Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Maylands Brickworks: A Concise History

Map of the brickworks in 1979.

A 2 foot gauge tramway owned and operated by the Metropolitan Brick Company Ltd. was once located on the inner banks of a horseshoe bend in the Swan River around 4 kilometres east of Perth, Western Australia. 

Map of the preserved Maylands Brickworks infrastructure, 2016. Inset: Location of the brickworks on the Derbarl Yerrigan (Swan River).

Maylands Peninsula has long been associated with clay deposits. The Peninsular Brick Company was first established in Maylands in 1885, and by 1905, this plant had been taken over by Mills & Sons for use as a pottery works. In 1922 the Metropolitan Brick Company Ltd. was founded, which brought the existing Helena Vale and Armadale brickworks under the one name. 

In 1922, Mr Robert O. Law, an established Perth brickmaker, acquired 60 acres of land for the Metropolitan Brick Company between Peninsula and Swan Bank Roads. By 1927, a complete brickworks was established at Maylands, including a Hoffman Kiln, drying sheds, pug mill and brick making extruder. Between 1927 and 1936, there was a single chimney, 19 chamber 15 foot diameter Hoffman Kiln, with a 7 million per year brick producing capacity. In 1934, plans were made to relocate a second Hoffman Kiln from Helena Vale to Maylands, which was operational by 1936. By 1941, the clay pit south of Johnson Road had began to be quarried.

By 1946, the plant at Maylands was described as the most highly technical plant in Australia. The transfer, and the transfer trucks, were described as a masterpiece of ingenuity which enabled bricks to be transferred from the brick making extruder to the drying sheds and then to the kiln without being handled. The Hoffman Kilns operated on powdered coal until 1967 when they were changed to an oil fired system. When the Maylands plant was in full production it employed in excess of 130 employees, most of whom lived in the vicinity of the works. It became one the main industries providing employment in the area and as such has played an important part in the history of Maylands.

The second Hoffman Kiln at Maylands was demolished after sustaining damage in the Meckering earthquake of 1968. Metropolitan Brick Holdings Ltd. was officially acquired by H. L. Brisbane & Wunderlich Ltd. (Bristle) in October 1973. The locos were out of use by then end of 1980 and the remainder of its time saw trucks and conveyor belts employed at the brickworks. Maylands Brickworks was finally shut down just prior to Christmas 1982 and the land was sold to the City of Stirling in 1983. The original Hoffman kiln, some of the drying sheds, a portion of the incline trestle, the workshop and a few other buildings have been preserved on the site. The clay pits now form an ornamental lake in a new housing development on the peninsula.

Photos from the State Library of Western Australia collection of the Maylands Brickworks in the 1950s

The brickworks originally had two four-wheel Planet Type 'Y' locos built by Messrs F.C. Hibberd & Co. Ltd., Park Royal, London, fitted with Ford 10 engines. They were underpowered for the brickworks needs and were written off (possibly in the late-60s?). As a replacement, two four-wheel chain-driven petrol locomotives were built by the brickworks.

Overall view of the brickworks by Jim Bisdee looking north and south respectively from Johnson Road in 1980. Also highlights the two different types of clay being quarried.

Looking south through the dual brick arch tunnels under Johnson Road photographed by Weston Langford in 1966.

A normal train on the brickworks line consisted of several side-tipping hoppers, weighing about 18 to 20 tons when loaded, with the loco always marshalled at the northern (incline) end of the train. The loco would push the empty hoppers along a flat single-line stretch before the line split into two and ran through dual brick arch tunnels underneath Johnson Road and out to the active clay pit area. As the clay was quarried, the track was shifted or extended to the new clay face. Originally steam shovels were used, later electric powered shovels, and finally replaced by petrol machines, all manufactured by Ruston Bucyrus. Usually two areas would be being worked to obtain different types of clay (white and brown). Once loaded, the loco would pull its train back to the yard, where it would shunt its train to allow the loaded hoppers to be taken up the incline. The hoppers would be marshalled into twos and then pulled up the rope incline and emptied into the pugmill, before being rolled back down the incline. 

Photos of the brickworks taken by E. Woodland in the 1960s (Rail Heritage WA Collection)
1. Eastern incline
2. Main incline
3. Looking north from the engine shed
4. Looking south from the engine shed

The 'yard' area of the line included two run-around loops which served two separate cable inclines, part of which were on trestles (one report says the second eastern incline and Hoffman kiln was out of use by 1973, another by 1978). The main loop was covered by a one-sided shed, and an engine shed was located at the start of the single line section. Halfway up the main incline a transfer track formed a tangent with line and provided access to a small 5 foot turntable and to the workshop by passing under under the trestle. The track to the workshops had no pointwork, thus the locos and trucks were driven halfway up the incline and lifted across to the transfer track. 

5.      6.  
Photos of the brickworks by Jeff Austin, 1970s. (Rail Heritage WA Collection)
1. Homemade Holden locomotive returning from clay pits with a load of white and brown clay
2. Main incline with the workshop behind the trestle
3. Wagon shed looking south
4. Wagon shed looking north
5. Looking south towards the engine shed
6. Looking up the main incline

A single signal was used on the line; an 18 inch disc on top of a 12 foot pole at the bottom of the old incline. The sole signal was used for safeworking due to the height of the embankments near the bottom of the curved eastern incline which obscured hand signals given by the workers.

The lone signal photographed by E. Woodland in the 1960s.


Bradford, R. B. 2006. "Maylands locomotive (LR 187)". Light Railways 189

Heritage Council of Western Australia. 1998. "Register of Heritage Places - Assessment Documentation: Maylands Brickworks". Government of Western Australia.

McKillop, B. 2006. "From Back Yard to Bennett Brook 1976-2005: A history of the Western Australian Light Railway Preservation Association". Light Railways 187

Murdoch, G. 1973. "The Metropolitan Brickworks Tramway". Light Railways 43

Palassis Architects,. 2013. "Maylands Brickworks Conservation Management Plan". City Of Bayswater.

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