate agent to take charge of the yard, which he did. He moved to a cottage on the yard and remained there until 1861. Trade for many years was slow, although helped by the building of St. Walston’s Catholic Church in the parish. The Hastings family copied the designs and made the necessary wooden moulds until the 1860’s. By that time a younger son of George named William was found capable of doing this and from that time until the yard closed it was his main job. When business increased, especially in the 1890’s, he was helped by his son William. George Gunton retired in 1868. His eldest son George and his brother William (already mentioned) in the partnership then took control.
From then on trade steadily increased, until in the 1890’s when the yard was working to capacity, employing 40men and boys and burning a kiln once a fortnight throughout the year. Although it was generally though the Costessey clay was good, this was not so, it contained small pieces of chalk innumerable small stones which were only got rid of by washing it out which added considerably to the expense.

This was done by loading a truck at the earth jamb and moving it on rails to what was known as the ring. The clay was shot into water around an island on which was an upright shaft bearing at the top of a cogged horizontal wheel. Above the water, projecting horizontally from the shaft at regular intervals were four stout timbers. Attached to these were four equally stout harrows much as used on a farm, but much stronger with stout iron teeth a foot long. This structure drew the harrows round and round, with power supplied by a steam engine. Water and earth were added until the liquid would just flow. It was then drawn off into a large but shallow pit to about 3 feet in depth and allowed to gradually dry out. When this was accomplished the washed clay was carted to the grinding mills in which it was churned by the blades attached to an upright shaft and thus made pliable for filling the moulds at the maker’s tables.

The maker’s tables were in two large sheds fitted with shelves six or seven high. Thousands of feet of hot water pipes were fixed in the alleys up and down 2 and 3 feet high. Bricks from the moulds were places on boards; these were taken to the shelves, remaining there until the brick could be handled. It was then upended to allow for further drying. In many cases these were of considerable weight and to aid drying and burning in kiln, pieces of clay were gouged out of each brick, to be filled with mortar when the brick was laid. These lightened un-burnt bricks were then arranged along the hot water pipes where they soon became hard enough to go to kiln and there to sustain the weight of more bricks until the kiln was filled. The actual burning in what was known as a Dutch kiln took at least 48 hours, sometimes longer.

From the 1870’s Costessey bricks where specified by local architects for use in the growing suburbs of Norwich for cornices, bay windows etc, in larger houses, jambs for heads and windows and door and ornamental chimneys. Houses built in many towns and villages of Norfolk had bricks form Costessey, so had non-conformist churches in Norwich and indeed all over Norfolk and Suffolk; and many hotels on the East coast. Outstanding examples can be seen in St. Clements Salford; All Saints Church Ipswich; the Baptist Church Brighton; Baptist Catholic and congregational Churches in Lowestoft; many buildings in Norwich, the Royal Hotel, Blind school in Magdalen Street, technical school in St. Georges and many others including a fine ornamental house opposite Thorpe station. There were several of the large hotels built in Sheringham, Cromer and Mundsley.

Although the firm had brickyards at Barney, West Runton and Little Plumstead, mostly plain bricks were made there. At the turn of the century (1900) architects ceased to specify bricks, preferring other materials. The yard kept going with a slow trade but the first world was stopped it completely.

The owner of the yard, Lord Stafford dies in 1913. His successor, was already had a residence in Staffordshire decided to sell in Costessey. A few fields were added to the one the works stood on, Mr . William Gunton now sole owner, declined to purchase them at the same. His son William continued at Little Plumstead until the Second World War when he ceased entirely. One can say from the use of ornamental bricks in Costessey Hall, which were demolished, innumerable buildings all over the Eastern half of England contain material known as “Costessey bricks”. It should be added that William Gunton Sen. Who lived only 2 months short of 97, by keeping on the business at Barney became the master brickmaker in England.


Group of brickyard workers taken about 1905.
Form left to right:- John Briggs odd man, James Banham brickmaker, George Gunton, (partner) , Wilfred Hostler kiln setter, Philip Mathews labourer, Harry Banham brickmaer, Albert Coward brickmaker, Frank….Fred barber brickmaker, Barrel Dunham labourer, Jack…..Ernest Read, Bertie Breeze labourer, Joe Mortar brickmaker, James Barnes brickmaker, Billy Rix brickmaker, Wm Read labourer,. The hale behind the group was used for storing white brickware and was on the edge of Costessey Park

Brickyard group of workers taken early this century, probably 1900. At the back is on of the two kilns used. The shed was used in summer only for brickmaking and storing.

The following series of photos were taken at barney to show how hand made bricks were produced. A copy of an article written by Mr H. E. Gunton to Mr. Rex Wailes and published in a magazine, describes in detail the process of hand brickmaking.

 Above is the seam of clay from which it was loaded into a truck and moving it on wheels to be washed and dried out.

This photo is possibly that of one of the Costessey brick kilns, the Barney one being quite different.

Above are photos of a horse pulling the shaft round the "mill" in which the clay was made pliable for use and was then ready to fill and moulds at the makers tables.

One of the old times who worked at Costessey shown making roof copings.

Mr. Cowlings working on brick pipes.

Here Mr. Cowlings is seen with a mould.

Stacks of tiles, from the stacking they appear to have been fired and are ready for sale.

Mr. Cowlings working on tiles, he appears to be shaping the tops and preparing them for firing.

Shaping the tops and preparing tiles for firing.

Brick stacking

Brick stacking

Brick stacking

Brick loading

Firing the furnaces ready for burning the bricks

At Costessey this took place once a fortnight
throughout the year

The kiln being filled with bricks

The kiln is full and being sealed off prior to firing

^ Top Of Page

Ernest G Gage
The publishers wishes to thank the Eastern Evening News for there permission to use the above photograph of the author taken by Harry Naylor.

Ernest Gage moved to Folgate Lane, Costessey in 1956. He retired from the drawing office of the GPO in 1975. In his retirement he was an accomplished wine maker - organ player of the year - water colour painter and photographer.

He then became interested in history and was known as the Local Historian. He began his research into the history of Costessey and published his first book on Costessey Hall in 1991. In 1992 he continued his research into the history of Old Costessey and his second book 'Costessey - A Look into The Past' was published in February 2002.

Sadly Ernest Gage, the author of 'Costessey Hall' and 'Costessey - A Look Into the Past' died in 2010. Ernest would be very pleased to know that his last book 'Costessey - A Look Into the Past' is being reprinted
© 2013 Brian E Gage

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