The History Of Brick Bonding: An Extensive Exploration
Brick has been used as a reliable building material since the Roman era. Its versatility both for construction and decoration has led to its use in a vast range of properties from small cottages to grand palaces.
In this article, we explore how brick bonding has evolved over the centuries and contributed to some of Britain’s most remarkable buildings.
What is brick bonding?
Brick bonding describes the uniform pattern in which brickwork is laid and maximises the strength of the structure. Whilst its main purpose is structural, the brick bond can also strongly influence the appearance of buildings and provide aesthetic character to many properties.
The English bond is one of the oldest types of brick bonding and consists of alternating rows of stretchers (bricks placed lengthways) and headers (bricks placed end on). It was popular until the late 17th century and a few examples still remain today, such as Mock Beggar Hall in Norfolk. Before the mid-17th century, almost all homes were built using local materials. While some parts of the country had access to an abundance of stone or wood, much of the southeast was built on, and using, clay.
Britain can trace its use of bricks in construction to the Roman era, when large parts of the country became part of the Roman Empire in the 1st century AD. The bricks made by the Romans were generally wider and thinner than those today and were used in various ways, including as lacing courses in walls of rubble stone masonry and in the construction of supporting pillars for hypocaust heating systems. Roman bricks can be found throughout the UK at significant sites such as Burgh Castle in Norfolk, and as far north as Newstead at Melrose in Scotland.
When the Romans left Britain in the 5th century they took brick-making with them, until the 12th century. Some buildings from the period in between were built with re-used Roman bricks, for example the nave of St Alban’s Abbey. Construction on this began in the 11th century, reusing materials from the Roman British town Verulamium. The earliest known use of brick manufactured in the UK after the Romans left is widely regarded as being Coggeshall Abbey in Essex, the oldest parts of the monastic buildings dating to 1190. Beverley North Bar in East Yorkshire is a good surviving example of mediaeval English brickwork, construction of which began around 1409. The bricks used were thin at 50mm and, as with indigenous bricks of the time, somewhat uneven in shape and size. This gave the brickwork a distinctive character, with wider mortar joints and uneven bonding. Significant surviving examples of brick buildings from the mediaeval period include Rye House Gatehouse, built around 1443, and Thornton Abbey, Lincolnshire, built around 1382.
During the Tudor period, the homes of ordinary people were typically cob-walled or timber-framed. The frame was usually filled with waffle and daub but occasionally brick was used. Littlecourt, a beautiful Grade II listed thatched house with origins dating back to Tudor times, is a great example of this.
For wealthier homeowners, brickwork was the norm. However, it wasn’t just used to build walls. Ornate brick chimneys were in fashion, and the 241 elaborately carved chimney stacks at Hampton Court Palace clearly show the skill of the craftsmen of this period. Plaish Hall is believed to be the first brick built house in Shropshire and has chimneys reminiscent of those at Hampton Court Palace, along with classic red English bond brickwork and blue diapering.
Brickwork at this time began to exhibit greater standardisation in terms of technical application, including greater use of bonds. These were most commonly English or English cross, although irregular bonding was still being used. The high status of the brick buildings being built is reflected in the use of decorative features such as diaper work and techniques such as colour washing and the pencilling of joints. Bricks of this period continued to be somewhat irregular in size and shape.
The use of brick continued to grow in the 17th century, with buildings such as Balls Park, Hertford, 1640, indicative of the time. The use of Flemish bond gained popularity, and gauged brickwork emerged as an option for development. Gauged brickwork involves cutting and rubbing softer bricks to allow very thin, precise joints to be used. An early example of gauged brick enrichment is the Old Meeting House, Norwich, built in 1693.
Different styles of bricklaying became popular during the Georgian period, including the distinctive Flemish bond. This is created by laying alternate stretches and headers in a single brick course. The next course of bricks is laid so the header sits above the middle of the stretcher in the course below.
Alton House, a Grade II listed townhouse in Wantage, is a great example of traditional Flemish bond construction. Lime mortar was typically used as the bonding material in Georgian times and really sets off the colour of the brick. In other houses, bricks of different colours were used to emphasise the regular pattern of brickwork and create ornate designs. Due to their aesthetic appeal, Flemish designs remain particularly popular with buyers looking for period properties.
The use of fired clay bricks in the UK became considerably more popular going into the 18th century. Brick was used to create many architecturally impressive buildings such as Chicheley Hall, Buckinghamshire, in 1719 and Bailey Hall, Hertford, around 1700. Brick was also used for terraced housing in a way that was previously unseen. These buildings often incorporated gauged-brick enrichment, as both the quality of bricks and the skills of craftspeople improved.
Interestingly, brick was also used during this time to build housing for both rural and urban workers as well as the privileged. This meant it was used across a greater geographical area, with considerable expansion in Scotland in the 18th century, for example.
Victorian industrial evolution
With the arrival of the railways, it became much easier to transport building materials around the country. During the Industrial Revolution, population explosions in cities led to a huge building programme of brick-built terraced houses. After 1850, manufactured bricks replaced handmade bricks, leading to more uniformity in construction and style.
Victorian architecture was very much influenced by the Gothic revival movement, featuring pointed arches, front facing gables and steeply pitched roofs. This was reflected in brickwork; red brick properties were popular, but the availability of different types of clay meant that coloured bricks were often incorporated into the facade design. The Gate House, on the outskirts of Windlesham in Surrey, is a great example of this styling.
The mid-19th century saw considerable change in the way brick-making was undertaken. The introduction of many new processes for the forming of bricks and advances in kiln technology made it more readily available and also allowed mass production of special shapes, different colours and high-quality glazed and facing bricks. This led to a golden age of decorative brickwork between 1860 and 1890, which saw elements incorporated into even the plainest of buildings.
Brick bonding today
The popularity of period design and architecture means that many homebuilders today study past designs for inspiration. Brick designs are used both for decoration and to fit in with the local aesthetic. To really get a local, period feel for your new home, source handmade bricks made from local materials.
Meeting your brick cutting and wall protection needs at Shropshire Brick & Stone (UK) Ltd
If you’re searching for professional brick cutting and bonding, look no further than Shropshire Brick & Stone (UK) Ltd. We’re proud to offer a comprehensive brick cutting service for clients across the UK and further afield, using the latest techniques to cut bricks into a variety of special shapes. Whether you need concrete block cutting or you plan to transform your property with prefabricated brick arches, trust our team of passionate cutting and brick bonding experts to make your vision a reality. From construction materials to stone delivery, contact us today to find out more about all our services.