Sand has been used widely in the construction industry for many hundreds of years.

Even in Roman times sand was a useful resource, used in the production of tiles.

The 1930s saw Leighton Buzzard sand mixed with lime to make special steamed bricks at Stonehenge Bricks Ltd. Local tile manufacturing businesses, which used local sand, employed many people in the town and are still thriving today. White, silica-rich, sand from Heath and Reach has also been distributed internationally to major cement manufacturers.

More than 200 diverse uses of sand are listed today; including in the leisure and sports industry for golf courses, football pitches and greyhound tracks. Sand is widely used in construction, in horticulture, for water filtration and Leighton Buzzard sand has reportedly even been used to line the elephant enclosure at Whipsnade Zoo!

Sand even gave us the famous Crystal Palace; it was and remains a great example of the usage of sand in the manufacture of glass. This combined with the then latest means of transportation using our canals and the ingenuity of Joseph Paxton really made the great Exhibition of 1851 what it was.

A world without sand would be a very different world. In this section, discover much more about various uses of sand from Leighton Buzzard and Heath and Reach.



Sand plays a major role in all types of constructions from being one of the important elements with cement in the composition of mortar to the manufacture of roof and floor tiles

Here are just few uses:

Stonehenge Brickworks Ltd

Sand from pits in and around Leighton Buzzard and Heath and Reach proved to be suitable for the production of bricks and tiles used in the building industry. Manufacturers began to move into the area to take advantage of the readily available raw materials.

Arthur Blackman, a builder from Hastings, had some success with making bricks and tiles. After his friend Owen Aisher moved to Leighton Buzzard and founded Marley Tiles, he decided to do likewise and in 1935, set up Stonehenge Bricks Ltd at a site on Mile Tree Road, producing calcium silicate facing bricks made from sand and lime and employing 150 men. Lewis Emmett senior was one of these men he came from Manchester to be a manager, his son talks about that.

In 1949, a subsidiary company was set up on a site adjacent to the brickworks, manufacturing cement roof tiles.

The sand for the bricks was transported from the quarries to Stonehenge by the Leighton Buzzard Light Railway. The brickworks prospered, and in 1961 a brick press was purchased and the plant was modernised. However, by 1966, the number of bricks being produced decreased.

Whilst at the brick works William Cosby was asked from time to time to work for the Stonehenge Tile factory, so a few years later he went to work there.

In 1974, the brick works was acquired by Redland Tiles. The Stonehenge plant outlived its usefulness and today is the site of the end of the line for the Leighton Buzzard Railway. Work on rolling stock is carried out here, and visitors can wander around the museum or enjoy a cup of tea in the café.

Source: Records of Stonehenge Bricks Ltd Leighton Buzzard: BLARS, Z1376 All records kindly donated by Lewis Emmett Junior.

The Tile Making Industry in Leighton Buzzard

The Romans introduced roofing tiles to Britain, but it was not until the twentieth century that due to the easy access to sand, the manufacture of roofing tiles came to Leighton Buzzard. Many of the houses in the area had been thatched or roofed with Welsh slates. With the local production of sand and cement tiles, all new houses were built with tiled roofs.

Marley Tiles: in 1928, a company based at Sevenoaks in Kent, began to manufacture sand and cement roofing tiles in Stanbridge Road. The site was chosen because of its proximity to a good supply of sand from local quarries. The tiles made, varied in size and colour. Today, The Marley Tile Company is still a major employer in the town, now making thermoplastic floor tiles.

The Leighton Buzzard Tile Company: in 1930 began operations from a site in Grovebury Road. In 1936 it was taken over by Eastwoods Ltd, a national cement company.

The Speight Tile Company: the manufacture of roof tiles began around 1930 close to the Leighton Buzzard Tile Company. Production on the site ceased in 1954 when the company was also taken over by Eastwoods Ltd.

Redland Tiles: the Leighton Buzzard Tile Company was acquired from Eastwoods in 1963 and the manufacture of roof tiles continued at Grovebury Road until 1979. A very modern fully automated factory was built on the Dri-Roof site in Vandyke Road and production moved there. Today, using new laser sensor technology, the Redlands factory produces 67,000 roof tiles in a twelve-hour shift.

Anchor Roof Tiles Ltd: concrete roofing tiles were produced by this company in Leighton Buzzard from 1945 and there was some competition with both Marley and Redland Tiles. When new machinery was installed in 1974, Anchor Tiles had one of the most advanced fully automated tile handling plants in Europe. Sales of tiles were mainly to local authorities, and many were used for re-roofing in London and the Southeast. The company received a number of takeover approaches from both Marley and Redland Tiles but was eventually acquired by Forticrete in 1981. Tile making using locally quarried sand, still takes place at Boss Avenue just off Grovebury Road.

Source: “All About Leighton Buzzard and Linslade” a Local Guide to Leighton Buzzard and Official Guide to Linslade for the Linslade Urban District Council. Capshill Publishing Company, Hockliffe Road. 1962

Construction GALLERY

Tap an image below to view

1938. Stonehenge Brickwork
1938. Stonehenge Brickwork
Stonehenge Brickworks Ltd
Stonehenge Brickworks Ltd
Garside handmade brickmaking
Garside handmade brickmaking
A sandstone building
A sandstone building

Leisure and Sport

Leisure and Sport

The leisure and sports industry use sand from Leighton Buzzard in a number of ways; its appearance and special qualities make it especially desirable.

The local sand is used in potting compost by plant nursery merchant. It has also been used in a number of sporting venues. For over sixty years Wembley Stadium was supplied with white sand from the area in the arcs behind the goals and for the pitch. More recently the sand has been used in Astroturf, an artificial surface used in many sports for training grounds. Football training grounds that include Arsenal and Manchester United, all the major hockey clubs and many football pitches have used local sand.

Wimbledon Tennis courts are supplied by sand quarries from Leighton Buzzard. The sand is used also in golf courses, horse racing and major greyhound stadiums used it for their tracks as it helps the greyhounds when running because of its unique softness.

The local sand has always been in much demand from the pet trade and was used, for example, in making sanded sheets for the bottom of cages for budgies. The elephants at Whipsnade Zoo particularly like the local sand. As it is so fine, they blow it across their backs and it is also ideal for their bedding as it does not stick in the crevices in their feet.

A number of sand quarries in the area have been used as sets for several major films and well-known television programmes; scenes from ‘Aliens 3’, ‘The Da Vinci Code’, ‘The Return of the Mummy’, ‘Scrapheap Challenge’ and ‘Waking The Dead’ have all been filmed in the local quarries.

Finally, NASA, the Space Agency in America, used local sand for growing food in space.

Leisure and Sport GALLERY

Tap an image below to view

Special sand
Special sand for greyhound track
Evening Post article
Evening Post article
Coloured sand for sports pitches
Coloured sand for sports pitches.

Glass and other uses

Glass and other uses

Joseph Paxton, the Architect of the 1851 Exhibition was born at Milton Bryan; less than five miles away from Mile Tree Road, north east of Leighton Buzzard.

Sand was already being extracted from the area when the Chance Brothers set up a quarry to supply the high-quality silica sand to their glassworks at Smethwick, Birmingham.

The proximity of the canal system gave ready access and wagon loads of sand would be transported some 3 miles to the wharf at nearby Old Linslade on the Grand Junction (now Grand Union) Canal, and then hauled by horse drawn barge on a 4 or 5 full day trip to the glassworks.

Chance Brothers obtained the order to supply the 1851 Exhibition in Hyde Park, London and the huge quantity of glass used - 293,655 thick panes measuring 4ft-6ins x 10ins, weighing 400 tons were transported from Smethwick to London by canal. Glazing was carried out from special trolleys and was fast: one man managed to fix 108 panes in a single day. Incredibly the whole structure took 2,000 men just six months to build because of its prefabrication. After the 1st of May 1851 opening by Queen Victoria, 6 million visited in 6 months.

Chance Brothers obtained the order to supply the 1851 Exhibition in Hyde Park, London and the huge quantity of glass used - 293,655 thick panes measuring 4ft-6ins x 10ins, weighing 400 tons were transported from Smethwick to London by canal. Glazing was carried out from special trolleys, and was fast: one man managed to fix 108 panes in a single day. Incredibly the whole structure took 2,000 men just six months to build because of its prefabrication. After the 1st May 1851 opening by Queen Victoria, 6million visited in 6 months.

Sand from Bedfordshire played a very important part in the Great Exhibition of 1851.

Source: David Fowler 2009

Glass and other uses GALLERY

Tap an image below to view

The 1851 Exhibition
The 1851 Exhibition

Water filtration GALLERY

Tap an image below to view

1970s filter bed
1970s filter bed
Baulk dried sand being loaded
Baulk dried sand being loaded
Filtration plant
Filtration plant


Listen to the forgotten voices from the past

Take an audio voyage around Leighton Buzzard and Heath & Reach

Explore the sands

Sand history


Find out how the sand industry has changed over the years
Sand history >

Sand geology


Discover more about Bedfordshire’s varied and complex geology
Sand geology >

Sand sites


View early aerial photographs depicting how quarrying has advanced across the landscape
Sandpit sites >

Working lives


The sand industry has had a major influence upon the local community
Working lives >

Sand transport


Different means of transport were vital to the development of the sand industry
Transporting sand >

Sand uses


Sand has been used widely in the construction industry for many hundreds of years
Sand uses >

Buzzard Trails app

Buzzard Trails app

Discover the social history of Leighton-Linslade using this interactive trail.

We are proud of our history, the people who have lived and worked here have made it the thriving community it is today.

Buzzard Trails google Buzzard Trails apple

Greensand Trust
Leighton Linslade Town Council
National Lottery Heritage Fund

Contact Us

The Greensand Trust,

The Working Woodlands Centre, Maulden Wood
Haynes West End, MK45 3UZ, United Kingdom
Phone: 01234 743666

Or send an enquiry below: