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Brick Making Seaton Pottery

Bricks, Tiles  & Pottery

Clay minerals are typically formed over long periods of time by the gradual chemical weathering of rocks, usually silicate-bearing, by low concentrations of carbonic acid and other diluted solvents. These solvents, usually acidic, migrate through the weathering rock after leaching through upper weathered layers. In addition to the weathering process, some clay minerals are formed by hydrothermal activity. Clay deposits may be formed in place as residual deposits in soil, but thick deposits usually are formed as the result of a secondary sedimentary deposition process after they have been eroded and transported from their original location of formation. Clay deposits are typically associated with very low energy depositional environments such as large lakes and marine deposits.  Primary clays, also known as kaolins, are located at the site of formation. Secondary clay deposits have been moved by erosion and water from their primary location


The site of this brick and tile works lies in an area now occupied by modern multi-storey housing. The oldest established and most important brickwork in the district in the early twentieth century was the Seaton Brick and Tile Company, which was based at Strabathie, near the Black Dog. The Company appears to have been inaugurated in August 1898, about 3 1/2 miles from the New Bridge of Don on the Ellon turnpike. Aberdeen city's brickworks had already developed in the 18th century, when brick-making was based at Clayhills, north of the Dee River, and at Seaton in Old Aberdeen. There was a brickworks run by Mr Alexander Smith in 1773, but it is not on Milne’s 1789 map, indicating that it was a short-lived business. The Seaton works, which were run by Alexander Annand & Company, do figure on Taylor’s map from 1773, and there was apparently a second little-known brickworks in Seaton too.

The Seaton Company was evidently a large one as they had 2 brickworks at Torry - Plaidy and Esslemont - and one at Dryleys, Montrose. The company expanded first to Torry in 1883, but moved to Strathbathie when the clay at Torry was exhausted.  At that point other establishments were given up to concentrate on Strathbathie. In 1903 Mr Alexander Smith managed the company, with the support of foreman Mr John Grant. Circa 100 people were employed at Strabathie, which could turn out 5 million bricks, 1,750,000 drainpipes and various other items annually. The company constructed a special light railway about 3-1/2 miles long to take bricks from Strabathie to their depot at the Bridge of Don, using some adapted old horse tramway cars. The company lasted a good 20 years until the clay gave out.

Brick making became a successful business and in the 19th century more brickworks sprang up in and around Aberdeen: Torry Brickworks Company (ca.1849-1876), Northern Patent Brick and Tile Works, Pitmuxton (ca.1867-1883) which moved to Torry and carried on till 1890. There was also the Esslemont Brick and Tile Company; Gray & Marr at Ellon; Fyvie family-run Turriff based drainpipe manufacturers; Peter Mortimer & Company and Kennow at Huntly and a tile works in Logie Buchan. This was when Annand & Company at Old Seaton was changed into Seaton Brick & Tile Company. Sometime before 1803 George Allan took over from Robert Cay (mentioned in 1778 as the tenant of Annand).

Seaton Pottery Cheese DomeA research excavation at the site of the Seaton Pottery in August and September 2002 revealed floors and walls associated with Scotland's most northerly industrial pottery. A dump of pottery contained many smashed vessels as well as kiln furniture, including saggars, annular kiln spacers and stilts. Recognisable products of the pottery include sherds of agate wares, dab-wares, dairy bowls and unglazed gardening wares.  This brick and tile works operated from 1867 to 1967.  Scotland's most northerly industrial pottery produced finds and features from three phases of ownership (Gavin & Ritchie 1867-1904; Clarke & Smith 1904-5; and Mills 1905-64). Building foundations have been recorded and the extent of the pottery ascertained. Unfortunately the kiln building is now under a road which cuts the site in half. After the pottery went out of business the land was used for housing and recreation. As a result the remains are under 1.5-2m of sandy soil.  A large number of finds include fragments of dab ware food storage barrels, bowls, various agate ware products, and large numbers of plant pots. These were the main product of the pottery for the last 50 years of its life. A number of plant pots stamped 'Clarke & Smith' are the first evidence that these art potters from Denby made plant pots. A mid-20th-century deposit included stacks of up to six complete plant pots which had exploded and fused together in the kiln. Kiln furniture was also prevalent: annular kiln spacers, saggars and hand-made spacers, as well as white pipe-clay spacers and pips, some decorated with flowers and stars. A number of small hand-made tools were found, including ribs for cleaning the surface of thrown pots.

The Murcar Links Golf Club officially came into being in 1908, but not without some controversy over the choice of name.  There was also support at the formative meeting for the names: Berryhill, Black Dog and Seaton. All of the names related to the surrounding area on which the course is built. After much discussion, Murcar and Seaton were tied with 11 votes each. The Chairman cast his vote in favour of Murcar and thus there started the long history of links golf under that name. Seaton and Black Dog gained some consolation in that they are the names of the 6th and 9th holes on Murcar respectively.

Strabathie Light Railway - This line was also known as the "Murcar Railway". - The line ran from Bridge of Don to the Seaton Brick and Tile Company's Blackdog Brickworks. It was used for both Passengers and freight. The line was used by the Murcar Gold Club. The line was opened in 1899 and closed North of the Murcar Golf Club clubhouse in 1924. It closed completed in 1949

Transport to Murcar Golf Course, some 5 miles north from the centre of Aberdeen, was a problem. This was until an agreement was reached with the Seaton Brick and Tile Company for the use of their tramcar on the Strabathie Light Railway. This ran through the neighbouring Royal Aberdeen Golf Club and right past the clubhouse and through the middle of the course. Payment was 6 shillings (equivalent to 30 pence today) per week to cover the extra hours of the driver on Saturdays.  When the Seaton Brick and Tile Company went into liquidation in 1924, Murcar Golf Club bought out the railway and ran it as a very successful transport venture to the club until 1949. By this time the motorcar was becoming more prevalent and public transport

Broadford Works 1912 (see date plaque at NE end), a very large, 4-storey, red brick-built flax warehouse, much of the brick emanating from the Seaton Brick and Tile Works

The fine Townhouse that we see today in Old Aberdeen. The wall in front of this building is made from Seaton bricks. These, used extensively in Old Aberdeen, and were produced locally at the Seaton Brick and Tile Works, which was located a little to the south of the mouth of the River Don.

The lower part of Powis Burn is called the Tile Burn, near Seaton Brick and Tile Works it was crossed by the Tile Ford, which was on the road from the Brickwork to the Sand Hills at the sea-side, where the sand required in brick-making was procured. A wooden bridge has now taken the place of the ford. 

The red laminated clay at Seaton Brick Work is derived from the old red sandstone beds that once existed, on a larger scale than they do now, between the Dee and the Don on the site of the city. In the glacial epoch the snow sheet entering the sea between the rivers abraded and carried off the soft red rocks. As it entered the sea it melted, and its burden of debris was taken in hand by the waves. Big boulders and large stones had been left where they fell out of the melting Ice; small stones had been rolled backwards and forwards at the edge of the sea till worn to pebbles and sand; the sand from the rough clay licked up by the ice had been well washed and deposited in layers on a sloping beach ; and the washings, fine pure clay, had been carried out into deep water, where it sank when the tide was at rest at high and low water. When the tide was running fast, flowing or ebbing, the light clay did not get time to fall,  but only a little heavy sand. Eight layers had been laid down every day, 4 of clay when the tide was standing still alternating with 4 of sand when it was running north or south. When a spadeful of this clay is dug out of a bed and dries in the sun it splits up at the sandy layers into thin leaves or laminate.. Since its deposition the land had risen far enough to raise the clay beds above the sea, though in some clay pits the laminated clay goes down below sea level.

Torry Brickworks
Demolition of the Torry Brickworks chimney was in the early 20th century, Torry Brick and Tile Works There were a number of Brick and Tile Works in Torry in the 19th century, all working at different times.  The earliest one was established some time in the first half of the 19th century.  These works were first mentioned when the lands of Torry Farm were being rouped in 1859.The clay was described as of ‘fine quality, and well situated for manufacturing purposes.  The quality is ascertained by actual borings… There is a Brick and Tile Works already established.’ It is not known whether or not a second company was definitely formed after 1859:however,one was in existence as late as the early 1880s. In 1882 the City of Aberdeen Land Association planned to feu off part of their lands to establish a brick works and Mr John Hector, manager of the previous firm, was tipped to become manager of the new one. It was in 1883 that Seaton Brick and Tile Company moved from Seaton to Torry, to part of the area now covered by Crombie Road.  The company utilised the seam of clay which runs down the east coast of Scotland. There were two Brick and Tile works at Seaton and one at Strabathie at Black Dog, north of Aberdeen, which all used clay from this seam.  According to Leadingham, commenting in 1902,‘The brick works…were an extensive business, and employed a large number of men.  But the supply of clay becoming scarce, the works were removed to the Black Dog, a few miles past the Bridge of Don works.

Tax on Bricks.
It is, perhaps, not generally known that Parliament, during the reign of George III., imposed a tax on bricks, itiles, etc. It wais comprised! in the list of taxes proposed by Mr Pitt, in 1784, to provide for the payment of interest on the dehs incurred by the American War.   At first fixed at 2s 6d per 1000, it was gradually raised to 10s. The revenue was protected by branding the interior of the mould with the word " Excise," so as to impress the brick.  The impost was repealed in 1850. It was provided that tiles could be made duty free for draining marshy land when moulded in the making with the word "Drain" on the centre of the surface of the tile. It may be added that bricks for building, repairing or enlarging churches were not charged with duty.



Clayhills Brick and Tile Works initially run by John Auldjo in the early 18th century utilised a large seam of clay which runs down the east coast of Scotland.

John Auldjo was a remarkable man who also made and sold great quantities of manure using available horse dung, bark from a tannage and alternative added elements of unburnable peat, clay and discarded sea dogfish which Torry Fishermen only harvested for the liver oil. - Where there is muck there is brass!

Auldjo also ran a Pottery, an offshoot near the Brickworks The Pottery made a range of very fine wares including cups, mugs and bowls decorated with slip decoration. They also made creamware bowls and plates as well as brown- glazed bowls and tea-pots.  Aberdeen Pottery produced ceramic wares during much of the 18th century. It is one of the earliest industrial potteries in Scotland and one of the only that made creamwares. The cups and bowls from a recent excavation at the site are some of the finest which were made in Britain during that period.

The Brick and Tile Works which also utilised a large seam of clay running through the Clayhills area of the city. It was first mentioned in the Aberdeen Journal of 3rd October 1749 where it declares that he manufactured `pan-tile and brick. (as well as) brown earthenware). By 1771 it was reported that Auldjo was making `Cream-coloured, Tortoiseshell, Black and Brown Earthen-Ware, Flower-pots, Water-pipes &c'. Potters' Creek is indicated in Milne's map of 1789 where it appears as a group of about 10 buildings close to the mouth of the Ferryhill Burn, a branch of which provided the power for their wheels.  There is no indication when these clay seams were first exploited but the name `Clayhills' is mentioned from at least the late 14th century. According to Milne, near the burn were `banks of laminated clay so steep in the face that sand martins tunnelled long holes in them, where they brought out their young in safety'.

In 1775 the Shipmasters Society brought an action in the High Court of Admiralty against John Auldjo, merchant in Aberdeen, for non-payment of prime gilt for 75 voyages made from the port of Aberdeen. The litigation lasted 10 years, going before the House of Lords and the Court of Session before finally being ruled in favour of Auldjo, a decision which brought an end to the practice, and to the provision of Charity for foreign seamen which it had funded.

The Clayhills Brick and Tile Works was in financial difficulties from 1799 and went up for roup (auction) a number of times in the early 1800s. In 1810 the following advert appeared in the local press: 'LANDS OF CLAYHILLS. To be SOLD, by public roup, within the house of George Ronald, vintner in Aberdeen, upon Friday the 7th of September, at 12 o'clock noon, (if not previously disposed of by private bargain,)

- lying on the South Side of the city of Aberdeen, on the banks of the
River Dee, close to the said city, and joining the harbour thereof. The property contains about 22 acres. On the premises is an extensive Manufactory of Bricks and Tiles, for which there is every convenience of Fields, Shades, and Kilns, all in the best order, and the finest and most extensive bank of Clay that is probably to be met with anywhere. There is also a Manufactory of Earthen Ware lately erected by the proprietors, which, besides the Buildings necessary for the work, arranged in the most convenient manner, has the advantage of a large Water Mill for grinding Flint Stones, Colours, and other ingredients requisite for the purpose; and an abundant supply of spring water conveyed by means of lead pipes to different parts of the buildings. The situation is extremely well adapted for these different Manufactories. Coals are conveyed close to the work by means of lighters; and every article used for Earthen Ware may be obtained on equal terms, and some on better than at other places where that business is carried on. - The rest of the premises is occupied in Nursery and Garden Ground. - The vicinity of these lands to the city of Aberdeen and harbour, affords by no means a distant prospect of their becoming extremely valuable. The writes and articles of roup are in the hands of William Dingwall Fordyce, Advocate in Aberdeen, to whom application may be made for farther particulars; and the ground will be pointed out by Alexander Duncan, overseer at Clayhills.  The Brick and Tile Works buildings were eventually demolished in the late 1810s or early 1820s.

The site also covers part of the area of the Dee Village built in the 18th century and demolished in the 1890s after it developed into a slum and was bought by the Town Council. In the 1920s it was occupied by the Dee Village Works a steam powered Electricity generating station and latterly by Hydro-Electric.  Millburn Street takes its name from the Potters Creek or Mill Burn which it ran parallel to.

James Gordon - Map of Aberdeen 1661

Levels of peat and clay were recorded as well as 19th-century wall foundations during Archaeological digs.. The good quality pink clay recorded is almost certainly part of the seam of clay from which this area got its name.
Four trenches were excavated within the area to be disturbed by the construction of a flatted development. Levels of peat and clay were recorded as well as 19th-century wall foundations. The good quality pink clay recorded is almost certainly part of the seam of clay from which this area got its name. No evidence of clay digging was seen on the site, however. Three trenches on the frontage of the site contained no archaeological remains, but the sand and iron pan subsoil suggests that the area was flooded at one time. This area may be the remains of a small peninsular named `Pynner Nook', seen on Taylor's map of 1773 map of the area. This peninsular lay between the mouths of the Denburn and the river Dee. Peat recorded in some of the trenches may have been the remains of buried soils, accumulated during a period when the area was either under cultivation or, more likely, waste ground. The area of this site is probably within an area marked 'marish ground over flowed at evry tide' on Parson Gordon's map of 1661 and this may have caused the formation of these peat deposits. The area of this site has potential archaeological and historical importance because of its association over a long period with pottery manufacture. It is known that bricks, tiles and pottery were manufactured in this area, known as `Clayhills' from at least the 18th century. From archaeological evidence it is clear that pottery and tiles were manufactured in Aberdeen from at least the 13th century, but the origin and first use of the name 'Clayhills' is unknown. 

A large number of finds relating to the Aberdeen Pottery were recovered.  These included bisque sherds of cups, mugs, jugs, bowls, teapots and several other vessel types.  These vessels had been fired once, slip decoration applied and had then been broken or damaged prior to a second glaze firing.  Many sherds displayed breaks covered in glaze indicating that they had broken in the kiln and glaze had dripped across the break. Several examples of kiln furniture included saggars, the large fire-clay vessels which were used in the kiln to protect the wares from smoke and intense heat, as well as a large number of spacers used to keep vessels apart in the kiln.  These finds are the first evidence of the products of this important Pottery and are of extreme importance to the history of Aberdeen.

I have a typewritten sheet on Dryleys Pottery which says: In 1885 Dryleys was taken over by Seaton Brickworks of Aberdeen and it closed down altogether after a few more years.  This seems to contradict your account, and I would be glad to hear from you about this. Who is right?  Yours truly, Willie Johnston

This redware sgraffito kitchen bowl was probably made at Dryley's pottery at Montrose. It dates from 1866.

The bowl is decorated with peacocks, Urns and plants. It bears the inscription 'Mrs J Dunbar / 1866'.

Several potteries existed in the north-east of Scotland, mainly catering for local markets.

The Dryleys Brick and Tile Works which was established in 1816 on the clay lands around Dubton. The works manufactured building material for the rapidly growing burgh and tile drains which were used by farmers for draining their fields. The works flourished and by 1960(?) seven large brick and tile drying kilns were in operation. Over 60 workers were employed and a railway line was laid to bring clay from the nearby quarry. Between 1838 and 1856 Dryleys was managed by a man called David Crowe. It was he who introduced the manufacture of pottery.

In 1856 Dryleys was taken over by Col. Renny Tailyour, proprietor of the estate on which the works stood. Although it continued to flourish as a brickworks, the subsequent history of the Pottery is rather obscure. Commercial production seems to have ceased by the end of the 1860’s. A few dated pieces from the 1870’s and 80’s were probably turned out by the workmen in their spare time. In 1885 Dryleys was taken over by Seaton Brickworks of Aberdeen and it closed down altogether after a few more years.

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Last modified: 01/09/2013