NORTHCOTE BRICKWORKS COMPANY, JOHN ROBERTS & GROOM BROTHERS
The 1890-99 orange-brown 1d ‘Reading’ Stamp Duty Post Card of Victoria is cancelled with the blue double oval POST AND TELEGRAPH OFFICE/ NORTHCOTE/ AU 12/ 1890 ‘Belt and Buckle ‘ cancellation, and it is addressed to Mr. J. Gillespie, Mornington (Victoria) Figure 1.
The reverse is printed for THE NORTHCOTE BRICK COMPANY LIMITED, Northcote 11 Augt 1890/ Mr J Gillespie Mornington/ we beg to advise having forwarded to Mornington/ Station this day, consigned to you/ two Trucks containing 3700 Bricks,/ as under No. 145 1700/ 146 2000 signed by the Manager. There are two postmarks, an unframed reception MORNINGTON/ AU 12/ 90/ VIC and an indistinct framed MELBOURNE (Figure 2).
John Roberts (1826? - 1887?) had been a farmer in Northcote, Victoria in the early 1860s before opening the Carters’Arms Hotel on the corner of High Street and Separation Street in 1867. Roberts owned a 1,000 foot frontage along the north side of Separation Street, he turned this to his advantage when high quality clay was discovered in the land immediately behind the hotel. Roberts sold off a large stretch of the land in 1866 to the Groom Brothers, Seymour and Charles, who began the early commercial development of the site, later to become the Northcote Brick Company. Roberts remained the publican of the Carters’ Arms Hotel until 1870 when he stepped aside for Edwin Witton who changed the name to the Witton’s Arms Hotel. In 1876 Roberts returned to the hotel changing it back to the original name, and he remained there until 1881. Roberts lived on Arthurton Road and in the 1880s worked as a contractor from premises on High Street, next door to the Carters’ Arms Hotel. In 1882, Roberts and fellow publican George Plant became the only Northcote residents to invest in the Northcote Brick Company when it was launched in 1882. John Roberts died in 1887.
The Groom Brothers began raising funds to establish the Patent Brick Co. and started to work the site at a commercial level. Bricks began leaving the site in 1873 and using a single chimney stack they were able to produce between one and two million bricks per annum. In 1882 a group of Melbourne business men joined together to form the Northcote Brick Co. Ltd. They bought out the original company, gaining 8 acres in Separation Street including a 40 foot quarry. The next year the new company floated 30,000 shares and John Roberts invested in the venture. In the same year the company invested in a Hoffman kiln which had been developed in 1858, and it was faster and more efficient in producing bricks. A second and third kiln were added in 1886 and by 1889 the Northcote Brickworks was producing 4 million bricks per month.
A rival brick company, the New Northcote Brick Company was opened in Dennis Street in the late 1880s, and the two companies were rivals for many years. The prices of bricks tumbled partly as the result of a strike between the brick carters which was just a prelude to the depression that developed particularly in Melbourne in the 1880s. In the 1890s the market for bricks ebbed and flowed and the output from the Northcote Brick Co. was greatly reduced, with only 2 of its 5 kilns in action. The outbreak of WWI did not slow the growth of the company and by the 1920s the company was enjoying record profits. However the Great Depression of the 1930s was just around the corner, and the number of the company workers hovered around the 100 mark, whereas the number of workers for the 2 companies had been previously ca. 500. In 1962 the Northcote and the New Northcote Brick Companies merged, bringing to an end 60 years of rivalry.
Subsequent mergers saw the combined company join with Nubrick and Clifton Bricks to form the Austral Brick Company. By the 1970s suburbia had surrounded the brickworks and in 1977 the Austral Brick Company was sold to the Northcote Council for use as a tip. The non-quarried section, two years later was leveled and the site was sold to developers. Two views of the Northcote Brick Company, the first of the kilns and stacks, and the second of the quarry, are seen in Figures 3 and 4.
The two types of the ‘Belt and Buckle’ cancellations, used only in Victoria in at least 100 towns, are seen in Figure 5.