A brick for history - Nori

Clay Technology magazine
,
1 Feb 2015

An iconic landmark needs an iconic building material. Rhiannon Garth Jones takes a look at the story of a brick that is back in production 128 years after it first began. 

Portland stone was used to make St Paul’s Cathedral. The Eiffel Tower was made use of wrought iron. The foundations of the Empire State building and (to some, the more culturally significant) Blackpool Tower were built using Nori bricks.

Produced by the Accrington Brick and Tile Company Ltd from 1887, Nori bricks disappeared under the economic recession that led to Hanson mothballing the plant in 2008. Since then, a resurgence in house building and subsequent increased need for bricks led to Hanson investing £1.6m into reopening the plant on 8 January, 2015.

The strength and colour of Nori bricks is why they were selected for such prestigious buildings. But there is another reason for the bricks’ renown – the legends surrounding the name. One popular tale is that the bricks were supposed to be stamped with the word ‘iron’ but the letters were accidentally placed backwards in the brick moulds.

More likely is the story that the bricks were intended to be called ‘iron’ to signify their strength, after those produced using similar clay at The Madeley Wood Tile Works, Shropshire, but threats of legal action for breach of copyright put a stop to that possibility. Instead, the Accrington Brick and Tile Company called them Nori and claimed their bricks were ‘iron, whichever way you put it’. Whatever the origin, the name only increased their fame.

The bricks were used to line flues and chimneys, because the clay that gives them their strength and colour also makes them resistant to acid. It is an unusual clay, containing alumina, lower red marl and iron ore, and only occurrs in two places in the UK – Broseley in Shropshire (where The Madeley Wood Tile Works was based) and Accrington in the Darwen Valley, Lancashire.

There is a plentiful supply of raw materials at the Accrington site – the adjoining quarry holds 30–40 years of clay reserves at current production levels. This, combined with the recent upturn in the house building market, means Hanson has plans to expand the factory if the first phase of the reopening is successful.

Stephen Harrison, Managing Director of Hanson Building Products, said at the factory opening, ‘We are anticipating further growth in new housing starts over the next five years and are confident that this factory has a prominent part to play in the economic recovery.’ It looks like this historic brick is going to be making a significant contribution to the future.