Police in London are investigating more than 30 cases of bricks being stolen from buildings like churches and cemeteries in eastern boroughs of the capital.
The bricks in question are Georgian-era London stock bricks, which in the 18th century were the cheapest available but today are bought for sizable sums on the black market.
These bricks have substantially increased in value in recent years, as residents in strict conservation areas looking to build extensions are told by councils to do so in keeping with authentic Georgian style.
The Telegraph reports that each brick can be sold for as much as £15 on the black market.
Police have received reports of thefts in Waltham Forest, Newham, and other boroughs in the eastern reaches of London, according to The Evening Standard.
St. Patrick’s cemetery in Leytonstone has been targeted on two occasions within the last month, while the caretaker at St. Mary’s church in Leyton chased off a group of would-be brick thieves.
The cemetery’s superintendant, John Sears, told The Telegraph: “The last thing in the world you think is going to get stolen is your wall.”
As well as churches and cemeteries, family homes have been targeted by thieves, with one resident claiming to have had over 100 bricks pinched from their wall in a matter of days.
“It’s a strange phenomenon,” Clyde Loakes, councillor for Waltham Forest, told The Evening Standard, “but it does not diminish the distress when vans are literally driving into people’s front gardens in broad daylight.
“There are examples of people driving into the garden walls to dislodge as many bricks as possible, scoop them up and then drive off.”
The renewed demand for London stock bricks is the result of some London councils insisting residents who plan to perform building work in listed areas must use materials that match the original architecture.
Speaking to The Telegraph, Martin Gaine, chief executive of Just Planning, which defends homeowners who have had planning applications rejected, said:
If you get permission for an extension, you will have to use materials that match the originals. You don’t want to fall foul of the rules — there is a risk the council will say they don’t match and then they will declare the extension is unlawful. The original stock bricks are rare and expensive and in hot demand and they want something that looks original and old.
The elusive brick comes in different shades of yellow depending on the clay from which they were made, and has a distinctive black patch.
This spate of unusual crimes comes as traders Michelmersh Brick Holdings report the average selling price of their bricks has increased by 9% on last year.