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.