Sand, Clay, Bricks and Pots

George Ward (Moxley) Limited is a well known firm which was a significant employer in the town. It was the last in a line of manufacturers to exploit the rich glacial sand and clay deposits in the Moxley area. Some of the deposits were alongside the Walsall Canal, which allowed heavy loads to easily be transported at a time when many roads were simple dirt tracks.

The fine-grained sand deposits were ideal for use in moulding boxes in local foundries, making it possible to produce accurately detailed castings. Sand from the sand beds was used for casting as early as the late 18th century by John Wikinson at his Bradley foundry and ironworks.

For much of the nineteenth century the clay was used for brick-making, at a time when there was a great demand for bricks, because most of the local towns were rapidly expanding. The many brick makers included the Wood family (John Wood, Thomas Wood, and William Wood) who ran Moxley Brickworks, alongside a small canal basin in between Baggott's Bridge and Darlaston Road Bridge; Hodgins and Bromley, brick and tile makers, and sand merchants; Price's Brickworks; W. R. Price & Hewitt Lime & Brick Works; Murby's Brickworks at Moorcroft Wood; David Rose alongside the Albert and Moxley Ironworks; Martin & Foster; and Baggott's Bridge Brick Works near to Baggott's canal bridge.

The canal basin that ran into Wood's brick works.

An advert from 1921.

Conditions in the early brickworks were extremely basic, and work was hard. The report by the Children's Employment Commission of 1864 includes the following description of the girls who worked at Woods Brickyard and David Rose's Brickyard:

At Mr. David Rose's Yard, Moxley.

Anne Wooley: I began when I was 15. I mould now. I am 24. I am paid by the thousand. I have 2 girls to carry clay. One is going 16 and the other going 15. I make about 2,000 bricks in a day. I have to work the
whole time from 6 to 6 to do that. I always stop half an hour for breakfast and 1 hour for dinner.

The clay carriers at this yard had to carry the clay from the bottom of the pit to the tables at the top; the ascent was about 10 yards in 70 yards.

At Mr. Wood's Yard:

In this yard the girls had to carry the clay up a steep rise of about 12 yards in 50 yards.

Mr. J. Swindley, currier, Freeth Street, Oldbury: I have lived in the town 30 years. I am well acquainted with the habits and conditions of the girls employed in the brickworks. The employment of young females at this work is looked upon as a shame by all us tradesmen. The girls have to do men's work along with the men, I have often been shocked to hear the language and indecent talk among these girls when they work. After their work is over which is generally about six o'clock, they dress themselves in better clothes and accompany the young men to the beer shops. They are a good deal in the habit of spending their earnings in beer shops with the men. They are ignorant of all household work, and quite uneducated.

A map from 1901, based on the Ordnance Survey map. At the time, Baggott's Bridge Brick Works was run by Alfred Prosser, who is listed as the owner in the Kelly's Staffordshire Directory of 1904 and again in 1912. Baggott's Bridge at the end of Heathfield Lane, over the canal, was probably named after the Baggott family who had a cottage and land on the south side of the road, at its end. The owner in 1841 was Moses Baggott. The area was called Heathfield.

This bill head from 1910 to 1919 includes a good image of the site, with the canal and Heathfield Bridge (also known as Baggott's Bridge) on the right. There were four kilns and quite an extensive factory. In the 1921 Wednesbury & Darlaston Blue Book and Directory, the site is listed under two names, Prosser Brothers and George Ward. It seems that George Ward initially purchased the disused brick works on the southern side of Heathfield Lane and later acquired the Herberts Park Pottery Company's site.

This map is based on the 1912 O.S. map on which the brick works to the south of Heathfield Lane are marked as disused.

This advert is from 1921 when George Ward ran the Jubilee Brick and Sand Works at the site of the disused brick works on the map above.

This map, based on the 1938 O.S. map, shows the Jubilee Brick Works and the Herberts Park Pottery Works, both run by George Ward.
Some time before 1920, George Ward took over the disused brick works on the southern side of Heathfield Lane and opened the Jubilee Brick & Sand Works, producing bricks and supplying sand to foundries, and for polishing. This part of Heathfield Lane became Heathfield Lane West when the council houses were built.

Edgar Ward.

In 1920, George Ward was joined by his son Edgar, when he had finished his schooling, first at Dorsett Road Council School, then Queen Mary's Grammar School, Walsall.

In the early 1920s the demand for bricks fell, and so in 1921 Edgar developed a method of producing flowerpots from the Moxley clay. Something that had been unsuccessfully attempted previously.

The firm then began producing flowerpots, which were very popular and sold in large quantities.

Edgar was also a member of Darlaston Council. He represented the Catherine's Cross Ward, and lived at Marlborough House, 59 Moxley Road, Darlaston.

In the late 1930s the family moved to 8 Ednam Road, Wolverhampton and called their new house 'Darlas'.

In 1927 Edgar returned to his old school in Dorsett Road to ask the headmistress if one of the forthcoming school leavers would be suitable to work for him and his wife as a housekeeper, who would also look after his son, Edgar.

My mother got the job and worked for the Ward family for many years, also looking after Edgar's younger brother Malcolm.

She later worked at Ward's factory making pots.

My grandfather also worked there in the 1930s, in the clay pit.

Young Edgar Gordon Ward, playing his harmonica. Sitting next to my mother, Daisy.

Digging clay in the clay pit. Second from the right is my grandad Henry Flavell. On the far right is the foreman, Jack Kimberley. The crane was known as 'The Devil". The houses in the background are in Berry Avenue.
On the 29th October, 1973, some members of the Ward family founded a private limited company called Topfpots Limited. The company manufactured plastic products including plant pots. The directors were Edgar Ward, Muriel Ward (Malcolm Ward's wife), and Peter Ward. The nature of the business quickly changed. Clay pots continued to be produced for a while, but were slowly phased out. At the end there were only eight employees in the factory.

Edgar Ward retired in 1994 and spent his last day at work with my mother as a guest at the factory. He settled down to retirement in Trevean Way, Newquay, Cornwall and eventually returned to the West Midlands, living in Sunrise care home in Wergs Road, Tettenhall. Sadly he died on the 28th May, 2020, at the age of 93.

His younger brother Malcolm Beverley Ward, born in May 1931, became a Circuit Judge and lived with his wife, Muriel, in Lothians Road, Tettenhall. He was also a director of Wolverhampton Grammar School Limited. Sadly he died on the 1st March, 2020, at the age of 88. His wife Muriel Winifred Ward, died on the 19th December 2018, at the age of 87.

Workers at Ward's clay pit in the 1930s. Courtesy of John & Christine Ashmore.

Producing a large pot on the potter's wheel.

The fully-loaded kiln.

Over the years, Wards produced all kinds of traditional clay pots and became well known for their high quality products.

Eventually the firm moved with the times, adding plastic pots to the product range. They were a cheaper product and finally-took over from the clay pots.

Wards had three rotational moulding machines, and around 20 injection presses, mostly Windsor machines. Most of the products were made from polypropylene or high density polyethylene.

The later product range consisted of  moulded plastic plant pots, planters, propagators and watering cans, much of which was exported.

The firm was finally taken over by Plysu in 1997. After which production at Darlaston ended.

The site has now been redeveloped into a housing estate.

An advert from 1972.

Ward's clay pit in 2008.

The factory in 2008.

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