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Ben Bosence, brick and tile maker and plasterer

Ben Bosence, brick and tile maker In 2020 Ben Bosence of Local Works Studio was awarded funding through the Endangered Craft Fund for his ‘Winning the Clay’ Project, a historic term for finding clay materials suitable for making bricks and tiles.

The Endangered Craft Fund Grant was used to purchase a Roller Pan Mixer to enable the processing of materials sourced from site. These materials could include waste clay excavated from foundations, utilities and site works, crushed waste brick, concrete and other aggregates, waste glass, local chalk and other materials.

Ben speaks of how he used to work for a Sussex based brick making company, and has witnessed the craft decline in this area and also (very dramatically) in Stoke on Trent in the early 2000’s.

“We are keen to tell the story of the craft – how buildings and landscapes were built using local materials, often very local, as brick making and the firing ‘clamps’ were located at the construction site. Rather than mine for raw materials, there is a huge opportunity to tell the story of collecting local raw clay and sand materials that are being excavated and removed from the area, whilst new bricks and tiles – often transported from other countries – are being used for buildings and landscape projects in Sussex.”

Community Brick Making, The Exchange (photo credit Ben Bosence)The first of many projects to benefit from this was the Exchange Erith. This is a community owned project that seeks to engage the local community in wide range of activities and workshops around making and developing crafts skills. As part of this they are creating a garden space designed by Sarah Price with handmade brick paving by Local Works Studio. These bricks were made using waste materials from site and Crayford Brickearth clay. Erith was once at the centre of the brick making trade that used Crayford Brickearth, a rare, locally occurring sedimentary deposit containing a blend of clay, chalk and sand particles. It was the material used to make the majority of Victorian London’s famous yellow stock bricks. By the 1960s a diminishing supply of clay, led all local brickyards to close.

Community Brick, The Exchange (photo credit Ben Bosence)The bricks themselves were made by local people in a series of community engagement events.

“Many people came to the brick making session because they had relatives who worked in the local brick trade. They were full of stories of their parents or grandparents who had made bricks.”

Local Works Studio is now using the Roller Pan Mixer on a range of other projects including grinding chalk plaster for a listed building in Plumpton and a chalk-clay plaster for a new build in the South Downs.

 

Project outline

  • Project funding: £2,000 from the Heritage Crafts Endangered Craft Fund
  • Project aim: To develop and make bricks and tiles from waste clay and other materials that have been excavated locally.

 

  • Top photo: Ben Bosence, brick and tile maker
  • Middle photo: community brick making, The Exchange (photo by Ben Bosence)
  • Bottom photo: community brick, The Exchange (photo by Ben Bosence)

Nine new grants awarded to help save endangered crafts from extinction

Monica Cass. Photo copyright Katherine Mager.

Monica Cass weaving a ‘tau tray’ using skeined willow in Norfolk. Photo copyright Katherine Mager.

A chair seater, a concertina maker and a brick and tile maker are among the recipients of the latest round of grants awarded to help safeguard some of the UK’s most endangered craft skills.

The Heritage Crafts Association, which is due to publish the third edition of its groundbreaking HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts in May, has awarded a further nine grants from its Endangered Crafts Fund, which was launched in 2019 to increase the likelihood of endangered crafts surviving into the next generation.

This round of the HCA Endangered Crafts Fund has been offered with support from the Garfield Weston Foundation, the Dulverton Trust, the Sussex Heritage Trust, Allchurches Trust, the Radcliffe Trust and the Swire Charitable Trust. The nine successful recipients are:

  • Duncan Berry, from West Sussex, to buy tools to enable him to pass on his skills as a flint waller.
  • Ben Bosence, from East Sussex, to develop and make bricks and tiles from waste clay that has been excavated locally.
  • Monica Cass, from Norwich, to train a chair seat weaver in skeined willow techniques, and document the process.
  • Collette Davies, from Monmouth, to help revive the craft of lipwork straw basketry.
  • Tom Frith-Powell, from Cumbria, to develop a gelatine sized paper as part of his commercial handmade papermaking charity.
  • Bob Green, from Brighton, to buy tools to enable him to develop and pass on his skills as a flint waller.
  • Jake Middleton-Metcalf, from Buckinghamshire, to be trained in making the critical working components of the English system concertina.
  • Tony Millyard, from Northamptonshire, to pass on flute making skills and to develop a new model of flute.
  • Dominic Parrette, from East Sussex, to build shave horses to allow him to teach trainees how to make Sussex trug and Devon stave baskets.
A hand made Anglo-German Concertina by Jake Middleton-Metcalfe. Photo copyright Jake Middleton-Metcalfe.

A hand made Anglo-German Concertina by Jake Middleton-Metcalfe. Photo copyright Jake Middleton-Metcalfe.

These nine projects follow 18 awarded in previous rounds, covering endangered crafts such as scissor making, sail making, damask weaving, boot tree making, cockle basket making, folding knife making, neon bending, coracle making, fan making and swill basket making, coppersmithing, withy pot making, disappearing fore-edge painting, plane making and kishie basket making.

As usual the fund was oversubscribed, and the HCA hopes to work with many of the unsuccessful candidates to identify other funding and support opportunities.

HCA Endangered Crafts Officer Mary Lewis said:

“The impact of COVID-19 in the last twelve months has only compounded the pressures on those at-risk craft skills that were already on the verge of being lost, but have so much to offer a post-COVID future, as productive and fulfilling ways to rebuild a sustainable economy. These projects will realise some of that potential.”

The Endangered Crafts Fund has been funded through generous donations from organisations including Garfield Weston Foundation, the Dulverton Trust, the Sussex Heritage Trust, Allchurches Trust, the Radcliffe Trust, as well as individuals who have donated sums from £5 right up to several thousands of pounds. The forthcoming 2021 edition of the HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts is funded by the Pilgrim Trust.

The HCA continues to seek further donations to save even more of Britain’s most endangered crafts from oblivion. Donations are welcome at any time.

Tile making (roofing tiles)

Currently viable crafts

 

Tile making (roofing tiles)

The making of clay tiles by hand or in small batches for roofing. See the separate entry for tile making (flooring and wall tiles).

 

Status Currently viable
Historic area of significance UK
Area currently practised UK
Origin in the UK Roman

 

History

The word ’tile’ originates from the Latin ‘tegula’, used in Roman times to mean terracotta roof-tile. The earliest tiles in the UK were found in towns such as York and Winchester. Glazed tile making emerged in England from the Netherlands in the fourteenth century. Delft became famous for its pottery, known as ‘delftware’ or tin-glazed pottery, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, with numerous skilled potters in the area. In England, the tile making industry rapidly increased during the Industrial Revolution leading to the mass production of tiles and widespread use of manufactured tiles inside public buildings. During the Victorian era, fireplaces were the most commonly decorated areas and were therefore decorated with more expensive tiles in comparison to other areas of wealthy homes.

 

Techniques

Once the clay has been extracted from the ground, unwanted matter is removed and it is mixed to the right consistency for tile making. The clay is then shaped in a mould, and sand used to prevent the clay from sticking it. When moulding a tile, it is vital that no air is trapped inside the clay. Excess clay is removed by running over the mould with a wire. The tile is dried until it is ‘white hard’ and then fired.

In some cases, tiles were made in a mould with a pattern carved in relief to indent a pattern on the clay slab. The slab would be dried and the impression filed with white pipe clay. After further drying this would be shaved flat. A glaze of lead ore was sprinkled onto the surface and the tiles were then fired.

Encaustic tiles are made by mixing two types of clay: plain clay and liquid clay. The plain clay must be left with an impression which is then filled in with the liquid clay of a different colour, these are then fired together. These tiles were made from the twelfth to sixteenth centuries. This skill disappeared with the dissolution of the monasteries but was brought back to life in the nineteenth century by Herbert Minton’s development of dust-pressing.

The colour of the tile is determined by the chemical composition of the clay, the fuel used to fire the tile, and the levels of oxygen available during the firing process. Iron oxide give the brick a red colour, very high levels of iron oxide give a blue colour, limestone and chalk added to iron gives a buff/yellow colour, magnesium oxide gives a yellow colour, and no iron or other oxides gives a white colour.

 

Local forms

 

Sub-crafts

 

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • Market issues: handmade tiles cost more than mass manufactured tiles
  • Market issues: The market is fairly buoyant at the moment but the future will depend on a continuing trend for architects and individual house owners to want something different from what is available ‘off the shelf’. The handmade tile trade is not affected by the general fluctuation of housebuilding, as it is a limited niche market. 70% goes to restoration projects and 30% to new builds. A present increase in the demand for small runs of tiles is from new designs by architects or tweakings of standard types of tile. Exports in particular to America, Holland and China.
  • Market issues: Different regions have different traditional tiles which depend on the local clay – conservation officers don’t always understand what they’re doing and use foreign tiles rather than specifying the local tile
  • Organisation: Although a few tiles are made by hand as a cottage industry, the majority are produced within larger firms who make large numbers of machine made tiles as well. Within this set-up, some tiles are bespoke, while the majority of handmade tiles are simply premium items at the top end of a company’s range and come in standard shapes and colours.
  • Supply of raw materials: Clay all comes from the UK. Original works were sited near clay deposits, so very little transport costs involved for the raw material. Finished tiles are very specifically connected to the clay source – different regions have different traditional tiles which depend on the local clay. Some clay streams are at risk of disappearing.
  • Supply of other materials: Certain types of tile are coal-fired to achieve the right finish and there are currently issues in the supply of coal
  • Training issues: There are no specific courses, but there would be no point. Training has to be done by physically making the tiles. The basic skills are fairly easy to teach and learn, although it can take many years to master the techniques.

 

Support organisations

 

Craftspeople currently known

 

Other information

 

References

Tile making (wall and floor tiles)

Currently viable crafts

 

Tile making (wall and floor tiles)

 

The making of clay tiles by hand or in small batches for walls and floors, for functional or decorative purposes. See the separate entry for tile making (roofing tiles).

 

Status Currently viable
Historic area of significance UK
Area currently practised UK
Origin in the UK Roman

 

History

The word ’tile’ originates from the Latin ‘tegula’, used in Roman times to mean terracotta roof-tile. The earliest tiles in the UK were found in towns such as York and Winchester. Glazed tile making emerged in England from the Netherlands in the fourteenth century. Delft became famous for its pottery, known as ‘delftware’ or tin-glazed pottery, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, with numerous skilled potters in the area. In England, the tile making industry rapidly increased during the Industrial Revolution leading to the mass production of tiles and widespread use of manufactured tiles inside public buildings. During the Victorian era, fireplaces were the most commonly decorated areas and were therefore decorated with more expensive tiles in comparison to other areas of wealthy homes.

 

Techniques

Once the clay has been extracted from the ground, unwanted matter is removed and it is mixed to the right consistency for tile making. The clay is then shaped in a mould, and sand used to prevent the clay from sticking it. When moulding a tile, it is vital that no air is trapped inside the clay. Excess clay is removed by running over the mould with a wire. The tile is dried until it is ‘white hard’ and then fired.

In some cases, tiles were made in a mould with a pattern carved in relief to indent a pattern on the clay slab. The slab would be dried and the impression filed with white pipe clay. After further drying this would be shaved flat. A glaze of lead ore was sprinkled onto the surface and the tiles were then fired.

Encaustic tiles are made by mixing two types of clay: plain clay and liquid clay. The plain clay must be left with an impression which is then filled in with the liquid clay of a different colour, these are then fired together. These tiles were made from the twelfth to sixteenth centuries. This skill disappeared with the dissolution of the monasteries but was brought back to life in the nineteenth century by Herbert Minton’s development of dust-pressing.

The colour of the tile is determined by the chemical composition of the clay, the fuel used to fire the tile, and the levels of oxygen available during the firing process. Iron oxide give the brick a red colour, very high levels of iron oxide give a blue colour, limestone and chalk added to iron gives a buff/yellow colour, magnesium oxide gives a yellow colour, and no iron or other oxides gives a white colour.

 

Local forms

 

Sub-crafts

 

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • Market issues: The market for handmade wall tiles comes and goes depending on fashion, especially between minimalism and decoration. There is some bespoke work for bathrooms, kitchens and swimming pool surrounds, but there is a more lucrative market in large commissions for new public and commercial buildings.
  • Market issues: No-one could make a living that would support a family or a mortgage. If a realistic hourly rate were to be charged the market would not bear it. A wall tile is still only a wall tile however much thought and time has gone into it. It is very difficult to get over to the customer what is involved.
  • Market issues: Handmade tiles cost more than mass manufactured tiles.
  • Marketing issues: Modern electronic marketing presents a dilemma in that it is always time taken away from making. It must be done however as gallery space is disappearing. Even the remaining galleries will often not take wall tile panels because they don’t do ceramics, and ceramic galleries do not often have the wall space.
  • Training and skills issues: The next generation will not have the necessary skills because courses are no longer available at colleges. Ceramics needs a three year training rather than a short section of one year. Also people are no longer taught to draw as everything is done on a computer. The general quality of work now is much lower than it was fifteen years ago. Studio training is possible in larger studios, but not when a person is working on their own, as each job needs the total focus of the craftsperson, and trainees can’t be set to do a particular task.
  • Shrinking workforce: Numbers have probably shrunk in the last twenty years from 400 to around 100. Within that is a reduced number of skilled makers able to pass on their skills.
  • Supply of raw materials: Finished tiles are very specifically connected to the clay source – different regions have different traditional tiles which depend on the local clay. Some clay streams are at risk of disappearing.
  • Supply of other materials: Certain types of tile are coal-fired to achieve the right finish and there are currently issues in the supply of coal.

 

Support organisations

 

Craftspeople currently known

 

Other information

 

References