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Brick and Tile makers in Reading

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S. & E. Collier catalogue, early 20th century

Bricks and tiles have been made in Reading since the medieval period. A medieval tile kiln was discovered in 2001 at Jubilee Square, Silver Street. In Old English, Tilehurst means ‘a wooded hill where tiles were made’, indicating an early industry.

In the 19th century there were clay pits and kilns at Katesgrove, Coley, Caversham, Calcot and Tilehurst. Brick making was hard work and the hours were long. The worst job was cleaning out the cramped flues underneath the kilns. Thomas Hardy re-christened Reading ‘Aldbrickham’, the old brick town, in Jude the Obscure. This is because most of Reading’s Georgian and Victorian buildings were built of locally produced brick, tile and terracotta. The Town Hall and Queen Victoria Street are good examples.

Reading’s largest brickmakers, S & E Collier Ltd, were established at Coley in the mid 19th century. Colliers moved to Grovelands, Tilehurst in 1870 and operated until 1966. They were well known for their terracotta and ‘Reading Red’ bricks. Colliers also produced pottery marketed as ‘Silchester Ware’, which imitated the forms of Roman, Greek and medieval pots. Waterloo Kiln at Katesgrove was founded by John Poulton and produced Reading’s silver grey bricks, ridge tile, chimney pots and moulded bricks. This kiln was sold to S & E Collier in 1908. From the 1920s clay was carried in buckets on an aerial cable from the Collier’s clay pit near Norcot Road to their Grovelands brickworks.

Another major producer was the Tilehurst Potteries at Kentwood Hill, which was founded by Samuel Wheeler in 1885. This company specialised in tiles and flowerpots. Today none of the brickworks survive, the last to be demolished was the Prospect Park Kiln at Honey End Lane.

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