The Hoffman Patent Brick and Tile Company was established in 1870 during Melbourne’s building boom, mass producing bricks on Albert Street in Brunswick.
Most other brickworks at the time were named after their location - Northcote, South Brunswick, Hawthorn, Sandhurst, City, and Oakleigh, or their proprietors - Butlers, Walkerden, Fritch-Holzer, Clifton, Glew, and Gamble. But the Hoffman name came from the kiln design.
Frederich Hoffman patented his kiln in 1858 in Prussia and in 1870 the Hoffman Patent Brick and Tile Company revolutionised the Victorian brick industry with the innovative gamble of importing continuous burning Hoffman kilns and steam-powered Bradley and Craven brick machines. They pioneered mechanised brick production in Victoria. By 1890, across the two sites, the Hoffman Company was largest of its kind in Victoria operating on over 70 acres.
The principle of the Hoffman kiln was to move heat through chambers filled with bricks, as opposed to a tunnel kiln which involved moving bricks through chambers of heat. The crucial problem with tunnel kilns was damage to whatever was used to transport the bricks. The Hoffman kiln was superior in design.
The company name would have been a symbolic reminder to the Glews and Gambles of the time that their non-mechanised brickworks using hand-made technology from their forefathers in England were becoming obsolete.
Expansion was rapid for the Hoffman Company through the boom years, and they acquired the 36 acre site on Dawson Street to cater for growth. Five patent Hoffman kilns were erected in a few short years. Ten brick machines were in operation producing 18,000 bricks per hour.
During the 1890’s the Great Depression halted expansion as Melbourne’s building industry
collapsed and the company joined the Brick Co-operative when it was formed in 1896.
As the depression ended business picked up and the works was expanded to increase pottery production, supplying tiles and drain pipes, and later domestic pottery such as Melrose ware.
The brickworks, however, never recovered the momentum of the early period and during the 1920s and 1930s the brickworks gradually ran down.
Following the Second World War, production reached an all-time low and the No.1 works on Albert Street, which had reached its full potential, was stripped and sold, and the No. 2 brickworks on Dawson Street was closed for repairs for eighteen months.
In 1960 a friendly merger resulted in Clifton Holdings taking over. Although the pottery works and drainage division were closed and sold, the brickworks was gradually modernised.
The company continued to adapt to emerging trends and the Hoffman kilns were converted to oil-firing in the early 1960s, after Clifton Holdings took over. Later when oil prices increased in the early 1970s, the kilns were converted to natural gas. The processes reflected the changing prices and availability of energy.
The wickets (entrances to the kilns) were also modified to accommodate fork-lifts and pallets
of bricks which resulted in substantial labour savings.
The common steam-driven shaft was replaced with individual electric motors, and to reflect the increasing concern for OH&S at the time there were cages added around the brick presses to prevent workers from accidentally being dry-pressed.
The brick presses remained essentially unmodified although Cliftons increased the number of presses by bringing in extra brick presses from closed-down brickworks.
In the 1990s the three kilns that were still in use were taken over by Nubrik, however by 2005 the site was completely shut down and abandoned, leaving the Kilns and the once thriving brickworks to fall into disrepair.
As this historical Brunswick landmark is converted to residences, the kilns that have been restored to their former glory are thought to be only a few of their type remaining in this country.
The grand kilns make for an indelible backdrop on the Brunswick skyline and are a constant
reminder of the thriving industrial times gone by.