A look back at days long gone 
 
I have written in the past about the Newark sheet metal business of Blagg and Johnson on Massey Street.

The business was founded in 1921 by Mrs Emily Blagg and Mr Frank M. Johnson to manufacture guttering and other so-called 'rainware'.

Mrs Blagg (1863 - 1935) remains a well remembered figure in the town both for her eccentric manner and entrepreneurial skill.

In an age when women were in many respects barred from taking a practical role in business, Emily Blagg became not only a successful factory owner, but also one of the town's most adventurous property developers.

In the years after 1903 she became responsible for developing the residential areas known as The Park and Lime Grove and for creating two of Newark's first purpose-built cinemas: the Kinema on Baldertongate (now Suite Inspirations furniture store) and, in 1920, the Palace on Appletongate.

When building the Palace she acted as both financier and clerk of works, even supplying many of the bricks from her own brickworks, thought to have been located on Clay Lane.

(At this time too she was a major shareholder in a brickworks at Dinnington near Sheffield and it is possible that some of the Palace bricks came from there).

Little is known of Mrs in Newark, but on May 28, 1925, she registered a new company, the Newark Brick Company, trading from Blagg and Johnson's factory site on Massey Street.

According to an account published at the time, it was while the buildings for Blagg and Johnson were being erected that clay and marl suitable for making red bricks were found on the site.

Mrs Blagg was not the kind of person to pass up the chance to exploit such a natural gift and to this day part of Blagg and Johnson's works (notably the steel stores) is built on large supporting piers above the ground where clay was extracted.

During the second world war this void beneath the factory floor came into its own as a very serviceable air-raid shelter for Blagg and Johnson workers.

The first directors of the Newark Brick Company were Emily Blagg, her brother Walter William Stevens, builder John Robert Vickers, Clarence Wade and Annie Maria Adlington.

Mrs Blagg owned the majority of the shares. The works were under day-to-day control of Alan Menmuir who Mrs Blagg had recently brought in as manager at Blagg and Johnson.

An account of the brickworks published in 1927 reveals that the operation was extensively mechanised: "The clay is excavated in a pit that is connected with the machine house by means of a light railway, small bogies carrying a constant stream of material to the grinding pan.

"The pan revolves at about 30 revolutions a minute and the marl is crushed by two heavy rollers. "A bucket elevator lifts the crushed marl to the top of the building where it is thrown into a hopper serving a revolving screen.

"In the mixing machine, water is added and the marl conveyed to a pug-mill wherein a powerful worm screw forces it through a rectangular aperture into a slowly revolving cylinder which has brick shaped moulds.

"Pressure approaching 150 tons is then exerted.....the bricks being sent next into a huge drying shed which uses waste heat from the adjacent brick kilns.

"The kiln itself has a total capacity of 200,000 bricks. When the kilning process is over, the bricks are complete and the "wickets" or chamber entrances are opened allowing cool air from the outside to come into contact with the almost incandescent bricks."

The brickworks fronted directly onto Massey Street, with Blagg and Johnson's workshops behind. Sandwiched between the two, however, was a small row of five houses originally known as Palethorpe's Buildings (pictured).

Poor Rate returns for Newark suggest that these houses were built around 1827-30 becoming known later (after about 1861) as Beacon Terrace or Beacon Row.

They survived intact for more than 100 years, the order for their demolition not being signed until 1951.

One Newark resident who spent his early childhood in Beacon Row is Mr Victor Smyth whose father, William, worked at Emily Blagg's brickworks firing the kilns.

Mr Smyth clearly remembers, as a child of only five or six, being led back home by Mrs Blagg - kindly but firmly - after he had been found playing inside Blagg and Johnson's factory.

Mr Smyth had few memories of the brickworks itself, but references in the local press reveal that by 1927 it was serving customers as far away as Worksop, Leicester and Skegness.

Capital for setting up Mrs raised through an allocation of 4,000 shares at £1 each.

This was doubled in February 1926 but fewer than two thirds of the available 8,000 shares were ever taken up.

On February 27, 1928, the directors held an extraordinary general meeting to discuss a resolution that the business should be wound up. The resolution was passed and the Newark Brick Company finally ceased trading on February 4, 1929.

No specific reason for the closure is given, but, apart from the apparent shortfall in share take-up, it has been suggested that it was simply a case of the clay having been worked out.

Mrs Blagg's foray into brick production had been short-lived, but in the context of Newark's history as a whole, brick production constitutes one of the town's most significant former industries.

In a future article I will examine the early history of brick making in Newark and the attractive use made of this material around the town.

In compiling this article I am indebted to Mr Michael Gill of Newark for providing information on Beacon Row.

ABOVE LEFT: Aerial view of Blagg and Johnson's sheet metal works, 1949, showing Beacon Row on the left. ABOVE RIGHT: The Smyth family outside Beacon Row on Massey Street, next to Emily Blagg's brickworks in 1928. Mr and Mrs William Henry Smith are pictured with their three children, left to right, Freda, Lil, and Victor.
 
 

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