02 March 2023
The Mystery of the Porthcawl Brick

The Mystery of the Porthcawl Brick


While walking my son's dog, Tia, around Baglan one day she stopped for a drink in the brook that runs through the dark woods.  In the middle of the brook was a brick which I picked up out of interest.  Scraping away the mud I exposed the word Bedford.  This was a brick I did not have in my collection.  On taking the brick home I scrubbed it to expose below Bedford two place names, Briton Ferry and Porthcawl.  Further cleaning revealed on the reverse side 'Established 1844'.

Having spent my early years living at Shelone Road and Villiers Street in Briton Ferry, I was interested in finding out where the Bedford brick works were situated.  Consulting the book Reminiscences of Briton Ferry and Baglan by E Humphreys (1898,) I found this mention on page 34 'It may be mentioned that a little brick works was carried out for many years by the late Mr George Bedford.  The works, which were started about 55 years ago, were situated between the Vicarage and Bethel Chapel.  The ruins still remain.'

Humphreys' description corresponds with the date on the brick.  The street described was named Charles Street at that time, but today is named Bethel Street.  The brick works were situated directly opposite the present day Britannia Inn public house.  Humphreys also mentions that on 21st February 1884 Mr George Bedford, Brick Manufacturer passed away.  Also on 27th May 1876 Mr Steven Bedford died. The image is of Bethel Street - the Bedford brick works was behind the white house.

Further research established that George Bedford was the grandson of John Bedford, famous for his ironworks in Cefn Cribwr, parts of which still remain.  John Bedford's life (1727-91) is well documented, especially in the book, John Bedford and the Ironworks at Cefn Cribwr by Philip Riden (1992).

Short History

John Bedford (snr) was born in Birmingham.  He came to Cefn Cribwr with £37,000 to set up an ironworks, colliery, quarries and brick works.  The ironworks was not a great success.  When he moved to Cefn Cribwr he was given some advice on employing workmen of which two of the rules were:

Rule 7 - must be able to speak English.

Rule 8 - I see it best to get well behaved labourers from between Cowbridge and Bridgend, unless very good offer nearer and do not choose them from toward Neath.

When John died in 1791 his estate was divided between his wife Ann and his five children:

Ann (1750), John (Jnr) (1753), Sarah (1755), Elizabeth (1756) and Mary (1759).

John (Jnr) had two sons, Thomas (1794) and William (1796) by Sarah David although they were not married until June 1808.  After John and Sarah's marriage they went on to have a further four children:  George (1809), Mary (1810), John (1811) and Steven (1813).

It is John Jnr's son, George, that is the Briton Ferry Brick Manufacturer.  Of the five sons only Thomas stayed in Cefn Cribwr and was a tenant farmer at Bryn Bach.  The daughter, Mary, married a David Jones of Llantwit-juxta-Neath on the 1st October at Aberavon.  The four remaining sons all went on to become brick makers.  They were either unaware of the advice given to their grandfather or chose to ignore it and moved towards Neath.

William was the first to move to Neath, he was living in the town in 1825.  To answer the question Why move to Neath?  It probably was because Neath at that time had a large thriving brickmaking industry and was given a big boost when William Weston Young invented the silica firebrick in 1821.  Hardly anything now remains of the brickmaking industry in the area.  Although, hidden away behind the Neath Athletic RFC clubhouse in Bridge Street are some houses named Brickyard Cottages.  In 1845 the yard was owned by HS Coke, the Town Clerk.  Of course, this does not mean that bricks were made there; it could simply be a place where bricks were stocked and sold.

George followed his brother to Neath and was baptised at the Calvinistic Methodist Chapel in The Latt on the 12th September 1830.  Two years later he married Margaret Bonville.  They had two children, Mary (1833) and John (1835).  Margaret died in 1835 aged 26.

George married his second wife, Mary Jenkins, in 1840.  They were living in The Green where their son, George Jnr was born in 1843.  The Green was renowned for having some of the worst housing in Neath, especially the courts.  Not only was the accommodation notoriously bad, but the air would have been polluted with the dust and smoke from the nearby lime kilns and brick works.  Likewise, the canal was also used as an open sewer and so it comes as no surprise that cholera, a water borne disease, took the lives of 738 persons in Neath in 1849.

In 1844, a year after the birth of George Jnr, the Parish Clerk for Baglan, Evan Jones, passed away.  George, Mary and their two sons moved to Claymill Cottages in Baglan where George took up the vacant Parish Clerk's position.  The Churchwardens accounts in the Vestry Records for 1845 show that George Bedford received a fee as Clerk of £2.12s.0d.  When George moved to Baglan the accommodation he found was adjacent to the old Baglan Pottery.  The pottery was founded by William Wyatt and William Mead, two men from Devon.  The partnership was dissolved in 1821.  The image is of Claymill Cottage - with modern extension to the right.

Mead continued working the pottery until 1825 when he left to work in Swansea causing this advertisement to appear in The Cambrian on 16th July 1825;

William Weston Young, the inventor of the famous Dinas Firebrick, had been to Baglan Pottery on the 13th February 1825 and paid £10 by Thomas Jones Llewellyn for work he had done there.  What work he undertook is uncertain; his pottery in Nantgarw had collapsed a few years before.   Young was a man of many talents, wreck salvager, artist, brick manufacturer, land surveyor and colliery surveyor.  Could he have been commissioned to give advice on the building of a brick works?  What is certain is that the pottery did indeed become a brick works called the Briton Ferry Coal and Pottery Co Ltd (the coal refers to the mine behind the pottery).  When George was living in Claymill Cottages there were two brick makers recorded in Baglan, George and Daniel Jenkins.

Directories of the Time

Hunt & Co.'s Directory 1848; both in Baglan

Slater's Directory 1859; both in Briton Ferry

Pearse's Swansea Directory 1856: George Jenkins in Briton Ferry and Daniel Jenkins in Baglan.

Confusion arises because George lives in Baglan but his brick works is in Briton Ferry.  While Daniel's brick works in Baglan is called Briton Ferry Coal and Pottery Co Ltd.  When Daniel was in Baglan he leased some land on which to build a house. 

Building lease for the lives of Daniel Jenkins (aged 54 years) and his sons Daniel Jenkins the younger (aged 12) and Thomas Jenkins (aged 6), annual rent £4 dated 1 Jan 1857; i) Griffith Llewellyn of Baglan Hall, Glamorgan, esq.; ii) Daniel Jenkins of Baglan parish, Glamorgan, brickmaker; One piece of land in Baglan parish, Glamorgan, being part of a parcel of land called Pentylla (Pen-tyle), bounded to the north by the turnpike road leading from Neath to Aberavon, to the east by a close called Croft Pentylla and to the south and west by lands of i), intended for the building of one cottage

NAS BH 1/1/3

The piece of land Daniel leased is opposite Dr. John's house on that section of the Old Road that was known as Pentylla.

Returning to George Bedford we can trace his stay in Baglan by his children's Baptisms:




Father's Occupation




Brick maker

Sarah Ann



Brick maker




Brick maker




Brick maker



Briton Ferry

Parish Clerk of Baglan

When Jennette was baptised George gives his occupation as Parish Clerk of Baglan.  We can assume that George and family moved to Briton Ferry circa. 1850.

While residing in Baglan, George, as a Calvinistic Methodist, would have worshipped at Siloh Chapel on Thorney Road.   The congregation was outgrowing the small Siloh Chapel and it was decided to build a new chapel in Charles Street, Briton Ferry.  The chapel was named Bethel and was opened in 1848.  It was the first chapel in Briton Ferry and George was a founder member. 

George signed the lease for his Charles Street brick works in 1853.  As if George was not busy enough, when the Local Government Act was introduced in 1857 George was elected onto the first Local Board.  The responsibility of the Local Board was to supply running water, sewers and gas lighting.  As with the rest of Wales this was not popular with the local ratepayers, who had to pay for these essential improvements.

By 1861 George had spread his business interests further afield and along with four other businessmen took out a lease to build a brick works at Melincourt, Resolven.  The 99 year lease allowed them to work a seam of fireclay at Waterfall, Melincourt and also to maintain a railway or tramway to sidings of the Vale of Neath Railway, to build kilns, a carpenter's shop and a smithy.

In 1869 George leased his largest piece of land.

Lease for 50 years from 24 June 1869 for £40 annual rent dated 5 Feb 1870; Victor Albert George earl of Jersey to George Bedford of Briton Ferry brick manufacturer; Land measuring 200 yards by 700, between Cefn Court and the road from Aberavon to Neath, with all the underlying seams of clay and Cwm Dwr Quarry.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              D/D BF 1646

With the lease of Cwm Dwr Quarry, George became a coal mine owner.

 Worrall's Directory of South Wales 1875 lists him thus;

Private Residence:  Bedford, George, Rock Cottage, Briton Ferry

Brick and Time Manufacturers:  Bedford, George (Firebrick), Briton Ferry.

Colliery Proprietors:  Bedford, Geo & son, Craig Colliery, Briton Ferry.

There was also a drift mine in Cwm Dwr, just above where the valley crosses Ladies Walk.  The entrance to the mine is still visible as is the overgrown coal tip.  The 1900 Ordnance Survey Map shows a tramway running the whole length of Cwm Dwr from the quarry to Cefn Cwrt farm.  This was possibly for the construction of the Cefn Cwrt Reservoir.  Years ago I found a section of iron rail by the drift mine, thought nothing of it and threw the tramway rail into the bushes!

Tragedy struck the Bedford household in July 1868 when Mary died at the age of 49, after given birth to nine children.  George was a widower yet again, but did not remain so for very long and in late 1869 he married Maria Rees, a widow from Pyle and went to live in the village being recorded in the 1871 Census:






George Bedford




Brick maker/Briton Ferry

Maria Bedford




Grocer's Assistant

Rees Evan





William Rees





James Rees





Alice Rowland





When George was living in Pyle he gives his occupation on the census as brick maker.  Although on the directories of the time he is listed as a grocer and seller of sundries.  While living in Pyle George sold a property he owned in St Bride's Minor.

Declaration, conditions of sale and conveyance, George Bedford of Briton Ferry, brick maker to Henry John Randall of Bridgend of a house, smith shop and garden called Tyn y Wern - Date of Sale 1878

DRA 1060-63

St Bride's Minor is the Bryncethin / Sarn area of Bridgend.  The 1884 Ordnance Survey Map shows a smithy in Bryncoch which is the current site of the Bryncethin Welfare Hall.  George spent the rest of his life in Pyle and passed away in 1884 aged 75 and was buried in Briton Ferry on 25th February 1884.  His death was recorded in the Central Glamorgan Gazette on Friday, 22nd February 1884.

Pyle - Mr Bedford, son of this village died on Thursday after a brief illness.  He attended services at the chapel at Cornelly on Sunday, but was taken ill and had to leave.  He was taken into the chapel house and medical aid was sent for, but proved to be of no avail.  His illness was so serious a nature that he could not be removed to his own home and he expired as above stated.

Purely for interest, on the same page of the newspaper:

Briton Ferry - Death in Church:  On Sunday morning last, the lady's-maid of Mrs Llewellyn, Baglan Hall, died in church.  She was in her usual health.  She kneeled at prayer and on rising fainted and died instantly, she was carried out.  Dr Pegge attended at once and tried all he could to recover her, but all in vain.  Her name was Annie Jones aged 32, a native of St Thomas, Swansea.


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When George left Briton Ferry in 1869 who took over the management of his business interests and brick works?  The obvious choice would have been George's eldest son, John, who was a brick maker in Neath at the time, but John was overlooked in favour of the second son, George Jnr.  When George Jnr was 18 he was employed as a Clerk in the Ironworks.  It seems that George Jnr's book keeping ability was the main reason for his appointment.

The 1871 census states that George Jnr was Head of the Family in Charles Street along with his five siblings.  George Jnr's occupation is given as Firebrick Manufacturer, employing thirteen men.  This is not the small brick works that Humphreys wrote of and can be explained by reference to the Post Office Directory for Glynneath 1871; 

Under the Commercial Section:  Bedford, George Jnr, Firebrick and Clay works, Resolven.

George Jnr was managing two brick works, the one in Briton Ferry and the other in Melin Court.  George Jnr did not remain in Briton Ferry and in 1878 had moved to Lamb Cottage, New Street, Porthcawl where he was working as a Commission Agent.

When George Jnr departed Briton Ferry his younger brother, David, took over control of the brick works.  David was living with his wife, Maria in Church Street, his occupation is recorded as brick maker, employing three men and two boys. 

Although Bedford's was a small brick works it was a significant employer in the town.  Here is a list of some of them:






John Bedford

Brick maker

Railway Terrace


Caroline Davies

Brick Moulder

The Square


Mathew Harries

Brick maker

Shelone Road


Susan Thomas

Lab. Bwks

Shelone Road


John Oriel

Lab. Bwks

Neath Road


John Prosser

Lab. Bwks

Neath Road


John Williams

Lab. Bwks

Vernon Cottage


Catherine Williams

Lab. Bwks

Vernon Cottage


Ann Nott

Lab. Bwks

Vernon Cottage


Enoch Smith

Lab. Bwks

Vernon Cottage


David Bedford

Brick maker

Church Street


Thomas Jones

Brick maker

Mansel Street

Just over the boundary in Baglan there were three brickmaking brothers, John, Joseph and David Lewis.  They were living in Mount Pleasant close to the Jersey Coal and Brick Company.  What was unusual about the brothers was that two of them were born in Philadelphia USA.

David Bedford passed way in 1885 aged 39, a year after his father.

After David died there was a trade depression in the town.  The Iron Works closed down for three years, resulting in a decline in the population.  The demand for bricks would have been greatly reduced in these circumstances.  In fact, in 1889 M Richards of Jersey Coal and Brick terminated his lease with the Earl of Jersey.

Did the Bedford brick works continue after the death of David ?  This seems unlikely.  John had been admitted to the Workhouse in Neath in 1888.  George Jnr was a Merchant Clerk in Cardiff and the youngest brother, William, was a Shipbroker in Briton Ferry.  Also I could not find any adverts for Bedford's brick works in any Directories after the demise of David.

Whilst there is a faint possibility that the brick works could have continued in production for a while, in 1891 there were only four brick makers in Briton Ferry.  These were;

Ernest May - age 18, Albert May - age 15, Isaac Jones - age 17 and Thomas Jones - age 43.

Thomas Jones was associated with the brick works.  When he was fourteen he was living in Charles Street and was employed as a brick carrier.  The main clue that Thomas worked in the brick works is that when his son was born in 1878 he named him Bedford Jones.  It is a fact that the Bedford brick works was a ruin in 1898.

My search then turned to finding a brick works in Porthcawl.  Looking at recent maps there is a street called The Brickyard in Newton.  William Weston Young lived close by in Newton Nottage Road and in 1813 he paid Robin Llewellyn to build a kiln in the brickyard opposite his house. Although you need a kiln to produce bricks, you also require one for a pottery.

In 1803 Young had been employed to paint pottery at Cambrian Pottery, Swansea.  At the same time that he was having his kiln built he became a partner in Nantgarw Pottery investing £600.  The brickyard was of interest but a brickyard is not a brick works.  A thorough search of the 1881 and 1891 census found no brick makers recorded in either Nottage or Newton.  Looking at maps from the nineteenth century no brick works could be identified in the Porthcawl area.  A similar result on a search of Directories of the time also makes no mention of any brick works.

Ironically, while looking for George Jnr's residence, Lamb Cottage in New Street, Porthcawl   I came across a builder's skip outside the wine shop.  The skip was full of firebricks from Melin Court, the brick works that was established by George Bedford in 1861 and managed by George Jnr in 1871.  The conclusion I have come to is that George Bedford established his brick works in Charles Street (Bethel Street), Briton Ferry in 1844.  It ceased production sometime in the second half of the 1880s.  In 1898 the brick works was described as being in a ruinous state.  As for the two towns imprinted on the brick, namely Porthcawl and Briton Ferry they represent the places where George Bedford's two sons were residing;  George Jnr in Porthcawl and David in Briton Ferry.  Over the years both were responsible for managing the brick works.  The inclusion of Porthcawl on the brick is an acknowledgement of George Jnr's involvement in the business. 

There were never any brick works in Porthcawl.  Don’t believe everything you read on a brick!


P.S. Mr Perkins sadly passed away shortly after submitting this article.

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