Rural History

‘Making drain tiles a “home manufacture”’: Agricultural Consumers and the Social Construction of Clayworking Technology in the 1840s

a1 Faculty of Art, Architecture and Design, University of Lincoln, Lincoln, UK


During the nineteenth century newly invented clayworking machinery offered potential solutions to production problems in the British brickmaking industry. Three different mechanical brickmaking processes were available, but a combination of design imperfections and restrictions imposed by the excise duties on bricks discouraged their adoption in ordinary brickyards for many decades. This posed a serious dilemma for machine inventors. Without an opportunity to test machinery in brickmaking situations, they were unable to correct defects and produce implements that were clearly superior to hand brickmaking methods. For as long as brickmakers rejected mechanisation, the technical development of machinery was effectively halted. A breakthrough occurred in the 1840s when a lucrative new market emerged for machines capable of manufacturing large quantities of drainage pipes and tiles in rural locations. The exhibitions and implement trials at meetings of the Royal Agricultural Society of England were a decisive factor in the continuing technical development of clayworking machinery. Agricultural consumers, through debate, evaluation and negotiation with machine makers, ultimately determined the success of one mechanical clayworking process over others, and established the direction of future technological change in the brickmaking industry.