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Market Garden Hovel Survey - Perforated Bricks

Worcestershire Archive & Archaeology Service has received funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund for a Market Gardening Heritage project.  As part of the project, volunteers are surveying and recording the condition of hovels in and around Evesham.  One of the volunteers, Judith Patrick, has written about her findings regarding the bricks used in the hovels. A version of this article was first published in the March 2019 issue of the Worcestershire Farmsteads Project newsletter.

Some very interesting perforated bricks were produced by the brick works at Honeybourne. The clays used burnt to a yellowish mid buff and a light pink indicating very little iron in the compounds. One brick type was pierced on its interior face, possibly by a stick, making a number of holes in slightly irregular lines. Alternatively the interior face of the pre burnt bricks were pierced by two roughly three quarter inch regular holes with smoother outlines as though a metal rod was used. When stacked next to each other such bricks could allow a line to be run through them. There are number of reasons for such a manufacturing process: one could be that less clay was used making a minimal saving on materials but more expense on labour; another could be that perforating the brick pre-firing shortened firing time and saved money. Neither of these possibilities were an industry norm. Economies in clay usually took the form of a moulded scoop on the upper brick face called ‘a frog’. ‘Frogs’ came in various shapes according to the fancy of individual brick manufacturers and they had the advantage of taking a blob of mortar more efficiently when it came to laying a wall.

When first looking at these bricks as part of the Market Gardening Heritage Project under the aegis of Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Project it seemed likely that a form of insulation using slightly warmer air trapped inside the bricks was in the minds of the manufacturers. Hitherto they have been recorded on farms in Wickhamford and Great Comberton and a brick market gardener’s ‘hovel’ on the Wickhamford/Evesham parish border. An intriguing suggestion has come from John Patrick who was brought up in Glasgow and apprenticed at sixteen to a millwright. There he saw the sort of brick with the double perforations used to protect electrical conduit run through the holes. The conduit was wrapped round the electric wires and was seamed so not waterproof but protected by the bricks from wet and vermin. This was a wiring method used in factories in early electrical installations at least until the 1920s. Also in men’s urinals perforated bricks were used to protect electric wiring though these bricks were burnt from clay and oil rich shale so were waterproof and shiny. Workers hosed down the walls! So there is another possible use for Honeybourne perforated brick; early conduited electric wiring would be protected from wet and from vermin attack. The latter on farms and gardens infested with rats and mice would have been a great asset.

Anyone knowing sites for these most intriguing bricks or with other ideas about use, do write to the Market Gardening Heritage Project. The contact details for that project are or phone 01905 766352.

Judith Patrick (BA Hons), March 2019