Whau Brickworks

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Whau Brickworks The Whau Brickworks is the collective name used by researchers to refer to the 19th Century Pollen Brickworks and Wright Pottery site located on Whau Creek in West Auckland. The Pollen Brickworks may be one of the few, if not the only, remaining early/mid 19th Century Brickworks in New Zealand. <googlemap lat="-36.862386" lon="174.658756" zoom="14"> -36.847385, 174.765735, Auckland, New Zealand -36.841163, 174.651783, Te Atatu Peninsula, Auckland 0610, New Zealand -36.866918, 174.659872, approximation of site location </googlemap>



The brickworks is located on the Whau Peninsula (along the Whau River ) which in prehistoric times was an important resource for the Maori providing them with fish, wildfowl and rich agricultural soil. There are five prehistoric Maori sites plus an additional shell midden known archaeologically on the west side of the peninsula.

Dr. Daniel Pollen

Taking advantage of the rich Pleistocene clay,Dr.Daniel Pollen settled himself on the peninsula in the 1850s, building his home at the end of Rosebank Road and his brick and tile works a little further down the road. Eventually the area along the Whau inlet was the home to some 12 brick and tile manufacturers. By 1863, Dr. Pollen's enterprise was running and at this time he employed James Wright, an experienced Staffordshire potter, in order to begin producing local wares to compete with British imports. However, with the death of Wright in 1887, the first attempt at a native New Zealand fine-ware industry came to an end.

Once the brickyards were torn down, the land was either turned back into pasture land or developed into market gardens, leaving very few surface remains. In 1965, with the help of the son of one of the original worker's sons, Jack Diamond managed to relocate the site of the Pollen brickworks.

In 1985, new research by the Reynolds and Diamond pointed to the presence of not only a brickworks, but also a pottery manufacturing enterprise headed up by Wright. In 1985, James Hardy Ltd., the company owning the land, wanted to fill an area of the site to use as a parking lot and were required to conduct a study to check if there were archaeological remains located in the area.


Aerial view of Pollen Island

1985/1986 Preliminary survey work along the shore in 1985 produced tapered arch- bricks,skewback bricks, glazed surface bricks, unglazed pottery, telegraph insulators, kiln furniture, all of which point to a brick-making industry. The work on the parking lot at this point was halted and limited scope preliminary study meant to employ two people for one week started. In January 1986, seven trenches were dug and tested. By February 1986, the excavated part of the site had been drawn and the un-excavated part had been probed. At this time a magnetometer test was also performed which didn't yield evidence for large features.

1987/1988 During this second season of excavation, the kiln, the pugmill nearby, the pit used for clay preparation and the dump containing remnants indicating pottery manufacture were all fully excavated. At this time several other features were found such as another pugmill, two more clay preparation sites and a clamp floor to the west of the kiln. In addition to these major features, several other, smaller ones were also found during this excavation. On top of all this many pieces of pottery and brickmaking debris were also found throughout the site.


Trench 1, Feature 1 This feature consisted of a dump of bricks and pottery about 2.5m long which was likely connected to pottery making and not brick making. This assignment is based on proportion of glazed and unglazed bricks, mortar attachments, lots of pottery, one tapered arch-brick and temperature ring.

Trench 2, Feature 1 Located at the edge of quarried area, this feature contained an iron blade (tip of ploughshare) on the clay base, a couple of bricks, and a section of saggar. This trench was enlarged to a 2.5 X 3 m. area in order to gain more information. This area also appears to be a potter’s area and was not meant for brickmaking. Other finds include more iron blades on clay base, pottery, bricks on interface between the layers, and bottle glass throughout the topsoil.

Trench 2, Feature 2 This feature was a lot like the feature in trench 1 though not dug into clay base. This feature had different proportions/types of cultural material such as the absence of glazed bricks and kiln furniture, the appearance of flat based field tiles, and few pottery pieces. This shift in materials may indicate a spacial transition in site usage.

Trench 3, Feature 1 The original trench contained black slag/ash and was then extended into a 2 x 1.7m unit which yielded a culturally mixed layer below topsoil with flat-based tiles, two bricks, pottery and glass fragments and a button, as well as a 10-15 cm trench with slag and 20 broken bricks dug into clay.

Trench 4, Feature 1 This feature was located in the part of the site that wasn't quarried for clay that slopes towards banks of Whau. This was enlarged to the east showing a group of bricks with yellow ash. To the north this trench appears to be surrounded by black cinder and ash up to 10cm in depth with no cultural materials. Above this layer of ash was a layer of broken bricks, flat based tiles, roof tiles and a bit of pottery. These finds could indicate some sort of firing activity going on in the area.

Trench 7, Feature 1 and Test Square 1 This feature yielded some saggar pieces and brick which was topped with a layer of white clay. This feature also contained a hard surface 40 x 50 m which is likely to be the kiln surface.

Trench 8 This extra trench was located where the first evidence of pottery manufacture from the survey occurred. Kiln bricks, pottery, kiln furniture were found in 20 cm of mangrove mud.

The Kiln This feature was found by first surface probing which yielded hard surface at a uniform depth. Excavations down unearthed enough foundation bricks to estimate the size of the kiln as being 5.4 x 0.8m.


1.Image of Dr. Daniel Pollen. http://www.flickr.com/photos/nationallibrarynz_commons/4294245980/ retrieved Feb. 18, 2010.

2. Image of Pollen Island. http://www.doc.govt.nz/upload/4071/Pollen-Island-223.jpg retrieved Feb 22, 2010.

3. Best, Simon. Pollen Brickworks and Potteries (Site R11/1509): Initial Archaeological Investigation.

4.Best, Simon. The Whau Brickworks and Pottery: archaeological excavation of an early industrial ceramic site (R11/1509) on the Whau Peninsula, Auckland. Auckland Historic Resource Series no. 7.

5. Guthrie, Mike. Early and Unusual Telegraph Insulators. http://www.insulators.info/articles/early/ retrieved Feb. 22, 2010.

6. Reynolds, D. and Reynolds, S. The Colonial Potteries of James Wright in Historic Places in New Zealand, No. 8.