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Bricks and Brickwork 

Brick-work is so common that we don't give it a second thought. What could be less interesting than a brick, you might think! But brickwork evolved to meet the needs of society, and over the centuries it has continually responded to changing needs, technology and fashions. The Romans had bricks, but they were very different from what we think of as a brick today. Brickwork as we know it was imported from the low countries in the middle ages.

 The history told by brickwork is all around us. It is written in the buildings that you can see any day, and if you can understand the language in which it is written, you can read the buildings history. Walk around almost any town and look at the brickwork you pass. Often it can tell you something about the building and the area where it stands, about the purpose for which it was built and how that has changed over the years, and even the status of the building's original owner. In town centres especially, look up above the shop fronts where you can see the original fabric of the buildings, before they were mauled by the makers of gaudy modern shop fronts.

Sadly, as with so much else, modern buildings are becoming homgenised, with the same bricks and the same styles being used in towns all over the country, but even so, after several decades of uninspired building, brickwork is once again being used imaginatively to help to enrich our townscapes.

Size variation   Brick bonds   Different raw material   Fashion & status Thomas Lawrence   My brick collection   Links to other sites   Pictures    My talk on brickwork 

Size variation and the brick tax

Have you ever thought why a brick is like it is? Its size is mainly determined by what a brickie can pick up in one hand, and keep on doing so for several hours. Over the centuries, the size of bricks has changed quite a lot, and until a few decades ago, bricks in different parts of the country tended to be of different sizes and proportions. That harks back to the 18th century brick tax, which made it more economical to use very large bricks rather than smaller bricks. You can often see joints in walls where bricks of different size meet. There is an example in the pictures below . An extreme response to the brick tax came from Joseph Wilkes, who doubled the thickness of bricks made at his works at Measham. These monster bricks became known as 'Jumbies' or 'Wilkes' Gobbs''. You can see them alongside normal thickness bricks in the pictures below .

It is often assumed that the desire to avoid the brick also stimulated the use of brick tiles – wall tiles that looked like bricks but weren't. You can see face and end view in the pictures below . But this idea was debunked by the research of Norman Nail  , presented in 1981. Brick tiles' had been introduced much earlier as a way to clad timber buildings and give them the appearance of brick, and they were also taxed during most of the period when bricks were. With the increasing use of timber frames in modern buildings, brick tiles are again being used to provide a more traditional appearance than other cladding such as plain tiles.

. . . . . See more detail, analysis, diagrams, pictures and maps

Different raw material

Prior to the age of mass transport, buildings in different parts of the country mostly used local materials, including bricks made from the local clay. So bricks in one part of the country would have a very different colour and texture from those in another, giving buildings a distinctive regional look and feel. That changed when cheap transport began to favour mass production in areas where the bricks could be made more cheaply, and transported more or less anywhere.

This section of is not yet fully developed, but there are a couple of examples in the pictures below.

Brick bonds

The way the bricks fit together in a wall is called the bond. It forms the visible pattern that you see on the wall. The ability to spot different bonds while walking around a town, and the realisation that they could tell me something about the history of the building, was what first got me interested in brickwork. It's a bit like learning to recognise different types of tree or different bird. First you just learn to give them names, then you learn more about them, and why they are as they are.

. . . . . . . See more detail and illustrations .

Influence of fashion and status

Buildings make a public statement that can reflect the owner's perceived status. Over the years fashions change but the desire to be in fashion, and the desire for quality by those who could afford it, persisted. So did the desire to project the appearance of quality by those who could not afford it but would like it thought that they could.

 . . . . . . . See the details and pictures .

Thomas Lawrence – a local 'brick baron'

Thomas Lawrence built a business empire in south east Berkshire that came to dominate brickmaking in the area. He has a fascinating story.

  . . . . . . See detail and illustrations .

My brick collection

 Over the years, I have accumulated quite a lot of bricks that I have found on my travels, which illustrate the variety there is in bricks.

 . . . . . . . See the details and pictures .

Links to other sites

There are many sources of information about brickwork. For example, you might start with:

  If you would like to suggest improvements to these pages, please contact me .


These pictures just give a taste of the enormous diversity that can be seen. Click image to enlarge and use arrows to move between them.

Contrasting bricks from different sources in East Anglia
Multi coloured bricks in stone building in Cumbria (note subsidence crack over window)
Hollow bricks in Spain
Industrial brickwork in Yorkshire (NB metal tie could never have been bolted together)
Bricks of different size meet – Stonor
Wilkes' Gobbs ('Jumbies') – Measham
Brick tiles ('mathematical tiles') – Tilford
Brick tiles – end view – Tilford
Bricks distorted during manufacture – used in garden wall
Irregular brickwork (whoever laid it like this?)
Reject bricks from 19th century brickworks
Eroded surface showing course material
Brick paving – Richmond Yorkshire
Different coloured courses – Ruthin
Reflection from vitified headers – Wokingham
Bad weather erosion of exposed building on Isle of Wight
Erosion in town from traffic splash (note cement mortar pointing)
Erosion aggravated by cement mortar – Wroxeter
Patterns showing the 'grain' of the brick clay – Wroxeter

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