One of the key facility’s within Ibstock’s manufacturing network is its Birtley factory, located near Chester-le-Street in the North East of England, which offers a broad range of Waterstruck products.
A unique offering
Whilst bricks are a standard and ubiquitous staple of our built environment, the processes by which they are manufactured have grown and developed over time. Nowhere is that better evidenced than at the Birtley site, which draws on decades of brickmaking heritage to create a truly stunning finished product.
What makes Birtley’s output so unique is just how the bricks are made. Birtley specialises in authentic waterstruck bricks, utilising a process unlike anything else across Ibstock’s wider network. However, its product offering doesn’t stop there – all types of ‘specials’ are created, as well as some beautiful pre-made blends, as well as custom blends. Ibstock is the UK’s leading manufacturer of brick and masonry special shapes and prefab components, which are all part of the Birtley offering.
Waterstruck bricks have a distinctive finish thanks to the use of water in the moulding and demoulding process. Following the standard softmud process, wet clay is pressed into moulds that are lubricated with water, rather than sand, to prevent sticking.
As a result, Birtley bricks have an attractive, smooth finish. Thanks to the waterstruck process, bricks made this way also have a degree of irregularity, giving them a rustic air that makes them the perfect product for renovation projects where striking the right aesthetic tone is key.
The standard Birtley brick range
comprises the following aesthetically pleasing products: Old English, Old English Buff, Old English Grey, Commercial Red, Northumbrian Cottage Northern Buff. For architects, specifiers and, even end-users, they may prefer to opt for a blend of brick and again Birtley has the solution with reds and buffs, greys and blues. In fact there is no end of choices available.
For those wanting to build their own blend, there is the flexibility to create unique ones for any project, whether it is the Birtley Blend 1, 2 or 3.
The waterstruck process was first pioneered in Scandinavia, but the attractive bricks are becoming ever more popular with architects and specifiers here in the UK.
Indeed, Ibstock’s waterstruck bricks can be found in buildings right across the UK, but are most prevalent in areas where complementing a region’s wider brick vernacular is important, including historic cities such as York and Durham. Increasingly, however, they are also being contrasted against modern, sharp materials such as glass or metal for a truly striking finish.
The increasing popularity of waterstruck bricks is clear when you consider how many are manufactured at Birtley annually, with some 22 million leaving the kiln and going to market per year.
Birtley’s 55-strong team also produces around 40,000 handthrown special shapes per year, to meet demand from architects for different, non-standard shapes. Building on generations of brickmaking knowledge and expertise, the team at Birtley handthrow clay into water lubricated moulds, with each brick taking on the individual characteristics of its maker. This process not only defines the personality of each brick, but also each building in which the brick is used.
Sustainability is at the heart of everything Ibstock does. The business seeks to be the most environmentally-friendly manufacturer of clay and concrete building products and systems in the UK.
Some recent achievements from the manufacturer include:
Becoming the first UK building materials manufacturer to procure 100% of its electricity from renewable sources
Spearheaded successful initiatives to reduce its reliance on plastic packaging and reduce preventable plastics by 40% by 2025
Awarded the top level 3 Stars by the Brick Development Association’s Brickmakers Charter
That commitment to sustainability is reflected in the practices at Birtley. The factory has been recognised as a Centre of Excellence for Energy Management and has recently launched a rewilding project at it’s on-site quarry, to restore wildlife habitat and promote biodiversity for local species.
Birtley is a factory with a proud heritage and a bright future. The team contains hundreds of years experience collectively, with some employees having been working at the factory since the 1970s. The factory is also investing in the talent of tomorrow, with a cohort of apprentices currently working across manufacturing, electrical and technical roles.