We all love our houses, old or new, and there’s a good selection of residences dotted around. The Heatons to cater for everyone’s taste but did you know that the majority of bricks used to construct houses and buildings before the Second Word War were actually manufactured in Heaton Mersey?
Brick manufacture was always prevalent in the area but originally only as a cottage industry, with small clay pits being dug out to provide bricks for a specific building. This was a fairly easy job across the south Heatons, as layers of boulder clay were readily accessible in a variety of locations.
The process of brick making fitted perfectly into the agricultural calendar. When the autumn harvest was over, clay would be dug out of the fields, stacked in heaps, and left to harden over the winter months. When it was fully matured the weathered clay would be kneaded into a plastic consistency using hands and feet (a job often undertaken by local children) and placed into wooden moulds to harden.
In 1825 there were three brick makers based in the area of Grundy Hill near where the Griffin Pub on Didsbury Rd is situated today. These businesses were fairly small, but sometime around 1850 Peter Bailey developed an extensive brickworks along Harwood Road: it occupied the site of the sports ground and the former Cranford Driving Range. His site was situated on a thick bed of high quality clay which was some twenty of thirty feet deep.
The brickworks expanded rapidly and by the late 1800s Bailey had acquired a huge circular Hoffman Firing Kiln which was situated roughly on the site of Crossgate Mews. The kiln allowed continuous brick production. Steam excavators were brought in and tram tracks constructed across the site to facilitate the easy transportation of bricks.
Such was the success of his business that Bailey was able to ‘export’ bricks out of the area and much of the Belle Vue Pleasure Gardens were constructed using bricks from the Harwood Road Site. So keen was Bailey to promote his business that in an outrageous publicity stunt, he employed elephants to move the bricks from Heaton Mersey to the construction site in Longsight.
As the business grew, Bailey was able to extend the range of products being manufactured on the site. By the turn of the century he was producing earthenware pipes, (to be used in sewerage construction), garden pots, propagating pans, lard mugs and a full range of black and yellow earthenware goods. Beside this, his production of bricks continued almost around the clock with a regular production of more than 120,000 per week.
The business finally exhausted its clay seam around the mid-1960s. The site became disused and a huge deep pool of water developed in the area once occupied by the deepest pit. Much to the terror of local parents it became a haven for swimming and raft-building for the youngsters of the area and in later years was even used by anglers hoping to spring a catch or two from deep in the cloudy waters.
Conscious of health and safety, the area was reclaimed and filled in by the Council in the early 1970s, with the land used mainly to construct the aforementioned cricket pitch and driving range. However, Bailey’s legacy lives on in the fine, red brick architecture of many of The Heatons’ oldest buildings.