Welcome to Brick Spotting, one of the more unusual hobbies.
As a keen off-road cyclist and hill-walker, I’d often come across bricks lying around both in the countryside and in urban areas. Many of them had lettering stamped on them, often the names of places from the local area where I live, near Edinburgh in the south east of Scotland. Names like Arniston, Whitehill, Roslin and Preston Grange were all locations known to me, all no more than a few miles from the house. Then on the 11th of August 2013 I decided to would start a new hobby – not brick spotting, but brick collecting. I would start amassing a collection of bricks with different stamps on them, these stamps I later learned were know as brickmarks.
My first expedition into the local woods at Prestonholm, near Bonnyrigg, once a large factory complex, now a disused land fill site, produce a fine starter collection with around 8 bricks unearthed and ready to carry home. It was only when I started to carry them back to the car that I came to realise just how heavy bricks are. A single brick weighs in at around 2.75 kg, that’s around 6 pounds in old money. With four in the rucksack and two carried by hand, I was half way back when I decided enough was enough and soon decided that perhaps a virtual brick collection would take far less effort.
Hiding the bricks in the wood, I nipped back home and returned the following day, by bicycle this time, armed with a digital camera. Soon I had my first dozen brickmarks in the bag, or rather recorded on the media card of the digital camera. Since that day, only some 6 weeks ago, I’ve “spotted” and photographed around 230 brickmarks, mostly from different manufacturers but also including a few brickmark variations as well.
However, there’s more to these simple bricks than just taking photographs of them. Also of great interest is where they came from and some are far travelled indeed.
Most have been produce locally, for example Roslin Colliery and its associated brickworks was once located only a few miles from my home in Bonnyrigg. Sadly, today, as with most colliery brickworks, little trace of them remains above ground. Roslin Brickworks produced a variety of brickmarks including “Roslin”, NCB Roslin” and “Roslin NCB” and I have all three in the collection. No doubt there will be others I’ve yet to discover. The latter two come from the days after nationalisation of the coal industry in the 1940’s, NCB equating to National Coal Board.
The majority of brickmarks recorded have come from Central Scotland, ranging from Glasgow in the west to around Edinburgh in the east, with a few from across the Firth of Forth in Fife. Others hail from Northumberland in the North of England, as well as further south in Accrington, Lancashire. The most southerly brickmark found so far comes from J. H. Sankey & Son, Essex Wharf, Canning Town, London. Most travelled are two “ballast bricks” one from Abbotsford, British Columbia and the other from Messrs Gladding, McBean and Co., Glendale, California. Ballast brick were used as ships ballast but more of that another time.
But why spot bricks, I hear you ask? What is the point of going out looking for old brickmarks? Well, there are plenty of reasons for going brick spotting.
Firstly, it gets you out and about in a wide variety of places where bricks might be found. You can find bricks just about anywhere, even a simple stroll along the beach many reveal old bricks just lying there waiting to be found. In fact, the coast can provide places where you may find literally hundreds of different bricks and their brickmarks. Locations where land has been reclaimed or where rubble has been tipped for coastal erosion prevention are particularly good.
Brick spotting also give you purpose, it gives you something to do. There is also a virtually limitless range and variety of brickmarks out there just waiting to be found. In Scotland alone there are known to have existed over 250 different brickworks, each producing bricks stamped with their own brickmarks. Brick spotting is also very in-expensive, requiring little in the way of tools or equipment, although you will need a digital camera should you wish to record your finds. One very useful tool is what I’ve come to call a brick-hook, actually a tool for hand-weeding the moss from between the pavers on driveways – comes in very handy for turning bricks over to reveal their brickmark, if it has one that is, as not all bricks carry a brickmark.
Another reason to go brick spotting is the sheer joy of spotting another brickmark for the collection. There is nothing better than turning a brick over, washing off the sand and finding a new brickmark. Like any pastime that requires the amassing or gathering on items, for example, stamp collecting, you can soon become, shall we say, enthusiastic, about collecting. It would not be untruthful to say that the words obsession and addiction might also come into play. But what’s wrong with that?