SOUTHALL: A Brief History

Because of this deficiency guide books and discursive historical topographies assume a greater value, and we can learn a great geal from them. A quotation from James Thorne’s Handbook to the environs of London (1876) will illustrate this:

‘Norwood lies in a pleasant though flat district…
[there] are farms, market gardens, and orchards; some hands find employment at brick-making, and there is a wharf on the canal’.

Then after a description of the church he continues:

‘Southall is a busy but not attractive place. The country is flat, and disfigured by extensive brickfields, though in some directions there are green fields, shady lanes, and pleasant walks. Farming is a leading occupation, and there are gassworks, chemical works, and a large steam flour mill’.

Brickfields are often mentioned, and on the early large scale Ordnance Survey plans (1865) they are quite clearly shown. Mills gives a good description of their manufacture:

‘The operations commence in October with “getting the earth,” which is deposited in layers, interspersed with ashes and chalk; it is exposed to the winter’s frost, and in early summer, by means of pug-mills, tempered; it is then moulded by hand in a wooden mould, taken to hacks to dry, skintled, afterwards piled in clamps, with ashes between, and burned.

‘If the materials have been properly tempered and the burning perfect, the ordinary stock brick is produced; while excessive, unequal, or insufficient firing produces, to the brickmaker’s loss, the rough stock, the grizzle, and the place brick respectively, as also the clinker and the burr.

‘Steam is used in several of the fields for portions of this work, but the moulding is always by hand. The drawing of water from shallow wells is by the same process as was in use among the Egyptians, viz, by means of a long cross-pole, with a stone at one end, partially balancing the full pail at the other. The slightest exertion suffices to draw a quantity of water that otherwise could be scarcely moved.

‘In some places the clay is eight feet in thickness, and as each foot of clay over the extent of one acre will make nearly one million of bricks, the quantity yet to be made in the parish would appear to be practically inexhaustible.

‘The men work very hard. Last year one moulder and his gang turned out 980,000 of bricks in the season. As this would give over ten bricks per minute for ten hours per day for twenty-six weeks, it would appear to be impossible, and if my informant had not been a very intelligent and trustworthy person, I should have hesitated to make the statement.

‘Other bricks of a superior quality are also made, known as malms, the difference being that for these bricks the earth is “washed”, allowed to settle, and thus looses its impurities.

‘The brickmakers live near the fields , and are generally strong and healthy; they inhabit in some cases, very good cottages, and in others quite the reverse. The making of the canals has brought the brickfields into existence, as they give every facility for the disposal of the produce.’

The Ordnance Survey maps mentioned earlier were being drawn up with modern surveying methods and with an accuracy which hardly bears dispute just as the last toll-bars were being removed from the Turnpike Road. Such anachronisms are often found together.