Posted February 1st, 2012
by Richard Savage
Apart from the manufacture of bricks and tiles, the production of scouring bricks was an important part of the industry. During the 19th century the Bath Brick was a popular cleaner throughout Britain, Europe andAmerica for polishing, scouring and cleaning metalwork and cutlery. They were once issued regularly to soldiers in the British army, and hence travelled all over the world, wherever the sun never set over the British Empire.
These blocks were made from the fine alumina and silica particles that were washed down the River Parrett and deposited in specially constructed slime batches built along the river one mile north and one mile south of the Town Bridge, where the slime was known to be of the right consistency, and at Dunball. These consisted of a bed of brick rubble projecting from the river bank with low sides to encourage settlement. When the deposit that had “pitched” in the “batches” was 4 feet thick it would be dug out and deposited on the river bank to allow rain water to wash the salt out. Already by 1896 some 25 batches existed to trap the slime, and bricks were being manufactured under the names of Axford and Sealey. There were ten manufacturers in the 1920s with John Board & Co Ltd being the major producer.
The slime mixture would be taken to a simple horse-worked mixer, shaped in a “pugging mill” and extruded or “obstricked” into 6 inch balls, which would then be pressed into bricks in a mould using a “striker” and turned out onto boards to dry. High temperature firing in kilns would follow a few days later, but only at 500-600 degrees Celsius, the process taking 4-6 days, hence the softer colour compared with normal Bridgwater bricks which would be fired at 930 degrees Celsius for about a week. Finally they would be trimmed with an emery wheel and wrapped in strong paper.
Broken or rejected bricks were ground into a bulk powder.
It was called the “Bath Brick” because of its similarity in colour to Bath Stone. A patent granted in 1827 referred to “a certain composition or substance….. when perfected would resemble in colour the stone called or known by the name of Bath Stone.”
E.H. Burrington wrote a poem “Apostrophe to the Parrett” which included the lines:
“But thou lowest ever beautifully thick,
Leaving the filthy slime to make Bath brick!”
Bath Bricks were advertised as “the most effective and economical polishing material. It is superior to metal polish and does not contain acid or alcohol injurious to metals.” Sadly, after 1918, alternative cleaning materials that were cheaper gradually put an end to the manufacture of Bath Bricks. Now, when you use Vim or Ajax, remember their predecessor – the Bath Brick!
Assortment of Bath Bricks manufactured in Bridgwater (by kind permission of the Somerset Brick and Tile Museum)
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