Brick and Run

Brick and Run

18th April 2016

Carrying on with our series on that most humble of building components, we recently came across some unusual news about bricks.  It seems that bricks are the new gold as police in east London have learned to their chagrin.  Apparently there have been 30 cases of theft of bricks in recent months as residents strive to build extensions in strict conservations areas. 

The thieves are concentrating on churches and cemeteries as they search for Georgian-era yellow bricks of the “London stock” variety.  These yellow bricks are particularly distinctive and common to the east London area as they were the cheapest bricks available in Georgian times.  London stock brick is a handmade brick which was used for most of the building work in both London and South East England until they were pushed out by the use of machine made bricks in the early 20th Century.  Some traditional brickworks in Kent and Sussex still produce these bricks for use in heritage work. 

Some London councils insist on stock bricks any extension or refurbishment if the house is in a conservation area or is a listed building.  The yellow stock bricks have a black fleck and range in colour from canary yellow to a dark tan, depending on the clay from which they were originally made. 

The term “stock brick” is used to describe the most common type of brick stocked in a particular region or a handmade brick that’s made using a stock or stockboard.  A stock is an iron-faced block of wood that’s fixed to a moulder’s bench – the brick mould fits over the stock and the brick maker fills the mould with prepared clay, levelling it with wire at the top before turning out the “green” brick onto a pallet ready to be dried and fired. 

Reclaimed stock bricks are in short supply and are popular for both conservation and decorative use.  The mortar that was used with the bricks was lime mortar which is much softer than modern, cement-based mortar which means it can easily be cleaned off leaving the bricks ready to reuse. 

At present, supply of London stock bricks just can’t keep up with demand which is why a black market for reclaimed bricks has developed.  A London yellow stock brick can change hands for up to £15 on the black market though companies that legally sell them usually only charge £1.50 per brick.  The average price of a normal, everyday brick is about 40 pence so the mark-up on the black market really is high.  However, bricks stolen from churches, cemeteries and even people’s garden walls (they disappear overnight and this is becoming a common occurrence).  It’s even been known for people to drive into a brick garden wall, dislodging a load of bricks then gathering them up and making a swift getaway!

Police in London are investigating several cases of brick theft and with brick prices on the rise and predictions of more refurbishments in the London area, we’re likely to see this problem get worse before it actually gets better