Brick and Tile making in East Lothian
With an abundance of easily worked stone, East Lothian came late to the mass production of bricks and tiles.
Of course, some had always been made on a small scale but as the agricultural revolution took hold the county’s abundant deposits of clay were exploited for drainage tiles (pipes) and roofing pantiles. Drainage was essential over much of East Lothian and most present day fields are still underlain by drainage networks installed during the 19th century.
Tileworks proliferated – a lot of the rural parishes had one by the mid-19th century – and several of these diversified into the production of bricks. These works lasted as long as there was agricultural land to drain – a task mostly accomplished by the third quarter of the 19th century. Many works were instigated by improving estate owners – indeed George Hay, 8th Marquis of Tweeddale, obtained a patent for innovative tilemaking equipment in 1839. In general, these rural works were small scale. Maps often show just a single kiln of, it can be deduced, the intermittent ‘Scotch’ design – which could be wood fired.
At the other end of the scale were firms like the Pinkie Brickworks to the east of Musselburgh, Seafield Brick and Tile Works at Dunbar and Gordon’s Pottery at Prestonpans. The latter developed expertise in tilemaking and William Brodie took Seafield to new heights by innovating in both machinery and also scale: under the Brodies it became the centre of a suite of brickworks scattered over Scotland. The Brodies also invested in their own shipping line.
As the tileworks reached their peak, innovation in the coal mining industry revolutionised industrial ceramic output. By integrating coal, shale and fireclay produced onsite and applying mechanised factory production methods unit costs were driven down while production was scaled up. In East Lothian, Prestongrange Colliery was at the front of this development, but Bankpark Fireclay Works by Tranent, Wallyford Brickworks, and Gladsmuir Brickworks (for a brief period) also feature. As well as combining raw materials and fuel from the same site, the longest lived of these sites also exploited good rail connections. Spurs linked Prestongrange, Wallyford and Bankpark directly to the national rail network, enabling them to establish depots in Edinburgh (and further afield) to exploit demand for their products in the growing cities. Prestongrange also maintained an international trade through Morrison’s Haven.
All good things come to an end. When agricultural drainage was completed, there was no need for many of the rural tileworks – most closed before the opening of the 20th century. Seafield at Dunbar was near worked out by the 1890s and, distant from sources of fuel, was becoming uneconomic anyway. Pinkie kept going into the 20th century by following the clay deposits southwards towards Pinkie Brae.
Of the fireclay works, Bankpark shut when local deposits were worked out but Prestongrange and Wallyford continued post 1947 under the National Coal Board. They both transferred to the control of a NCB subsidiary company, the Scottish Brick Corporation, in 1969 but did not long survive. Wallyford shut in 1972 and Prestongrange was closed in 1975.
See also: Sanderson, K. W. The Scottish Refractory Industry, 1830-1980. Edinburgh, 1980; and Douglas, G. and M. Oglethorpe Brick, Tile and Fireclay Industries in Scotland. Edinburgh, Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland 1993.