Lime and Bricks
by Paul Cattermole

Industry in Tharston - 1 Lime and bricks

Paul Cattermole

Some time ago Paul Cattermole researched and wrote a short treatise on the lime burning and brickmaking in Tharston. The copyright for this work is held by Barbara Cattermole and family. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, or by any means, without the prior consent of the author's family.

Detail from Ordnance Survey map showing the mineral pits and the brick kiln c.1890

The north-east corner of the parish of Tharston was mainly open common land until the turn of the nineteenth century. The Low Common, together with the adjoining Long Drove, contained about one hundred acres. This was an area of low-lying pasture situated on either side of the beck that runs north from Long Stratton to join the main river near Tasburgh Hall. Land on the eastern side of the old common rises to form a sandy ridge known as the Furze Hills, along the crest of which runs an ancient lane marking the boundary between Tharston and Stratton St Michael. Near the main river is a small hillock known as Chapel Hill surrounded by earthworks which almost certainly mark the centre of an Anglo-Saxon estate that later became Weiholme's Manor. The manorial site had long been abandoned, together with the adjoining chapel of St Giles, in the seventeenth century when it was converted to a rabbit warren. Arable land in multiple ownership came down to the edge of the common along the line of Parkes Lane, and a prominent bank forms a boundary with demesne land belonging to the manor of Tharston Hall at the southern end of the common. Unlike the High Common (now enclosed and lying on either side of Chequers Lane and Picton Road) there were few house-plots along the edges of the Low Common. Two cottages stood on the west side of Parkes Lane, and two others were at the entrance to the lane leading to the watermill. A small cottage, perhaps originally built for the warrener who looked after the lord's rabbits, stood just below Chapel Hill, on a site that was acquired in 1746 by the Tharston Trustees, who in 1749 rebuilt it as a poor-house. When this building became too small in 1794, a new row of small cottages was built on the other side of the road to accommodate pauper families. Eight acres of land in the same area were also set aside before 1798 to provide an Income that would buy fuel for the poor.

Tharston Inclosure Map 1804, showing the Low Common divided into parcels.

The earliest map of the area, drawn in 1804 when the commons were inclosed, shows the north end of the Low Common. The area around the "new" poorhouse is clearly defined, together with the parcels of land that the Tharston proprietors acquired. Robert Harvey, as the principal landowner got most of the common land, and the portions granted to smaller proprietors were grouped near the crossroads. The parish pit is marked as being in the possession of the Surveyors of Highways; and the 1804 Act lists the minerals that could be quarried by owners of land in Tharston for road making as: sand, gravel, stone (presumably flint) chalk and marl.

Traditional building, timber framed on a brick plinth with thatched roof.
The old Queen's Head c. 1940. Frm the collection of Mr P. Chatten.

The traditional building materials in the area were timber and clay. Before it was cleared (around 1760) Tharston Great Wood could supply beams for the main frames of barns and houses, while the numerous pollard trees and coppices could provide the smaller timbers. There was abundant hazel in hedgerows throughout the parish that could be used for wattles, and clay for daubing the timber-framed houses in the village came from a number of pits on the higher ground, some of which can still be seen at the edge of the former Church Green, near Tharston Street. When brick was needed for chimneys, or to build the foundation courses on which a timber frame was raised, it had to come from outside the parish, and there are records of excursions to the kilns at Boyland Hall in Momlngthorpe to collect bricks for building the new poorhouse In the 1790s. Although small quantities of lime may have been produced by burning chalk in clamps, larger amounts came from as far afield as Norwich. The lime used to build the new poorhouse certainly came through tollgates on the Norwich road. Until the beginning of the nineteenth century brickwork was a symbol of wealth and prosperity, and apart from the chimneystacks on a few farmhouses, the only brick building in the village was Tharston Hall.

Following the Inclosure Act, the largest part of the Low Common came into the hands of Robert John Harvey. Following a successful career in the Peninsular War, Harvey retired in 1814 and set about making the most of his landed properties. He was not slow to recognise the potential of his Tharston estates, and realised that money was to be made from the minerals that could be quarried. In an area where agriculture was based mainly on grain, both lime and marl were used to improve the land. Following the inclosures there was also a demand for building materials, as farmhouses and cottages were modernised or rebuilt so that they could be let at profitable rents. Bricks and mortar were much more fashionable (and enduring) than the traditional building materials; and new skins were given to old houses such as Chamusca, Picton and Willow Farm. New farmhouses were built to take advantage of the enclosed lands, such as the red brick house at Mill Farm, and the more fashionable grey brick Model Farm, where red brick was used to build the barns and outhouses. Strong mortar was an essential commodity, and the resources for making lime were available on Tharston Low Common. Lime had probably been made in small clamps on the common for some considerable time, since the parish pit produced chalk, and there was a good supply of furze (much favoured for the heat that it produced). Clean water came from the beck. Once Harvey's plantations were mature enough to produce a steady supply of wood, suitable for firing a kiln, industrial lime burning on a larger scale was possible. The lime-burner, William Duffield, occupied a convenient house on Parkes Lane (on the site of the present "Forbes"), but the Tithe map of 1839 shows the area still relatively undeveloped.

Harvey has straightened the course of the beck, and has divided his large share of the old common into neat rectangular pieces, which butt up to the much older curved edge of the land belonging to Tharston Hall. According to the map, there is neither lime kiln nor brick kiln, nor has the house called Vittoria yet been built.

Tharston Tithe Map 1839

  • Plot 431 is Chapel Hill, the probable site of Welholmes Manor house.
  • Mary Wicks, proprietor of the Queen's Head, owns plots 15, 19, 20, 21 and 24. The long strips are the remnants of old arable fields.
  • Tuesday Quantrell and Edward Jermyn occupy the house Torres Vedras, plot 22, built in 1790.
  • The Poorhouse lies between plots 417 and 429, which belonged to the Overseers of the Poor. Plot 17 is the piece of land which provides income to buy fuel for the poor.
  • William Duffield, who owns plot 416 and rents the Parish Pit (430) from the Surveyor of Highways, lives in the house on plot 59.
  • Sir Robert Harvey owns the plantation, plot 427. This was probably planted shortly after the land was enclosed in 1804.

White's Directory 1845.

Shortly after the Tithe Map was drawn there was a big expansion in industrial activity. White's 1845 Directory lists William Duffield as a lime-burner, and a contemporary bill head indicates the extent of his business. The lime and marl were or considerable value as fertilisers highly recommended to improve the quality of the soil. Sand and broken stones were in demand for road making, and the Inclusion of garden gravel and paving stones (the stones perhaps brought in by rail to Forncett station) reflects the gentrification of the area, with formal gardens taking shape around the smarter farmhouses. Materials from the Tharston Lime Kilns certainly went as far as Tacolnestone, and it is likely that Duffield traded relatively widely.

The lime-kiln, it would appear, was flourishing in the 1840s; and the 1851 census records Duffield, then aged 65 years, as the employer of six labourers. Sir Robert Harvey was nothing if not an entrepreneur, and his involvement with large scale housing developments in Norwich, as well as the improvement of properties on his farming estates in Tharston and Stoke Holy Cross, would provide an outlet for building materials. Not only was lime and sand available in quantity, but clay suitable for brickmaking was found to lie just below the surface, on the arable land known as Sullen's Close. Among Harvey's estate papers are the plans for a large brick kiln, which was clearly In full production by the 1840s. Perhaps the greatest incentive for production was the building of the Eastern Counties railway, of which Harvey was a director. A stone tablet above the doorway of Vittoria house records that in 1847 two million bricks were burned at the adjacent kiln for the construction of the railway. The 1851 census lists James Barber aged 73 as a brickmaker employing 12 men, together with Francis Barber aged 27, employing six men and six boys.

White's Directory 1854

Others employed at the brick-kiln appear as lodgers in various houses in the village. Edmund Tlbbs appears as a master bricklayer, living in a small isolated house on Parkes Lane with his wife and a son who is described as a bricklayer's labourer. That Tibbs's house was built in the traditional local style, on a timber frame with plastered panels, in 1836, and was later given Its brick skin, suggests that brickmaking in Tharston did not begin before the 1840s.

Design for a cottage built by Edmund Tibbs on a parcel of the
Low Common, leased from General Harvey.

The cottage was built of stud and plaster with a pantiled roof, and the stable appears to be constructed from clay lump. Tibbs was a bricklayer, and it is likely that the cottage acquired its outer skin of brick from the Tharston brick yard in the 1840s. In addition to the house plot, Tibbs leased a piece of at-able land and a meadow that created a smallholding where he could supplement his income.

The planning of the cottage reflects the lifestyle of a working family in the middle years of the nineteenth century, centred on the principal room, the kitchen, with its large hearth. A wash-house was provided, and a smaller unheated room was used as a dairy. For privacy you would need to retreat upstairs, where there was a heated chamber measuring 17ft by lift, off which were two smaller rooms.

Lime burning and bnckmaking are listed in Tharston In 1864, but by 1883 only the lime kiln was in business. Still in the hands of the Duffleld family, lime burning seems to have continued through to the early 1900s. Although the brick kiln was pulled down before the 1907 Ordnance map was printed, the remains of the lime kiln still exist.

The limekiln is designed for continuous operation. Once the burning process was started, the kiln would be kept going by adding lumps of chalk and billets of firewood through a hole in the top. These reached a very high temperature in the central chamber; and the powdered quicklime that resulted from the burning process could be collected through iron grilles in the openings at the base of the central chamber. The walls of the underground gallery where the lime was collected are built mainly of flint, with a vaulted brick roof and a brick floor, and the openings to the kiln chamber are well preserved. Once raked into the gallery, the lime could be shovelled into bags and raised to the surface by means of a hoist. The underground gallery Is approached from the north east by means of steps with shallow treads, whose wide archway would provide a good draught for the kiln. The south west opening was probably where the sack hoist was mounted. A well-defined earthwork can still be traced south from the top of the kiln, leading towards the mineral pit. This is the line of a horse tramway shown on the 1906 Ordnance Survey map. North-west of the kiln (across the track) are the scanty remains of a small flint building that once had a slated roof, which might have been used a store for tools associated with the time workings. The present bridle path, leading from the Tasburgh road to Parkes Lane, does not show on early maps. It must therefore have come into being to service the lime-kiln and mineral pits. At the Parkes Lane end of the bridlepath are the remains of brick sheds and a stable. These were probably used In connection with the lime-kiln.

Inside the lime-kiln gallery. The outer walls are of flint,
with a vaulted brick roof. The opening on the right is
where the quick lime was raked from the burning
chamber. The high quality of building is evident.

The house built by General Harvey for the manager of the brick kiln was named Vittoria, after the decisive battle fought in 1813, at which Harvey was present.

The house, together with the kiln on the other side of Parkes Lane, was completed in 1847, and the inscribed stone above the front door records that "This House with the Brick Kiln built by Major General Sir Robert Harvey, 1847 In which year two Millions of Bricks were burnt for the Railway". One of the few houses in Tharston that Harvey built (rather than modified) the proportions and detail of the front elevation have hints of Classical design. The present pebble-dashed render conceals the dean lines of the four pilasters that divide the façade; but the doorway, with its broken triangular pediment still shows its original form.

(c) Barbara Cattermole and family. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, or by any means, without the prior consent of the author's family.

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