Four Marks is in many ways an unusual rural settlement lacking many of the typical features of a Hampshire village. Instead of consisting of a centre with a few amenities surrounded by the odd farm and hamlet, it resembles a sprawling suburb more than a village. Nor does it have a typical history, Four Marks was practically uninhabited until the later 1800s, and didn’t even exist as a parish in its own right until the 1930s.
However, there is one traditional Hampshire industry, long forgotten, which was big in Four Marks; brick making.
In the numbered map, one can see the relatively dense spread of brick kilns and yards in and around the parish of Four Marks (highlighted in grey with a dashed boundary). In this article I have relied upon the research of W. C. F. White in his article ‘A Gazetteer Of Brick And Tile Works In Hampshire’ in the 1971 publication of the Hampshire Field Club.
Much of Hampshire is blessed (or cursed from the view of the farmer) by soil rich in clay. This resource allowed East Hampshire brick making and pottery industries to thrive for centuries up until the 2000s when the last local works at Selbourne closed.
The history of brick making
The tradition of brick making is an old one, first brought over by the Romans, whose ‘bricks’ were little more than thick tiles, but still enabled the building of very stable structures. Brick and tile kilns made by these Mediterranean invaders can be found throughout this county. However, just like so many of the technologies that the Romans brought over, it was practically forgotten after they evacuated their British colony. That was until later centuries…
Britain remained ‘brickless’ until the later medieval period with the oldest, still-standing brick structures in this county dating to around 600 years old found in Basing and Titchfield. This technology was brought over by refugees; political and religious, who came from Flanders in modern day Belgium. Here in this coastal region, stones suitable for building were lacking, so, building materials made from the abundant clay became core to construction.
The history of local brick making
The oldest brick kilns that are known about nearby to Four Marks are shown on a 1635 map of the surroundings of Rotherfield Park which is held by the Hampshire Records Office. This map shows a brick kiln in Plash Wood (No. 6 on the map), to the northeast of Rotherfield Park and one in Charlwood (No. 5 on the map), a hamlet that straddles East Tisted and Ropley. The Kiln by Charlwood is accompanied by a small ‘Claypitte’ (clay pit) and although this one is not visible anymore, many like it can be seen all over Four Marks. Kilns were built as close as was feasible to the building sites where they were needed and were often very short lived, used only for the duration of the building. This was possibly the case for these kilns here as they are never mentioned again in later documents.
A series of documents the earliest of which from 1696, references a kiln, used for firing bricks and lime in Chawton. This kiln is shown later in a 1739 map of Chawton Park (see below), where Brickiln Farm (No. 7 on the map) is today. This may have been one of the first recorded commercial kilns in the area, built for profit and not to make bricks for nearby houses.
Nearby kilns in West Tisted, recorded in 1755, share a similar story. These sites were quite far away from settlement and tens of large, deep pits can be seen near both, suggesting they were in use for a long period.
A brick kiln near Swelling Hill Pond (No. 4 on the map) is mentioned in 1786 at which point it was out of use, only being preserved in a field name “Brick Kiln Piece”. This kiln was active far earlier, possibly even since the 1500s as in neighbouring fields brick fragments can be found. The dimensions of these bricks can tell us how old they are, usually flatter bricks are older, and the ones here have the forms of those made from the 16th to 18th century. The impact of this production can still be seen in the wooded area around the pond, here massive clay pits have created an incredibly bumpy terrain. Nearby Malthouse Farm (17th Century) and Little Reeds Cottage (18th Century) in Gilbert Street, Ropley, were most likely built using bricks from this kiln. Many of these commercial kilns began to die out in the mid-1700s, possibly including this kiln due to increasing wood prices rendering the businesses unsustainable.
In a map from 1791 made by Thomas Milne ‘Brick Kilns’ are shown in Four Marks (No. 1 on the map), these were the last recorded active brick kilns in the area and by 1837 they were no longer in use. Although the area around these former kilns is built up now, one of the largest pits where clay and gravel was extracted is still visible in a circular patch of undergrowth in the middle of the cul-de-sac at Pine Close near the Co-Op today. Another kiln known as “Hollidays Kiln” existed (No. 3 on the map) opposite Four Marks Primary School in 1834, at which point it was out of use. Unfortunately practically no information exists about this kiln, it may not have even been used for brick production but possibly for charcoal or lime instead.
The local industry seems to have completely ceased in the late 1800s where a brickyard (No. 2 on the map) opposite Gloucester Close is shown on an 1870 Ordnance Survey map but is not visible in a later, 1895 map. However the last brick kilns mentioned in use is the one in Chawton Park, shown as “Brick Works” in a 1938 Ordnance Survey Map. Interestingly, this same kiln may have been in use for the longest time; shy of 200 years, as it is first shown in an 18th century map of Chawton Park Wood.
In that same 1930s map that shows the last brick works in the area, the beginning of the end of Four Marks’s legacy as a primarily agricultural and (to a lesser extent) industrial settlement is visible. These kilns and fields are covered in the first sprawl of houses concentrated around the A31 and Blackberry Close, marking the beginning of Four Marks’ current identity as a large, residential ‘village’.