Saint Petersburg Brick History Museum

Presently, more than fifteen thousand various sorts, forms, surface textures, dimension, and colors of brick are produced. Bricks can be solid and porous, ceramic, insulating, common, curved, ashlar, ordinary, twin, thickened, etc. Anything could be built of bricks: from a fence plinth to a magnificent palace… Bricks are handy, enduring, elegant, and environmentally safe. And they have a history which you can know about at our museum.

The St. Petersburg Brick History Museum was founded at SPbGASU in 1991. Its collection includes artifacts from numerous historical buildings and constructions in St. Petersburg and nearby provinces: Leningrad Oblast, Veliky Novgorod, Vologda, etc. These include the St. Isaac Cathedral, Cathedral on Spilled Blood, Trinity Cathedral, Gostiny Dvor, Ethnography Museum, Astoria and Angleter Hotels, Sheremetyev Palace, Admiralty, Peter and Paul Cathedral’s bell-tower, Yusupov Palace, Senate and Synod buildings, Mariinsky theater, Stroganov Palace, Novorod Kremlin, Sofia Cathedral in Vologda. The new exposition launched in the end of October 2011, presents hundreds of samples of the city wall ceramics starting since the foundation of St. Petersburg and up until the end of the 19th century; drawings and engravings telling the story of brick manufacturing in the 18th-19th centuries; photos of buildings and constructions built by St. Petersburg architects who had studied or taught at our school. Collecting museum items keeps going on: this is a kind of archeology and study of constructional ceramics at the same time.

You can explore all details and secrets of St. Petersburg bricks at our museum, founded by professor V.V. Inchik, a great person and true explorer. The Brick Museum would be interesting not only for students and employees of our university but to broad circles of public: from high school students to architects, restorers, civil engineers, local history experts, and just interested people. The museum holds regular thematic lectures on the history of brick manufacturing.

Builders from Byzantium were the first to use bricks in the Old Russia: they came here along with other craftsmen and priests shortly after Christianization of Rus in 988. in Moscow, the first brick buildings appeared in the second half on the 15th century, while the first brick factory was put in operation only in 1475. Until then, bricks had been manufactured at monasteries. Bricks were used en-masse in the course of reconstruction of the Kremlin launched in 1485.

Founder of St. Petersburg, the reformer Tsar Peter the Great grew up in Moscow, which was mostly wooden; even some tsars’ palaces outside the kremlin had been built of wood. Still a boy, Peter had lived through disastrous fires in Moscow. Construction of the new city only starting, the Tsar already saw the new capital of Russia, built for centuries and immune to fires. The very first living house in St. Petersburg, the cabin of Peter the Great, was painted as brickwork all over it.

The cabin of Peter the Great (Saint Petersburg)

One of the first city’s brick houses was built for the Admiralty Advisor Kikin (1707). The house of Chancellor G.I. Golovin in the Trinity Square (1710) and palace of the Tsar’s sister Natalya (1711) were also built of stone. In 1712, the Winter and Summer Palaces of Peter the Great were erected. Menshikov’s Palace was the longest project of them all, because it was constructed for seven years.

Kikin Hall (1707)

In 1704, Peter issued an order to launch new brick yards with productivity of no less than million bricks per year, while underperformance was punished with a huge for that time 500-thousand-ruble fine. Nevertheless, the city was growing up mostly wooden, and fires occurred on a regular basis. After one of the most devastating fires, near the Trinity Square in 1710, Peter had categorically banned construction of any wooden buildings in the city.

The first brick yards appeared nearby St. Petersburg around 1705. Brick-making plants and yards lined out along the Schlisselburg road (one can still see its remainders along the Neva’s bank). Bricks were produced at the Alexander Nevsky Laura, along the Neva, Izhora, and Tosna Rivers, at other places. Just seven years after the city’s founding, the total capacity of all brick yards was over 10 million bricks per year! Bricklayers were in shortage, but the Tsar “fixed the problem.”

In 1714, Peter I issued an order prohibiting any stone construction in Russia: houses made of stone became the privilege of the new capital city, while only wooden constructions were to be erected in other cities of Russia. Now, bricklayers had no other way but to St. Petersburg! A new ‘brick’ tax was introduced: anyone coming to St. Petersburg on horse or on foot was obliged to bring a certain number of bricks, a so-called ‘pass’ to the city. It is said that Kirpichny pereulok (Brick Lane) was built up of these brought-in bricks. All Russian provinces were obliged to allot money for the development of brick production.


Kirpichny pereulok (Brick Lane) in Saint Petersburg

At pace of stone houses construction in St. Petersburg, the number of brick plants was also going up. By mid-18th century, there were already 28 of those, and the major yards were under the palace administration. A challenging matter was quality control. Peter I had ordered to build new plants and specifically instructed to mark the bricks, so that the negligent were well seen. The quality control was performed in an easy manner: bricks would be merely dumped down from the dray cart, and if at least three bricks of would go broken, the entire batch was considered unsatisfactory. In 1717, the concept of brick grade of quality was introduced: it depended on the burn degree. Of the three sorts: red, yellow, and white, the red was regarded the best. In time, the burning technology was improving providing for bricks of enhanced quality.

Already after the death of Tsar Peter, the government reintroduced state-owned plants, where mostly soldiers and some civilian peasants from nearby provinces were employed. By mid-18th century, a new method of molding appeared: it had significantly enhanced production of adobe bricks, but made the drying more difficult, which caused emergence of a new profession of dryers. Shortly after, there appeared burners, and by the end of the century, up to 11 categories of brick masters were accounted of. One worker could mould up to 500 bricks per day.

Russian engineers had been constantly striving to improve the process. The first to appear were brick-making units, using which up to 50 bricks at a time could be molded. However, only in 1825, engineer V.I. Maslov patented a horse-powered pug-mill.

By mid-1800s, there appeared practically modern plants producing bricks of various sorts. Brick-making became broad and diverse; craftsmen could erect buildings of various missions and designs.

You can learn about all this in details at our museum, touch the bricks, see how they had been produced, and how their production was changing with the time. Come and see it yourself. The museum welcomes you!

Reservations for visiting the museum should be made by
phone: +7 (812) 575-94-54


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