The look of a place
Until the coming of the railways in the mid C19th, towns were necessarily made from the materials around them. The honey-coloured villages of the Cotswolds look so right in their environment for even the stone roof-tiles topping the honey-coloured stone walls derive from the bedrock on which they stand. But as we know, Norwich is about as far from decent building stone as you can get. Only the Church and rich grandees could afford to import building stone by water; famously, the Normans built Norwich cathedral of stone shipped from Normandy. So between the age of the medieval timber-framed building and the arrival of steel-reinforced concrete the majority of the city’s buildings were made from clay in the form of brick and tiles. This post focuses on decorative brickwork, produced by one family, that characterised Victorian building in Norwich.
Around 1860, Norfolk contained 114 brickyards spread throughout the county so though Norfolk may have lacked stone there was evidently no shortage of brick clay . In the pre-railway age, bricks tended to be made close to the building site due to the difficulty of transporting heavy loads over long distances. The arrival of railways in Norwich in the 1840s allowed building materials, such as Welsh slate, to be transported more easily and this, combined with the repeal of the tax on bricks in 1850 , contributed to the explosion of terraced-house building in Norwich . Surrounding Norwich were the brickyards of Banham, Lakenham, Reedham, Rockland St Mary, Surlingham and Welborne  but the one that perhaps had the greatest effect on Norwich via its red or white decorative products was the Costessey Brickyard five miles to the west, run by the Gunton family.
(In an update) Costessey resident Peter Mann wrote in to say he was able to name all the workers at the Costessey brickyard (see footnote at end). Excitingly, he identified James Minns with son John Minns seated on his right. Both were labelled as “Carvers of Norwich”, consistent with census returns giving their occupations as ‘carver’ (or, once for James, ‘sculptor’). The entry for Minns on the Mapping of Sculpture website gives his full name as James Benjamin Shingles Minns (ca 1828-1904). James was sufficiently confident of his skill to submit (successfully) a carved wooden panel of ‘A Happy Family’ to the 1897 Summer Exhibition of the Royal Academy; he had also carved the mantelpiece and panelling for Thomas Jeckyll’s commission for the Old Library at Carrow Abbey (1860-1). The presence of this highly skilled sculptor and his son at the Costessey Brickyard strongly suggests they were responsible for the ornate ‘fancy’ bricks and panels for which Guntons were locally renowned. From his independent status as ‘Carver’ it seems possible that “James Minns of Heigham” might have been freelance rather than a full-time employee, especially since his address was ca. five miles away from the Costessey Brickyard. [For more on Minns see the ‘Angels in Tights’ post].
Employees of the Guntons Brickyard Costessey. James Minns is arrowed (white) with his son John, arrowed red. Pre-1904. (c) Ernest Gage Collection at Costessey Town Council. The key to the workers can be seen in the footnote at the end.
Other yards made decorative bricks in Norfolk during the Victorian heyday but Costessey Brickyard became pre-eminent through its association with Costessey Hall. In 1824, when Sir George William Jerningham became the 7th Baronet Stafford, his “commanding and forceful” wife became dissatisfied with the old Tudor hall at Costessey and so began an overambitious plan to build an elaborate, battlemented, pseudo-Tudor replacement. Designed by John Chessel Buckler, Costessey Hall was to be “the richest Gothic building in England” [quoted in 6] but it became a folly that was never fully completed . The fortunes of the Guntons coincided with the rise and fall of the Hall.
In 1862, the owner of Costessey Hall, Sir Henry Valentine Stafford Jerningham, who had produced no heir, asked the wonderfully-named Masters of Lunacy to declare the next in line (his nephew The Right Hon. Augustus Frederick FitzHerbert Stafford Jerningham) to be of unsound mind . When nephew Augustus inherited the estate in 1884 the Lunacy Commissioners suggested the Hall was not suitable for him and that it be closed up. But Norwich’s foremost architect Edward Boardman argued against closure, marking an early connection between him and Costessey. On Augustus’ death his brother, Sir FitzOsbert Edward Stafford Jerningham, inherited to become the last Baron Stafford to live at the Hall. He was described as an eccentric who, mindful of what had happened to his brother, kept his back to the wall (literally) and refused to leave the confines of the estate . After his death the estate was seen as a white elephant to his inheritors, leading to the long drawn out demolition of the Hall.
Tastes had already begun to change some years before the demolition of the Hall. During the second half of the C19th one of the styles within the all-embracing Arts and Crafts Movement was for decorative “Gothick” brickwork (usually red) of the kind that the Guntons had made first for Costessey Hall then for the wider public. However, this fascination for Tudorbethan brick was in decline by the turn of the C20th and in 1915 the Guntons failed to renew their lease at Costessey. All that remains of the Hall is the Belfry Block off the eighteenth fairway at Costessey Park Golf Club. And all that remains (reportedly) of the Brickyard is a derelict kiln at the end of Brickfield Loke.
The family continued making ordinary bricks (known as ‘builders’) at their Barney, Little Plumstead and Runton works but these outposts closed in 1939 due to fears that the kilns could act as beacons to enemy planes.
After the main phase of building the Hall, George Gunton began to look for alternative outlets for his decorative bricks; their widespread dispersal was greatly assisted by the 1850 repeal of the brick tax – a tax that had been particularly punitive for oversize decorative bricks . Cosseyware began to increase in popularity, first under George Gunton then from 1868 under his sons William and George. It was therefore during the second half of the C19th that Costessey clay started to have an impact upon the appearance of the city.
At the back of the Old Red Lion Beerhouse at 64 Costessey West End, George Gunton built an outhouse. Local historian Paul Cooper told me: “The Red Lion outbuildings would have been a showroom and where they did the intricate carving on the chimneys and fireplaces.”
The GG tiles beneath the grapevine-patterned chimney on the left suggest this is one of the nine houses that George Gunton is known to have built between 1850-1860  in West End, not far from the brickyard.
In the mid 1850s, Henry Trevor created The Plantation Garden near St John’s Cathedral on Earlham Road in an old chalk and flint mine. It is a Victorian delight, benefitting from years of careful restoration. If you want to see a range of Gunton’s products look no further: fragments from more than 15 of their 34 patterns on chimneys can be identified here .
Not far from the Plantation Garden this plaque can be found on Earlham Road near the junction with Park Lane.
Two of Norwich’s foremost architects, Edward Boardman and George Skipper, used Cosseyware to ornament their buildings – a choice that helped define the appearance of the Victorian city. In 1869, Boardman designed the Princes Street Congregational Chapel (now United Reformed Church) and adjoining Church Rooms in an Italianate style.
Boardman’s Congregational Chapel, with triangular pediment, is seen beyond the Church Rooms that he also designed. The Rooms have been renamed Boardman House and are now part of Norwich University of the Arts.
Pale brick from Gunton’s was used again by Boardman for his office block, Castle Chambers, in Opie Street off Castle Meadow.
Some 20 years later Boardman was to design the Royal Hotel around the corner on Agricultural Hall Plain in red brick and ornamental Cosseyware. This hotel replaced the old Royal Hotel that provided the site for Skipper’s Royal Arcade off the marketplace.
The Arts and Crafts Movement roamed widely for its pre-industrial architectural influences: the Royal Hotel is described as being “free Flemish” . The lower levels are relatively plain but further up the stylistic tics of neo-Renaissance architecture become more apparent in the ornamented string courses, gables and pinnacles – all richly decorated in Cosseyware.
The former carriage entrance of The Green House 42-46 Bethel Street offers a fine example of Gunton’s diapering …
Boardman used red Cosseyware diapering on his own offices in Old Bank of England Court, Queen Street. His nameplate, which is a gem of Victorian lettering, was custom made rather then being made from Gunton’s individual letter bricks.
Gunton’s red clay was used to make these intricate tableaux on what were once George Skipper’s offices, now subsumed into Jarrold’s department store on London Street.
Glance right next time you exit Norwich Rail Station and you will see one of the most richly decorated buildings in Norwich – 22 Thorpe Road . It was designed ca. 1900 by A F Scott and Son  using red Cosseyware in Franco-Flemish neo-Renaissance style.
Buildings in the last quarter of the C19th buildings were often exuberantly marked with terracotta date plaques – perhaps an expression of the confidence felt by Victorian architects and their clients at the height of Empire. This example below is over one metre tall:
From terraced houses to large public buildings, Cosseyware left its distinctive mark on Victorian Norwich.
©2016 Reggie Unthank
- Lucas, Robin (1993). Brickmaking. In, An Historical Atlas of Norfolk. pp154-155.
- Lucas, Robin (1997). The tax on bricks and tiles, 1784-1850: its application to the country at large and, in particular,to the county of Norfolk. Construction History vol 13, pp29-55.
- O’Donoghue, Rosemary (2014). Norwich, an expanding city 1801-1900. Larks Press, Dereham.
- Gage, Ernest G. (1991). Costessey Hall. A retrospect of the Jernegans, Jerninghams and Stafford Jerninghams of Costessey Hall, Norfolk. Available from: http://www.costesseybooks.co.uk/purchasebooks.htm
- Gage, Ernest, G. (2013). Costessey: A Look into the Past. Pub: Brian Gage, 31 Eastern Ave, Norwich NR7 OUQ (also, see preceding link).
- Lucas, Robin (1997). Neo-Gothic, Neo-Tudor, Neo-Renaissance: The Costessey Brickyard. The Victorian Society Journal pp 25-37.
- Adam, Sheila (2009). The Plantation Garden Norwich: A History and Guide. (Available from the Plantation Garden, 4 Earlham Road, Norwich).
- Pevsner, Nikolaus and Wilson, Bill (1997). The Buildings of England. Norfolk 1: Norwich and North-East. Yale University Press.
- Bussey, David and Martin, Eleanor (2012). The Architects of Norwich. George Skipper, 1856-1948. The Norwich Society.
Visit: the excellent website with many photographs of Costessey Hall and of brick-making on: http://www.costesseybooks.co.uk/contact.htm. I am grateful to Brian Gage for generously providing information and access to the Ernest Gage Collection. Thanks are also due to Paul Cooper, local historian, for sharing his extensive knowledge of Costessey Hall and the Gunton Brickyard. I am grateful to Peter Mann for naming the Costessey workers.
Visit: www.picture.norfolk.gov.uk. An endlessly fascinating archive of photographs of old Norfolk with a great series of photographs of old Costessey Hall. Thanks to Clare Everitt, who runs the website, for her help.
Visit: if you haven’t already seen the Plantation Garden you are in for a treat. Open daily 9.00am – dusk. Their excellent website is well worth exploring (http://plantationgarden.co.uk).
Footnote: Peter Mann mailed in to provide the names of men in the photograph of the Gunton workers. He says: “My Grandfather and Great Grandfather are included in the Picture. Names as follows:
Back Row L/R, Albert White, John Ireson, Charles Doggett, George Gunton (Part Owner), Walter Ireson, James Simmons.
Middle Row L/R, Daniel Drury, William Gunton Jnr, Fred Barber, William Gunton Snr (Part Owner), Noah Mansfield, H.E Gunton, Charles Gotts, Thomas Mann Jnr. Seated Row, Arthur Paul (kneeling), John Minns, James Minns, (Carvers Of Norwich), Joseph Goward, Thomas Mann Snr.
Bottom Row, Robert Burton, James Paul, William Bugdale, Harry Banham.”