Shilbottle Brickworks Railway

Also known as Hitchcroft Tileworks railway.

In addition to bricks and plain tiles a brickworks would often make roof tiles, ridge tiles, finials, chimneys and drainage pipes. There was a huge increase in the number of brickworks in the north of Northumberland; this increase was largely attributable to developments in agriculture when many pipes were needed to effect land drainage schemes.  Former unproductive wetland or moorland was drained and converted into land suitable for grazing sheep. Shilbottle Brickworks provided many pipes for the drainage of local fields.

Clay is an awkward material with which to work. In very wet conditions it becomes almost impossible to move a cartload, by human or horsepower, across a clay field.   In such situations the use of a tramway, laid on sleepers to spread the load and to prevent contact between the wheels and the ground, is a distinct advantage.

The brickworks railway at Shilbottle Brick and Tile Works (NU175081) was some 130 metres in length.  The works, originally known as ‘Hitchcroft Tileworks’, was situated at a site adjacent to the Great North Road where it was joined by the road from Shilbottle Village.  Its railway ran approximately north-south and was located some 30 metres to the east of, and parallel to, the present A1. It connected the clay pit and the brick sheds and was of narrow gauge, probably about 2’ 0”.  It was likely to have relied on human or possibly horse haulage. Maps show the line as single with no sidings.  The lightweight portable track line was moved or extended to wherever clay was being dug. 

The works was built by the Duke of Northumberland as the ‘Estate Tilery’ in 1847.  Between 1879 and 1894 the Works was operated by Robert Thompson who employed five men.  His address is stated in one source as ‘Shilbottle Tile Shades’ (this should read ‘Tile Sheds’.)  His employees included his two sons, Robert T. and William, who still lived with him even though William was married with at least four children.  Thomas Ward, another employee, was his lodger.  The works made a variety of pipes and drains for use on the Northumberland Estate as well as bricks and tiles.   Shilbottle coal, which burned at a high temperature and gave out much heat, was used to fire the kilns.

By the 1890s the Ordnance Maps marked the Shilbottle Brick and Tile Works as ‘disused’ though the railway was still shown in place.  The 1901 census indicates that no-one at Shilbottle was engaged in the Brick and Tile industry but there was a brief period when it reopened.  In 1902 a certain W. Leath operated the works and a J. Anderson was in charge in 1906, the year that the works finally closed. 

There are no surviving remains of the brickworks buildings at the site apart from the ends of the kilns, now derelict.

Snow carpets the remains of the kilns at Shilbottle Brickworks 2011.