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Swallow's Handmade Tiles

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What: Tile and terracotta works
Where: Cranleigh, Surrey
Built: 1894 with later extensions
Architect: Unknown
Abandoned: April 2008
Listed: No.
Visited: 2010
Last Known Condition: Demolished
Page Updated: November 2015

In 1860, Raymond Swallow founded his brick and terra-cotta works in the woods to the east of Cranleigh, producing building products and clay pots which were transported by canal to London. The company soon expanded its product range to include roofing tiles at the request of a local building contractor, and later added small-bore clay drainage pipes as well.

In 1894, having outgrown its original site, the works moved to nearby Bookhurst Hill, where the present moulding/drying sheds and kilns were built. From then on, little changed until closure: as late as the 1950s, clay was being dug by hand and brought to the works by tramway. Throughout its life the works remained primarily manual, with only the pugmill being mechanised, initially powered by steam engine. Everything else - moulding, drying and firing - was done by hand. After milling, the clay was delivered by hand-barrow to each maker's workbench where the same wooden tools were employed to make the tiles that had been used for almost one and a half centuries. Following the moulding process, the finished 'green' tiles were dried in sheds for up to 13 weeks then fired in kilns powered by Welsh steam coal up to the early 1970s and then by natural gas.

A dusty window in the main moulding/drying shed
A dusty window in the main moulding/drying shed

Barrow gangway and kilns
Barrow gangway and kilns

Wellington boots
Wellington boots

[click images below to expand & enlarge]

Entrance and offices Barrows and gas cylinders behind the offices A sieve Break room Playing cards from King & Barnes, another vanished local business Accounts Cheques and paying-in slips Toilets The works from the claypits A 2' gauge tramway carried clay between the pits and the factory Modern clay preparation/pugmill building Modern clay preparation/pugmill building Main factory with barrow gangway Drying floor Tile boards in the moulding area Make mine a builder's Thank you very much Moulding area Most of the radio stations are now defunct Second factory building. I guess they had to demolish the wall to remove machinery Second factory building Factory floor Second factory building Workshop window A magnetic van sign Kilns Inside one of the tunnel kilns The kilns were converted to run on gas in the 1970s The kilns were somewhat inefficient, a great deal of heat being lost through the walls Dusty gauge No sign of either

By the 1970s, production was exclusively of tiles. The old-fashioned methods produced attractive red tiles much sought-after for use in older buildings and in new-builds where traditional materials were required. Unfortunately these methods were also slow, wasteful of energy and expensive. In 2007 plans were made to mechanise some stages of production and speed up the drying process. Before the plans could be realised, howevera downturn in the housing market forced the 148 year-old firm into administration and the factory closed on 30th April, 2008.

The works were up for sale in 2010 and proposals had been submitted to reopen the pits, seeking to extract 100,000 tonnes of clay a year (compared to Swallow's 2,000 tonnes p.a.), much to the concern of local residents.


The entire site, with the exception of the site office, was razed in 2012-13 to make way for a new housing development. I cannot help feeling disappointed that no attempt was made to re-purpose the historic kilns or sheds.


Anon, 'No Cranleigh Clay Trucks' [http://nocranleighclaytrucks.co.uk/]. Cranleigh, 2010.

Swallow's Tiles, 'The History of Swallow's Tiles' [http://www.sihg.org.uk/swallowsrooftiles/History.htm]. Cranleigh, 2007.


The Derelict Miscellany: website and all content © D. A. Gregory unless stated to be otherwise.