19: On bricks and bricklaying


This week saw a significant milestone in our build – the laying of the first brick.  We were delighted that Keith Abraham was able to come along and do this for us, using a silver trowel he found in his collection.  We will get the trowel engraved to mark the occasion.


Now work is moving on quickly, and you can see the range of colours and patterns in the brickwork that will make our extension visually interesting.


Many of Barnstaple’s buildings were built in distinctive Marland brick.  The hard cream bricks were made in large quantities from the 1870s onwards at Marland Moor, by a succession of companies using stoneware ball clays dug from the Petrockstowe Basin.  The clay was also used for clay pipe making and provided the white slip essential to our distinctive sgraffito pottery.  It is still extracted and you can sometimes see ships being laden with it at Bideford Quay.


I have heard some people (mostly not from North Devon) unkindly refer to these cream buildings as looking like public toilet blocks.  Undoubtedly the high quality of the bricks made them very suitable for public buildings, but here in Barnstaple you are more likely to see them in the form of houses, like this one, the old Osborne Hotel at Sticklepath.


As the bricks are no longer available, attempts to match them, as here, where the old shop window has been filled in, are not always very successful!

Another local brickworks, at Pottington, used our local brown clay, and was started by Alexander Lauder, who was also a significant architect, potter, teacher and Mayor of Barnstaple.  Lauder and Smith bricks are very beautiful things, which sometimes turn up when houses and sheds are demolished around North Devon.  The artist Martin Ash, better known as Sam Spoons from the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, who sadly recently died, saved hundreds of these bricks from his family home in Ebberley Lawn, and used them to create a wonderful brick bench in his garden at Fremington.


We are delighted that Martin, a Barnstaple Grammar School boy,  arranged for the bench to be moved to the museum garden once our extension is complete, so that anyone will be able to enjoy the view of the river while sitting on an original artwork that comments on how creative our forebears were, as well as how our industries change.

Martin Ash sitting on his brick bench at Fremington


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