Meet the Leeds man who collects bricks

BRICK TRICK: Neil Brittlebank with one of his bricks. PIC: James Hardisty
BRICK TRICK: Neil Brittlebank with one of his bricks. PIC: James Hardisty
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Some people collect stamps, others coins, still others collect numbers of trains but former miner Neil Brittlebank, from East Ardsley, collects bricks.

The 78-year-old, who worked at Lofthouse Colliery for 32 years – 24 of those as a safety officer – collected his first brick in 1990. Since then he’s built quite a collection of old and rare bricks and he says they each have a story to tell.

He told how his rather unusual obsession began.

“I worked 16 years at Lofthouse Colliery, which closed in 1984.

“After it closed, I got wind the council were going to turn the site into a country park. I went down there and met a man whose son used to work for me and we got talking. He was involved with the redevelopment. I could see all these old bricks lying around and I asked him what would happen to them and he said they would be crushed to make a new access road.

“I looked at some of the bricks and I thought it was a shame they would just disappear, so I asked if I could take some and he said yes.

“Back when I became a miner, some collieries had their own brickworks and there used to be dozens in Yorkshire.

“There was Whitakers, Hartleys, Leeds Fire Clay, all of them had names on because the people who produced them were proud of their product. After my initial collection at Rothwell I must have had about 30 bricks.

“To start with I did not know what to do with them but I eventually built a path in the garden, which I think my wife, Maureen, has forgiven me for now. I also have some in the driveway. In fact, people leave them for me sometimes. I open the door to find bricks on the doorstep.”

Mr Brittlebank, who served two years in the Royal Air Force as part of his National Service and was a correspondent for the Morley Advertiser for over a decade before his retirement, has retrieved bricks from some unusual places.

“I once carried a brick all the way around Spurn Point when we went there for the day. I’ve also had bricks from Worksop and Lichfield. Some of them are ‘twicers’ as I call them but most are different.

“I just think it’s a shame not to preserve them, they are part of our history. People collect bottles and other things like that but not bricks – quite often they are just left lying around, you find them in all sorts of places, like at the bottom of hedgerows or something like that.

“At Rothwell Colliery there must have been 20 different buildings and it was there from 1860.” The father-of-two, who has three grandchildren, said: “My oldest brick dates from 1892 by Ruchworth & Wheatley, which had an old brickworks at Adwalton, which is the Old Brickworks restaurant at Drighlington Moor.

“I also have a brick which is rather rare in that it should say ‘Ackrington Iron’ on it but what it actually says is ‘Ackrington Nori’. Whether that was deliberate or a mistake I don’t know.

“Another of my bricks comes all the way from France and was carried around in a rucksack by my daughter, Gail. She is now my ‘finder’ when it comes to bricks.”

Mr Brittlebank, who worked 16 years at Rothwell colliery, 12 at East Ardsley and four at Sharlston, added that although other collectors had specialist names, such as philatelists and trainspotters, despite having collected bricks for over 20 years, he was not aware of any special epithet for people interested in old bricks.

If Times Past readers can enlighten us on the matter, we’d love to hear from you.

Michael Hammett, enquiries secretary for the British Brick Society, said: “A collection of a hundred bricks with such a ‘special’ theme could be very interesting indeed.”