Henry Holt Brick Collection

A General Appraisal by Ian A.Gibson
Principal Keeper Industrial Museums
Lancashire County Museum Service
5th February 1997


The Henry Holt Brick Collection comprises of 5207 catalogued bricks plus (allegedly) about 1800 duplicates and (perhaps) uncatalogued bricks.

The catalogue is handwritten and illustrated and seems to have been aimed at being as comprehensive as possible in respect of the details of each brick and its manufacturer.

The number of bricks (in the Collection) made in Lancashire exceeds the number made in any other single area. However, the number from each of Yorkshire (over 500), Wales, and the Potteries is considerable. Conversely the number from some other adjacent areas is quite small (about 50 from Cheshire and less than 10 from Cumbria).

The Holts collected bricks from further afield and also communicated frequently with other like-minded people in (for instance) Humberside, Northamptonshire and London. These persons transferred bricks to the Holt Collection. However, the Collection appears to be centred round bricks obtained from sites within the County Palatine of Lancashire. It would appear that those interested in the history of the built environment would gain an insight into the use of bricks imported from some distance when one might have imagined that a local source would have been the obvious choice.

Apart from bricks which have come from structures in other parts of the United Kingdom the Collection also includes eighty two bricks from abroad.

The support material comprises of about 6200 x 35mm colour slides of which some 1400 are images of individual bricks in the Collection. In addition there are about 60 albums of photographs, maps, catalogues, old newspaper articles, advertisements etc. (many of these are photocopies). A number of notebooks contain handwritten notes of talks and details of brick & quarry related matters mainly pertaining to the Rossendale area.

Finally there are a number of standard textbooks on brick making and related matters.


Although I shall continue to refer to the "Brick Collection" and the "bricks" Mr. Holt has collected what might more properly be called "the products of brickworks". The collection includes, for example, floor tiles, ridge tiles, wall cappings and purely decorative items etc.

Henry Holt accidentally found a brick marked "E.H. & Co. Accrington" in 1963 and it generated an interest. In 1964 he found another marked "E.Holt & Co. Rossendale" and he was a convert to brick collecting! By the end of 1977 he, and his wife Mary, had a collection of just over nine hundred bricks. Since active collecting only ceased about four years ago the Holts were involved in collecting and cataloguing for about thirty years. In the Spring of 1996 Henry (by then a widower) moved part of his collection out of a rented garage near his home to his back garden and greenhouse more or less single handed. He died at the end of that same year.

I understand that Mary Holt was primarily responsible for writing up the catalogue entries whilst Henry sought out the bricks and the information about them. The catalogue of the collection is handwritten onto both sides of a mixture of A4 & quarto feint ruled sheets filed in ring and lever arch files. The bricks are numbered sequentially and although numerical runs of the same type of brick occasionally occur this seems to be just chance. The cataloguing has clearly been carried out in the order the bricks came to hand. Each brick has been given a unique number which has been applied to it using yellow Harbutt's Waterproof Marking Crayons ("wax crayons"). This numbering sequence runs from 1 to 5103.

There are two exceptions to this simple sequential numbering system viz:-

1) Bricks of foreign origin. There are bricks from fourteen different countries. Most countries are represented by only one or two bricks. The two notable exceptions are U.S.A. (46 bricks) and France (14 bricks). The U.S.A. bricks are numbered 1 to 46 and could thus, in principle, be confused with the first forty six bricks of the U.K. sequence. All the other foreign bricks have alphameric suffixes such as 1A (an Australian brick) and 12F (a French brick). There is thus no danger of confusing these with the U.K. bricks unless the suffix letter is obliterated.

The total of foreign bricks is 82.

2)Royal and Commemorative bricks. These are not numbered at all but by their very nature they are not likely to be confused with the main collection. These bricks are described (sometimes at some length) in a separate catalogue. The total of Royal and commemorative bricks is 22.

The total catalogued collection could therefore be said to number 5207 bricks.

There is a single exercise book containing a numerical sequence catalogue running from 1 to 5103 which consists of one line entries for each brick.

For the main catalogue the Holts split the collection into a number of categories (each category is contained in its own file, or files):-

Common Bricks 2149 Decorative Bricks 1419 Glazed Bricks 478 Fire Bricks 308 Modern Bricks 258 Miniature Bricks 81 Accrington Made Bricks 284 Locally Made Bricks 126 Total 5103

plus the two small categories of Foreign and Commemorative Bricks outside the main sequence as mentioned above.

The categories are mutually exclusive. For example a common brick known to have been made in Accrington only appears in the "Accrington Made" catalogue (not in the Common Brick or Locally Made catalogues).

An exercise book contains an alphabetical list of brick manufacturers whose products are represented in the Collection together with the corresponding brick no(s). This does not seem to have been maintained beyond brick number 3000.

A further separate cross-reference file contains lists of brick numbers and makers names (but no further detail) listed under place (or regional) names. This has been maintained for the whole collection. For the old County Palatine of Lancashire this list contains something like thirty five place names ranging from Manchester and Liverpool to Stacksteads and Huncoat. By way of contrast, whilst there are over five hundred bricks shown as being of Yorkshire origin, there is no separate listing for individual towns in the Yorkshire section. The same applies to Scotland, The Potteries, The North, The South, and Wales (except that the importance of Ruabon singles that place out for its own list). London and Birmingham have their own lists, as do Glossop, Northwich , Stockport and the Isle of Man. This same file also contains over eight hundred brick numbers in a list headed "Unknown". This term may be a little confusing and I shall return to this point again later.

The main catalogue of the eight categories listed above follows a pretty consistent format. The brick number (in red biro) is followed by a description of the brick and its markings and a sketch of the brick showing the location of the marking (or any other identifying feature). Almost invariably the bricks are sketched in the same blue or black ink used for the catalogue entries. Some of the complex decorative brick products have drawings occupying a full page. Some of these drawings are really quite elaborate and although only a ruler seems to have been used (curves are all freehand) they are generally quite clear. Dimensions (inches and fractions) are usually given and a weight (pounds to the nearest half pound) is not infrequently included. Details of the building or location where the brick was found appear more often than not. These may, however, take the form of "sent by A.N.Other of Anytown" and there may, or may not, be any further information as to the actual place of acquisition of the brick. Sometimes there is a date of acquisition.

It is perhaps worth noting at this point that Henry Holt seems to have been primarily interested in the bricks themselves and where they were made. His interest in the buildings from which they were removed was apparently fairly high for many of the local and Lancashire sources but less for sources out of the area. Although he generally seems to have noted where he personally obtained bricks there are quite a number of entries in which this information is entirely absent. Often, it would seem, this was because these are the entries of bricks he had acquired through another person. Some of the entries note that the item came from a "tip" (usually given a name or location) where obviously it would have been difficult (often impossible) to have tried to trace the source of the tipped building material.

However, it is clear that Henry Holt made several visits to some big demolition sites photographing them and adding numerous bricks to his collection in the process. Stanhill Ring Mill at Oswaldtwistle, Mill Lane Spinning Co. at Leigh, and Broadfield School at Rochdale are just three examples of a substantial number of demolitions which Henry recorded at some length.

There is no cross reference listing places or buildings from which the bricks were obtained (contrast this with the extensive breakdown of sites of manufacture of the bricks mentioned earlier). Thus, unless the catalogue can be computerised, it will not really be practicable to determine exactly what proportion of the bricks came from (say) Lancashire buildings. Bearing this in mind I have examined in some detail the section in the cross-reference file called "Unknown". This list contains over eight hundred numbers. On checking these back against the main catalogue one often finds that there seems to be a virtually complete entry about the brick in question. I think that the Holts made a corresponding entry in the "Unknown" list when they had not satisfied themselves at the time of making the main catalogue entry that they were absolutely certain about the manufacturer's name and/or the place of manufacture. Quite frequently the main catalogue entry has an apparently later addition of new information which is not reflected in the cancelling of the corresponding entry under "Unknown".

However, I can say that out of over 800 "Unknown" entries at least 540 can be shown to have a Lancashire connection (often because they are recorded as having been removed from a Lancashire building during its alteration or demolition).

Henry Holt gave talks about bricks and his collection. Presumably with that end in mind he seems to have photographed extensively using colour slide film in large quantities as well as quite a lot of colour print film. The number of colour prints is by no means insignificant but as these are distributed through a large number of albums (see below) there has not been time to assess their number. There are no negatives with the collection. There is a large collection of 35mm colour slides all in standard plastic process mounts. These number over 6200. Of this number approximately 1400 are images of bricks in his collection.

There is a catalogue of slides which seems to account for just over half (3400) of the slides actually present. Of these catalogued slides just over eight hundred are indicated as being images of individual bricks in his collection (cf. the actual figure of about 1400 given above). The balance are indicated as being images of mills, chimneys, schools, railway structures, brickworks, kilns, churches, houses etc. Sometimes he was present at a demolition, in which case there is often a run of slides showing the event. There is no unique numbering system for the slides, a run of numbers starting with 1 being ascribed to each group (eg."Kilns & Brickworks" 1 - 268). A lot of the numbers have smudged on the slide mounts. Entries in some parts of the catalogue are not numbered at all.

It has not yet been possible to discover why there are nearly three thousand more slides than catalogue entries but three things are worth noting:-

1) the slide catalogue is not up to the standard of the brick catalogue and does not seem to have been kept up to date (cf. the discrepancy between the catalogued and actual number of slides of bricks mentioned above).

2) some catalogue entries may cover a lot of slides of the same topic (eg. a demolition).

3) a number of the slides do not remotely relate to the brick collection and need separating out.

There are also approximately eighty (80) proprietary modern photograph albums of various sorts. This number reduces to about sixty (60) when one disregards albums which do not seem to relate to the Collection. These sixty albums contain a great many colour prints of brick buildings, brickworks sites, kilns etc. It is difficult to follow the reasoning behind the organisation of many of the albums but there are short handwritten labels with the bulk of the photographs. Very few of the albums have been allocated a title by the Holts (an exception is "Kilns (local)" which appears on the covers of two albums). There are few photographs of bricks in the collection no doubt because the 35mm slide format was more useful for talks. However, the albums have only very rarely been used exclusively for photographs. Most albums have a great deal of other material distributed through them.

The fact that brick making firms were the main passion is revealed by the number of documents and maps which Mr. & Mrs. Holt have assembled in the photograph albums. Many of these are photocopies (though there is original material included). Henry has sought to record the sites of many brickworks on photocopies of maps in these albums. He was especially fascinated by the area immediately around his home and a very large proportion of the material (of all kinds) in the sixty albums relates to his immediate area. He appears to have wanted to build up a picture of the built environment around him over about the last 150 years.

Also recorded are copies of brickworks entries taken from numerous old trade directories. An exercise book contains lists of names of firms which made bricks arranged under the places where they were situated. There are exercise books and files in which census return entries have been copied out in longhand. Usually, but not always, these are confined to persons with stone, brick and quarry-related trades. Notebooks contain the rough notes (presumably as taken down in the library or record office) for some of these census and trade directory compilations. In the main this sort of material relates solely to the Rossendale area. Similar notebooks also contain details of journeys undertaken by the Holts often with details of bricks collected and/or photographs taken. These latter may be of assistance in reconciling the catalogue and the collection in the future although they seem to cease in the mid-1980's.

Finally, it will be noticed that this report has so far made virtually no reference to the bricks themselves. We have taken into storage at Helmshore Textile Museums that part of the Collection which was located at Mr. & Mrs.Holt's house. This amounts to far more bricks than would have been the case had Mr. Holt not had to vacate a garage store in early 1996 as mentioned on page 1. I estimate that we may have something like 1500 bricks at Helmshore. This relocation was carried out at the request of Mr. Holt's family and was done on the understanding that this was a form of "rescue" operation pending the Collection being assessed with a view to arriving at proposals for its future.

Having examined quite a lot of the bricks presently in our store together with some of those still in one of the two remaining lock-up garages I think it appropriate to express a concern. The "Harbutt's Waterproof Marking Crayon" seems to have survived reasonably well on many of the bricks but nevertheless there are many bricks which now have no visible number. There can be no doubt that in many cases this arises from scuffing of the surface of the bricks. In the case of the bricks at Helmshore they have now been handled at least four times in the space of a year and more than half of them were outside for some six months. The one garage I have looked in has been visited by others who have moved bricks and knocked over stacked bricks (it has now been made secure again). Maybe the remaining larger garage (always secure, apparently) with its racked bricks will yield less of this sort of problem. The work of correlating the collection with the catalogue was never likely to be easy but numbers erased from the bricks will add considerably to the task.

Another reason for some of the unmarked bricks will be that there are some duplicates (not numbered) and possibly some as yet uncatalogued bricks. Henry Holt told the family that he had about 7000 bricks. He certainly spoke to me of duplicates. It seems sensible to assume that Mr. Holt knew that seven thousand was about correct so there are about 1800 bricks which will not have numbers. Hopefully this accounts for a proportion of the unidentifiable ones which I have found. There is no way of checking this figure at the moment.

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