The St Margarets Sand & Gravel Company
The Rye House Brick and Tile Works
Little known industrial activities in the area were the St. Margarets Sand and Gravel Company and the Hailey Brick and Tile Works. Both concerns were located on land that is now part of the 100 Acre Estate close to the site of the Cranbourne Primary School.
Both of these industries owe the existence of their raw material to the ice advances of the last 400,000 years. The area of land between Hailey and the Hoddesdon Road has extensive sand and gravel deposits laid down by torrential rivers caused by the retreating of ice sheets that once covered this region. A description of the St Margarets gravel pit written when the business was active calls it “the great St Margarets gravel pit” It also describes how sand and gravel some 20 feet thick extends over a considerable area. The brick and tile works located just to the west of the gravel pit worked a sizeable brickearth deposit. This type of deposits was delivered by cold dry air blowing outward from glaciated areas to the north. As the winds blew over the dry unglaciated areas beyond the ice fine material formed previously by the grinding action of ice was picked up and carried considerable distances before being deposited. If this fine material collected in hollows it can form an economically worthwhile deposit for brick and tile manufacture. It was just such a deposit that gave rise to the Hailey Brickworks. The works being accessed by a track which joined the main road just to the south of the Hailey Lane road junction gave rise to the name of The Hailey Brick and Tile Company.
The first mention we find of the brick and tile works is in the Hertfordshire Mercury and Reformer of 26th April 1889 where an auction is announced under the auspices of the Sheriff of Hertfordshire. This auction would appear to be the result of a bankruptcy and involved the sale of all stock and equipment of the Hailey Brick and Tile Works. This included the sale of 150,000 red facing bricks and 250,000 unfinished bricks which gives an idea of the scale of the operation.
The next mention occurs on the 20th June 1899 when the Great Eastern Railway Company [GER] agreed to a new siding connection which would connect up the long siding which served the St Margarets sand and Gravel Company as well as the brick and tile company kilns. The siding met the main line of the Hertford East branch line opposite the St. Margarets New River pumping station. Here there were two short sidings for wagon storage and a long single line of rails heading southwards on a gently rising embankment southwards and gently curving westwards towards the New River. The crossing point of the New River is still marked today by a concrete lintel on the east bank. The railway crossed the New River on a low bridge and entered a cutting as it approached the Hoddesdon Road which it passed underneath by means of a bridge carrying the road over the track. The site where the railway passed under the Hoddesdon road is just to the south of where today Bridleway North meets the Hoddesdon Road.
MAP SHOWING COURSE OF THE RAILWAY SIDINGS SERVING
THE BRICKWORKS AND THE SAND AND GRAVEL WORKINGS
The map was surveyed in 1915 and published in 1923. It shows the course of the horse worked railway siding that served the Hailey Brickworks and the St Margarets Sand and Gravel Company. Even at his time nursery development was beginning to encroach into the area. It will be noticed that there were active sand and gravel quarries both side of the Hoddesdon road. The sidings joined the main line about 760 yards south of St Margarets level crossing. This little known railway was active for about 15 years.
In 1978 work on a new drain exposed the fact that this bridge had not been fully filled in after the railway closed and the Hoddesdon Road was still supported on thick iron plates above the old track bed. The bridge abutments had been cut down and the bridge openings sealed off. In the 1950’s the cutting on the west side of the Hoddesdon Road had been turned into an attractive garden area for the adjacent house. On the west side of the Hoddesdon Road the railway continued in a cutting for a short distance before approaching the sand and gravel quarry which had a siding that led off to the left. The main siding continued for about another 750 yards into the brick and tile works were there was a 70 yard long loop line. This siding went across what is now the Cranbourne Primary School site with the brick and tile works on land now covered with houses on the Hailey side of the school grounds.
Considerable traffic was generated from these sidings, carried in open railway wagons hauled along the siding by horses. So much in fact that the relatively small goods yard at St Margarets station proved to be inadequate. In 1900 new siding at St Margarets were authorised by the GER along with a crane and railway yard road. The expected cost of £1535 previously estimated had been over generous as the eventual cost was £1367 11s 0d. The siding were of course not just for the traffic from the gravel and brick siding but were needed to handle the considerable traffic that was generated from these works. The bricks works and the gravel extraction activities appear to have ceased during the Great War. The tracks were removed in the 1920’s and the area was fully turned over to nurseries, including greenhouses, between the two wars.
This picture was taken from near the end of the railway siding looking east over the Hailey Brickworks siding and brick stacking ground. Pictures dates from between 1900 and 1914
Today there is very little evidence to remind us that these industries ever existed. Much of the area is covered with housing that has subsequently been built either side of the Hoddesdon Road. The grassy area behind the bus shelter on Bridleway North close to the Hoddesdon Road junction still contains undulations that gives a ghostly trace of the cutting and gravel workings that once existed there. The embankment leading from the main line gently rising to the New River can still be viewed from the train but the years have greatly eroded it and one has to know where to look among the trees to spot it. The only clear evidence left is the concrete lintel on the east bank of the New River which supported the railway bridge. This can be seen from the New River Path but one suspects few walkers would realise it had a railway connection.
Stuart Moye November 2015