There has been a long history of industrial activity on and around the current Ibstock Brick site dating back 200 years to the early 1800s. In 1825 the first coal shaft was sunk at Ibstock by William Thirby and by 1832 coal was being tranported from the colliery on what was only the third railway line to be built in Britain, the Leicester to Swannington Line. Brick making started on the site at the beginning of the 1830’s as a way of using clay extracted during mining and the poorest quality coal that was not suitable for other uses. In 1846 the Ibstock Colliery business was sold at auction and the particulars referred to “an abundance of fire clay, which may be turned to great advantage and a good supply of brick clay, with a brickyard, kiln and large shed for its manufacture now in full work”. The operations went through various changes of ownership until 1875 when the business was purchased by the Thomson family, well known mine owners with collieries in Scotland. Ibstock Collieries Limited was incorporated in 1899 and so began the roots of the today’s business.Although a colliery first and foremost, by 1914 Ibstock was producing 3 million bricks per annum but after the First War, the business climate for coal mining became more and more difficult with growing labour unrest and low cost imports from Poland and Germany. In 1928 the colliery closed and the company concentrated on brick, tile and pipe manufacture. The company recognising where its future lay, invested in the latest clay technology and in 1934 the North Works was opened as one of the very first tunnel kilns in Britain. And to recognise its new direction, in 1935 the company was renamed Ibstock Brick and Tile Company Limited. Production on the site steadily increased – by 1939 it was 10 million bricks and by 1946 it had risen to over 18 million. The 1950’s was a decade of expansion for Ibstock; recognising the opportunity to promote the use of bricks to architects and specifiers, Ibstock recruited a specialist sales team and started to sell bricks as an architectural item rather than as a commodity.
Expansion away from Ibstock started in 1962 with the purchase of Himley Brick, which had been founded in 1847. To help fund ambitious expansion plans, Ibstock become a public company in 1963. The proceeds were used in part to buy other brick companies. In 1965 Aldridge was purchased as was Burwell Brick, gault clay works near Cambridge. In 1966 Ibstock purchased Shawell Precast and started sticking brick slips onto a concrete backing. In 1967 Ibstock purchased Superbrix Limited, an unsuccessful venture into calcium silicate brick manufacture. However clay brick making capacity was now 130m bricks per annum.
In 1970 in an effort to diversify Ibstock Johnsen Ltd (later plc) was formed by a merger of the Ibstock Brick with the Johnsen Jorgensen and Wettre paper pulp business. Acquisitions of other brick makers continued, in 1971 Ibstock bought Roughdales, which had recently invested in two new factories in St Helens. In 1972 Ibstock entered into the North East, buying Nostell Brick and Tile and a brickworks at Pelaw and also bought Cattybrook and its quarry at Shortwood. This brickworks’ claim to fame was that it supplied 30 million bricks for the nearby Severn Railway Tunnel. By now Ibstock’s brick capacity was up to 200 million per annum.
In 1973, Ibstock set its sights overseas, buying the Van Wijck and then the Udenhaut brickworks in Holland. 1976 saw the purchase of the Hudsons Group, with factories at West Hoathly and Laybrook and a site at Horam. Further expansion in Europe in 1977 came with the acquisition of the Hennuyeres, Wanlin and then the De Ruiter brickworks in Holland.
All the Dutch companies were rebadged as Ruga. This expansion phase continued with the purchase in 1978 of Marion Brick in Ohio and the following year, Glen-Gery in the North East of the USA, to give a total US of 500 million bricks per annum capacity.
The group, including Ibstock Brick, Ibstock Kevington, Supreme Concrete, Anderton Concrete and Forticrete, is the UK’s largest manufacturer of clay and concrete building products, employing over 2600 people in the UK with annual sales of almost £430m. Heralding a new phase in the Ibstock story, plans for the worlds most advanced brickworks has been announced on the original site at Ibstock, almost 200 years after the story began!
In October 2015, Ibstock returned to the London Stock Exchange after a gap of 16 years in private ownership. Ibstock plc is now one of the largest building materials businesses quoted on the LSE. For more information visit www.ibstockplc.com.