Posted by: lensweb | May 15, 2018

Can the Hoffman Kiln Whale be Saved?


May 14 Monday Oakwell Brickyards

Meet 7pm Straw’s Bridge LNR car park, West Hallam, Ilkeston DE7 5FG

Leader Stuart Gilder

On a fine evening we assembled at Straw’s Bridge admiring the swans. No wonder they call the pond ‘Swan Lake’. Stuart first showed us a living willow sculpture which had been constructed by the Erewash Tree Wardens in 2016. Then we walked past the lake to the Nutbrook Trail where we admired a hedge newly laid by Sustrans volunteers.

Rabbits were grazing the meadow as we turned into Oakwell Brickyards, a former industrial site which is now an interesting woodland site. The Oakwell brickworks began production c1879 and closed in the 1960s due to lack of orders, but there is still a gargantuan old  Hoffman kiln hidden in the shady wood.2a9xzz


According to Wikipaedia, a Hoffmann kiln is a series of batch process kilns used in production of bricks and consists of a main fire passage surrounded on each side by several small rooms. Each room contains a pallet of bricks. In the main fire passage there is a fire wagon, which, fuelled by wood or coal, burns continuously. Each room is heated until the bricks are vitrified, then the fire wagon is rolled to the next room to be fired.

Each room is connected to the next room by a passageway carrying hot gases from the fire. In this way, the hottest gases are directed into the room that is currently being fired. Then the gases pass into the adjacent room that is scheduled to be fired next. There the gases preheat the drying bricks. As the gases pass through the kiln circuit, they gradually cool as they transfer heat to the brick. In addition to the inner opening to the fire passage, each room also has an outside door, through which recently fired brick is removed, and replaced with wet brick to be dried and then fired in the next firing cycle.

Built between 1900 and 1913 of pink brick, the kiln is rectangular with rounded ends. The walls taper inwards to the corrugated iron roof, which is surmounted by a semi-circular canopy with open ends. There are two tiers of openings. The lower tier consists of fourteen round-headed entrances to the two parallel segment vaulted furnaces, which connect at the rounded ends. The upper tier has ten square openings; on the south side the wall has partially collapsed around one opening. The Grade II listed Hoffmann brick kiln is badly neglected, trees and ferns have forced their way between the fence and the building and have anchored between the bricks. There are only 5 Hoffmann kilns remaining in the UK.

It was hard to drag ourselves away from this mesmeric stranded whale of a building, but we wended our way uphill through overgrown hawthorn, wych elm, ash and some huge beech trees. We closely examined some hillocks where yellow bird’s nest Monotropa hypopitys, was found in 2016. This is a strange waxy plant which has no chlorophyll and lives in parasitic association with fungi. It is found in dark shade where nothing else will grow. No we didn’t find any on this occasion.

We were now on top of a former spoil heap which has formed an unusual wildflower meadow. The depauperate soil has discouraged grass and there is a colourful flat jigsaw of stunted wildflowers including common knapweed, mouse-ear hawkweed, bird’s foot trefoil, perforate St John’s Wort and changing forget me not .

Threading our way through more woodland we were surprised to see crowds of the bright yellow flowers of sulphur cinquefoil Potentilla recta as well as a profusion of white sedum.


At the very top of the hill was a fence to a view over Ilkeston Beauty Spot, a series of pools in a marshy area which were formerly used for bathing. Silhouetted on the skyline was the Cat and Fiddle Windmill at Dale.

Through deepening gloom, we retreated downhill unable to resist we turned over bricks on the ground, one was stamped ‘London Brick Company’, it might have fallen from the desperate wreck of the kiln, but most of the bricks bore the legend of ‘Oakwell Brickworks’.

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Marion Bryce 14 May 2018


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