Blue Bricks

I have been encouraged to comment on the glazed blue bricks which one finds on the side street on Stepney Green.   I thought these came from Newcastle, but now realise they may come from Newcastle-under-Lyme, since it was Staffordshire which specialised in making and supplying hard-wearing, glazed blue bricks which were made from Etruria Marl, a local red clay fired at high temperature:-


11 thoughts on “Blue Bricks

  1. Dave Greenwood says:

    Anyone discussing the glazed blue bricks found in parts of East London would be well advised to read the paper by C H Morris on Scoria Blocks published in The Cleveland Industrial Archaeologist No 13 (1981) pp 23-32. This is an excellent paper that describes in detail the experiments carried out in Middlesbrough in the 19th century to find a use for the vast amounts of blast furnace slag being created by the smelting of the comparatively lean Cleveland Ironstone ores. Patents were taken out for this process and a whole industry developed making setts for road making and pavements. These are widely distributed in the Cleveland area and I have just found three sites in Whitby, Guisborough and Darlington on Google Earth Street View where they can be seen to this day. In addition to supplying the local market, the scoria bricks were exported to Europe and North America. For example they were “extensively employed as street pavement in Rotterdam”. There are also records of them being transported in the coastal trade from Middlesbrough, which probably accounts for them arriving in London.
    NOTE. They were manufactured entirely in the Cleveland area and have nothing whatsoever to do with either Newcastle upon Tyne or Newcastle under Lyme. The “Staffordshire Blue” bricks manufactured in the latter locality are from an entirely different source and were and still are manufactured by conventional brick making processes from a local red clay known as the Etruria marl. The result is a very dense and compact brick that is blue in colour and is still widely used in Civil Engineering. Look above you the next time you pass under a railway arch and you will see them in their thousands!

  2. Dave Greenwood says:

    Thank you. Glad to be of help.

    I think I was the first person in recent times to establish the provenance of these unusual blocks. This came about during a walk around Stepney in 2004 with some fellow former Geology students from Queen Mary, University of London, led by Derek Morris. Having lived and worked as a research scientist in the steel industry on Teesside in the 1970s, I was very familiar with the Scoria Blocks that at the time were still quite a common sight in roads and pavements. Sadly many of these sites have now disappeared as a result of redevelopment, but some remain. As I mentioned earlier there are three locations where blocks are still visible on Google Earth Street View. These are:

    The northern end of Church Street, Whitby – showing the typical use of these blocks as two courses on edge lining the gutters.

    Chaloner Mews off Chaloner Street, Guisborough. Also showing the use in the gutters but also exhibiting some of the more unusual surface patterns on blocks made by this process. Note that the blocks are still visible in the gutters even though the road has been asphalted – something that often occurs – and fortunately in this case they have not been obscured by the double yellow lines.

    The lane at the back of Pensbury Street, next to Darlington Station. This is a particularly good example because the entire lane is paved with the blocks although in this case most of the blocks are square rather than rectangular – a site that used to be very common in Middlesbrough.

    Note it possible to get a bird’s eye view of all these sites by tilting the GESV image

    No doubt there are others, but I am no longer living in that area.

  3. Hi,
    these bricks are Scoria Bricks. They are made of scoria (slack) from iron melting. The most famous factory is was the Scoria Brick Co. These bricks were used for many purposes as they were very durable, chemical resistant and very slick. After mass production they ended up in pavements, loo’s and bulk in sailing ships and steamers. As a result of the latter they were exported to the continent and later imported there because of their quality and looks. Now they are a lucury brick and I know them from decades ago when I grew up in The Hague in the Netherlands where you can still find them in some poarts of the city being used as pavement for parking spots along a couple of roads. I lived in a district named ‘Mariahoeve’ in The Hague and have seen them for as long as I can remember and they are still there.

  4. Pingback: 22: Stepney Green Scoria! – Building London – what London is made from and where it came from!

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