How Barton Exported to Tokyo - and Oz


Man has always used clays and minerals to his advantage and the Humberside deposits of good workable tile and brick clays have been a prolific source of first class brick and tiles for the building industry, particularily in the late 19th Century and the whole of the 20th. Barton has good cause to give the industry due regard in that the very labour intensive nature of production methods has always given much needed employment to workers in the yards and ancillary interests, such as engineering, transport and other small suppliers of goods.

Messrs. William Blyth's own the only two remaining tile yards at Barton where they still dig and grind up local clay. To "grind" clay is to prepare it for tile making by putting it through rollers and a worm mill to produce the "doles" of clay which are put into the tile machines ready for extrusion.

The firm produce their well known, desirable "Barco stamped" tiles and ridges in the traditional manner, ie. one man uses a tile machine to make the tile or ridge. The only concession to modernity being that a small electric motor has taken the place of the man or boy who in times past was employed to physically turn a handle which drove the gearing needed to force the clay placed in the tile machine through a die which shapes the tile. There is a video available locally, from "CHAMP" at a small cost, which demonstrates this process.

Another larger firm also makes clay and concrete tiles in North Lincolnshire and East Riding using more up to date methods where the forming of clay tiles and the burning is carried out on a continuous production line. These are a very good quality tile, they are after all made from the same Humber bank clays as the Barton ones. There is an apparent difference in appearance between these and the Barton tiles after the burning process because during production much of the air contained in the clay is expelled and the finished product has a smooth, some say almost plastic look.

The clay at the two Barton yards is not subject to this treatment, the age old methods of drying and firing give the finished tiles and ridges a different "feel".

They pick up a "weathered" look and when placed on a roof soon blend in and take up the appearance of having been in place for some time. Some architects, builders and prospective buyers prefer this even though, as has been said, it is almost the same clay. All are good strong durable tiles.

Speaking of durability, a very well known national company bought 510,000 of William Blyth's "Barco - Celtic" tiles to roof their new, very large, administration complex in Peterborough. Before they bought them a sample was sent to National Materials Testing Laboratory. The result was a report to the effect that the tiles would last 400 YEARS. A resounding endorsement of the Ings Road tileyard clays?

There cannot be many long established Barton families who cannot trace some connection with the tileyards, or the sloops and keels that facilitated the trade of the Humber waterway system. It ought to be a source of considerable satisfaction to the town that William Blyth's "Barco" brand tiles are still very desirable and well recommended roofing material, the production of which provides employment locally to skilled workers.

It is not widely known that "Barco" tiles come in various designs; Pantiles, Celtics, Corrugates, Plain tiles, Flats of various designeds, Round, Hogsback and Ornamental Ridges etc. All may be had in finishes ranging from Natural Red, to Sand Faced and Antique, this last has the colour burned on and it is much used on older properties where it blends harmoniously with the characteristics of the surrounding buildings. In addition to the "regular" patterns the firm also makes tiles and fittings to special order for restoration work or for special orders. As an example there is a lovely old building near York Minster which is roofed in specially made plain tiles and wholly fitting for the site and its place in the old City.

Blyth's "Barco" tiles and ridges are to be seen on many buildings and building sites in the U.K. including the Channel Islands. "Barco's" did once find their way into the Belgian market.

In 1996 and again in 1997 a perticular type of pantile known as the "Lincoln", "Barco" stamped of course, found its way to Japan, in August 2001, to Australia, both orders via the ports of Tokyo and Melbourne. The Japanese purchasers placed two orders, taking 60,000 of these tiles with the requisite number of ridges. Eight Japanese gentlemen visited the yards to inspect the method of manufacture before placing the orders. The Australian order although small, 3,500 plus ridges, was to carry out a re-roof with the praiseworthy object of preserving the established appearance of the property.These two orders were shipped and palletized in specially designed crates. When placed in the large containers ready for shipment air bags were placed betwixt and between and then inflated. Local haulier, Ken Osgerby, handled the loading and transport.

All "Barco" tiles, including the "Lincoln", are made with a nail hole situated behind the "knob" at the head end of the tile. This is made by the maker as he shapes and makes the finished tile. It is a security measure and most roofers nail every third or fourth course as their work progresses.

I am told that that this shape of tile was introduced to the Barton yards in the early 1950's. It differs from the ordinary pantile in that it is one and a half inches wider. There is an exaggerated, deeper wing resulting in a steeper higher fillet side. When a pantile is extruded the dome of the tile is uppermost and the edge of the fillet and the top of the wing are level on the receiver rollers. When laid these tiles, having a deeper dome or dish, call it what you will, give a roof the merest suggestion of an almost Mediterranean appearance. There is less distance between the rolls of the tiles. The extra width does not alter the calculations necessary to determine the quantities required as both the "Lincolns", the ordinary pantile and "Celtic" still require 18.5 tiles to the square meter. This deeper wing laps a useful 3 inches over the higher, steeper fillet edge of the next tile in the row and, in addition to the enhanced security and weather coverage, it does allow for very slight adjustments. The result of having the larger roll is, therefore, that the roof does take up, in the opinion of some observers, a very superficial resemblance to the look of village roofs in warmer climates. How did it originate? Did the advent of holidays abroad prompt the modification? It may be that some requests for a similar tile led to their introduction somewhere and subsequent adoption at the Barton yards. Perhaps it was always available somewhere but rather late in arriving on the Humber bank.

Care has to be taken when making the tile in that the larger wing, when being extruded, needs the support of a row of rollers set at an angle on the receiver. The maker has to use a "horse" with an extra blade set and carefully maintained at the requisite angle which supports the wing as it is taken from the machine and whilst it is being "dealt", ie. placed on the deals. There the tile wing is rested at the requisite angle against a sloped support for the duration of the drying period. These "supports" are only square pieces of tile length wood sawn diagonally lengthwise. These are fixed to the deals and when the tile has been dealt, the fillet adge rests against the next block along, a necessary precaution because the wider tile has a higher dome shape and this gives support to the whole tile and ensures that the true shape is maintained. The deals are also very lightly sanded to allow the drying tiles to shift slightly when contracting. When "Verge" tiles, double rolls, are made, it follows that the horse has two extra blades, right and left. Both wings of this tile rest against supports. A "double roll" is the tile used at the edge of a roof ie. on the verge of the roof. It has, therefore, two wings and thus gives a symmetrical appearance to the finished roof. The tiles are carefully watched in the initiaal stages of drying as too rapid a dry results in cracking, not only on the Lincoln but on all other tiles. The Lincolns, because of their size, are closed up, the deals sometimes covered, in the sheds for the first days during good drying times.

The work and products of these traditional yards, and recognition of the skills of the makers and burners is not well known and they deserve a wider appreciation.

Locally there are Lincolns on a roof on Beck Hill in Barton, and in High Street on the house opposite the end of Finkle Lane.

Once a hotel on the sea front in Bournemouth, perhaps seeking to emulate the outdoor habit of warmer climates of wining and dining al fresco, had an extension built outside the hotel proper and had it tiled with Lincolns, one presumes this was to further their intentions by giving the premises the appropriate 'look'.

Immediately post WWII a new hospital was built in London for the exclusive use of the renowned Plastic Surgeon, Sir Archibald McIndoe. It was tiled with Barco pantiles. Similarly a large number of Lincolns were provided for a large bungalow near the Church at Hemsley in Yorkshire. This building was built in curve and, therefore, had a roof that was curved, concave on one side, convex on the other. Please imagine the slightly crescent banana shape. It had a gable at each end and the centre of the bungalow was 16 feet from the centre of a line drawn from the ends at right and left. The owner had seen this design and this was what he wanted, and got.The Bridlington firm, Messrs Clubley was the name I think, who tiled it and said they had no problems, but it was a cleaver piece of tiling. The result was a beautifully symmetrical roof, a pleasure to see.

Written by Charles Watkinson of Barton upon Humber.

There is a 108 page document entitled "The Barton Area Brick and Tile Industry" available from The Ropewalk or the Visitor Centre at the Humber Bridge viewing area priced 5.00. In this you can find the above story and much more about the brick and tile industry in Barton.

The Brick and Tile Story


copyright 2003 Dazxtm