One of the oldest, most established industries in Burgess Hill, Keymer Brick & Tile Company evolved from the former Ditchling Potteries, a collection of various works including Dunstalls Farm owned by John Billinghurst, John Palmer and John Pomfrey - a renowned brick maker in Keymer in 1588.
When the Ditchling Common site was sold, having exhausted its supply of clay, production was moved to Nye Road over a period of 80 years between 1860 and 1940. The current factory and clay pit are still situated here and cover an area of approximately 50 acres.
In the late 1800's it's reported that the works were the largest in the South and employed over 300 people. At the turn of the century, it was famous for the manufacture of red terracotta ware - which won awards in London in 1862 and Philadelphia in 1876. This bespoke product was used throughout the British Isles and, largely due to its early success, was re-introduced by the modern-day Keymer in the early 1990's.
Back in the 1800's, the site had many tall brick chimneys which belched smoke from time to time - which have since been demolished in line with the ‘Clean Air Act.' Coal was used for the drying and firing of products, and was regularly delivered to the site. Finished products were also despatched by rail via Keymer's own siding which sat adjacent to the Lewes-Eastbourne train line. Since the closure of the railway sidings, during Dr Beeching's time, Keymer now uses Natural Gas to dry and fire tiles.
In the early days, a considerable number of Keymer employees also lived in cottages on site. Further cottages were built in Cants Lane - which have now been demolished - that housed brick making tables on the ground floor with living quarters upstairs. These were commonly known as birdcages.
From 1939 to 1945, the tile manufacturing works were completely closed down. Buildings and kilns were used by the Admiralty for storage purposes, and played a major part in the 'D-Day' landings. Then, in 1946, a considerable investment was made to introduce new clay preparation machinery whilst ensuring that traditional methods were maintained.
Since 1969 the Company has been subject to various ‘take-overs' including the 'Cavenham' empire when Sir James Goldsmith was Chairman. Keymer is now owned by a Trust set up by Neil Wates (deceased), who acquired the business in 1980.
Then, due to violent fluctuations in demand for bricks during the early 1970's, a decision was made to stop brick making and concentrate on the production of hand made clay roofing tiles. In 1978, architects and planners were putting more thought into the conservation and preservation of all types of buildings. This attitude gave new life to the company and resulted in the increased production of roofing tiles and fittings.
In 1981, the very latest micro-processor controlled kilns were installed to reduce fuel consumption and provide better working conditions - again, while still retaining traditional production methods. Recession in the construction industry during the 1990's led to a decline in the home market and a reduction in the production of tiles.
Today, Keymer employs 75 people. The company still uses Wealden clay native to the area and many of the traditional craft skills which have been passed down from maker to maker through the generations.
Demand and production for Keymer's handmade clay roof tiles has shown a steady increase in recent years. Now dispatched throughout the British Isles and used on roofs from cottages to castles, supermarkets to town centres; we also export to the Continent, America and lately even Russia and Japan.
As a company, we continue to invest in up-to-date techniques to further strengthen our commitment to fuel efficiency and a safe working environment - and, at the same time, to manufacturing the finest genuine hand made clay roofing products.Back to top