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The Commondale Brickworks and Pottery

In the 1860s a pottery and brickworks was set up in the village of Commondale. The pottery was short-lived but produced some memorable wares, and bricks with ‘Commondale’ in them can be found around North Yorkshire and the North East.

A Commondale Brick. Image courtesy of Kirkleatham Museum.

Commondale Pottery was not founded by a potter, but by a printer and businessman named John Slater Pratt. Pratt was from Stokesley and owned a small but successful printing shop in his home town. Between the years 1841 and 1853 he produced over 300 titles and made a small fortune, about £30,000 in today’s money.

In 1860 he used this money to purchase a plot of land in the village of Commondale and set up the Cleveland Fire Brick and Pottery Company. He had found out that the area had a source of fireclay, and a new commercial railway line had opened nearby. He saw an opportunity to produce building materials and pottery to export across the country.

However this business only had a short lifespan as Pratt died in 1867 and production ceased. The works remained idle until 1871 when the business was sold to John Crossley of Stockton.

Ordnance Survey map dated 1914 showing the site of the Brick and Pipe Works in Commondale. Image courtesy of Preston Park Museum and Grounds.

Crossley and his son, Alfred, renamed the business the ‘Commondale Brick, Pipe and Pottery Company’. John was the owner of a builder’s merchant company in Stockton and focused more making building materials, whereas Alfred wanted to make decorative arts. He was inspired by the recent opening of the Linthorpe Art Pottery in Middlesbrough in 1879, and the following year began producing red and buff terracotta pieces with painted and glazed decoration.

However, the Commondale Pottery did not do well in the face of competition and the rising cost of materials and production. In 1884 the pottery side of the business closed down, although the site kept making bricks. Alfred had also left the company and was living and working in America.

The site did not return to producing pottery. Alfred returned to England in 1893 and rejoined the company, eventually taking over as manager, and he brought his family into the business.

While pottery was no longer produced on the site, the business instead focused on brickwork. Most of the houses and cottages of Commondale were made from their bricks. The works, which traded under ‘Crossley and Son’, built a number of buildings in the North East, including St. William’s Church in Dormanstown and the Ship Inn at Marske.

In the 1930s Crossley and Son developed a new brick named the Crossley Roadway Paver, made for paving streets. Bush Street in Middlesbrough is one of the few examples of where this new brick was used, since the brick itself was more expensive than the slag bricks used to pave the town and it never really caught on. The manufacture of bricks and pipes continued in Commondale until 1947 when production ceased and the site closed down.

A photograph of the workroom at the works, dated to about 1902/1903. The workmen are modelling in clay and the floor is strewn with plaster of Paris moulds which pipes were cast in. Image courtesy of Preston Park Museum and Grounds.