Friday, January 20, 2006

Literary brick: The Bricklayer's Lament

Bricklayer's Lament was told by Gerard Hoffnung at the Oxford Union, December 4th, 1958.

Here is a version:


(from his Oxford Union speech) and taken from

I've got this thing here that I must read to you. Now, this is a very tragic thing ... I shouldn't, really, read it out. A striking lesson in keeping the upper lip stiff is given in a recent number of the weekly bulletin of 'The Federation of Civil Engineering Contractors' that prints the following letter from a bricklayer in Golders Green to the firm for whom he works:

Respected Sir,

When I got to the top of the building, I found that the hurricane had knocked down some bricks off the
top. So I rigged up a beam, with a pulley, at the top of the building and hoisted up a couple of barrels of

When I had fixed the building, there was a lot of bricks left over. I hoisted the barrel back up again and secured the line at the bottom and then went up and filled the barrel with the extra bricks. Then, I went to the bottom and cast off the rope.

Unfortunately, the barrel of bricks was heavier than I was and before I knew what was happening, the barrel started down, jerking me off the ground. I decided to hang on!

Halfway up, I met the barrel coming down ... and received a severe blow on the shoulder. I then continued to the top, banging my head against the beam and getting my fingers jammed in the pulley!

When the barrel hit the ground, it burst its bottom ... allowing all the bricks to spill out. I was now heavier than the barrel and so started down again at high speed!

Halfway down ... I met the barrel coming up and received severe injury to my shins!

When I hit the ground ... I landed on the bricks, getting several painful cuts from the sharp edges! At this point ... I must have lost my presence of mind... because I let go of the line!

The barrel then came down... giving me a very heavy blow and putting me in hospital!

I respectfully request 'sick leave'.

Recordings can be be bought from the Official Gerrard Hoffnung website.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Literary Brick: The Last Chronicle of Barset by Anthony Trollope

The Last Chronicle of Barset by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 1
Though moody, unhappy, and disappointed, he was a hard-working, conscientious pastor, among the poor people with whom his lot was cast; for in the parish of Hogglestock there resided only a few farmers higher in degree than field labourers, brickmakers, and such like.

But among the very poor, among the brickmakers of Hoggle End--a lawless, drunken, terribly rough lot of
humanity--he was held in high respect; for they knew that he lived hardly, as they lived; that he worked hard, as they worked; and that the outside world was hard to him, as it was to them; and there had been an apparent sincerity of godliness about the man, and a manifest struggle to do his duty in spite of the world's ill-usage, which had won its way even with the rough;

Chapter 4

On the Saturday it was necessary that he should prepare his sermons, of which he preached two every Sunday, though his congregation consisted only of farmers, brickmakers, and agricultural labourers, who would willingly have dispensed with the second.

Chapter 12
'Oh, mamma, poor mamma! Why is papa up so early?'

'He has gone out to visit some of the brickmakers, before they go to their work. It is better for him to be employed.'

'But, mamma, it is pitch dark.'

Mr Crawley went forth and made his way with rapid steps to a portion of this parish nearly two miles from his house, through which was carried a canal, affording water communication in some intricate way both to London and Bristol. And on the brink of this canal there had sprung up a colony of brickmakers, the nature of the earth in those parts combining with the canal to make brickmaking a suitable trade. The workmen there assembled were not, for the most part, native-born Hogglestockians, or folk descended from Hogglestockian parents. They had come thither from unknown regions, as labourers of that class do come when they are needed. Some young men from that and neighbouring parishes had joined themselves to the colony, allured by wages, and disregarding the menaces of the neighbouring farmers; but they were all in appearance and manners nearer akin to the race of navvies than to ordinary rural labourers. They had a bad name in the country; but it may be that their name was worse than their deserts. The farmers hated them, and consequently they hated the farmers. They had a beershop, and a grocer's shop, and a huxter's shop for their own accommodation, and were consequently vilified by the small old-established tradesmen around them. They got drunk occasionally, but I doubt whether they drank more than did the farmers themselves on market-day. They fought among themselves sometimes, but they forgave each other freely, and seemed to have no objection to black eyes. I fear that they were not always good to their wives, nor were their wives always good to them; but it should be remembered that among the poor, especially when they live in clusters, such misfortunes cannot be hidden as they may amidst the decent belongings of more wealthy people. That they worked very hard was certain; and it was certain also that very few of their number ever came upon the poor rates. What became of the old brickmakers no one knew. Who ever sees a worn-out navvy?

Mr Crawley, ever since first coming into Hogglestock, had been very busy among these brickmakers, and by no
means without success. Indeed the farmers had quarrelled with him because the brickmakers had so crowded the parish church, as to leave but scant room for decent people. 'Doo they folk pay tithes? That's what I want'un to tell me?' argued one farmer--not altogether unnaturally, believing as he did that Mr Crawley was paid by tithes out of his own pocket. But Mr Crawley had done his best to make the brickmaker welcome at the church, scandalising the farmers by causing them to sit or stand in any portion of the church which was hitherto unappropriated. He had been constant in his personal visits to them, and had felt himself to more a St Paul with them than with any other of his neighbours around him.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Literary Brick: Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope

Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope, 1861
... And Hogglestock is a large parish. It includes two populous villages, abounding in brickmakers, a race of men very troublesome to a zealous parson who won’t let men go rollicking to the devil without interference.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Historical brick: Hazardous brick kiln

Longtown is a small market town in Cumbria, England, near the Scottish Border. This is from the pages of the Carlisle Journal during the 19th century:

Sudden Deaths and Inquests from the Longtown area

October 13th 1821

A widow woman of the name of Elizabeth Glendinning died in the infirmary at Dumfries yesterday week, after three weeks of the most painful suffering. This poor woman, while travelling between Longtown and Carlisle, had sat down by the side of a brick kiln, for the purpose of lighting her pipe, and while so employed, part of the heated bricks fell upon her and scorched her body in a dreadful manner... she was found in a very feeble state by some people who were passing, and who conveyed her to Gretna where she usually resided. After remaining there three days, she was conveyed to the Dumfries and Galloway infirmary, where it is needless to say the utmost attention was paid to her case, and the powers of medicine exhausted in endeavouring to alleviate if not remove the complaint under which she laboured.

The kiln concerned is likely, at that time, to be a clamp kiln or a Scotch kiln, both are rather open, and perhaps prone to collapsing. But very attractive to passers-by on a cold night or chilly early morning due to the warmth when being fired.

The home page of the Longtown website can be found here.