Willesden & Acton Brickworks.
Woodside Brickworks, Croydon
Edward tells me that his father purchased this brickworks in 1910 or 1912 from the Executors of the late Horris Parks, however I have since found two newspaper articles which records Edward had established the Woodside Brick Co. in 1909. There is also the option that Edward may have been working for Horris Parks after leaving Acton sometime between 1906 & 1909, but Edward cannot verify this about his father with him being so young when his father died & not being told very much about his family's early brickmaking past. However it does appear Edward was in the right place at the right time when Parks tragically died to then take over the works which Edward was told was at a "knocked down price". So I first write about Horris Parks senior & his son Horris junior & how events lead to Edward junior acquiring this works which in 1909 now covered 46 acres.
The Surrey Advertiser dated 22nd July 1876 advertises a "Valuable Freehold Brickfield For Sale" amounting to nearly 10 acres at Woodside, Croydon & having an existing lease holder bringing in rent & royalties to the value of £150 per year, with this leaseholder being named as Horris Parks. Whether Horris Parks bought the Brickfield at this date is unknown.
The 1851 census records Horris Parks senior b.1817 as a brickmaker & living on Whitehorse Road, Croydon, so from this information I am assuming Horris was leasing this Woodside Green works in 1851 with it being only a short distance from his home. The 1861 census records Horris Parks snr, a brickmaker, was now employing 6 men & 2 boys at his works & had moved to 3, Azaff Place, Croydon. Kelly's 1867 edition is the first trade directory entry recording Horris snr with his home address of Portland Road, South Norwood. The 1871 census records Horris snr was now employing 10 men & living at the same address. We also find at this same address was his son Horris Parks junior b.1845, single, who was also a brickmaker & employing 7 men & 2 boys. Now from a later trade directory entry I am taking it that Horris jnr was running a works situated on Mitchell Road, Croydon in 1871. Horris snr is again listed in Kelly's 1878 edition with the home address of Pembury Villa, Portland Road, South Norwood. Newspaper articles record Horris senior's works as the Parks Brickworks, Dickinson Place, Woodside & I have coloured Horris' works green on the 1894 OS map above. The 1881 census now records Horris snr as a retired brick manufacturer, so we know from at least 1881 that Horris jnr was also running the Dickinson Place works at Woodside Green. The 1881 census records Horris jnr was now employing 21 men & 10 boys. Horris jnr aged 42 married Constance Postam aged 32 on the 1st of June 1887 & they went on to have two boys & 1 girl, first living on Selhurst Road, Croydon & then moving to Tennison Road, Croydon. I have not been able to establish in which year Horris senior died. As mentioned earlier Kelly's 1891 edition records Horris Parks junior as operating a brickworks on Mitcham Road, Croydon & there is a newspaper article naming Horris jnr as still owning this works in 1908.
Edward has a Parks brick which he found in the garden of the house where he lived with his mother after his father's death & this brick is shown next.
A 1900 description of the Dickinson Place works describes it had a 14 chamber Hoffman-type kiln with the capacity to produce 100,000 bricks per week & was erected by Messrs J. Osman & Co., a Wolff & Co. patented brick dryer & Fawcett wire-cut brickmaking machine.
The 3rd of April 1909 was the day when events went tragically wrong for Horris Parks junior because he committed suicide by hanging himself with a new halter from a beam in one of his workshops at the Woodside works. The Coroners verdict of suicide whilst being of unsound mind was recorded. Apparently one of his foremen was caught "milking the books" & it is believed the shame of this act lead him to commit suicide. In his Will Horris left effects of £16,726 which in 1909 was a very large amount of money.
So with Edward Handley purchasing this Woodside Green works in 1909 we find in newspaper articles & Kelly's Surrey 1911 & 1913 editions that Edward had named his company the Woodside Brick Company. This 1910 map shows a new entrance to the works had been created via Hermitage Lane. Example of one of Edward's bricks is shown next.
Edward Handley married three times with his first wife Elizabeth (nee Seaton) producing a daughter in 1892 called Mena. His second marriage to Mary Jane did not produce any children. Then shortly after the death of Mary Jane, Edward was driving his car through the portcullis at the entrance of his works when it came crashing down just missing the car by inches. This near death experience left Edward badly shaken & needing medical attention. It was while he was in Hospital that he met his third wife, Sister nurse Elizabeth May Casserley, who liked to be called Mollie. Mollie nursed Edward back to full health & love blossomed with the pair marrying at South Norwood Methodist Church in 1930. In December 1934 son Edward was born, Mollie was 32 & Edward was now 68.
After surviving the 1930's Depression the Woodside brickworks prospered under Edward's guidance & Edward recalls that to his knowledge his father was the only local manufacturer to make facing bricks from the London blue clay which was found in the deepest part of the claypit. Above this blue clay was a different type of clay which was used to make yellow London stock bricks.
In September of 1939 under the orders of the Ministry of War & within a week Edward had to cease all brick production, extinguish all fires, empty all kilns of their bricks & make ready the works to accommodate soldiers & staff belonging to a Canadian army battalion. These troops were later involved in the Normandy Landings. In September 1944 a V1 (doodlebug) fell on the brickworks narrowly missing two chimneys & ending up in the water filled claypit where it exploded on impact, luckily no one was killed or seriously injured. Apparently the Germans got their location wrong as this bomb should have been aimed at Handley Page's aircraft works in Cricklewood, North London. Lord Haw-Haw announced on the radio that the bomb had successfully destroyed this aircraft works & this bemused it's owners & workers when they turned up at the works to assess the damage. However Handley's brickworks did suffer damage from the many bombing raids & one kiln was totally destroyed with another one being found to be beyond repair & had to be demolished. A total of 1,000 incendiary & H.E. bombs landed on the brickworks resulting in roofs being blown off, office windows smashed & machinery being destroyed.
Edward Handley died on the 2nd of February 1946 & the rebuilding of the brickworks was placed into the hands of Trustees, Jack Milsted, Edward's widow, Mollie, daughter, Mena & three other Trustees who had been elected to administrate his estate after his death. Apparently in Edward's complicated Will, young Edward (13) was not named as his successor & was only named as a beneficiary, so Edward never got to fully own his father's business, however he did become a Director in 1957.
So during the harsh winter of 1946/47, 250 workers set about re-building the brickworks & starting production again, which had now been re-named as the Woodside Brickworks (Croydon) Limited by it's Directors. Even with reduced capacity compared to pre-war levels the works managed to produce 500,000 bricks per week. The substantial amount of money needed to rebuild & restart the brickworks came from the Government's War Damage Commission. In turn this money originated from an agreement between US President Franklin D. Roosevelt & Winston Churchill using American money from the "Marshall Plan" to re-build Europe. Apparently the UK received the lions share of this money which amounted to 4.3 billion dollars & it took the UK Government 61 years to re-pay back this loan.
The works consisted of three Staffordshire kilns & two Hoffmann kilns. Wire-cut bricks were made using Bennett & Sayer machinery & together with pressed bricks the works output amounted to seven & a half million bricks being produced in 1950. The claypit at this date was 80 feet deep.
With profits now increasing Percy Davis became Joint Managing Director with Jack Milsted. Then in 1951 the Directors of Woodside took the opportunity to purchase the Newdigate Brickworks in Surrey for £50,000. This yard with a small workforce was only producing hand-made bricks from the Wealden clay, so with the 45 acre site having a huge reserve of clay to the depth of 200 feet, steps were taken to put in machines to increase production. A second brickworks owned by the Ashford Brick, Tile & Pottery Co. Ltd was purchased in 1961 for £80,000. Covering 20 acres this works had a 12 chamber continuous kiln producing 250,000 bricks per week. Both these purchases were made to help with the dwindling clay reserves at Woodside.
In 1957 Edward, now aged 23 was elected to the board of Directors & was made responsible for the operations of the kilns together with Jim Cridge. After leaving school in 1952 Edward went on to study all aspects of clay & it's manufacture which included pottery, bricks, fire bricks & drain pipes at the College of Ceramics in Stoke on Trent. A further six months was spent at the Keymer Brick & Tile Co. in Burgess Hill, learning every job in the yard. Edward's final six months was spent at the Sneyd Brick Co. in Stoke.
1959 was a bit of a crunch year for Edward & one he was not looking forward to with his father making the provisions in his Will that when he reached the age of 25 that he would as the Testator's son, distribute the quarter share which was due to his half sister Mena now aged 67. Mena made the decision that she wanted either cash or for someone to purchase her shares, but Edward was not in the financial position to do either, so it was stalemate for several years with the other Trustees not being able to see how the matter could resolved.
As I wrote clay reserves were starting to deplete at Woodside & between 1960 & 1963 London blue clay was brought to the works everyday by lorries which had been extracted while digging the Walthamstow to Victoria underground line. However there was much debris in this clay which included drift wood & pieces of metal & £70,000 was spent on new machinery to rid the clay of this debris. Common bricks were then made from this London blue clay & some of these bricks made their way back to the stations on the Victoria Line, but they are hidden behind the stations white ceramic tiles. Another temporary solution to keep the brickworks operational was to take the waste material (pulverised fuel ash) from Croydon B coal-fired power station (site now Ikea) which had sufficient carbon in it to help fire the bricks.
With the winter of 1963 being a particular bad one & with brick sales being at an all time low, many avenues were explored on how Mena could receive her money from the Trust. After many schemes were considered by the Trustees, the London & Yorkshire Trust were instructed to offer the three brickworks for sale & they were bought by Hall & Co. in November 1963. With this sale Edward received his cash share from the Trust & Mena received hers. The remaining beneficiaries of the Trust are Edward’s three children who inherit the remainder of the Edward Handley Estate (Edward b,1866) after Edward’s death. All staff kept their jobs & were transferred over to Hall & Co. with the exception of Edward, he was the only one to be made redundant.
Hall & Co. were a long standing South East family building supplies firm who continued to operate Handley's three works until 1972 when Hall & Co. now a public limited company was purchased by Ready Mixed Concrete. Then in 1976 Ready Mixed Concrete took the decision to sell it's brickworks division & in this process the Woodside brickworks was closed down for good. Today housing, open land, a new primary school, a children's playground, the equipment of which was financed by the National & Croydon Playing Fields Association & the aptly named Brickworks Meadow Country Park occupies this former brickworks site.
Link to a 16 mm Black & White film of the works made by Brian Jones in 1974.