Works Visit: 6 September 2014
With the September weather providing a dry and sunny day, 14 members and guests were treated to a most interesting tour of a unique clay tile manufacturing works, located in a very rural part of the East Sussex countryside.
The factory specialises in a range architectural clay tiles, suitable for both restoration, conservation and new build projects where local heritage and vernacular preservation is of prime importance.
Notable projects have been Hampton Court Palace, Charlston Manor East Sussex, and Queen House at the Tower of London
Of particular interest to the group, was the production of Mathematical Tiles, a unique cladding material, historically used in Kent and Sussex, production of which had virtually died out. Aldershaw have very successfully re-introduced this to satisfy a growing demand.
History and Site Development
Whilst the surrounding area has a rich industrial history of iron production dating back to Roman times, the present site only dates back to 1985, when a local farmer, seeing the need for specialist Kent Peg tiles, a natural gas supply available and with a suitable supply of Wadhurst Clay, bought the site and commenced production of mathematical and roofing tiles, albeit on a very small scale.
In 1999, the business was bought by the present owner Tony Kindell, who has since carried out a progressive and sustained development to produce the current range of products.
Principles of bio diversity and sustainability continue to be the bedrock of the business objectives, with management of its own woodland being a good example.
Through a programme of sustainable coppicing, woodland products provide a valuable income as well as ensuring the future health of the woodland itself.
A recent development has been the installation of an 80Kwh Biomass boiler, fuelled by coppice wood, and providing heat for drying of the clay products, thereby reducing the use of natural gas brought onto site.
A combination of waste heat recovery from the drying and firing process, together with photo-voltaic (PV) generation and rain water harvesting further reduces both the environmental impact and costs of operation.
Currently the site makes approximately 500,000 roof tiles per year, together with 2000m2 of floor tiles and several hundred m2 of glazed wall tiles and specialist terra cotta items.
The main raw material is Wadhurst Clay, a material used extensively in East Sussex and Kent and well known for producing vibrant red colours and highly durable roofing tiles
The Process and Products
The clay is brought from the adjacent quarry, and stored under cover until required. It is then crushed and ground using a set of impact crushing rolls, a set of smooth rolls to further reduce particle size, and then onto a mixer where moisture content is adjusted so as to be suitable for hand throwing.
These pictures show the hand throwing and pressing a tile into the mould, with the Aldershaw trademark ready to be imprinted via the lever mechanism raised to the left of the mould.
When making floor tiles, the clay is sieved to ensure a fine particle size of less than 1mm, to achieve a finely textured surface finish.
All the products in the range are made by hand, with beech wood moulds being used as most hard wearing.
Depending on the size and complexity of shape the drying process can take anything from four days to two months.
Firing is achieved using a natural gas fired moving hood kiln. Tiles are hand set into refractory “U Cassettes”. The top temperature is 1045 degrees with two firings per week being achieved.
Once firing is complete, the products are manually sorted and packed onto pallets for delivery.
Whilst the product range is predominantly red, buff and cream colours are achieved by using a Gault Clay to make a Cambridge mix and fireclay to make a small range of ivory coloured floor tiles.
The business employs 11 local employees, some of whom work part-time, so contributing in a small but important way to the local rural economy.
Much of Aldershaw’s work comes from repairs and refurbishments to such properties.
After a very interesting tour, the group adjourned to the showroom where we were treated to a very nice buffet lunch, generously provided by Tony and Lindy.
The Chairman expressed his thanks, on behalf of the visitors and the Society, for a most enjoyable visit.
Chair, British Brick Society
Notes on Mathematical Tiles as extracted from Brickmaking in Sussex, A History and Gazetteer, M Beswick, Middleton Print, 1993, with update in 2001