The pipe clays and shales derived from the various shales of the Wainamatta Group of geological formations in the Gore Hill area proved to be well suited to brick-making. Sandstock bricks were first made on the Gore Hill Estate in 1828, and this area became the major site for the brick-making industry that developed on the North Shore in response to the rapid urban development that occurred there between 1880 and 1913.
The pioneer brick-maker was John Gibson who established a dry press steam plant and by the late 1880s he produced most of the bricks used for construction of the North Shore Railway. With the completion of this work in 1889, the works closed until they were purchased and reopened with upgraded plant by David Wilson in 1898. Wilson moved his operations to the corner of Herbert and Frederick Streets in 1912 and within a few years he was turning out 30,000 bricks per day. Wilson’s Brick & Tile Works continued in operation until 1930.
In 1880, Messrs JB Magney and HO Weynton, brickmasters at St Peters, brought their brick-making plant to Gore Hill and set it up in an existing yard. They moved their operations to a site in Carlotta Street in 1886 and ownership was transferred to the Land Company of Australasia Ltd, evidently with Magney & Weynton as the controlling partners. By 1890 the company’s Gore Hill Brickworks was claimed to be the biggest in New South Wales and contained the largest Hoffman kiln in the southern hemisphere.
The small Oswin Brickworks in Herbert Street were taken over by ER Lancely in the early 1880s, who initially turned out 300 bricks a day. Lancely joined Magney & Weynton as a partner in 1892, but the Land Company was a victim of the 1890s depression and it failed in 1893. The trio established the North Sydney Brick & Tile Company in 1894 to continue their brick-making venture, though its bricks were stamped ‘MWL’, indicating that the partnership was still active.
Lanceley expanded the business in 1903, opening up a new brick kiln (No. 2 yard) in Herbert Street. When George Whiting’s property, Valetta, was purchased in 1913, the land enabled expansion of the No. 1 or ‘Old Yard’. A further 22 acres purchased near St Leonards railway station in 1900 was developed as the ‘new’ of No. 2 Yard, which enabled the firm to increase its production to 80,000 bricks per day. The firm became a limited company in 1912.
Another major brick-maker was Butcher Brothers. In 1900 the Artarmon resident Charles Butcher and his brother-in-law, Frederick Thomas Kirby, set up a brick yard in Hotham Parade on an 11 acre portion of the Broughton Estate. It initially had with six open kilns and in 1902 a patent kiln was constructed that doubled capacity. The young Samuel Butcher joined the firm at an early stage and eventually the two brothers took over the business and in March 1913 they incorporated the company Butcher Brothers. By 1915 the firm employed 100 men and 30 horses and carts, who turned out 1.5 million bricks per month.
In December 1923 the Gore Hill and Artarmon brick-makers joined the Excelsior Brick Company Limited, which had been established in 1920 to control the sales of participating brick-makers. As a consequence, Edward D Lanceley and Frank Butcher joined the Excelsior board. As elsewhere, the local brick-makers were hard hit by the Depression. In response to a trade war among brick-makers during the Depression, Edward Lanceley was one of the ‘inner circle’ of the Brick Masters’ Association who met on 10 January 1933 to establish the Brick Committee to regulate the brick market. Following closure of the State Brickworks at Homebush, Sydney’s brick-makers established Brickworks Limited in June 1934 to purchase the plant and, in October 1934, members of the Council of Brick Manufacturers agreed to a 10-year binding agreement to promote bricks and to regulate prices. Butcher Brothers, North Sydney Brick & Tile Company and the Northern Suburbs Brick Company signed a local agreement for the ‘North Sydney’ area.
Their recovery in other areas of Sydney was assisted by a craze for light coloured Texture bricks. The North Sydney Brick & Tile Company invested heavily in plant to manufacture these bricks, but there was an initial rejection of these ‘vulgar bricks’ by North Shore residents. The Council of Brick Manufacturers helped Herbert Lanceley to sell his Textured bricks at a reduced price, but they had become popular by 1939 and one million cream bricks were ordered from the Gore Hill works for the new Concord Hospital.
The brick works generated a steady flow of goods for the North Shore Railway, which brought in coal to fire the kilns and hauled out the bricks to markets across the metropolitan area and further afield. Regular goods trains ran from Hornsby to St Leonards to handle the traffic. At St Leonards, the locomotive shunted wagons onto the North Sydney Brick & Tile Company siding in the No. 2 yard, from where they were transferred by horses over the company’s tracks through a tunnel under Reserve Road to the No. 1 yard.
The North Sydney Brick & Tile Company ceased brick-making during World War II, when the firm’s machinery was devoted to the manufacture of goods for the armed forces. The company established new brickworks at Baulkham Hills and the Gore Hill plant was closed in 1958-59. Butcher Brothers ceased brick-making at Artarmon in 1950.
Ringer, Ron, The Brickmasters: 1788 – 2008, Dry Press Publishing, Horsley Park, 2008.
Warner, Grace, Artarmon: Past, Present and Future, Chatswood, Willoughby Municipal Council, 1988.