A strong woman behind the brickmaker

Behind every man is a strong woman! A saying that undoubtedly applies to Anna-Maria Haesen.

Anna-Maria was the daughter of a gentleman farmer from Kesselt, who married the man behind Nelissen Brickworks: Alfons Nelissen! She was also the mother of a brood of seven children. The family could have even been larger if Anna-Maria had not suffered seven miscarriages. Families with six or more children were not uncommon at the time. Anna-Maria gave birth to two boys and five girls. “She was a strong woman,” recalls Julien Nelissen, the only surviving sibling of the seven children. Without her, Alfons would not have been able to make bricks. From her parents, she inherited land with loamy soil, where Nelissen Brickworks has now been located for more than 100 years.

A woman of gold

“Not only did she have to raise all of these children, but also run the household,” continues her son Julien. “She was a special woman. She could be strict when necessary, but also had a kind disposition. She was in charge of the family expenses and held a tight grip on the purse strings.” Gaston Nelissen describes his grandmother as a woman of gold. “She was one in a thousand,” he says. “Having a large family – and keeping that family together – was no easy task. She was the connecting factor for both. She kept the family together by organising family get-togethers on a regular basis.”

Anchor and mainstay

As the wife of ‘bompapa’ – as Gaston called his grandfather – she often provided him with emotional support. “My grandfather was, as it were, married to the factory,” admits Gaston. “It consumed practically all of his time. He was highly driven and wanted to get ahead. In his wife he found the calmness he lacked. She helped him keep both feet firmly on the ground. She was the anchor and mainstay when it came to her husband’s plans to further expand the brickworks.”


Although she had her hands full as a housewife and mother, she also turned out to be quite entrepreneurial. “She had to help her mother, who ran three businesses in her childhood home (currently the Nelissen residence),” explains Julien Nelissen. “She offered accommodations to customs officials working at the border crossing with our northern neighbours. She also started a café in the house, which was very popular. And as if that were not enough, she opened a shop in early 1894. As a girl and, later on, as a married woman, my mother helped in all three,” adds Julien.


De Bilsenaar, a weekly paper for Bilzen and the surrounding area, published an advertisement for the shop. It was described as “a shop with assorted spices, coffee from Maastricht, yarn, knitted caps, linseed cake, linseed, tobacco, cigars and clogs”. De Bilsenaar also reported a bizarre incident that took place in the shop. It read: “Three women recently had a spat in a shop due to a counterfeit two-franc coin. After endless quarrelling, things got so out of hand that one of the three woman removed her clog and, with this primitive weapon in hand, put up a good fight, striking with it until pieces and fragments of the clog were flying all around. Needless to say, the other women ended up with a few bruises, scratches and black eyes. They took to their heels, screaming for help as they ran.” 
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