diamond geezer

 Sunday, December 01, 2013

If you live in a brick house in London, there's a good chance those bricks came from Bedfordshire. The fields south of Bedford were rich with clay, so Victorian entrepreneurs moved in and started digging. One of the largest sites was at Wootton Pillinge, a village you'll not find on the map today, where hundreds of acres were turned over to the production of stock Fletton bricks. Here the London Brick Company ran the largest brickworks in the world, which by the 1930s was churning out 500 million bricks a year. At its height the kilns fed 23 separate chimneys belching sulphurous smoke high into the sky. The brickworks survived several economic downturns, and a takeover by the Hanson Trust, but was finally halted by environmental legislation whose clean air standards became too expensive to meet. The whole place closed down five years ago, leaving four tall chimneys adrift on the mid Beds skyline and a vast site in need of redevelopment. [full history]



To house the brickworks' employees, a 'model' village was constructed alongside. It was named Stewartby in honour of LBC boss Halley Stewart, who sought to provide optimal accommodation for his 2000 workers. Its handful of streets wound round crescents and triangular greens, in an attractive suburban manner. The houses were built from brick, naturally, in large semi-detached pairs with spacious gardens. They're still there, still part of a rather special community, although with residents now sorely lacking in employment options. At the heart of Stewartby village is a community hall in a colonial style, complete with clocktower and cupola. In its day the hall would have hosted dances and concerts, whereas yesterday the highlight was a Christmas Fayre and the switching on of a few icicle lights. The building is set on a central axis, aligned via two mini-roundabouts to the main entrance to the brickworks. One long brick wall remains, with a central doorway leading nowhere much, and three forlorn flagpoles out front flying nothing. Beyond is an expanse of empty space and empty buildings, leading eventually to low arched brick kilns spreading out from the base of the surviving chimneys. Bedfordshire Council have plans for an industrial/residential renaissance, as yet unfulfilled, and somewhat at odds with the garden village alongside.



The surrounding area, between Bedford and the M1, is home to the Forest of Marston Vale. This is a major environmental feature, created in partnership with the Countryside Agency and the Forestry Commission, which aims to develop several dozen square miles of woodland over the next couple of decades. And at the heart of the developing forest is the Millennium Country Park, a wetland zone based around a number of flooded clay pits. The largest of these is Stewartby Lake, home to an impressive-looking sailing club, and with a three mile path around its perimeter. The other half of the park is greener, and marshier, with a sealed off central nature reserve. It's rather quiet over here, as soon as you step away from the car park, because all the action takes place within the central Visitor Centre. This is a spacious two-storey wood-framed building, complete with gift shop and a rather impressive cafe. Any remote facility that can attract several dozen visitors in late November is doing well, and I suspect the food offering (toasted sandwiches, yum) is responsible. But it would be a shame to get this far and not head out for a stroll, or a circuit, or a 20-step climb up to the central viewpoint.



And you can get here, if you want to visit, via the Marston Vale rail line. This backwater branch runs between Bedford and Bletchley, with one- or two-carriage trains rattling back and forth roughly hourly. The service isn't what commuters in the southeast are used to, but provides a lifeline for a string of communities nonetheless, and seemed relatively busy yesterday. Stewartby station is three stops from the northern end, and Millbrook one stop further down, with the Millennium Country Park linking the two. The latter sits at a bleak crossroads close to the Millbrook Vehicle Testing Centre, a large site with a swirl of circuits where all kinds of road transport is taken for a spin. But you won't see much, it's a private site, so a wetland walk to the brickworks makes a much more tempting proposition.


<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>


click to return to the main page


...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
life viewed from london e3

email    twitter    G+

my flickr photostream

What's on this weekend?
Sat 24 - Sun 25 September
Southend Charabanc
Seaside pleasure trip with arty installations linked by bus.
Part of the ESTUARY Festival.

twenty blogs
853
arseblog
ian visits
londonist
scaryduck
blue witch
city metric
the great wen
onionbagblog
edith's streets
spitalfields life
linkmachinego
in the aquarium
round the island
wanstead meteo
london museums
christopher fowler
ruth's coastal walk
london reconnections
dirty modern scoundrel

quick reference features
Things to do in Outer London
The DG Tour of Britain
Comment Value Hierarchy

read the archive
Sep16
Aug16  Jul16  Jun16  May16
Apr16  Mar16  Feb16  Jan16
Dec15  Nov15  Oct15  Sep15
Aug15  Jul15  Jun15  May15
Apr15  Mar15  Feb15  Jan15
Dec14  Nov14  Oct14  Sep14
Aug14  Jul14  Jun14  May14
Apr14  Mar14  Feb14  Jan14
Dec13  Nov13  Oct13  Sep13
Aug13  Jul13  Jun13  May13
Apr13  Mar13  Feb13  Jan13
Dec12  Nov12  Oct12  Sep12
Aug12  Jul12  Jun12  May12
Apr12  Mar12  Feb12  Jan12
Dec11  Nov11  Oct11  Sep11
Aug11  Jul11  Jun11  May11
Apr11  Mar11  Feb11  Jan11
Dec10  Nov10  Oct10  Sep10
Aug10  Jul10  Jun10  May10
Apr10  Mar10  Feb10  Jan10
Dec09  Nov09  Oct09  Sep09
Aug09  Jul09  Jun09  May09
Apr09  Mar09  Feb09  Jan09
Dec08  Nov08  Oct08  Sep08
Aug08  Jul08  Jun08  May08
Apr08  Mar08  Feb08  Jan08
Dec07  Nov07  Oct07  Sep07
Aug07  Jul07  Jun07  May07
Apr07  Mar07  Feb07  Jan07
Dec06  Nov06  Oct06  Sep06
Aug06  Jul06  Jun06  May06
Apr06  Mar06  Feb06  Jan06
Dec05  Nov05  Oct05  Sep05
Aug05  Jul05  Jun05  May05
Apr05  Mar05  Feb05  Jan05
Dec04  Nov04  Oct04  Sep04
Aug04  Jul04  Jun04  May04
Apr04  Mar04  Feb04  Jan04
Dec03  Nov03  Oct03  Sep03
Aug03  Jul03  Jun03  May03
Apr03  Mar03  Feb03  Jan03
Dec02  Nov02  Oct02  Sep02
back to main page

diamond geezer 2015 index
diamond geezer 2014 index
diamond geezer 2013 index
diamond geezer 2012 index
diamond geezer 2011 index
diamond geezer 2010 index
diamond geezer 2009 index
diamond geezer 2008 index
diamond geezer 2007 index
diamond geezer 2006 index
diamond geezer 2005 index
diamond geezer 2004 index
diamond geezer 2003 index
diamond geezer 2002 index

my special London features
a-z of london museums
E3 - local history month
greenwich meridian (N)
greenwich meridian (S)
the real eastenders
london's lost rivers
olympic park 2007
great british roads
oranges & lemons
random boroughs
bow road station
high street 2012
river westbourne
trafalgar square
capital numbers
east london line
lea valley walk
olympics 2005
regent's canal
square routes
silver jubilee
unlost rivers
cube routes
metro-land
capital ring
river fleet
piccadilly
bakerloo

ten of my favourite posts
the seven ages of blog
my new Z470xi mobile
five equations of blog
the dome of doom
chemical attraction
quality & risk
london 2102
single life
boredom
april fool

ten sets of lovely photos
my "most interesting" photos
london 2012 olympic zone
harris and the hebrides
betjeman's metro-land
marking the meridian
tracing the river fleet
london's lost rivers
inside the gherkin
seven sisters
iceland

just surfed in?
here's where to find...
diamond geezers
flash mob #1  #2  #3  #4
ben schott's miscellany
london underground
watch with mother
cigarette warnings
digital time delay
wheelie suitcases
war of the worlds
transit of venus
top of the pops
old buckenham
ladybird books
acorn antiques
digital watches
outer hebrides
olympics 2012
school dinners
pet shop boys
west wycombe
bletchley park
george orwell
big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
thunderbirds
routemaster
children's tv
east enders
trunk roads
amsterdam
little britain
credit cards
jury service
big brother
jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
typewriters
doctor who
coronation
comments
blue peter
matchgirls
hurricanes
buzzwords
brookside
monopoly
peter pan
starbucks
feng shui
leap year
manbags
penelope
bbc three
vision on
piccadilly
meridian
concorde
wembley
islington
ID cards
bedtime
freeview
beckton
blogads
eclipses
letraset
arsenal
sitcoms
gherkin
calories
everest
muffins
sudoku
camilla
london
ceefax
robbie
becks
dome
BBC2
paris
lotto
118
itv