Historical notes on brickmaking and pottery in Islington

At the end of the 18th century, London was rapidly expanding, and a great deal of building material was needed. Since there was no local stone and not yet any railways to bring stone in, and since wooden buildings had been outlawed in London since the Great Fire, bricks had to be made from local clay. Fortunately, London had suitable clay in abundance. My research shows that my Cole ancestors were heavily involved in the production of bricks and tiles for the London building industry at this time. This page is about their involvement in north London, then Middlesex. It documents, the starting points for my research; the research itself, my interim conclusions and the outstanding questions.

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Starting points

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Research into the Islington potteries/brickworks

My first step to find out more was to visit the Islington Archives to find out about the Tile Yard Road in Miller's notes. I learnt from various old maps that in the period concerned (the late 1790s to early 1800s, ie just before and after Daniel's service in Nelson's Navy), the road did not exist. There were kilns there in the open fields and presumably an undocumented track running up to them. This was later named Tile Kilns Road, was renamed Tile Yard Road in 1897 and is now Tileyard Road - see E. Willats, 1987, 'Streets with a story: the Book of Islington'.

I next consulted various old books on the area, in particular William Pink's 'History of Clerkenwell' (1881, but recently reprinted), and 'A Victorian History of the County of Middlesex: Volume VIII' (1985).

kiln in the Clerkenwell area of London, 

Kiln works in the area of Islington/Clerkenwell/Somerstown/St Pancras around 1830

I learnt that the early to middle 1800s was a period of rapid and major building expansion in and around London - so much so that villages such as Islington which were well outside London at the beginning of the century had become part of a continuous and much larger 'greater' London by the end of the century. The books made the link between the use of bricks, the lack of natural London stone, the lack of railways and the outlawing of wood for main construction following the great fire of 1666. So the clay from designated building sites all over London was used to make bricks, and kilns were a common sight, with their smoke and pollution dominating in every direction.

Clearing land and collecting the clay ahead of the building development - Somerstown, London, early 1800s.

Clearing land and collecting the clay ahead of the building development - Somerstown, London, early 1800s

It seems that numerous small bands of brickmakers clustered around the edge of the ever-expanding London, working out small plots of land and taking their produce along to the nearest kiln for firing. Presumably Daniel Cole and his wider family had been one of these bands, and they had used a kiln in Islington in what is now Tileyard Road.

It is always possible that Daniel or his family owned the kilns in Tileyard Road, but the archives provide no evidence of this or indeed of any owners that early. 'A Victorian History' notes that in the 1770s the nearby area of Maiden Lane was made unattractive by its proximity to the Fleet river (now subterranean) and the trades that had gathered there, including a pottery. The Victorian History implies that the original Maiden Lane was quite long.

The current Maiden Lane is a very small off-shoot of the original which was renamed York Way around 1850 when the street layout altered with the coming of the railway. There was a Randall's kiln works in the area, but it was probably so named after Daniel's time. The workers' cottages, Randell's [sic] Cottages, in Maiden Row, off Maiden Lane, were built before 1841. (This information is courtesy of John Green who is looking for William Brown born about 1808 in Hertfordshire and resident at the cottages in 1845. William was not there in 1841). Randall's kiln works gave their name to Randell's Road which is just south of Tileyard Road. Interestingly there is a road called Brandon Road just north of Tileyard Road. Brandon is a Cole family name. Elizabeth Brandon married E G Cole and and the name was then perpetuated in the given name of their son, Sidney Brandon. According to A History of the County of Middlesex (1985), the road was so named after a Samuel Brandon who owned land there as well as elsewhere in England. There may have been a connection between him and Elizabeth Brandon.

My conclusion about Daniel Cole's band of workers is in agreement with a letter written by my uncle which said that potters used to move from one place to another working out small pockets of land and then moving on. My uncle was often at the White Hart Lane Potteries as a child and doubtless picked the information up from the family.

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Interim conclusions on potteries and brickworks in Islington

At the moment, the evidence suggests the following interim conclusions, which may need revision as additional data comes to light:

  1. The Cole family did have a pottery/brick business of sorts in the late 1700s and early 1800s in the Islington area which other family members minded while Daniel himself was away at sea serving with Neilson's navy.
  2. The business used clay from sites designated for building, and kilns located alongside what is now Tileyard Road in Islington.
  3. The business really did move from Islington because the clay was running out, which was due to rapid building expansion.
  4. While working as a potter at Islington, Daniel probably continued to live in the area of St Pancras known as the Brill. This address from his will on his own page. The kilns and the Brill are within easy walking distance and there were no workers cottages at the kilns at that time.
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Outstanding questions on Islington potters and my ancestry

There is obviously still more to learn from whatever can still be gleaned from the old records, but some particularly tantalising questions remain:

See also the Cole family's contribution to the expansion of south London.
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This website Potteries and brickyards worked by the Cole family is Pat Cryer. For applications to reproduce text or images, click here.