Ramekin is thought to come from a Dutch word for "toast" or the German for "little cream."




Ramequin, Ramekin dish.


(ramə kin)[RAM-ih-kihn]ræməkin


English Noun




A type of dish




French Ramequin from Low German ramken, diminutive of cream, circa 1706. middle Dutch rammeken (cheese dish) dialect variant of rom (cream), similar to old English ream and German rahm. Ancient French cookbooks refer to ramekins as being garnished fried bread.


1. A food mixture, (casserole) specifically a preparation of cheese, especially with breadcrumbs and/or eggs or unsweetened pastry baked on a mould or shell.

2. With a typical volume of 50-250 ml (2-8 oz), it is a small fireproof glass or earthenware individual dish similar in size and shape to a cup, or mould used for cooking or baking and serving sweet or savoury foods.

3. Formerly the name given to toasted cheese; now tarts filled with cream cheese.

4. A young child usually between the ages of 3 months and 11 years exhibiting a compulsion to force or "ram" their head into various objects and structures.

These days, a ramekin is generally regarded as a small single serve heatproof serving bowl used in the preparation or serving of various food dishes, designed to be put into hot ovens and to withstand high temperatures. They were originally made of ceramics but have also been made of glass or porcelain, commonly in a round shape with an angled exterior ridged surface. Ramekins have more lately been standardized to a size with a typical volume of 50-250 ml (2-8 ounce) and are now used for serving a variety of sweet and savoury foods, both entrée and desert.

They are also an attractive addition to the table for serving nuts,dips and other snacks. Because they are designed to hold a serving for just one person, they are usually sold in sets of four, six, or eight. Ramekins now are solid white, round, with a fluted texture covering the outside, and a small lip. Please bear in mind that whatever you ask for them on Internet auction sites, someone is still getting the same thing in an op shop for peanuts.

However, there are hundreds of decorative ramekins that came in a variety of shapes and sizes. They came in countless colours and finishes and many were made by our leading artists and ceramicists. My collection has ramekins with One handle only, fixed to the body at one point only. If it has no handle, it is a bowl. If it has two, it is a casserole dish. But the glory day of the Australian Studio Art ramekin is well and truly over. See some here, ask questions or leave answers.

P.S. Remember, just as real men don't eat quiche, real ramekins don't have lids or two handles. Also remember, two handles makes it a casserole dish. Also, please note If it aint got a handle, it's just a bowl.

P.P.S. To all you cretins who advertise your ramekins by associating them with "Eames" or "Eames Era". Get your hand off it, you are not kidding anyone. The Eames people have told me that they never made ramekins.

P.P.P.s To all the illiterates out there in cyberspace, just as there is no "I" in team, there is no "G" in Ramekin. I am the Rameking, they are ramekins.

If you have a set of Grandma's ramekins at the back of a kitchen cupboard, have a look through the site, maybe you will identify them. Thank-you for looking.

There are many of you out there that have knowledge of Australian pottery. Please let me know if you have anything that I can add to the notes. It is important to get the information recorded. You probably know something that nobody else does.

Please note that while your comments are most welcome, any that contain a link to another site will no longer be published.


Saturday, January 26, 2013

Gulson's Brickworks of Goulburn

Who would have thought that the Rameking would be doing a story on bricks?  Or maybe more importantly, a family that made them.  How did this come about?  Well, for a long time, I saw one ramekin advertised over and over, it was made by Gulson’s of Goulburn.  It never sold, and is still there today, probably because the seller wanted too much.  Recently a full set was for sale for less and I bought it, only to discover that there was nothing around about the maker.

Using a saying I developed about researching anything, “you have to go there” I went to Goulburn and found Geoff Gulson, the last member of the family to run the brickworks.  As I spoke to him, I realized that here was a story that needed telling, so here goes.  Maybe I should call it “A Tale of Two Cities” but I think that title has already been taken.  Geoff has been very kind in providing me with a lot of information about the brickworks and the process of brick making.

This year 2013 marks the centenary of the founding of Canberra, the capital city of Australia.  In that century, the city has seen some remarkable changes.  Political parties have risen, fallen or changed into something their originators would no longer recognize, the great and the powerful have also come and gone.  Through all this change, Canberra has grown and continues to grow.  If you live and work in a building there that is more than thirty years old, there is a better than even money chance that it is made of bricks made by Gulson’s in Goulburn.  It is likely that around half of the buildings there are made of Gulson’s bricks.  Many of these early suburbs were commenced in 1927,28 and consisted of the following; Acton, Ainslie, Barton, Braddon, Campbell (Duntroon), Capital Hill, City (Civic), Deakin, Dickson (Dickson Centre), Forrest, Griffith (Manuka),  Kingston, Lyneham (& North Lynham), O’Connor, Parkes, Red Hill, Reid, Russell, Turner and Yarralumla.  

Local competition for Gulson’s came from the Commonwealth Brickworks, known as the “Yaralumla Brickworks.” They made bricks in and for Canberra from 1913 until August 1976.  Their “Hoffman” style kiln was designed by Walter Burley Griffin.  “Staffordshire” and “Hardy” kilns were also used.  Features of these works were the short chimney stacks that they were fan-forced. It wasn’t until after World-War-Two that a naturally aspirated chimney was built to meet increasing demand.   Many of the buildings in Canberra were made by product from the Yaralumla Brickworks (their output, at its peak of 275,000 per week) was not sufficient to meet demand. 

Costs associated with clay extraction, their pricing policies, industrial issues and production problems over the years also meant that their product was not competitive.  Probably the best-known building made from their bricks is the Old Parliament House.  Bricks were sourced from a number of other makers, even from as far away as Selkirks in Ballarat.  From the mid 1970s, they purchased large quantities of bricks from Gulson’s in nearby Goulburn.  The old Commonwealth Brickworks in Canberra still exist but safety concerns have hampered recent plans for redevelopment, but theirs is a story for another time.

Over the next year, much will be made of Canberra, its founding and design but as long as one brick sits on top of another in Canberra, Goulburn and many other towns on the Southern Tablelands, their story and that of the Gulson Brickworks will be inextricably linked.  Many of the historic buildings in these cities are made of Gulson bricks, buildings such as the Goulburn Workers Club, Mulwaree High School, Goulburn Ambulance Station, AMP Building, much of St John of God Hospital and many, many more.  In Canberra, the only building known by me to be made from Gulson's bricks is the Caroline Chisholm High School in Hambridge street in the suburb of Chisholm, built in the early 1970s.  

Although their brickworks on Common Street are now long closed, it is still a remarkable community asset.  Their brickworks in Goulburn is of considerable historical significance on a National, State and local level as a rare surviving example of an early industrial complex containing rectangular downdraught kilns.  The site is significant for its role in the history and early development of Goulburn.  Bricks manufactured at the site were used to construct the majority of the buildings in Goulburn, including many major public buildings, including those previously listed.  Also many buildings in Canberra were constructed using Gulson bricks.   Gulson’s were also a major employer in Goulburn. 

Goulburn is Australia's oldest inland city dating back to the earliest days of the colony.  It was created a City in 1863 by Letters Patent and proclaimed a city on the 20th March 1885, this being necessary but superfluous under the Crown Lands Act.  By 1846 there were fifteen brickworks operating in the town.  Although Gulson’s no longer operated as a brick-works, it became a tourist and craft centre, sadly now closed.  Like many brickworks around Australia, they not only made bricks, pipes and tiles, but also a variety of other pottery including domestic wares.  Roofing tiles however were problematic for a long time, due to the type of clay available. 

The Gulson story begins back in England.  The family had lived in the county of Essex for hundreds of years, stretching back before the Norman Conquest and beyond to Anglo-Saxon times.  Most areas of the country had their own brick-making industry for centuries and Essex was no exception.  Their name is believed to have originated in the English County of Bedfordshire.  Many variations in spelling exist and the first record of the name is in 1273 when Hugh, Michael and Ralph Gooldston had estates in Bedfordshire.

Gulson Brick & Pottery Company was begun in Goulburn by potter Francis Gulson (1841-1927) and operated from February 1884.  His father William Frederick Gulson was born on the 2nd of March 1805 at Messing Essex.  On the 1st of April 1832 at the age of 27 William married Sarah Sally Adams at Great Totham, Essex.  The union was a fruitful one because they had ten children. 

In 1823 Peter Du Cane inherited his father’s estate and re-named it Braxted Park.  He had the village of Great Braxted moved from Braxted Park to its present location about a mile away but their church is still located within the park.  He then had a brick wall four and a half miles long (6.3km) built to enclose his property.   Du Cane established a brick-works at nearby Kelvedon to make the bricks for this wall and six new lodge buildings for the estate.  William Gulson was appointed to manage the brickworks.  In the 1861 Census return for Inworth, Essex, William and his son Francis are recorded as being brick-makers.  Son Luke is recorded as a drain-pipe maker.  This wall has recently been restored and Braxted Park is now a wedding venue.  To give some perspective, there are most likely over 10 million bricks in that wall.

 Peter Du Cane III
Gulson family history records Peter as being Lord Ducane.  Although he held numerous positions during his life, namely High Sheriff for Essex and MP for Steyning in Sussex the title of Lord was as Lord of the Manor of Coggeshall, another small town in Essex.  The Du Cane family were originally merchants fleeing religious persecution in Europe who established themselves in England.

Braxted Park, Essex
Part of the wall at Braxted Park
William died on the 8th of June 1869 at Camberwell in London.  What was he doing in London?  Major General Sir Edmund Frederick Du Cane KCB (1830-1903) caused Wormwood Scrubs Prison to be built in the London Borough of Hammersmith, not far from Camberwell; begun in 1875 and finally completed in 1891.  It stands on Du Cane Road, named after him.  The General used prison labour to build the “Scrubs” as it is known.  Bricks for the prison were made from clay dug from what are now the cellars under the prison and fired in-site.  Given their experience at Braxted Park, were other members of the Gulson family employed there also?  Obviously brick-making had become a part of both families.  Robert William Gulson, a builder lived in Hammesmith in the 1870s.

 On the 12th of January 1866, the migrant sailing ship “Sabrina” docked at Melbourne, Victoria from Southampton.  On board were brothers Luke Ashworth Gulson (1842-1895) and Francis Frederick (Frank) (1839-1927) Gulson.  Migrant ships were often overcrowded with whole families sharing a berth no larger than a single bed.  “Among the great beams, bulks, and ringbolts of the ship, and the emigrant-berths, and chests, and bundles, and barrels, and heaps of miscellaneous baggage lighted up, here and there, by dangling lanterns; and elsewhereby the yellow daylight straying, down a windsail or a hatchway-were crowded groups of people, making new friendships, taking leave of one another, talking, laughing, crying, eating and drinking: some already settled down into the possession of their few feet of space.”  Charles Dickens David Copperfield.

The brothers made their way to Albury, then a small town on the New South Wales side of the Murray River on the border with Victoria.  On the 4th of March 1868, Luke married Julia Kinton, widow of Robert Kinton. Robert had arrived in Australia in 1851 as an assisted migrant because he was a brickmaker.  Robert married Bridget Cashman in 1861, but their union was shortlived as he died in 1863.   Robert operated the Albury Brickworks and after his death, production ceased.  Following Luke’s marriage to Julia, the brickworks reopened to service the growing community.  In February 1871, Luke was elected as an Alderman to the Albury Council.  Francis married Elizabeth Spalding then aged 17, a local Albury girl in 1872, they had eight children, four of whom later lived in Goulburn. 

In 1877 Luke Gulson was granted a license for the “Turks Head” Hotel in Wodonga Place Albury.  It is made of brick (probably theirs) and now houses the Turks Head Museum.  The Albury Railway Station was built in 1882 using Gulson bricks.  Luke had been the Secretary to the committee working to have the railway built through Albury.  Luke and Julie later moved to Hay, for health reasons.  Hay is another town in New South Wales.   During the 1870s and 80s, Luke served as an Alderman with the Albury Council and Mayor in 1884.  Luke stood for State Parliament (unsuccessfully) in 1891.

 Turks Head Hotel
Francis and his wife Elizabeth first came to Goulburn from Albury in 1880 with well-known Brewer John Farrell.  John later became the Editor of the Sydney “Daily Telegraph” newspaper.  They built the Wollandale Brewery, Crookwell Road near Marsden Weir.  It shut down after four years.  Who would have thought you would lose money running a brewery in Australia?  The problem was the water, and, as all Tasmanians know, in beer, it’s the water that makes the difference.  Drought had turned the water sour.  The bricks and tiles for the brewery were made at the Albury brickworks and transported to Goulburn.  A feature of this now demolished brewery were the black custom roof tiles that were installed using an “XXXX” pattern, probably after the long-standing tradition of using Xs to indicate the strength of an ale.
Albury Railway Station

The site for the brickworks was chosen due to its proximity to a source of good clay, transport, the city and a permanent spring to supply water for mixing.  The spring still flows today and is the main reason why the new wetlands are so well supplied with water.  Most of the buildings in Goulburn were made of brick because of a shortage of timber in the area.  Double brick was also favoured because it insulated against the cold and damp.  North Goulburn was also an area of working class housing and a ready supply of labour.

The brick-works, known originally as “The Potteries” manufactured other clay products including tiles, stoneware pipes, fittings and terracotta wares such as garden edging, flower and chimney pots.  Most of these were made by hand on the hand-operated wheel.  You would be surprised at how quickly potters could turn out hand-made works on a wheel.  Originally the clay was prepared by being milled in a horse-drawn pugmill.  Bricks were pressed by hand.  This continued until 1914 when a brick-making machine was imported from England.  Newer kilns had been built by this time. 

In 1883, another brother, Kelvedon Zed Gulson arrived in Albury.  “Don” as he was known, worked at the Albury brickworks and later moved to Goulburn.  Don was Trooper No 84, in the NSW Citizen’s Bushmen.  He was wounded in the Boer War battle of Eland’s River, 4th to 16th August 1900, the bloodiest battle of that war, when a small contingent held out for over two weeks against a force of up to 3000 Boers until relieved.  The wounded could not be evacuated.  The Boer Commander Jan Smuts said “never in the course of this war did a besieged force endure worse sufferings, but they stood their ground with magnificent courage.  All honour to those heroes who in the hour of trial rose nobly to the occasion.

He later enlisted in 1915 (Private 55 Infantry Batallion) and left Australia for England to fight in the First World War but was discharged as medically unfit due to heart disease and rheumatism.  Unable to perform the physically demanding work of a brickmaker on his return, he became an attendant at the Kenmore Hospital in Goulburn.

 Kelvedon Zed Gulson

North Goulburn was home to numerous potteries over the years, some were one-man operations, others, like Gulson’s were family concerns, some going to the third generation.  The following shows most of them in the area.

1                    Ted Johnson lived in Cove street and was a brickmaker up to 1935.
2                    Frederick Lemm, sold to  J Mc Graw in 1884, later to Isaac Goodwin.
3                    Jack Goode
4                    Thomas Stubbings (d 1928)

His death was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald, 23 August 1928 p.12.
Mr. Thomas James Stubbings, a well-known brick manufacturer, of Goulburn,
dropped dead in Goldsmith Street, Goulburn. He had been in his usual
vigorous health at dinner time, and had eaten a hearty meal. It was while he
was walking to the city that he collapsed. Mr. Stubbings was 50 years old.
He was a native of Goulburn, where he had lived all his life. At an Inquest
into Mr. Stubbings' death, a verdict of accidental death was returned.

5                    Jack Rowan
6                    Peter Brennan
7                    Gulson’s
8                    Harry Croft
9                    Sam Burgess (snr)
10               Sam Burgess (snr) & (jnr)
11                Ron Charles
12                Thomas Ibbotsen, Alf Nicholls Manager, Closed 1920
13                George Carey, Pineleigh, Common street
14                Ted Johnson
15                Jack & Tom Stubbings, closed 1935

There were others such as Matthew Shortus, the Gillespie’s, John Cody and the Nicholls brothers.  What makes it difficult to trace, is that brickmakers often described themselves as labourers on census returns.

In 1867, a number of brickmakers were operating in Goulburn, they were;
James Pendlebury  Brickmaker at Towrang Goulburn
Richard Rayward  Mulwarree Street
Thomas Shaw Towrang
William Williamson, Cole Street
John Woods Towrang
Benjamin Boutel  Towrang d 1872

Towrang is south of Goulburn and was originally a convict settlement and a major fruit growing area.  It is now mostly deserted with a few rarely visited ruins due to the relocation of the Hume Highway.

Timothy Willis, from Wagga made bricks for Goulburn Gaol.  Buildings in Auburn Street Goulburn were also made from Willis bricks.  What is less well known is that a huge number of Gulson’s bricks were also used in the gaol’s construction when expansion occurred in 1893 with 193 cells and exercise yards, and 1894 when additional accommodation for female prisoners was built.

In 1892 the original Gulson homestead also known as “The Potteries” was built by J. William Fielding in Common Street next to the brickworks.  Mr Fielding was a member of a branch of the Grand United Order of Oddfellows established for bricklayers during the building of the Goulburn Gaol.  He later became the Grand Master of the amalgamated branches of the order. 

The red-brick single roof cottage is still in family hands and is a good example of the brick-makers art.  It is on the Historic Buildings Register.  “The Potteries” was home for Francis Gulson and his family of eight for over thirty years.  In 1923, Lynn Gulson moved in and extended the building by adding another room that was used as an office for the company.  A diamond pattern garden wall was also built.  Gulson’s also developed a special brick to be used in tennis courts.  From 1933 to 1935, Allan (Lynn) Gulson and the brickworks staff laid five of these courts.  One of these courts was laid at “The Potteries” where the 6th generation of the family still play on them.  (Lynn’s daughter Beryl and her husband Harry Edwards were married in 1939 and took up residence there in 1941.)

Detail of wall pattern  

and  Lynn Gulson’s signature on the wall dated 30/8/ 1896

Gulson's Brick & Pottery Company Pty Ltd was formed in July 1913 and immediately began to update their equipment.  They had been using machinery that had come from England in 1869 with Thomas Gulson (1850-1941) who had come to Melbourne Australia with an 8 ton brick machine, a 2 ton pipe extruding machine and a hand cranked potters wheel dating back to 1790 that had originally been used by William Gulson.  They arrived in January 1870 to be met by his brother Luke and his family.  Freight cost from England to Melbourne was £3 per ton, a cost far greater than the price of his ticket.  By the time Thomas came out, passenger fares had more than halved from that paid by his brothers.

This machinery was transported to Albury by bullock wagon where Thomas joined his brothers in the business.  Thomas married Emily Christine Unmack in Albury in 1878.  They had eight children.  Thomas died in 1941 at Narrabeen in New South Wales.  Emily died in 1945.  The potter’s wheel was in regular use for almost 200 years and is now enjoying retirement on display at the Australian Pottery Museum in Holbrook, New South Wales.  In the 1880s, the equipment was moved to Goulburn when the brickworks there commenced operation.  Why did Gulson’s become a company in 1913 after operating for over thirty years?  It was done for good business reasons.  As a sole trader or as a non-limited business, his personal assets were at risk in the event of failure of the business, but this was not the case for a limited company.  As long as the business was operated legally, directors’ or shareholders’ personal assets were not at risk.  It is a common business practice.

The Company was formed in July 1913 with Mr Cecil F Adams as the Company Secretary and an office in Montague Street Goulburn.  Directors were Allan (Lynn) Gulson, John Cody, Richard Gray, William Armstrong and Joseph Tickner.  The new company immediately began updating their machinery.  Local demand had outstripped supply and by the end of the year they had installed equipment to the value of £2,200 ($4,400).  Consisting of the latest boiler and steam engine, clay grinding pan, and a Stanley Patent Semi-Plastic Dust Single Brick Machine capable of producing 1,200 bricks per hour. 
 Official Opening of the Brickworks 2nd February 1914

Opening Day 2nd February 1913
This meant that the company could now make up to 60,000 bricks per week, as well as tiles, pipes and pottery.  Additional pipe making machinery was added later.

Francis Gulson 1914
The updated brickworks opened on the 2nd of February 1914.  A Rappenecker and Richards Double Brick Press made by the Marrickville Engineering Company in Sydney was installed towards the end of 1914.  Marrickville was the site of some of Australia’s largest potteries and the industries that serviced them.  The new machinery was installed by local mechanic Arthur Ernest Cramm and carpenter Arthur Middleton Watson.

The “Goulburn Post” of the 26th of April 1984 contained a feature article celebrating Gulson’s centenary.  One of the articles was headed “Staff’s Service Record” It went on; “An edition of the “Penny Post” in 1926 reported that in those times it was a frequent occurrence (sic) for men to claim records for long service with one particular firm.  Most unusual, however, is the story connected with Gulson’s Brick and Tile Works, North Goulburn, Penny Post reported.  It continued; A group of six workmen originally employed there became separated, three of them leaving Australia, but are now re-united on their old job after being scattered in different corners of the globe for upwards of a quarter of a century.

About 25 years ago (1901) there were six men working at Gulson’s Brick and Tile Works.  They were – Messrs Francis Gulson, the proprietor; and his two sons, Roy A, and Allan F. Gulson; Jack Batten, Henry Wilson and Arthur Watson.  “Boss” Gulson prided himself on having a loyal and thoroughly efficient staff.  Practically all of them had started their careers with him as boys; and right through the most cordial relations existed between them.

Little did any of them dream that the commencement of another century was to bring many changes to the works where for nearly a decade previously they had toiled so harmoniously together.


 The war clouds had hardly cleared in South Africa when young Allan Gulson who was then in his early twenties, becoming imbued with the roving spirit.  Inspired no doubt by the tales told by returning members of the Australian contingent left his native hearth and took ship for South Africa.  Twelve months later he was joined by his elder brother Roy.

Within the space of a few years Watson and Batten also left Goulburn and followed various callings in different parts of the state.  When the world war broke out in 1914, Wilson responded to the call of Empire, and was with one of the first A.I.F. contingents to leave these shores.  He served abroad for about four years.

Therefore, of the six who were identified with the brickworks practically from the start, one only-the father of the two boys who went to Africa and founder of the firm-remained on the job.  A number of years ago a local company took over the factory, but failed to make it a paying proposition.  Mr Gulson snr, then came back into the picture, and has carried on the business, assisted by his two sons with great success ever since.


When he recommenced operations it was, by a strange coincidence, with exactly the same staff that he had in the early days.  How the six brickmakers became re-united after a lapse of so mant years provides an interesting story.  Allan and Roy Gulson had returned from South Africa.  After a brief visit to New Zealand, 1907, Allan was employed with his brother at the Illawarra Fire Brick Company’s Works at Bulli.  He rose to the position of manager and on one occasion went to America in the company’s interests.

When their father again took over the North Goulburn business they both returned to assist him.  The kiln had hardly started to burn bricks under its former masnagement when Wilson, Watson and Batten came along in search of work.  They were accordingly re-employed in their old positions.  Thus during a quarter of a century, during which three of the workmen visited other lands, the staff was re-united.

L – R Billy Wise, Artie Wilson, Charles Fort, Chris Hetherington, Tommy Nelson, Charlie Morrison, Job Gray, Roy Gulson, Les Coleman, Lawson Coleman and Lynn Gulson.

Mr Francis Gulson is certainly a remarkable old man.  Although 85 years of age he still retains all his faculties, and is capable of engaging in laborious work should the occasion demand it.  He is daily on the job, and makes a fair number of bricks.  The agility and vigor which he displays while moving about the works would make him pass for a man of 60; his grey beard alone bespeaks his great age.

During the latter part of the last century, Mr Gulson snr, was a prominent figure in the public life of Goulburn, he and his brother, Thomas Gulson, were actively associated with John Farrell, the noted poet and T.J.Hebblewhite, of the “Penny Post” in the free-trade fight.”

Francis died in 1927 and the brickworks continued under the management of new generations of the Gulson family until 1989 when it closed and became the Gulson Craft Village.  Allan (Lynn) Gulson had also previously managed the Illawarra Fireclay & Brick Co. but came back to Goulburn in 1922 to run the Brickworks.  They also replaced the steam engine with a 50hp electric motor.  This motor was still in use when the brickworks closed.

  An electric motor on display at Brickmakers Park, Oakleigh, Victoria, similar to the motor used at Gulson's

The next member of the family to operate the brickworks was Allan (Lynn) Gulson.  He managed the brickworks from 1922 until 1950.  In conjunction with his brother Roy and brother in law Arthur Watson (Artie had married Francis’ daughter Frances) an expansion of the company took place.  In 1926, Allen Gulson, Lynn’s son joined the firm and in 1933 Allan’s brother Frank also joined.  The family had always been involved with community activities and the amount of donations and gifts shown on the company balance sheets attest to that.

Lynn died in 1950 and was succeeded by his son Allan.  The “Penny Post” commented that he was one of Goulburns finest citizens.  It reported “A very monument to the name if reflected in the fine public buildings and residences of the city.  For the past half century the name of Gulson has stood like a beacon in the progress and advancement of the City of Goulburn.  Possessed of a charming and gracious personality, Lynn Gulson will be affectionately remembered by all who were privileged to know him.  A keen and successful businessman, he enlarged and strengthened the industry and today the products of “The Potteries” are recognized as probably among the finest in the State.” 

 Allan Gulson

 Bricks are a mixture of clay containing silicate (or alumina) that usually contains small quantities of iron oxide, with water with sand added.  They sometimes have added lime or ash to assist firing.  The iron content determines the colour and the silicate acts as a flux during firing, bonding the brick.  The process of brick-making at the time was made up of five separate stages.  Each was done manually as mechanical brick-making using steam power was not introduced until the late 1870s.  The work was seasonal, hard manual labour and dangerous.
Gulson's Original Brickworks

Bricks are a mixture of clay containing silicate (or alumina) that usually contains small quantities of iron oxide, with water with sand added.  They sometimes have added lime or ash to assist firing.  The iron content determines the colour and the silicate acts as a flux during firing, bonding the brick.  The process of brick-making at the time was made up of five separate stages.  Each was done manually as mechanical brick-making using steam power was not introduced until the late 1870s.  The work was seasonal, hard manual labour and dangerous.

The first step was to dig out the clay; this is known as “winning” and was done with pick and shovel.  Transportation costs have always been high, so brickworks were usually located close to their source of clay or shale.  Gulson’s clay initially came from a quarry (known as a brickpit) behind the brickworks, but later mainly from a quarry on the other side of Common Street and transported to the brickworks.  Clay is one of the most common substances around, but getting it is not easy.  The surface (overburden) has to be removed, the material itself can be unstable and seepage or flooding is a constant problem.  Intrusion by other rocks such as sandstone or limestone is also an issue. 

The original quarry is still in much of its original condition but most of the other quarries have been refilled.  Old quarries are a favourite site for dumping rubbish and are prized by local Councils, although costly health and safety concerns now preclude their use.  Gulsons mixed clay delivered to the site from a number of sources in the area to the north of Sydney road out to Boxers Creek, about six kilometers from Goulburn.  Many brickpits in Australia had crushers on site to break up the clay.  I do not know if this was the case with Gulsons. 

The area now being turned into the Goulburn Mulwaree Wetlands has the original footprint of other non Gulson pits being preserved.  Several other brickworks had used these pits but as time progressed, they all closed, leaving Gulson’s as the only company winning clay in the area.   Extraction was not an easy process.  First, overburden, or soil had to be removed from the surface to expose the clay.  This was part of a process known as pit stripping.  Explosives were used to separate the clay from the quarry face. 

The clay was then dug, stones separated and shoveled into the trolleys.  The trolleys contained one cubic yard of clay and were then driven from the quarry to the brick-works.  Pumping and drainage were constant issues at the quarry.  The workers there were known as pitmen, breakers and shooters.  They also dug drains and sump-holes to keep the quarry face clear.  Stones were used for other purposes such as road making and maintenance.

 In Europe, clay was chosen because of its colour and was dug out in autumn and left to sit over winter.  This caused to clay to freeze and then thaw, allowing the oxides in the clay to break down and soften the clay for working by hand.  This was not the case in Australia and that is why “pugging” was so important.  Clay was transported from the quarry to the brickworks by means of a narrow gauge tramway using carriages attached to a tractor.  The trackway was moved to suit the varying quarrying locations.  One carriage from the tramway survives (shown previously).

Goulburn has experienced flooding several times during the 20th Century.  In February 1951 severe flooding cut the Hume Highway and filled the clay-pit.  Traditionally, flooding is an occupational hazard of a quarry.  There had been a previous flood in 1900, but in 1951 Gulson’s were forced to cutback production severely for two years because the brickworks also suffered from flood damage.  Brickmaking ceased but pipe making continued.

Preparation, or the second stage had happened in Europe during the warmth of spring.  Clay is stacked into small heaps and allowed to dry. The softened clay was screened to remove stones or tree roots and other impurities, then ground to a powder.  A soak pit was used to prepare the clay. Clay was mixed there with water and soaked overnight for softening for later shaping. The arrival of brick making machines made the process of moulding the bricks easier.  About 10% of the material quarried was unsuitable.

 This clay grinding pan is similar to the one used by Gulson’s.  It is on display at Brickmakers Park, Oakleigh, Victoria.
Dry crushing screening and milling took place on site at the brickworks.  Primary crushing of the clay happened when large rollers broke up the clay into smaller lumps.  A second crushing broke the clay into smaller pieces to be able to go through the screens.  The mesh in the screens were exceedingly fine, making sure that only small particles got through.  Gulson’s used a pan grinder.  This consisted of a large pan with a solid central vertical shaft that was coupled to a pair of wheels that rotated on a revolving path on the grinding surface around the shaft.

The pan had slotted screen plates with holes 1/16”.  After crushing, the clay was screened through mesh, also with about 1/16” openings.  This part of the process was very dusty and caused annoyance to workers.  Precautions were taken to reduce dust by enclosing this part of the process and using extractor fans to draw the dust through filters.  The small moulds originally in England were designed so they could be carried by children who in earlier times were performing manual labour from a young age. 

A lump of clay known as a clot was rolled in sand and thrown into a mould and pressed into the sides.  Excess clay was trimmed off the top by a “strike” a wire or wet piece of wood.  The sand stopped to clay from sticking to the mould.  This work was done by a Panman, Machineman, A Boy Wheeler, a Head Setter and a Setter.  A good brickmaker could make around 4000 bricks per day.

The moulds were taken to a drying area where the bricks were turned out.  This is where the thumb-print appears that you see on some really old hand-made bricks.  This part of the process was known as “hacking”, a term that has taken on new meaning in the computer age.  Typically bricks were left for several months to air-dry.  Later, plastic clay machines were introduced. 

They were made up of a rectangular opening the size of a brick.  Pugged clay is forced under pressure through the opening where it is cut into single bricks with a wire.  These are known as wire cut bricks.  A skilled brick maker could make about 4,000 bricks a day by hand but a brick machine could produce up to 12,000 bricks per day.

The next part of this process is known as pugging or tempering and was originally consisted of a large container with a central vertical post with horizontal paddles or blades that mixes the clay.   An early pug-mill in use at the time that Gulson’s began was around 1.5 metres high and about 1 metre in diameter at the top and about half a metre at the base.    Water and clay were added at the top and mixed at around 25% water to 75% clay.  This reduced the shrinking and cracking of the bricks.  Clay was mixed by a revolving spindle made of cast iron that had a series of flat steel arms arranged into a screw conformation that moved the clay from the top until, sufficiently mixed, it emerged from a hole at the bottom..  Lumps of 9.5lbs (4.3kg) were produced from the clay to make a standard size house-brick, later a mechanical pug-mill was introduced.

The third step was moulding the clay.  This was originally done by hand but later by machine.  A mould could be made up of either one, two or up to a dozen (12) moulds.  Gulson’s had 28 different moulds. 

The brick press at Brickmakers Park, Oakleigh, Victoria showing moulds that could be changed to suit the type of brick required.
The fourth stage was drying and could last for several days, usually from three to ten days.  During this time, the bricks were turned to allow them to dry evenly and prevent distortion.  During this process, “Edgers” would clean the edges to make sure the bricks were smooth.  When the bricks were dry, they were stacked with about a finger width between them to allow for air movement.  A large covered shed to protect the clay from rain was on-site.  Side-screens also protected the drying bricks from direct sun and wind.  After more drying, the bricks are ready for the final stage. 

The last stage was firing.  Until the 1930s, kilns were wood fired and could burn up to ten tons of wood per day.  Three Wood Carters were employed by Gulson’s to keep the brickworks supplied.  Wood had to be a specific size, approximately four feet long (just over 1 metre) and four inches in diameter (imagine a small treated pine post).  All this wood was loaded and unloaded manually. 

 To fire one thousand bricks required half a ton of wood and a ton of coal.  Four railway goods wagons of coal were used each week.  Although gas firing is now the norm in brickmaking, wood and coal fired bricks give better colour matching.  One of the points of difference between Gulson’s and other brickmakers was their ability to match bricks made decades earlier.  Gas firing cannot ensure colour consistency between batches.  

The type of fuel was crucial.  Gulson’s used coal from the Hartley Valley Colliery in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney.  The coal was trucked overland on backroads in semi-trailers by a family of truck drivers (3 brothers) from Taralga, a town north of Goulburn.  This coal produced a better heat because it contained fewer impurities.  As a result, it cost more, but produced a better product.  Incidentally, all 28 types of bricks made by Gulson’s are in the church at Taralga.

Before bricks were fired, the kilns had to be cleaned out and prepared for firing.  This meant shoveling out the ash, putting up and daubing the main wicket (door to a kiln), putting up the ash wicket and preparing the fireholes and firebars.  The next part of this process was closing the kiln.  This involved putting up and pulling down barrow runs, building and daubing the doorway, and props at the front of the kiln, then lighting the fires.  This was done by the Yardman and could take up to 14 hours.

Initially, the firing heat was low (500 degrees) to ensure that the remaining moisture is cooked off.   This process was known as steaming or watersmoking.  When the steam stopped forming, the temperature was increased.  This varied depending on the skill of the brick-maker and was meant to ensure that the bricks were fired evenly and did not crack or explode.  Bricks have to be dried evenly from the inside outwards otherwise they will crack. 

If the exterior of a brick dries first, steam cannot escape and the brick may explode.  Moisture levels inside the kiln had to be carefully controlled.  It took about 5 days to complete this part of the process.  Over fired or cracked bricks are called “clinkers” and were used for building or for walls.  Most people will have seen some of the older style houses made from clinkers.

The position of the bricks in the kiln and the temperature determined the colour and finish.  There are various types of kilns around but the ones used at Gulson’s were the rectangular downdraught type.  These kilns as the name implies were rectangular with a curved roof.  Heat came from the fire through a series of holes around the kiln and was circulated through the bricks stacked inside.  They were an intermittent rather than continuous firing.  The number of holes depended on the size of the kiln.  A small kiln had 14 holes (6 per side).  A large kiln had 20 holes (10 per side).  In the automatically fed kiln, where a hopper fed coal through a worm drive, there were 10 holes (5 per side).  The hopper was filled with 2 tons of coal before each shift.

This means that the kiln was loaded with bricks, sealed, brought up to temperature, cooled down, opened and emptied before the process was repeated.  The kilns are made entirely of bricks and are free standing with a specially developed mortar to hold the bricks.  Usually these kilns would not have mortar because of the expansion during firing.  Normal mortar would explode under thes tremendous heat, but Gulson’s mixed ash from the fires into their mortar and this expanded with the bricks.  The kilns are made in sections about two metres long.  This is to allow for movement and east replacement of damaged sections.  This happens because of the intense heat of up to 2000 degrees C used in them and the expansion and contraction during firing and subsequent cooling, sometimes up to 5cm.

The last part of the firing process was known as loading out.  Each man could unload about 1000 bricks and load them onto a truck every 45 minutes.  But before this could be done, the kilns had to be opened and the ash wicket removed.  The kiln was then prepared for re-use.  This consisted of wheeling out waste bricks and rubbish, cleaning up and leveling the kiln floor, cleaning the walls, fireholes and flues and repairing any damage.

Gulson’s also employed an engineer full time for repair and maintenance of all the complex heavy machinery located on-site as well as production work.   

 The roof of a rectangular downdraught kiln under construction in 1960 at Gulson’s brickworks, note the framing for construction of the curved roof.

Gulson’s rectangular downdraught kilns, are some of the finest examples of the type remaining and were made from around 150,000 bricks, fully enclosed and connected to a fire box and chimney.  Hot gasses circulated through flues, through the walls and roof and were exhausted through the chimney. 

This heat burned the bricks.  The advantage of this type of kiln was that the bricks were more evenly baked.  It was also more suitable for pottery because heat could be more easily controlled.  Their bricks were of a uniform shape, colour and size.  These types of kilns were usually built in groups, Gulson’s had seven, to enable consistent production through rotation.

What did the equipment look like and how did it work?  Unfortunately, most of the brick making equipment at Goulburn was sold when the plant closed.  However, there is a display of similar equipment in situ at Brickmakers Park in 
Oakleigh Victoria that was used at Gambles Brickworks. 

The process is powered by a powerful electric motor.  Originally, steam engines, powered by boilers were used.  

  1. The motor at Gulson’s was 50 horsepower, that is real horsepower, not brake horsepower.

2        Power was  transmitted to a large pulley wheel attached to a drive shaft.

3        The drive shaft had a number of take-off wheels that had drive belts to operate other machinery.

4        There are two types of take-off wheels, each held a different type of belt.  The solid wheel had a wide belt, originally made of leather.  The slotted wheel held several belts.  These belts could be made from either leather, rubber or later, some synthetic composites.  A flat leather belt was the easiest method to transmit power from the engine to the equipment.  They were replaced later by vee belts, that is why there are two types of wheels on the shaft.  Leather belts are joined by cemented lap joints and large staples.  They run in the direction of the bottom edge of the splice going over the pulley first so the joint would close.  Tension on the belt was released when not in use.  Belts were constantly being lubricated and shortened to extend their useful life.  New clips were used each time.  Belts were lubricated to replace the oils lost in the tanning process. 

5        Vee belts were a rubber/canvas mixture

6        The large slotted wheel took the power and operated the brick press. 

7        The moulds on the brick press.

Why did Gulson’s use downdraught kiln when most other brickworks used “Hoffman” kilns?  The answer is quality and control.  Colour matching and colour consistency was better with a down draught kiln.  They were well fired, free from cracks and distortion with sharp well-defined edges.  Gulson’s also made a variety of custom brick and tile to suit special jobs.  Gulson’s kilns were of the intermittent type, rather than the continuous firing in a Hoffman Kiln.

Pipes at Gulson’s were made in beehive kilns; an intermittent kiln, circular in plan, with fireboxes arranged around the circumference.  Pipes were stacked in the arched chamber to retain greater heat and create more durable pipes.  Although called “beehives” because of their distinctive shape, they look more like a yert. 

Lynn Gulson

In 1931, Gulson’s purchased another quarry site at Boxers Creek, about 6km north east of Goulburn for the princely sum of £25.  The clay from this quarry was made from shale.  Careful mixing of clays by Gulson’s was one of the reasons for making a consistent product.  All together, Gulson’s had up to a dozen quarries around the brickworks. 

In 1926, Gulson’s had six brick kilns and two pipe kilns in operation.  It took one week to stack and arrange the bricks in the kiln.  It took another week to fire the bricks, consisting of three days to dry out the bricks and four days at 2000 degrees Celsius.  It took another week to unpack.  At peak, there were seven brick kilns and three pipe kilns.  

The kilns all had metal bracing to prevent them from falling apart during firing.  This consisted of pieces of old steel railway track buried vertically about one and a half metres into the ground at regular intervals around the kilns.  These posts went to roof height and metal strapping or bars were fixed horizontally around the kiln to brace the brickwork. 

The depression of the late 1920s and 1930s hit Gulson’s hard.  Production declined in line with falling sales.  It was not until the late 1930s that sales picked up again, however price controls introduced during the Second-World-War meant a constant battle with bureaucracy to keep the brickworks financially viable.  These price controls lasted into the 1950s and improved pay and conditions for workers during this period meant further strain on the business.  Costs were continuing to rise and many other brick-works did not reopen after the war because of these increased costs and their inability to attract enough workers.

This graph shows the balance sheet for Gulson’s from 1923 to 1941.  You can see the drop caused by the great depression and the increase at the beginning of the second world war when sales into Canberra increased.

In 1975 production was at its peak with the small kiln holding 48,000 bricks and the largest 70,000.  An average 3-bedroom brick veneer house contains approximately 10,000 bricks.  An average of one to two houses per day were produced.  Approximately 800 meters of pipe was produced daily.  In the late 1970s, Gulson’s produced over four million bricks per annum.  Almost half of these were transported to Canberra . 

At this time, around 75% of the homes in Goulburn were made from Gulson bricks.  There were 43 people working in the brickworks and another 5 in the office.  When the Canberra Brickworks closed in 1976, Sales of bricks to Canberra increased.  Put simply, around 200 houses per year in Canberra were made from Gulson’s bricks.  Even with their own brickworks, Canberra was growing so fast that Gulson’s were sending bricks there from the 1920s onwards.

Gulson’s Staff – 1946

 Gulson Staff 1984

L – R Ian Wade, Col Chandler, Leo Coves, Geoff Gulson (Managing Director), Norm Day, Lyn Shepherd, Arnold Grandovskis, Brian Carney and Graham Park.
(Arnold Grandovskis retired on the weekend of the Gulson Centenary celebration.  He started with them in 1956 and was their oldest employee both in years and length of service.) Arnold died in 1999 aged 80.

In 1976, Geoffrey Allen Gulson took over management of the brickworks from his father.  Geoff had qualified as a builder before joining the family firm.  Determined to learn the business from the ground up, he worked at every facet of brick making before taking over.

Geoff Gulson

In October 1987 the New York Stock Market went into “meltdown” and began what has become known as the Global Financial Crisis.  Australia was not immune and the economy went into recession.  Prime Minister Paul Keating called it the recession we had to have.  Sales plummeted and the building trade suffered.  The flow on effect was that orders almost dried up and Gulson’s stopped production.  What two world wars and a depression had failed to do, a group of irresponsible financiers half a world away had managed to do.

Ever resourceful, Geoff Gulson turned to another project.  He would turn the brickworks into a tourist attraction.  With a main road running almost past the door, why not?  The property was cleaned up, the kilns repaired and stabilized and a new café was built.

Seating fifty inside and another 50 outside, the 40sq m building cost $60,000 and was built from bricks selected to match the original 1892 home next door.  The concept of the tea rooms had been to maintain the historic look to blend in with the brickworks environment.  The homely atmosphere was complimented by a wood burning pot-bellied stove.  Resident potter Marcus Daniels made all the cups, saucers, sugar bowls, milk jugs and other dished on-site. 

In addition, Anthony Hansen, the proprietor of the wood turning gallery within the complex, made all timber serviette holders, teapot stands, and table number holders.  Historic photographs showing scenes of the brickworks were hung on the walls.

The Craft Centre

In 1989, Gulson’s Craft Village opened, occupying much of their old site.  Craft and was generally described as producing unique items in small quantities, typically with all making carried out by one person.  The craft village contained a number of such businesses, housed under the distinctive vaulted ceilings of the salt glazed and well-cooked interiors of the old kilns.  This village consisted of many and varied crafts people.  Some staying for longer than others.  

"Our Way Porcelain Dolls" was operated by Beverley Curtain who hand-made lifelike ceramic dolls on the premises and conducted classes in doll-making. 

"The Woodturning Gallery" was operated by Wood-turner Anthony Hansen, producing tables, vases, platters and bowls.  He used native Australian timbers to make their products. Anthony later sold to Hardy Greiheim who continued the hand-made tradition.

"Fibre Design Gallery and Studio" were five ladies who sold hand-spun wool, felt hats and handmade jewellery.  They also sold supplies for fibre-work.  Three of the five were Jane Wilson, Jenny Field and Carol Divell.

"Ma Pickles Cottage Craft" made and sold a variety of hand-made baby and children;s clothing, as well as crochet and hand-knits,  Soft toys and jewelry were also available. 

"Sheepskin Products" sold that Aussie staple, "Ugg Boots".  They also sold car-seat covers and a wide variety of sheepskin products, wood, leather and cane ware.

"The Pottery Cave" was operated by local boy Marcus Daniels.  He sold to Gary Cornish.

“The Heritage Cane and Gifts” was oprated by Lyn  Gashand Carol Whitney and sold souvenirs, brassware and cane products.

"The Windwhorls Cottage Craft" was a co-operative of around 40 people, Ineke Ireland seen here was one of them.  Amongst other things, they made tapestries and silk-screen prints.

"Devonshire Tea Rooms” were run by Geoff Gulson’s daughter Joanne and her business partner Glenda Mc Carthy.  They were of a traditional colonial design to reflect the period.  Exterior bricks were selected to match the 1892 home “The Potteries” next door. Cups, mugs, saucers and plates used in the tea-room were made on-site by the potters.

At 10:00am on Saturday 26th February 2000 an auction at Gulson’s Brickworks, Common Street Goulburn occurred.  Bricks, pipes, pottery, furniture, fixtures and fittings were sold at knock-down prices.  Their old brick-making and cleaning machines, roof tile machines and many more was sold. 

In 2005, three of the heritage listed kilns were demolished without consent of the authorities.  The new owners of the site, Goulburn Recyclers discovered the damage when they took ownership of the site.  Although on the local register, they were not on the State Heritage Register.

Until they ceased production, it was the oldest family owned and operated brickworks in Australia.  Four generations of the family had owned, managed and worked there until 1990.  The Gulson family still retain a connection, with Geoff Gulson and sons operating a timber business on part of the old brickworks site.

The Goulburn Post reported

An Environmental Impact Statement was prepared for Bramco Holdings Pty Ltd, the then owners of the site, by John Thorpe of Maunsell McIntyre for their proposed site use for the Goulburn Brickworks Landfill.

However, the demolition of three of the brick kilns appears to have happened before the current land-owners, Goulburn Recyclers, took over the site to establish a building material recycling facility.  The kilns were listed on Goulburn Mulwaree's Local Environment Plan 2009 and the council's recent heritage study as items of local heritage significance but they were not listed on the State Heritage Register.  Council's planning and community services director Chris Berry said it was only when council inspectors responded to a dust complaint that they discovered the kilns had been knocked down.

Mr Berry said the current operators had only recently acquired the site and discovered that a previous operator had already altered the majority of the buildings that were identified for retention in some way.  "The current operators have inherited some problems," Mr Berry said.  "The demolition occurred sometime between issuing approval and the current owners occupation. They have claimed the buildings were demolished before they came on site."

He said the DA for part-demolition had been issued back in 2002, but the supporting document required that a number of buildings had to be retained. "But some of the buildings due to be retained have been demolished without approval," Mr Berry said.  "Once a heritage building is demolished you can't rebuild it."  Mr Berry said the council was still deciding whether to pursue the previous owner of the site.  "It will be difficult because they have left the site," he said.

The general manager of Goulburn Recyclers Michael Wratten said his company inherited a mess. He had a meeting with the council to try and sort it all out.  "When we got here all of the back sheds were falling down," Mr Wratten said.  "They had stripped the guts out of it. It was falling down and a workcover issue as well as being riddled with asbestos.

"I was amazed at the mess; it was absolutely disgusting and we're just trying to sort it out with the council. I told them that there were a lot of buildings missing that we're supposed to be here.  "We're not doing any demolition. What is here on site is staying."”

And that is where things sit at the moment.  

But! "If you seek his monument - look around you".  This obituary for famous English architect Sir Christopher Wren equally applies to the Gulsons.  Both Goulburn and Canberra are testaments and monuments to their enterprise.  Next time you are in either place, look around you.