Brickfield is a community brickworks set up by Rosanna Martin at Blackpool Pit, Trewoon, St Austell in 2019.
Brickfield is part of Whitegold, a programme of art activities, events and commissions about the St Austell area where artists are working with people to look again at the “Cornish Alps”, the china clay tips and pits, with an eye on building a creative and sustainable future. The people of St Austell and the surrounding villages are being invited to help revive the centuries old Cornish art of brick making as part of a project designed to celebrate the unique history of Mid Cornwall and its links with China Clay.
Brickmaking in clay country largely existed as a trade in service to the china clay extraction industry making the specialist bricks and tiles for the clay driers in particular. We now know from local brick making expert John Osborne that the last local brick kiln to be fired was at Wheal Remfry Brickworks, just north of St Austell in 1971 and that it was fired by him.
Rosanna Martin in is working together with John Osborne and a small team to reconnect people with the material literally beneath their feet, taking groups on fieldtrips out into the landscape formed by mining, showing them how to mix brick clay from waste materials from china clay extraction, and to make a brick using the clay they have made using a simple wooden mould. The process is easy to do and is wonderfully absorbing – some people just can’t stop once they get started!
The project is supported by Imerys Minerals who are providing the site on an old gravel works at Blackpool Pit, support for storage on site and the materials used to make the brick clay.
In 2019 and 2020 they kindly opened up pathways around the perimeter of the pit especially for Brickfield participants to experience the surrounding landscape and on a clear day, tremendous views of Cornwall.
Dr Katie Bunnell, Whitegold Curator for the project, says: “Brickfield uses traditional brick making methods as a way of bringing communities together and exploring how through collective thinking and shared labour, we can make a new site of handmade industry. The processes involved in traditional brick-making are accessible and fun as well as providing a unique insight into an entire making cycle from clay collection to fired end product. Through this collaborative endeavour we aim to both galvanise existing communities and generate new ones”.
“We are incredibly grateful to Imerys for their support, without which we wouldn’t have been able to make Brickfield happen, and for the use of Blackpool Pit as a fitting base for a project celebrating clay past, present and future.”
Together with community groups from around Clay Country, we will design, make and fire a new Clay Country brick. Our aim is to make and fire a volume of bricks over the duration of the project and to use those bricks in co-designing and co-creating structures that enhance the local environment.
In 2019 the Brickfield community made and fired 150 successful bricks, in 2020 they made over 500 so we’re improving skills, quality and volume of production! The 2019 Brickfield kiln was made with the invaluable assistance of John Osborne using bricks from the the old kiln at Wheal Remfry and in 2020 we salvaged 10 tonnes of bricks from the old site and built a mini beehive kiln to fire our 500 new community bricks. Find out what Brickfield are up to in 2021 here.