William Harper Brickmaker.

William Harper was born circa 1794 but his baptism is not obvious in St. Mary’s Parish Records, Uttoxeter. There are 2 baptisms but neither corresponds exactly to his calculated date of birth from the 1851 Census or his age at death. He was baptised either on 28 Aug 1782 the son of Thomas and Jane, or 1 Apr 1798 the son of John and Mary.

St. Mary’s parish records do record his marriage on 27 Jul 1813 when William Harper, bachelor (signed X) married Elizabeth Woodward spinster, both of this parish.

Eight children were baptised in St. Mary’s Uttoxeter, to William and Elizabeth. Most record William as a labourer but in 1815 and 1830 William is recorded as a Brickmaker

  1. 21 Oct1813 James
  2. 04 Dec 1815 Mary
  3. 03 Dec 1816 Ann
  4. 21 Nov1819 Emma
  5. 28 Oct 1821 Eliza
  6. 10 Nov 1821 William
  7. 30 Sep 1823 Elizabeth
  8. 16 Jun1830 Harriet
  9. 1842 Louisa does not appear to have been baptised in Uttoxeter but is in the civil registration index gro.gov.uk with a mother’s maiden name of Woodward.


William Harper was buried in St. Mary’s Uttoxeter, on 8 Oct 1859 aged 67

Elizabeth Harper was buried in St. Mary’s Uttoxeter on 26 April 1863 aged 75


1851 Census HO107/2010 folio 90             Address – Uttoxeter Heath, Uttoxeter                William    Harper, head age 56, occupation Brickmaker,      born Uttoxeter, Staffordshire        Elizabeth Harper, wife age 57,                                                       born Uttoxeter, Staffordshire     Harriet     Harper, daughter, age 21 unmarried                         born Uttoxeter, Staffordshire     Louisa     Harper, daughter, age 9 Scholar                                   born Uttoxeter, Staffordshire

(Next neighbour is George Wigley, butcher, of the Wigley Family Blog and supplier of meat to the Workhouse)

1861 Census RG9/ 1955 folio 19 sees Elizabeth recorded as a widow and she has moved to Church St. Uttoxeter with her daughter Louisa who married that day and had the dilemma of how to record her name. The enumerator added a note of explanation under the entry and recorded her name as Skett as she married the lodger William Skett, a joiner and carpenter.

The paupers vouchers in bundles D3891/6/35 and D3891/6/37 include several payments to William Harper in the 1830s relating to Bricks and Tiles at the Workhouse Brickyard. However by 31 Oct 1837 Thos. Parker’s name appears instead. The 25 Feb 1832 receipt has “X mark of William Harper” implying that he could not write.

Brickmaking appears to have been a source of income for the Overseers of the Poor of Uttoxeter.

For the most part, the entire process of brickmaking was carried on in the open air and was subject to the uncertainties of the weather. The clay usually was dug in the autumn or winter and left in heaps to break down the lumps and make it more easily worked. Tempering and moulding only commenced in March or April after the danger of winter frosts had passed. From then until the following autumn brickmakers worked extremely long hours, sometimes as much as thirteen hours a day, to maximize production during the spring and summer months (British Parliamentary Commission, hereafter BPP, Childrens’ Employment Commission 1866, p.103).

The newly moulded “green bricks” especially were vulnerable to damage. Before burning these usually were stacked in open-air hacks to dry for up to six weeks, protected from the weather by a covering of straw matting, tarpaulins and, later, wooden boards with louvres (Cox 1989, p.9).

[After drying they were burned either in open clamps or in Kilns. Uttoxeter Overseers allocate some payments to “Brickiln”]

Excise duties were levied on bricks and tiles. The tax was originally imposed by William Pitt in 1784, along with a similar duty on seabourne shipments of stone and slate, in order to repay debts incurred by the American War for Independence. But whereas taxes on stone and slate were eventually repealed (in 1823 and 1831 respectively), the brick duties were continually amended and increased. From the original tax of 2s.6d. per thousand, the amount had doubled by 1802 with 5s. 10d. charged per thousand on ordinary bricks and 12s. 10d.for polished bricks (24 Geo. III.c.24. and 45 Geo.III.c.30.). In 1839 the Commission on Excise Inquiry repealed the previous acts and replaced them with new duties containing exact specifications relating to their collection and payment (2 & 3 Vic.c.24.). The new acts placed a duty of 5s. 10d, on all bricks not exceeding 150 cubic inches and 10s, on bricks over that size. Each brick manufacturer was required by law to register with the excise officer in his district who then was allowed to enter the brickfield at any time to inspect and count the bricks while they were drying. In addition, the act stated that “all bricks whilst drying shall be placed in such a manner that the officer may readily and securely take an account of them; penalty for placing the bricks irregularly, £50.” (2 & 3 Vic.c.24. Clause viii). All bricks found to be burned before being charged with duty also were subject to a fine of £50. While computing the duty to be paid, ten per cent was automatically allowed for bricks that were subsequently damaged. An immediate effect of the duties was a substantial increase in the price of bricks. The regulations that were intended to facilitate the administration of the act also placed particular hardships on the manufacturers. The precise requirements for arranging the bricks while drying may have assisted the excise officers in their calculations, but they also had the effect in many cases of hindering production. During the campaign to repeal the duties in the 1840’s, one author commented: “Even when the officers visit the works once a day, the inconveniences and loss to the operative at work are ever recurring. They are bound to lay their moulded clay down on certain spaces, and on those only, from which they must not remove the pieces until account had been taken of them for duty. Nor must they lay more on those given spaces than the officer allows; if full, they must stop work” (The Builder 1849, p.449). There were attempts to evade these restrictions despite the risk of penalty. One brickmaker described how sometimes false floors to conceal bricks were made in the drying sheds, but they were discovered frequently by a surprise visit by the excise official, who then ordered the brickfield owner to forfeit the fine (Wescombe 1893).[i]

Using the information above, the Duty on ordinary Bricks in 1802 was 5s 10d per thousand and the vouchers record a payment of duty on bricks on 27 July 1837 as £12 16s 8d this would work out as Duty on 44,000 bricks so it was quite a large production.  There were various other costs involved such as coal to burn the bricks as per voucher[ii] dated 28 Aug 1830 when they bought 7 loads of Coals for the Brickyard at £11 13s 9 ¼d from Charles Hales. Then there was the payment on Jan 1831 for 280 yds of clay costing £2 13s 4d[iii] and Aug 1831 for 150 yds of Clay and Sunday Work costing £3 17s 11d[iv]. Another voucher[v]  dated 9 Aug 1830 bought Cloths for Brickyard from Sam. Turner at £1 12s 0d. and a Voucher[vi] dated 30 Dec1830 bought Shovels & Spades for Brickiln from Porter & Keates at £1 12s 8d (presumably to dig the clay)

The Annual accounts 1830-1[vii]  show that the amount of cash received on the Brickyard Account was £270 1s 4d and £248 10s 8d was expended which gave a profit of £21 10s 8d. Whilst 1831-2[viii] shows that the amount had risen to £420 4s 3d received, and £318 5s 7d expended giving a profit of £101 18s 8d.

[i] BRICK Making  – Nineteenth century brickmaking innovations in Britain: building and technological change by Kathleen Ann Watt (A Thesis Submitted for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy The University of York The Institute of Advanced Architectural Studies September, 1990) http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/4248/1/DX094368.pdf

[ii] D3891/6/35/2/26

[iii] D3891/6/35/3/17

[iv] D3891/6/37/5/18

[v] D3891/6/35/2/25

[vi] D3891/6/35/3/22

[vii] D3891/6/35/5/9

[viii] D3891/6/37/Accounts


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