The crest of the Worshipful Company of Tylers and Bricklayers
1842 engraving from The Complete Book of Trades or The Parents’ Guide and Youth’s Instructor by N. Whittock
Bricklayer's mate taken by August Sander in 1928
So what can I tell you about Victorian bricklaying? I do know that it’s one of those jobs that looks easy until you come to do it yourself.
The nineteenth century was, of course, a time of huge expansion in terms of infrastructure and the building of homes and factories. Projects such as the London Underground and the sewers of London, were basically brick built. Bricklayers were therefore in demand and as such could command a salary equivalent (sometimes even better than) lower levels of white collar workers. One figure I saw quoted was 6s 6d for a 10 hour day. Above is the coat of arms of The Worshipful Company of Tylers and Bricklayers - the professional guild which regulated apprenticeships, etc.
But you might like to read this little bit from The Victorian Dictionary about the bricklaying trade:
“London, which is never to-day of the same extent as it was yesterday, demands the services of whole armies of builders. brickmakers, bricklayers, and their subordinate fellow-labourers. The builders, who but too rarely condescend to invoke the assistance of a professional architect, though mostly Londoners, are by no means exclusively so, but comprise among their number a host of speculators from all parts of the kingdom - the facilities for building with very little capital being perhaps greater in London than in any country town in England. The brickmakers are for the most part Londoners but they have had latterly to contend with new rivals from the neighbourhood of Liverpool and Manchester, as well as with a new kind of pierced brick, brought hither by rail in large quantities from brickfields situated at various distances north of the capital. The work-men at this trade invariably work by the piece ; and by labouring during the summer months with an intensity that would kill the strongest animal in a week, earn extravagant wages, sometimes amounting to from three to four guineas a week per man, which they spend as extravagantly, being often reduced to dismal straits in the winter, when they cannot work. From three in the morning till nine at night is no uncommon day’s work for a brickmaker in the height of summer. As a class, they occasion the police more trouble than any other that could be named and they are at once the support and the disgrace of the suburban public-houses. The bricklayers are a far more respectable, intelligent, and, indeed, educated class; simply, perhaps, because their profession requires the exercise of more capacity. It is not quite true that “by line and rule works many a fool;” a fool not being exactly the man to manage such simple tools, and certainly not the man for a bricklayer. These operatives are known as a provident class, familiar with the regulations of friendly societies and the value of the savings-bank. They, too, are mostly Londoners, associated, however, with many excellent workmen from the provinces. The bricklayers’ labourers, hod-men, mortar-men, and so on, are almost exclusively Irish. Formerly, they were a wild and untameable set - the tyrants of the streets at night and the habitants of the drunken and disorderly cells at the stations ; but their intimacy with the police, and their prison experience, have wrought in them a considerable reform ; and though the occasionally break out into riot, it is oftener on religious grounds than from any other cause.”
Bricklaying apprentices learning to construct pillars
From this it can be seen that they worked very hard, but were basically educated and well-behaved - well sometimes anyway, and thrifty - a Dearman trait?
Quite what the bricklayers of Enfield were employed on I do not know - but significantly in nearby Brentford there is a pub called the Bricklayers Arms, so there must have been quite a few!