The History Of Fire Bricks
(Contributed by John Cooksey)
"The Most Important Industry in the World"
The technical name for firebricks is refractories, of which
a firebrick is one specific type.
It is worth considering that without refractories no other
industry could have existed. Somewhere along the manufacturing
process of every product refractories would be involved,
and that is the same today. The only change is the type of
ingredient used to make the shapes, blocks, or bricks, from
fireclay, to basic rocks, and the need for this is the change
in furnace design and higher temperatures needed for longer
periods of time.
The refractories industry shaped the way the Industrial
Revolution progressed, from bloomeries to iron and steel
works, from Cylinder Glass to Pilkingtons float glass furnaces,
from the Rocket to the main line steam locomotives, from
disease to Henry Doultons salt glazed earthenware pipes,
from oil lamps to William Murdochs gas from coal experiments,
and so it goes on.
Harris and Pearson's brickyard was one of several dozen
that made what can be termed standard items from the best
fireclay that could be found. They were making retorts, pressed
bricks, and wirecut bricks, items for glass works, items
for steel works, and many more trades, but so were Homer
Hill works, the Delph Works, Amblecote Works, John Hall Refractories,
Harper and Moores, Timmis, Himley Fire and Red Brick Co.
Some of these yards did make certain items that the others
made a few of: the Delph made Grate Backs; B. Gibbons Junior
of Gornal specialised in Gas works refractories and at one
period in time were the largest in the world; Henry Doulton,
in the late 1840s, was again the largest producer of salt
glazed earthen pipes in the world employing some 700 people.
Glass house pots were made by one or two works. Their makers
were skilled people, but equally so were the men that made
gas works retorts. These were much larger than glass house
pots, and required as much skill. Weighing in excess of a
ton, retorts also had to be man-handled into special kilns,
because these vessels could be ten feet in height or over.