Is it a snicket?

Snicket
Back when I was a young Anorak there was a short cut from our street to the centre of my village. It was a paved gap between two sets of houses and we always referred to it as “the snicket”. I grew up in North Yorkshire, close to the east coast, but the word was my mother’s, and she came from West Yorkshire; altogether closer to the spine of England. According to my recent research, snicket is actually a north western word, originating from the Lake District.

Ginnel/Jennel
My part of the world is apparently more likely to call such an alleyway a ginnel*, although it’s not a word I heard until I moved to South Yorkshire. A friend who now lives in Sheffield (South Yorkshire) but is originally from Derbyshire, calls them jennels, which is clearly from the same source.
* Pronounced like give, not like gin.

Ten-foot
In East Yorkshire, and more specifically the city of Kingston upon Hull, they’re called ten-foots. I have no idea why, and neither does anyone else I’ve asked. It could be something to do with the width – but I’ve never measured one! Oh, and it is ten-foots, not ten-feet.

Twitchel
I currently live in the East Midlands where, I’m reliably informed by the OED, that the term for a passage between houses is a twitchel. Its earliest recorded use was from the 15th century in Nottingham, and it’s believed to be a variant of the Old English word twichen, which was used in Anglo Saxon charters for a place where two roads met.

Chare
Back up north in Durham and Newcastle upon Tyne they call them chares, and evidence comes from a 13th century map of Gateshead that included the street Potter’s Chare. However, if you head south to Oxfordshire you’ll find the obviously related words tchure, chure and chewer. They’re all probably corruptions of the Old English cierr, meaning turning.

Wynd
And that brings us to Scotland, where they spoke a completely different language for many years and still sound as if they do in some parts of the country. Way up there alleyways are called wynds – pronounced like whined – and the origin might be similar to that of the word wind (as in to twist). Incidentally, narrow boat people talk about ‘winding’ when they turn a boat around. It’s pronounced like the North Wind (doth blow, and we shall have snow, etc) and it takes a bit of getting used to when you first hear it regularly. But that’s yet another glory of the English language!

Bricks

brick wallWhen was the last time you looked at a brick wall? I mean really looked at it. I know what you’re thinking: “Why would I?” Well, there’s a lot more to brickwork than you’d realise. Anyone who has heard the story of the Three Little Pigs knows that bricks create a safe and stable structure in which to live or store goods. But over the millennia of their history they have often been much more than that.

Back in Tudor times bricks were the preserve of the rich. The amount of work involved, in preparing the clay, shaping individual bricks, and firing them, made them an expensive material. Noblemen across England showed off their status by investing in vast brick mansions, often with contrasting-coloured patterns built in.

A few technical terms:

  • Course means a horizontal row of bricks.
  • Diaper work is a pattern of bricks in a different colour from the main body, particularly in the form of a criss-cross design.
  • Bricks have short ends – headers – and long sides – stretchers.
  • The right-angled edges are called arisses.
  • The dent where the mortar goes is called a frog.
  • The brick height is called the gauge. Tudor bricks are typically much shallower gauge than modern ones.
  • Bond is the way in which headers and stretchers are mixed to create the overall pattern.

Bricklaying bonds have changed over the years. For example, modern brickwork tends to be what’s known as stretcher bond, where all the long edges face the front.

This mostly came about because of the advent of double skin houses with a cavity between the two walls. The idea was that an air gap would help insulate the house, because air is a poor conductor of heat. But the popularity of cavity wall insulation a few years ago has shown that wasn’t practical.

Earlier construction used different patterns.

Bricks in alternate courses of headers and stretchers are known as English bond. The wall is, of course, two bricks wide because the headers are twice the length of the stretchers. Other bonds include Flemish, which consists of rows of alternate headers and stretchers, with the headers centred on the mid-point of the stretchers; herringbone; and the very complex rat trap bond, which has half-gauge bricks mixed in.