Charles Wills take us back to brickmaking in Bowral

STICKING TOGETHER: Willis John Thomas and Ann Maria nee Gilby. Photo: supplied.

STICKING TOGETHER: Willis John Thomas and Ann Maria nee Gilby. Photo: supplied.

This is the second instalment of the brick maker's legacy.

In 1935 third generation brick maker Walter Willis established Willis Bricks at Chaston Street, Wagga Wagga with two of his sons, Colin and Aubrey, later joined by his grandsons Graeme, Roger and Warren.

Graeme Willis was the last of this family line to continue brick making. Willis Bricks Wagga continued to operate until 2004.

John Thomas Willis married Ann Maria Gilby, Crookwell and had 11 children.

Charles Willis was the sixth son of Timothy and Sarah and was born in September 16, 1856, Camden and died July 3, 1946 in Crookwell.

He lived in Camden until he was 8 and then his family moved to Bowral. From an early age Charles and his brothers learnt the art of brick making from their father. He helped make the bricks for the Bowral tunnel and the railway bridge over the Mulwaree at Goulburn.

Below is parts of an article Charles wrote in an article for the Southern Mail (May 15, 1936): 

There were only about six houses then, two stores, one hotel, one butcher’s shop, one blacksmith’s shop, and one wheelwright’s shop.  

Mr. Harrison had the store and blacksmith’s shop. Mr Folkes had the hotel and a store on land where the Presbyterian Church is now built.  

Mr Charker had the butcher’s shop, also a hotel after my father had made the bricks. Harrison’s store and blacksmith’s shop was on Boardman’s Corner.  

Mr Robinson’s wheelwright shop was near where Sommers is now. We had no churches for some time, we used to have Church of England service in our stone school room.  The Minister was the Rev. Mr Hassall.

He came from Berrima, but not every Sunday, and our school master, Mr. Elkin, took the service at times. He was later to enter the ministry.

His wife’s maiden name was Keneer. Her father was the railway doctor at the time. Mr Elkin had only one pupil Charles Parsons, who used to walk over from Berrima every Monday morning, batch with Mr. Elkin and walk back on Saturday.  The Methodists afterwards held services in a back shed where

Charles, Mary and family. Photo: supplied.

Charles, Mary and family. Photo: supplied.

later a Primitive Methodist Church was built in Bong Bong Street.  The Wesleyan Church was built of weatherboard about 71 years ago, where the brick Sunday school is now in Bendooley Street.

Our family lived in two allotments from the church, after we left, where father made the first bricks opposite where good old John Campbell lived near Bowral Street.  He was our best carpenter and our best cricketer.

He schooled most of the Bowral cricketers, don’t know about Don Bradman, but I used to play with Don’s grandfather. I was one of the Bowral cricket team playing all around the district, but only on a Saturday or holiday, not as they do now on Sunday.

I also worked in the Hon. P.L.C. Shepherd’s Nursery at times for some years on and off.

Afterwards Mr. Jacob Horton got me a job on the railway laboring for bricklayers and I learnt the trade; was there just over three years.  

I then settled in Bowral, helped build the second brick hotel (known then as Punch Riley’s), then back to hard work. As bricks were scarce, Hon. P.L.C. Shepherd found the money and land and we had pug mill and rollers.  

There were three brick makers, myself and two others. We made about 4,000 per day, used to burn about 60,000 at a time in kiln. The first buildings we delivered to were the Church of England Parsonage, Commercial Bank, Wesleyan Church and Hon. P.L.C Shepherd’s two - story residence at Colo Vale.   

I also sold bricks to Sir Samuel Hordern‘s father

Thanks to Brendon Rutter, Leon and Mary Willis.