Smeed Dean operated the largest brickworks in the world. Its bricks were used in Buckingham Palace and the Tower of London.
George Smeed (1811 – 1881) of Sittingbourne in Kent received little education. For a period he was a hawker, sleeping at night underneath bushes on roadsides. Eventually he saved enough money to buy a small public house.
Smeed acquired a plot of land at Sittingbourne in 1845 and established a brickworks.
Smeed succeeded due to his business acumen, energy and foresight. A John Bull-type figure, he was a colourful man, inclined to use strong language. He was illiterate, and long after he became wealthy he could barely sign his name.
Smeed became one of the largest employers in Kent. He was the largest brickmaker in England by 1871.
Smeed’s son in law, George Hambrook Dean (1834 – 1924), joined the business to form Smeed Dean & Co in 1875.
Smeed Dean produced over 60 million bricks in 1877, and was the largest brick manufacturer in Britain.
In 1878, Smeed was presented with a portrait, funded by public subscription, in honour of his charitable works. He was a Liberal in politics.
When Smeed died in 1881 he operated the largest brickmaking works in the world. His obituary in the Western Press hailed him as “the making of Sittingbourne”. He left a personal estate of £160,000. Dean succeeded him as head of the company.
Smeed Dean employed 1,400 workers by 1902, and paid £70,000 to £80,000 a year in wages.
Dean died in 1924 with an estate valued at £184,929. He left bequests to various Baptist organisations, and insisted upon a humble funeral.
Following the death of Dean the firm was registered as Smeed Dean & Co Ltd. The company estimated that three billion Smeed Dean bricks had been used in London alone by 1925. The company was the largest producer of stock bricks in Britain in 1926.
2,000 men at the North East Kent brickworks went on strike regarding pay in 1926.
Smeed Dean was acquired by Dunstable Portland Cement Company in 1927. The Sittingbourne site was modernised at a cost of nearly £100,000.
Dunstable Portland Cement Company was acquired by Red Triangle for £1 million in 1928. It created one of the largest cement and brick manufacturers in Britain, and was the largest supplier of general building materials.
An automated brickmaking plant had been installed at Sittingbourne by 1929. It was capable of manufacturing 20 million London stock bricks per annum, and was the largest of its kind in Europe. In total Smeed Dean produced 60 million bricks a year at Sittingbourne; London stock, red facing and multi-coloured. The company owned 80 barges for brick transportation.
Red Triangle was acquired by Associated Portland Cement, best known for the Blue Circle brand, in 1931.
The Sittingbourne site manufactured 14 million yellow bricks in 1980.
Pale yellow Smeed Dean bricks are still manufactured at Sittingbourne as of 2016.