Terra Cotta Brickworks.

Sometime ago I was asked to comment in an email on a subject relating to early Durban. I responded and thereafter was included in a list of several people who are very connected with the study and research of early Durban. A recent email sent to me concerned a certain brick which had particular markings. This subject reminded me of a brick I found here on my plot in the Byrne Valley some years ago. I kept the brick as a memento. The markings indicated Terra Cotta Brickworks of which I had no knowledge so I took the opportunity to post a picture of my brick asking if anyone had any information as to its origins. As far as I knew there were no brickworks in the Byrne Valley nor in Richmond KZN and the only early brickworks I had heard of were based in Durban.

I subsequently did get a reply to my query from Arthur Gammage which I post below. I always find it fascinating that such a mundane item as a brick can lead to an interesting background story. Here is the story.

“According to Hazel England, retired Pinetown Museum Curator, the Terra Cotta bricks were those made by Frank Stevens at Pinetown. The following from Frank Stevens Papers, on the Campbell Collections websitecampbell.ukzn.ac.za.

I have several old bricks – Pyramid were made at Rossburgh, R Till & Sons, Mayville at Brickfield (Joseph Cato’s farm).

There was also an early version of Coronation bricks with the name all in block capitals rather than script. Coronation absorbed all or most of their competitors.

Frank Stevens was born at Kea, near Truro, Cornwall, England, on 25 March 1850. After working in Australia, he arrived in Natal in 1880 or 1881 and started a boot and shoe business in Pietermaritzburg. The business flourished and other branches were opened throughout the country. Stevens purchased the farm ‘Sarnia’, near Pinetown, from the original owner, a Captain Drake, who named the farm ‘Sarnia’ after his birthplace in England. Stevens did some prospecting for gold on this farm. There were good clay deposits and he opened up a brickmaking business which he closed down at the start of the South African War in 1899. (This business was subsequently purchased by the Storm family which later started the Coronation Brick and Tile Co.) Having a large stockpile of bricks Stevens planned the erection of a hotel on the property but before it was completed, the British Government approached Stevens and he permitted them to take over the new building for use as a much-needed hospital. It was named the Princess Christian Hospital and was run as such for the duration of the War. The building was ‘returned’ to Stevens after the war and later became well-known as the Fairydene Hotel, at Sarnia. Stevens built a home in Ridge Road, Durban, and named it ‘Intabene’ (Entabeni meaning the place on the hill). This home was sold in 1929 to a consortium of doctors and in 1930 opened as Entabeni Hospital.”

There is some information on Coronation Brickworks on this site.

Rear of the brick showing no frog was pressed into the clay.

Front of the brick. Note two impressions of screw heads.

Click on pictures to enlarge.

There is only one “old” brick building in Byrne Village that still exists and that is the Etterby farmhouse built in 1928. Whether the Terra Cotta Brickworks supplied the bricks is unknown which leaves the question of how this brick came to Byrne.

Further examples of old bricks made in Durban. Photo courtesy of Hazel England.

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8 Responses

  1. Jonathan Woolley
    | Reply

    You may be interested to hear of my great grandfather Arthur Woolley who arrived in Durban from Harrogate, England in 1880. He was a brickmaker and brought with him his plant to make machine pressed bricks, which I believe were the first produced in South Africa. He established a working relationship with The Trappist Monastery at Mariannhill which was then just being built and contracted to provide 500,000 bricks, which were used for early workshops and the original cloisters. Before that we understand his bricks were used to build the St Josephs R,C, Cathedral on West Street.
    He returned to England in 1886 owing to pressing family business and we believe he sold his machinery and other interests to the Trappists who continued to burn their own bricks for the extensive works created there. The evidence for the latter is a letter from the Abbot referring to the balance of monies paid just before Arthur embarked on the journey home.

  2. Gerald
    | Reply

    Hi Jonathan,
    Interesting post. Did your great grandfather put a name to his bricks at all? I have added another picture of early bricks made in Durban, Click on the picture to enlarge it.

  3. Jonathan Woolley
    | Reply

    My grandfather, who according to the permit below traded as A.Woolley and Company of Duikers Fontein, Ungeli? was granted permission by the Protector of Indian Immigrants to employ 16 Indians for 5 years under a contract of service. This implies that by then he had a substantial business. I should be grateful to learn anything of this enterprise.

  4. Jonathan Woolley
    | Reply

    In 1949 my grandfather who was born in South Africa , wrote :…”Near Durban he set up his plant, using Kaffir (sic sorry ) labour and proceeded to make the first pressed bricks ever to be made in South Africa. The first red brick building to appear in Durban was I believe the Roman Catholic Cathedral and I am given to understand that every brick bears the makers name WOOLLEY.”
    I have tried to track down this cathedral and find St Josephs on West Street. An unusual looking building, which seems to have been taken down and reerected elswhere not too long afterwards. I should be grateful for any further information on that.
    The workshops which I was shown some years ago at Mariannhill were definitely built with his bricks, and the buildings are not in the best of repair. I wonder if a loose brick could be obtained there?

  5. Gerald
    | Reply

    Hi Jonathan
    In your post you have Ungeli. I wonder if that should not be Umgeni. The Umgeni area was more or less behind the Durban Ridge and could well be where brickworks were situated. The indentured Indians arrived in Durban in 1860 mainly to work on the sugar plantations but I suppose they could have been employed in other fields. I am sure the Mariannhill Monastery would have records of the construction of the Monastery and Church there. Re The Catholic Cathedral which still stands at the end of Cathedral Road in Durban replaced the St Joseph’s Church which was situated in the CBD part of town. See this link https://www.fad.co.za/2013/11/18/durbans-st-josephs-churches/ on FAD. I have not heard of Woolley bricks. Maybe someone who has knowledge will respond here.

  6. Rosemary Genberg
    | Reply

    Hi Jonathan, Arthur Woolley was also my Great Grandfather. My Grandfather was Harold Woolley born in Pretoria when his father was making bricks for the first parliament building in Durban. I have a picture of the servants in front of a mud hut the day he was born.
    I have a real treasure of a solid gold pocket watch that I was told: was given to him by the English government in honour of building the Durban building.
    Had good friends take a picture of the plaque with my Great Grandfathers name on the Durban Building also.
    Would love to take a picture of this very special gift if you are interested. Think it is around 200 years old.

    • Jonathan Woolley
      |

      hello Rosemary. I am thrilled to have your post and to discover a hitherto unknown relative and one with a special interest in Arthur`s activities in and around Durban. I would love to commence a direct correspondence with you as I have much information to share. I suspect you are one of Florence Woolley`s Canadian Cousins of whom we heard much from her.
      Please message me on : coopersaudi@btinternet.com

  7. Rosemary Genberg
    | Reply

    Jonathan, The family tree I have started with Stephen Woolley b. 1768
    Benjamin Woolley b.1796
    d. 1866
    Jabez Woolley b. 1823
    d. 1897
    my Great grandfather Arthur b. 1850
    d.1930
    Grandfather b. 1881 (born in Pretoria S Africa )
    d. 1964
    Is it possible the family met with you in Fort Langley, B. C. for lunch one day? My cousin is Marvin Woolley..
    Rosemary

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