Object: A brick
Found: in the streets of Somers Town
In the late eighteenth century half the fields were brickfields, whilst tile kilns and clamps were scattered around. When Lord Somers leased ‘Brill Farm’ to Jacob Leroux in 1788, Leroux was given rights over brickmaking, so once burnt the bricks were handed over to the builders of the houses. And these builders were increasingly contractors employing wage labour and building many houses rather than artisan builders confined to just a few.
Thus, we see landed interests intermingling with and being superseded by capitalist interests, including in terms of the development of a free market for materials as Leroux obtained the right to sell bricks in 1795. Subsequently, brick rents for Lord Somers constituted an important part of his rental income into the 1820s whilst the price of bricks fluctuated as a free market developed and what was known as the ‘measure and value’ system, resting on fixed prices, collapsed.
So, from this story of the Somers Town brick, we can identify many of the social and economic contradictions of the time, between artisan and wage labour production, between the measure and value system and a free market for materials and labour, and between landed and capitalist interests.
“The New [Euston] Road beyond which houses of cheap rent have become the object of builders … and the fruit of the speculation is the sale of the increased ground rents. The houses therefore are of the meanest sort, are built of the worst and slightest materials and, but for their dependence on each other for support, would, many of them, not stand the term of their leases.” John White, Some Account of the Proposed Improvements of the Western Parts of London, Appendix III, London 1815, p. xxv.
By Linda Clarke
Link to Linda Clarke’s book
Early map of Somers Town