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60 not out! David Armitage celebrates a lifetime in brick

David Armitage, the founder and chairman of the award-winning York Handmade Brick Company, is celebrating 60 unbroken years in the brick industry.

David joined the industry in 1961 as an apprentice fitter with his family firm George Armitage & Sons, based at Rothwell, near Wakefield. He moved into sales in 1963, eventually becoming Sales Director and later Marketing Director when the business boasted a £20m turnover.

Twenty-seven years after David joined the business was sold, so he decided to set up on his own and bought the York Handmade Brick Company, based at Alne, near Easingwold, in 1988.

David recalled the significant changes he has seen throughout his time in the brick industry.

“The two new factories at Swillington and Howley Park at Morley, combined with an upturn in trade in the 1970s changed the fortunes of George Armitage & Sons. For the first time, bricks were handled by machine, improving quality and reducing waste, thereby increasing productivity and the value of our output”.

He explained: “Moving to York Handmade was a dramatic change for me, as I went from a mass market brick producer supplying large scale schemes to a small niche supplier with a selective market. But we haven’t stood still at York Handmade and I am immensely proud of what we have achieved here with a loyal and dedicated staff.

“It is fair to say that York Handmade’s market is extremely varied but on a generally smaller scale. Conservation is an important area for York Handmade along with high-quality one off self-build homes which have been the mainstay of our operation when we first started. More recently we have been involved in high-profile schemes away from the housing sector. These have included Chetham Music School in Manchester, St Albans Cathedral and London Bridge Station and the Shard in London.

“We are currently working on a very prestigious housing development at King’s Cross and have just completed quality mixed-use schemes in Kensington and Mayfair, so London has been a very fertile market for us. But it is important to stress that we have also embarked on some significant projects in York, Halifax, Beverley, Middleham and Skipton, as well as in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the university towns of Oxford and Cambridge.

“More technically, specific change has come about because architects now favour a brick with a different size format to the one which has been traditionally used during my 60 years. This is a longer, thinner brick measuring from 40mm in thickness up to 440mm in length. This makes a dramatic impact on the finished brick building and I believe this may well herald a big renaissance in brickwork as a whole.

“It would also be wrong not to mention the dramatic changes which have taken place at York Handmade itself. When I bought the company the works were almost derelict apart from a good reserve of high-quality clay and some battered old kilns. During the last 33 years we have scrapped the old kilns and built state of the art computer controlled modern ones, while we have just invested in a brand-new £1.2m plant – a fitting way to celebrate my 60th anniversary.”

David also became heavily involved with The Brick Development Association BDA), the brick industry’s trade association. In 1979 he became chairman of the Publicity Committee, which was the main marketing committee, leading to excellent relationships with all the leading marketing people in the industry.

“This was a fantastic experience learning experience for me and one I much enjoyed. At that time we introduced the Brick Awards, which has now become the show piece annual event for the brick industry. Much later, in 1994, I became chairman of the BDA, a position I held for three years up to 1997.

Summing up, David said: “I have thoroughly enjoyed my 60 years in the brick industry, meeting some wonderful characters, from the shop floor to the boardroom. Indeed the people I have worked with are my abiding memory and the highlight of my career.

“I have always thoroughly enjoyed the camaraderie of the industry. I have met some wonderful characters and some fantastic workers who work incredibly hard and give the lie to the myth fact that the modern British worker doesn’t know what hard work is. They do and it’s always been a real pleasure to work alongside them, especially at York Handmade.”