The History Of Fire Bricks
(Contributed by John Cooksey)
The Black Country
This small area of the Midlands which, in my estimate, covers
an area 13 miles by 9 miles only became known as ‘the Black
Country' in about 1840. Before this it was part of the giant
South Staffordshire East Worcestershire coalfield. One person
travelling through the area described it as ‘black by day and
red by night, a place were no trees grew, no birds sang, and
the rivers and pools where black and lifeless, and the life
expectancy, was 34 years, all this to give other people materials
In this small area in 1860 there were 200 blast furnaces,
over 2,000 puddling furnaces, 86 Brickyards and dozens of foundries,
making a vast amount of items from lots of different metals.
All of these, plus countless others outside the district, were
crying out for refractories.
To understand more about the development of the firebrick
industry there is a need to go back to the early years before
the Black Country, to 1718 when Abraham Darby was using the
area's clay and bricks to line his furnace at Coalbrookedale.
In 1740 Benjamin Huntsman, when experimenting with crucible
steel at Sheffield, was using this area's fireclay to make
his crucibles, because there was no finer in the world.
In 1759 the excellence of this fireclay can again be judged.
Refractories from here made the fantastic journey to Scotland
where they were used to line a blast Furnace at the Carron
iron works that was the first in Scotland to use coke instead
of charcoal to melt its iron.