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As with the Egyptians of old, there is at present in this country an urgent necessity for bricks and more bricks. And as the Israelites under the constraints of their taskmasters, turned to new materials, so there is a disposition at the present moment to seek new methods of brick-making. Hitherto, bricks for building purposes, have not stood high in favour in Scottish estimation. Stone in the popular imagination has been more closely associated with, what is supposed to be Scottish character. Sentiment has been widely translated into substance in this matter, with the result that the brick house is comparatively rare in Scottish architecture. Conditions, however, have changed. At the moment houses of any kind would be welcome. The question has taken on another aspect in recent weeks by the emergence, in an acute form of the problem of unemployment. There have been suggestions that, instead of making more or less unnecessary roads, unemployed labour might be directed to brick-making, and this would help to solve what is, at the moment, the serious difficulty of housing shortage.

Brick-making, however, is in a state of evolution. Before the war, a new future scorned to be opening up for the industry. Post-war conditions have made the old industry much more uncertain. Before the war there were a great many brickwork s spread over England, wherever brick clay could be obtained. The brickworks went derelict, to a large extent, during the war. The men employed in them were taken away; the clay-pits got flooded or filled up; the machinery deteriorated. When the Armistice came, the condition of many of the brickworks was found to ' be hopeless. A suggestion, it is believed, was at one time put before the Government that they should place orders with the small brickworks for a definite output, which would have enabled the owners to borrow the necessary capital from the banks to get started again. This, however, was not done, and brickworks are still out of commission.

It is estimated that the output before the war was something like 4,000,000,000 bricks per annum, and that this had fallen at the time of the Armistice to some 1,3000,000,000. Changing economic conditions, however, even before the war, as has been indicated, was affecting the brickworks. The London Stock brick, made from a rich special clay containing a certain amount of the fuel necessary to fire it, was one of the competitors -with the old-fashioned clay brick. Its advantage to that it required very little fuel for its firing. The Fletton brick, made from a shale which contained fuel in the shape of petroleum, also required very little in the way of extraneous fuel. Many colliery companies - had started making bricks from shale heaps, the material here again providing a certain amount of fuel which in the shape of internal combustion itself fired the brick: New methods wore involved in dealing with these now materials. The brick was handled in a drier condition. It was pressed by hydraulic machinery, and was almost dry when ready for firing. The older wet brick industry required a large consumption of coal, and it is this advantage in the method of manufacture which constitutes the chief difficulty for the old brickworks at the moment. It would seem as if the proper course was to go forward with newer methods more suited to the new conditions, in which coal is scarce and dear, and which give a promise, with development and improvement, of considerable economy.

Another brick process which had been inaugurated before the war produced what is known as the sand-lime brick. For this sand, granulated gas furnace slake or clinker , or burnt shale heaps are used. The material is mixed with a small percentage of lime - about 8 per cent - and it put through a heavy hydraulic press. Thereafter it merely requires steaming to complete the process. When burnt shale is used, not even steaming is required. A matter of three or four weeks maturing in the open air produces the furnished brick. But steaming may be resorted to if the output has to be accelerated. This process was being very largely used on the Continent, especially in Germany, Belgium, and France, before the war; but it was little known in this country. In America also the sand-limo brick was being produced in considerable quantities, and was displacing the old day brick. A plant for the production of this type of brick is at present being erected at Philpstoun. This enterprise followed upon an investigation and report by Principal Laurie, of the Heriot-Watt College. The initial output is estimated at seven million bricks a year, or something like 50,000 bricks a day. This would represent a daily production of bricks sufficient for a workman's house and a-half. The works are being erected close to the existing shale heaps, which previously have had no economic value , but which , in taking up room and as something unsightly on the landscape , may be considered rather to have a minus value . The prospect is therefore opened up of the new brickworks gradually eating away the shale heaps and converting them into useful material for housing purposes. It is estimated that the shale to be attacked at Philpstoun contains sufficient material to make 15,000,000,000 bricks. Curiously enough, it has been ascertained that the shale companies have kept such accurate details of these great heaps that they can state exactly how many tons any particular heap contains. The Philpstoun site is fortunately situated in regard to transport, as it is in close proximity to railway lines connecting with the populous districts of Scotland, and also is close to the canal.

The Scotsman, 4th December 1920


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