The collector: Alan Davies, Tyldesley, Greater Manchester, UK. Currently writing books on coal mining history. Past professions: coal miner, art student, museum curator, archivist, colliery manager.
The collection: Bricks
The story behind the collection...
The earliest influence must be that as a young boy I played with my sister on the site of an old brickworks, building 'houses' from the stacked up bricks, exploring the clay processing machinery and kilns.
As an art student studying ceramics my appreciation of bricks and their inherent beauty increased. The wide and subtle variety of colours and textures resulting from this most ancient of man's examples of transformation of the earth's raw materials was, I felt, magical. I also like bricks which are stamped or labelled in some way, this pins down where they were made and roughly when. Many tens of thousands of brickworks existed in Britain over the centuries, producing billions of bricks. Due to the durability of ceramic material, fragments of every single brick ever made must still exist somewhere, an amazing thought.
I began actively collecting bricks around 1975 as my interest in studying art increased. My brick collection is relatively small, around 300, as compared to some collections up to 2000. Friends continue to drop off bricks occasionally after their travels.
What does my collection reveal about me? That I don't mind being thought of as eccentric, the opposite in fact. I like to see beyond the obvious in this fascinating world we live in. It shows my keen interest in geology and industrial history, and also in the ceramic process itself.
It also shows an aspect of my character that I cannot explain, namely that I must possess multiples of things, photographing them is not enough. Perhaps this comes from my working class background, owning very few possessions as a child.
Sometimes I feel a strange connection with objects I have searched for and eventually found, as though my enthusiasm has brought them back to life, as though they become lost in some form in other dimensions and need to be re-appreciated!
Having worked as a museum curator I also realise that all collections are temporary, even to a degree national ones, and that in terms of man's temporary existence on earth collecting itself is pointless, as is life, but that's another topic altogether! The sad thing about all British brick collections is that there is not yet a museum of British brick making to pass collections such as mine on to, so many may eventually be dispersed or disposed of when collectors die.
My collection is kept indoors in my double garage. I found leaving bricks outside led to fungal infections and staining. The bricks are one deep along a wall. I photograph any new bricks on arrival.
Amongst the favourite items in my collection are some bricks made at long closed collieries which had fascinating histories. I have one brick which came from the site of the largest colliery disaster in Lancashire on December 21st 1910, when 344 men and boys died. It may seem ridiculous to say this but the fact that the brick was on site at the time is to me a physical link with the disaster itself, which my grandfather attended to help clear out the bodies from the workings.
All images © Alan Davies and used with kind permission.