The Brickfield Guide to Cornish Brickmaking

Weaving together brick making history, heritage and contemporary ceramic practice

The Brickfield Guide to Cornish Brickmaking is a record of Brickfield’s work with John Osborne in 2020, weaving together his memories, knowledge and family history with the creation of a site of contemporary brickmaking at Imery’s old Blackpool Pit in St Austell. It is a celebration of John’s skill and the value of his heritage in contemporary ceramic practice.

This limited edition brick shaped 37 page booklet designed by Phyllidda Bluemel with photographs by Oliver Udy and James Darling and text by Brickfield lead artist, Rosanna Martin, is printed using a specialist Risograph process. It comes with 9 extra inserts each with photos by Oliver Udy depicting heritage hand made bricks found on the site of Wheal Remfry brickworks where John Osborne worked until the early 70’s.

John’s rediscovery of his old place of work at Wheal Remfry brickworks, near Fraddon, almost 50 years after he walked away from the yard in 1971 are also recorded in a film by experimental film maker Rachael Jones.

Here’s a taster extract from the publication and see below a gallery of Oli’s photos and Rachael’s film.

You can buy a copy of the booklet for £15 inc UK P&P. There are 25 special copies signed by John Osborne to be distributed on a first come first served basis! Please email brickfield@whitegold.org.uk to order your copy. All proceeds to support Brickfield’s ongoing work.

Extract from A Brickfield Guide to Cornish Brickmaking:

JOHN OSBORNE attended a Brickfield workshop at Indian Queens Preaching Pit in summer 2019. We had invited people living in the clay villages to come and learn how to make bricks with us. John took a look at what we were doing, and without criticising the flaws in our methods, he gently, but with gusto, began to show us how he would do it.

Descending from a long line of brickmakers, John was the last man to fire the last working beehive kiln at Wheal Remfry brickworks in Cornwall in 1971, having worked as a brickmaker there since 1958. He had not made a brick for 50 years, until he came to our workshop that day. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be brickmaking again!

I recognised in John a deep affinity with a material, embedded skill and a desire to make. A fully embodied knowledge that is developed through repeated action, joy, engagement, practice, failure, explosions, surprises, delight, wonder and hard physical work. Our shared passion for clay and bricks has fused into a great friendship.

Brickmaking was inextricably linked to the china clay extraction industry. The bricks or blocks directly served the industry to aid the process of clay drying and the brickmakers often made use of waste clay. From the 1960s onwards Wheal Remfry was primarily producing rotary shapes (blocks which together formed a horizontal cylinder for clay to be fed through). When the rotaries were replaced by Buell dryers (large upright cylinders), it marked the beginning of the decline of brick making in Cornwall. (p.6)

When Wheal Remfry closed in 1971 piles of bricks were left abandoned in the stacking yard. Waste rocks and rubble from the extraction process were piled on top of the old kilns. Ferns, ivy, alder and ash trees gradually covered and camouflaged this ground. Ten years ago a road was constructed that cuts the site in two. Last year, John started to spend more time down there scratching around. Together, and with the rest of the Brickfield team, we have unearthed the bricks that lay there for half a century, and slowly through conversations, collecting, making, and firing we have begun to build something new.

‘THINKING’ by Walter D. Wintle

If you think you are beaten, you are
If you think you dare not, you don’t,
If you’d like to win, but you think you can’t It is almost a cinch you won’t.
If you think you’ll lose, you’ve lost
For out in this world we find,
Success begins with a person’s will
It’s all in the state of mind.
If you think you’re outclassed, you are

You’ve got to think high to rise,

You’ve got to be sure of yourself before You can ever win the prize.
Life’s battles don’t always go
To the stronger or faster man,
But sooner or later the person who wins Is the one who thinks he can!

– date unknown (19thC)

It is a team of enthusiastic determined people who are full of inspiration, where the term ‘can’t do’ don’t exist and I am so privileged to be a very small part of that team. Like bricks in an archway, everyone is important and there to support each other.” – John Osborne, 2020

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