Trade clubs for bricklayers existed in most large towns in the 18th century. The first attempt by bricklayers to combine took place in Nottingham in 1814. Others followed and a bricklayers strike took place in Manchester in 1818.
A London Bricklayers Society was formed and by 1829 it had become the Operative Bricklayers Society. By the mid 1840s the union had a membership of about 1,400 out of a total workforce of some 62,000 men. Nearly all union members worked in either London or Manchester.
In 1859 the Operative Bricklayers' Society became involved in an industrial dispute over demands for a nine-hour day. George Howell emerged as the strike leader but after its defeat, Howell was blacklisted and for the next five years found it impossible to work as a bricklayer.
The Operative Bricklayers' Society found it difficult to develop a truly national union. By 1900 the union had only 38,830 members. However, nearly all these men were based in London.