From around 1760 bricks were being made at the Gresley brickworks which was situated in the Apedale valley. These bricks were used to construct the drainage channels for the mines in the area, using the clay mined from Gresley’s own workings.
When the Parker brothers approached Sir Nigel to lease land for iron works in the 1780s, a private Act of Parliament (1783) was obtained which detailed the arrangement. Part of this agreement stated that Gresley would provide the bricks for the construction from his own Apedale brickworks. Prices were fixed at 10 shillings (50p) per thousand and the Parkers would have to collect the bricks directly from the ovens themselves. Gresley would also be the sole supplier of iron ore, and coal; again at prices that were fixed. In return the Parkers would construct the iron works within 12 months and pay a rent of £8 and 8 shillings per year. The iron works became operational in 1785.
In the late 1700s and early 1800s ownership of the brickworks passed into the Heathcote family, along with the rest of the Apedale Estate. Under the control of the Heathcotes, especially Richard Edensor Heathcote, Apedale reached new heights of prosperity. Later Heathcotes were less interested in industry and left the running of Apedale to more capable hands, preferring to act as figureheads. One example was Francis Stanier who leased the Apedale in 1866 for 35 years, for £8,000 per year plus royalties. However Stanier opted out of the lease early, having made a personal fortune, as the market for iron was poor with seemingly little prospect of recovery. Due to this situation, Captain Justinian Edwards Heathcote, the main owner of Apedale at that time, formed the Midland Coal, Coke and Iron Company. The brickworks produced bricks mainly for use in the mines and ironworks,and the surplus sold on the open market. The Midland Coal, Coke and Iron Company closed around 1930 due to the economic troubles of the time. The whole Apedale estate was auctioned off, including the brickworks, which was listed in the catalogue as a brickworks with 57 acres of the finest brick and tile clay, approximately 7 million tons.
In the early part of the 20th Century the Apedale and Chesterton area had become a major centre for the production of bricks and roof tiles with more than eight different companies in operation. Notable was G. H. Downing, at one time the largest producer of roof tiles in the world. Another important company was Howle Brick & Tile (1932), which was taken over in 1939 by G. H. Downing.
In the Heritage Centre museum we have a comprehensive collection of bricks and roof tiles all made here in North Staffordshire, including many made in the Apedale and Chesterton area.
Gordon Howle and Ken Perkins