The Industry & Railways of the South West Black Country




A prominent firm of Fire Brick Makers.

Among the firms who have built their reputation upon Stourbridge clay, Messrs. Timmis and Company of Lye, occupy a prominent place. Founded thirty-two years ago by Mr. J. A. Timmis and Mr. George H. Timmis, the firm has made rapid strides in developing its business and establishing a reputation for its goods which finds for them a ready market in every part of the country. Mr. George H. Timmis, who practised as a mining engineer before embarking in the fire brick trade, was one of the first to develop the deeper seams of Stourbridge fireclay which have proved of such value and have so enormously extend the life of the trade in the district.

What strikes the visitor to the works of Messrs. Timmis and Company as the chief characteristic, is the fine equipment of the works, which were designed and have been developed on a definite plan, and are so arranged that the minimum of labour is require to carry through the necessary processes for converting the raw clay into the manufactured articles, and to then load them into railway trucks which are brought through the works on the firm's own siding connected to the Great Western system. To the outsider a brick works is presented by a picture which contains a number of kilns, vast stacks of bricks of many shapes, a few women here and there with a head gear a'la Italienne and much dirt. But what a different aspect the situation assumes when we are permitted to penetrate into the depth of a large fireclay works such as this. Powerful engines haul the clay from the mines, which is has been "blasted" from the seams, of which several are being worked here: at the pit-mouth women who have received the most perfect training in the work pick the clay by hand, breaking the clay into small bits and removing any matter which may cause a flaw or fault in the article to be manufactured - displaying, in fact, as much care as if they were handling precious gold.

The clay is then remove and heaped up in large mounds to "weather." After rain and sun have alternately have played upon it for a year, it is taken to the mills, ground to powder, mixed with water, and by means of moulds of many designs made into the thousand different articles which are daily demanded all over the world, wherever a heat resisting material is required. Stourbridge clay, as, as all the world knows, a monopoly, and as the saying among fireclay mine owners states: "The near to Stourbridge the better the clay," a special value is attributed to the goods manufactured by this firm.

Though the work is chiefly done by hand, aided by moulds, we find here machinery that can turn out bricks at the rate of 15,000 per day per machine. These machines work automatically, and do their work admirably, but the firm do not consider they have any advantage over "hand-made" labour for the ordinary and smaller sizes of bricks which are moulded by women. The restriction of the Factory Acts which prevents female being employed in the fire brick trade at an early age, as in some other of the local trades, is causing a scarcity of this class of labour, and there is every probability of machinery having to be most extensively used.

Speaking generally, it takes about fifteen months to make one fire brick or article from the time the clay is drawn from the pit until the manufactured article is put on the market, and in addition scientific and mechanical equipment of the very highest order. The old definition of brick making: "just take a lump of clay and burn it," seems, therefore, scarcely exhaustive enough in these modern days.

The fireclay articles manufactured by Messrs. Timmis and Co. cover a very wide range, from a gas retort weighing nearly one ton to the smallest articles of only a few ounces, and include the whole of the requirements of this class of goods for iron and steel works, gas, glass and chemical works, railway and steamship companies, and down to the smaller articles of domestic use in fire grates.

The output of the firm is very considerable, and so well arranged and compact are the works that there is not the least confusion. From a window of the offices occupying an attractive red-brick building, which was recently erected, one may overlook the whole of the works and follow the clay as it comes from the bowels of the earth through the various stages of manufacture until it is loaded and taken away. Individual enterprise, industry, energy and knowledge here have established an undertaking which with others, has made Stourbridge what it is, a centre of one of the chief industrial districts of Great Britain.

Messrs. Timmis and Co. employ a separate staff for the design and erection of furnaces, retort benches for gas works, etc., and their special experience in this class of work has obtained for them a reputation which give constant work to a considerable number of hands.

For the information of gas engineers and others interested in this industry, the firm issues a comprehensive catalogue which, by the way is the most elegant and convenient of its kind. It consists of a portfolio in green cloth, with the name of the firm printed in gold; it has numerous half-tone illustrations, some of them full page, printed on fine art paper. Instead of being stitched, the leaves are fastened singly by a screw, and may be taken out and replaced at any time. Its artist exterior, the handiness of its arrangement, and the valuable information it contains make it a model of what such catalogue should be. Messrs. Timmis and Company will be glad to forward a copy to any gas engineer applying for it.

© Tom Cockeram 1999