Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A little brick story


When I gave my talk on Albert Crum's brickworks earlier this month before the West Auckland Historical Society, Ben Copedo came up to me later and asked about the reference I made in the talk to Ralph Crum, of the Ashburton Brickworks, and the miniature bricks he made late last century. Could they be connected to the L Adams miniature brick Ben had created a display for at Mill Cottage, HQ for WAHS?

The answer, after a bit of comparing notes and newspaper articles with Ben, is yes.

The L Adams bricks are tiny. Just how tiny can be seen from the next photo.



The story behind them goes like this.

Luke Adams (1838-1918) arrived in Christchurch in 1873, initially working for William Neighbours at that brickworks, then worked for Austin, Kirk and Company as a potter from 1875. In 1881, when that company ceased their pottery operation, Adams set up business in Carlyle Street, later moving to Colombo Street in Sydenham, starting an 84-year success story for his family in the trade.



Images of the Luke Adams pottery works, Sydenham. Courtesy Trevor Pollard, WAHS.


According to the Ashburton Guardian (6 July 1985), Percival Adams, one of the sons, came up with an idea in 1893 of creating a brick pressing machine (for full-size bricks). To test his idea, he constructed a wooden miniature model of the machine, and showed that his idea could work. But the model remained miniature, and Percival went along another tack -- mass-producing miniature toy bricks under the brand "Kiddibrick". In the days before such things as Lego, this was a hit amongst children in the city.

The manufacture of Kiddibricks was automated in 1958, with millions being produced over the next seven years. The last of the Adams family, Bert, retired in 1965, and the entire business, including the Kiddibrick side, was sold to Crown Lynn.

Bert Adams later bought the Kiddibrick machinery back from Crown Lynn, but had no place to store it. Then Ralph Crum, relation to New Lynn's Albert Crum and the last of the Crums who operated the Ashburton Brickyard, came into the picture. The Kiddibricks machine was stored at the Crum family brick kiln, until Bert Adams died. Ralph Crum bought the machine from the family estate, on the condition that all bricks produced bore the stamp "L Adams" in the frog. A new stamp was made, the old one having deteriorated in storage, and Ralph Crum set about making his miniature bricks, selling packs of 200 under the name "Little Bricks", complete with building ideas, a cardboard roof, and a chimney.

The clay for the bricks was dug from nearby to Crum's home. It was then dried, crushed, sieved, then the moisture content was brought back up to the correct level before pressing. The Adams 1950s machine pressed 1600 bricks per hour. All the operator needed to do was keep the hopper filled -- the machine did all the rest. The pressings were then dried before being kiln fired. Ralph Crum died in 1999 -- I don't know if anyone in his family, from amongst even his grandchildren who would help him pack the boxes for pocket money, still use his machine.

So, look out for teeny-tiny bricks (they were exported to Australia as well) bearing the name "L Adams". There's a bit of a story behind the wee things.

18 comments:

  1. These bricks are sometimes sold at auctions, I recall seeing a number of them over the years.

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  2. If you come across any at auction, dwing, give us a yell, please. Depending on price, they'd be quite neat to have an example.

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  3. Lovely post and nice to see a bit of Canterbury :)

    Small world ... I bought a whole bunch of Luke's kiddie bricks in 2006 off Trade Me. Pristine condition, for $50. They are AWESOME...well you know me..i'm right in to miniatures :D ... i'll post a photo of them tomorrow..haven't got one online.

    I photographed his son Francis's grave a while back.

    My dad can remember the Adam's premises very well.

    Cheers
    Sandy

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  4. Cool, Sandy -- I'm looking forward to seeing that photo! :-)

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  5. Gr8 Post, very informative - My house in Woodlands Park Titirangi has a huge driveway paved with bricks from chimneys of different brickworks around New Lynn - it is paved in concentric circles which looks great - will try and upload a pic. Cheers Leonie

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  6. That would be great to see, Leonie -- lucky you to have such a cool driveway! Cheers.

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  7. Hehehe i lubs my little bricks.... here's 4 photos of them


    Wow Leonie! Your driveway sounds awesome! Very Titirangi-ish :)

    Cheers
    Sandy

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  8. How cool, Sandy! Sigh -- one day, I'll find one for my very own ... Thanks for the backlink! :-)

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  9. There's some more bricks for sale on trademe that you might be interested in Lisa :)
    http://www.trademe.co.nz/toys-models/vintage/auction-421043170.htm
    and
    http://www.trademe.co.nz/toys-models/vintage/auction-421042725.htm

    Cheers
    Sandy

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  10. i live in gleneden my house is around 80 to 90 years old driveway is all old bricks have found underground a few bricks from newlynn brick works

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  11. How cool! I'd love even a pathway made of old bricks. Cheers.

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  12. Just bought a box of 200, in their box, unused. Should get them shortly. 200!! Including the instructions.

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  13. Lucky you! Unfortunately, a number of them I'd purchased through TradeMe last year failed to get delivered, so I was out of pocket. Still awaiting another opportunity.

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  14. Thanks, all. I now have a whole box of them, given to me free by members of the Crum family. Very cool. :)

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  15. Hi there I wonder if there is a way I can get in touch with someone from the Crum family as I am an ancestor of Luke Adams. He was my grandfather's grandfather and came on the Punjab from England.
    My brother and I don't have any bricks but would love to find some if possible.
    My email is littleusg@yahoo.co.nz
    Best regards,
    Janita Patrick nee Adams

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  16. I think you mean you're a descendant, Janita, not an ancestor. :) I've sent you an email, advising that members of the Crum family still live in Ashburton.

    Lisa

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