Keymer Tiles to close historic site

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The oldest surviving industry in Burgess Hill is to close its site to make way for a big housing estate.

Much of the early development and prosperity of Burgess Hill in the 1800s and early 1900s was based on the success of Keymer Tiles and its clay pits and works off Cants Lane and Nye Road Burgess Hill.

Generations of people have worked there since it opened.

At present 47 people are employed and how many many lose jobs depends on the outcome of the firm’s attempts to move some of its manufacturing elsewhere before the closure next August, but the firm says there will be redundancies.

Its current site of about 50 acres has been sold for a site for hundreds of homes.

At its peak, when it was known as Keymer Brick and Tiles, the “brickyard” was one of the biggest employers in the town.

In some families generations worked there, helping excavate clay and make bricks and tiles that have gone into building thousands of homes, offices, and factories.

In more recent years the firm concentrated on high quality tiles.

Keymer Tiles managing director Neil Tobin told the Middy on Tuesday last week: “Keymer traces its history back to 1588 and has owned various sites within West Sussex mostly associated with Keymer and Burgess Hill. The current site has run out of useable clay and has been sold for development.

“Vacant possession of the site must be given by 31 March 2015 and to accommodate this production must cease in August 2014.

“Hopefully this does not mean the end of Keymer Tiles, we are currently in negotiations with regard to moving some of the manufacturing to another site but these are still at an early stage. “In the meantime full production will continue.”

The yard evolved from the former Ditchling Potteries, a collection of various works including Dunstalls Farm owned by John Billinghurst, John Palmer and John Pomfrey - a renowned brick maker in Keymer in 1588.

The Ditchling Common site exhausted its supply of clay and production moved to Nye Road between 1860 and 1940.

The works were once reputed to be the largest in the South and employed more than 300 people.

Its red terracotta ware won awards in London in 1862 and Philadelphia in 1876 and was used throughout the British Isles and, largely due to its early success, was re-introduced by the modern-day Keymer in the early 1990’s.

In early days the tall brick chimneys belching smoke were a familiar sight, long since demolished to meet clean air laws.