Bedford Borough’s skyline will never be the same again after this weekend, with the demolition of the four remaining chimneys at Stewartby Brickworks.
Once there were 167 chimneys across all the former Bedfordshire sites of the London Brick Company, which was formed in 1900 by John Cathles Hill, 32 stood at Stewartby.
Over the past 121 years, the brickworks have made a significant impact on Bedford and the surrounding area.
Wooton Pillinge, a garden village for its employees, was built in 1926 and later named Stewartby.
In 1936, the brickworks were recognised as the largest in the world in terms of output, making 500 million bricks a year and employing 2,000 people.
After the Second World War, an agreement with the Italian government saw tens of thousands of Italian workers come to England to work in coal mines, and textile and rubber factories.
The vast majority, however, were assigned to brickworks across the country to help supply the bricks needed to rebuild cities devastated by WW2 bombings.
7,500 Italians settled in the Borough in the 50s and 60s, many worked at the Brickworks creating a ‘Little Italy’ in Bedford.
Bedford is now home to 14,000 descendants of those workers, which means around one in five Bedfordians is of Italian descent.
As the influx of Italian workers decreased in the 1960s, workers from India, mainly Sikhs from the Punjab, joined the workforce, as well as some from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and the West Indies.
These families also settled in the area permanently, adding to the diverse cultural population Bedford celebrates today.
The brickworks closed in 2008 after being unable to reach limits for sulphur dioxide emissions.
The last four
The remaining chimneys at Stewartby have been an iconic reminder of Bedford’s brick-making history and many have expressed sadness that they will be demolished.
Cllr Tim Hill (Lib Dem, Elstow and Stewartby) said he is “totally gutted”. He also declined an invitation to press one of the demolition buttons.
“In an ideal world, such history wouldn’t be demolished, but we don’t live in one,” he said.
The four chimneys are 70m (230ft) tall and are being demolished due to safety concerns.
All have leans from bottom to top, with one leaning over three metres.
Historic England and Stewartby Parish Council opposed the demolition saying at the time that they believed the chimneys should be “protected for the heritage of the whole of Bedfordshire”.
However, Bedford Borough Council officials say that while they were “active and conscientious in carrying out its role in protecting the heritage of the listed Chimneys… public safety must, of course, come first.”
The chimneys and brickworks will soon be replaced by “thriving new residential and business communities”, which developers Cloud Wing, says will “revitalise the area”.
“These sites have the potential to create thousands of well-paid jobs, reducing the need for local people to commute out of the town for work,” said Shen Kan from Cloud Wing speaking to the Bedford Independent back in January 2019.
As part of the development’s planning permission, conditions have been attached that will also see:
- A £1.6m Heritage Fund to pay for a replica chimney and refurbishment of the old Brickwork’s admin building into a heritage centre for the site and village.
- Safety improvements at the Woburn Road/Broadmead Road junction.
When will the chimneys be demolished?
The Chimneys are due to be demolished at around 11:15 am on Sunday, 26 September.
People wishing to watch the demolition are asked to watch from the Stewartby sports playing fields.
Bedfordshire Police force is aware of the event and Broadmead Road will be closed from around 10:45 a.m. to midday.
Marshalls will also be on hand at the Stewartby sports playing fields to assist spectators.
The demolition buttons will be pressed by representatives of the Hanson Group, family members of the Stewart Family, Chair of the Parish Council and ex-employees of the Brickworks.