New St. Isaac’s in details: bricks with a seal

The New St. Isaac’s business center is housed in a building from the 18-19 centuries, constructed entirely from bricks. The building has stood strong for around 250 years thanks to this fortuitous historical choice of building material. According to experts, a building constructed using bricks is especially strong, and the reason for this is historical.

«Ново-Исаакiевскiй» в деталях: кирпич с клеймом «Ново-Исаакiевскiй» в деталях: кирпич с клеймом «Ново-Исаакiевскiй» в деталях: кирпич с клеймом

In fact, the development of a brick craft in Russia was influenced by the reforms of Peter the Great. Under his rule the quality of bricks was strictly controlled. When shipments of bricks were delivered to building sites and dropped to the ground, if more than three bricks broke then the whole shipment was scrapped.

It is interesting that in 1704 Peter issued a special order: “On the institution of new brick factories in the vicinity of St. Petersburg”. Upon its issuance experts from all over Russian found themselves in demand at the new factories. The Tsar forbade the construction of stone buildings in all of the other Russian cities, so that brick layers and other workers were de facto forced to migrate to the Petersburg building industry. Experts were brought to the Northern capital, sometimes even against their will…

Of course, there were not enough bricks; the number of brick factories in Russia could be counted on two hands. The most cunning people quickly found a way to deceive the Tsar and escape the official order to build using bricks. These individuals built normal wooden houses and applied a thin layer of clay to the walls, which was then made to look like brick. Driving past at speed, it was impossible to differentiate one of these fake “brick” buildings from a genuine brick construction. So in fact, the resourceful workers who drew pavement brinks into concrete in Moscow were not that dissimilar to the “fake bricklayers” of Peter’s time.

Everyone who entered the capital was obliged to present a brick as payment. According to one version of the story, Brick Lane, located not far from New St. Isaak’s, was named thus precisely because it was on that very spot that the “brick tax” upon entrance to the city was levied and its proceeds stored.

Towards the end of the 19th century, a “brick diaspora ” of around 80 factories formed in St. Petersburg. The factories were run by people of all classes: peasants, nobles, princes, barons, soldiers, state functionaries, citizens with hereditary honorary rights, and even the widows of major-generals. The most successful producers began to adorn their bricks with a seal, which was usually the family name of the owner of the factory. If a brick was not fit for purpose, then 19th century customers knew to whom they could complain. For this reason, producers paid great attention to the quality of their production.

A significant portion of our building – the former home of the Sarepta Society – was built in the 18th century using older bricks, not yet marked with seals. The bricks themselves were smaller and a dark-red colour. Some old bricks with seals were also found during the reconstruction works. These bricks were used in the construction of new wings of the building, and in the reconstructions of the 19th and 20th centuries. All of these bricks had been produced at factories in the Petersburg province.

«Ново-Исаакiевскiй» в деталях: кирпич с клеймом

The mark of a horse shoe was the official seal of the Spechinskaya factory. For a good deal of time, the factory belonged to the widow of Evgeniya Ivanovna Spechinskaya. Using the long family name as a seal on the bricks was not considered practical, but the major-general’s wife did not want to simply use her initials. Then the idea of the upturned horseshoe was born. This original seal conveyed many layers of meaning: firstly, it can be read as the first letter of the widow’s family name. Secondly, the coat of arms of the Spechinskoy family (of Polish origin) includes a horseshoe. And, lastly, the horseshoe links to the occupation of the widow’s late husband.

«Ново-Исаакiевскiй» в деталях: кирпич с клеймом

“Strelin” is the family name of the peasant (later a merchant and citizen with hereditary honorary rights) Makarii Timofeevich Strelin, who owned two brick factories.

«Ново-Исаакiевскiй» в деталях: кирпич с клеймом

“Samarka” is the name of a manor, located on the shores of the Neva, which was a settlement for seasonal workers. Samarka belonged to state advisor Baron Vladimir Andreevich Rennenkampf, who ran a large (400 workers) brick factory within its grounds and who used the seal “V.R.” (more or less his initials) and “Samarka”.

«Ново-Исаакiевскiй» в деталях: кирпич с клеймом

During one of the reconstructions, “Ukke” bricks were also found, which had been preserved and laid especially so that the seal could be read. Today that piece of wall serves as a decorative element in the conference room of one of our tenants. “Ukke” is another example of a family name of one of the factory owners. The factory belonged to the firm “Ukke and Ko”, which was owned by nobleman Ludwig Yulevich Ukke (a Russified German).

We would like to think Vladimir Smirnov ( website “Brick heritage” ) for his help in writing this piece. The enthusiastic brick collector visited us and showed us that walls can not only listen; they can also talk.

Today, these bricks with seals, discovered during the reconstruction process, have pride of place in the conference room of New St. Isaak’s administration and they are one of the leading exhibits in the Museum of Sarepta House, which the owners are planning to open.