Naomi (ceramics consultant on the project) sent me a link to H.G Matthew’s and Son who have been making traditional hand made bricks for over 87 years. I watched a short film explaining the brick making process and was so impressed by their website I sent them an email to see if I could make my 500 bricks at their brickyard in Buckinghamshire under the tutelage of their expert brick throwers.
The following day I got a phone call from Jim, the youngest of the three brothers now running the family company. I spoke to him for a short time but immediately realised his passion for bricks and his understanding of the project. He told me that the KLF who burnt a million pounds in 1994 had approached him to turn the ashes of their million pounds in to a brick. Jim excitedly told me that their brick had turned out a beautiful golden colour, mainly because of the ingredient of the ash. Jim was so pleased with the colour of the brick he thought he might be able to get ash from the Royal Mint and make a series of special edition golden bricks. Sadly the Royal Mint declined his proposition. Jim asked me if I might approach the Royal Mint again but this time in the context of my project. I really like the idea so will give it a go, it compliments very well the bricks symbolising the development of capitalism in the city and the projects initial inspiration, the commercialisation of waste.
Later that week I met Jim at the brickyard and he gave me a guided tour. It was fantastic, I got to meet some of his team, who I watched making four brick at a time in a very heavy looking mould. Jim reassured me I wouldn’t be making my bricks with this mould but would be working in the specials room, which was a cosy little space at the other side of the yard. Hanging from the wooden rafters of the barn were lots of individual moulds, a myriad of shapes and sizes, curved bricks, bevelled bricks, brickettes, any and every sort of brick that you can imagine. This was certainly a special’s room. Jim pointed to a corner and said that I could sit there for a month making my bricks if I needed to, although one of his boys could throw 500 bricks in 2 or 3 days. But my bricks are going to be slightly more complicated as I need to mix in peoples dust to each brick, number them and make sure nothing gets mixed up so later when they are leathery hard I can imprint them with each persons initials.
I also encountered my first frog in this specials room. The frog in brick-makers terms is the indention found on the top of most bricks, allowing the brick to take up the mortar more effectively. It is often imprinted with the brick-makers company name. They are usually made from wood and are rectangular with bevelled edges and the raised initials or name on the top surface. I will be making a frog for my bricks that read’s “Laid to Rest”.
One of Jim’s expert throwers showed me how a brick was made, it seemed a bit like cooking, there was a certain kind of alchemy to the whole process perhaps because he performed the act so effortlessly and quickly before my eyes. The soft clay is rolled in sand, the mould is dusted with sand (a bit like dusting a cake tin with flour, to aid the release). Then the clay is thrown in to the mould with great precision, the mould is thrown down onto the bench, a cheese wire is run along the top of the mould to remove excess clay and then the brick is turned out on to a perforated metal tray for drying. Magic!