Although there are still highly accomplished bricklayers, brick expert and consultant Gerard Lynch laments a general decline in skill and status. Traditionally, the best bricklayers had a rounded education in the craft, incorporating the bricks themselves and the bonding patterns in which they could be laid, the lime mortar types that might be used and the sophisticated geometry needed for the construction of arches and other complex works.
Now, although the Brick Development Association encourages a revival of imaginative brickwork, all too often, modern building is about ‘fixing’ pieces in place rather than ‘crafting’ the whole.
David Watts of the National Trust’s Calke Abbey-based works team and Mr Lynch both agree that those with a modern bricklayer’s training are potentially capable of turning their hand to the higher forms of the craft,considering enthusiasm and dedication to be the key.
The bricklayer’s craft arguably reached its zenith in the late 17th to early 18th centuries, with the proliferation of complex gauged work. In this, precise joints and elaborate architectural forms were produced by rubbing low-fired bricks of soft, fine composition. Expensive gauged work was largely confined to arches, window and door reveals, and other special features, but in the 18th century especially, techniques were sometimes employed to imitate its effect where lower quality bricks were used. Tuck pointing achieved this by filling the joints with lime mortar colour to match the brick, so evening out its crudely formed edges.
In past centuries, bricks were often fired on site. Specialist brickworks do remain today, though, such as Lambs in Sussex and the Bulmer Brick and Tile Company in Suffolk, which both manufacture hand-made bricks.
Peter Minter of Bulmers has spent a lifetime in brick making. His firm’s coal-fuelled down-draught kiln is currently fired about 25 times a year, producing about 12,000 bricks on each occasion.
Bulmers now offer a bespoke service, producing bricks for many specific requirements. They strive to achieve the colour, density and feel of any brick required, and produce moulds for ‘specials’ used for details, which may have a production run of less than twelve. Bulmer bricks are currently in use at the Grade II listed orangery at Eltham.
Brick Development Association
Tel: 01344 885651
British Brick Society
Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings
(Phone for details, suppliers and contractors)
Tel: 020 7456 0916