Saturday, 4 February 2012

Beautiful Norfolk Bricks!

These are the beautiful, but very common bricks used for a great many of Norfolk's 19th century farm buildings.  Look closely, and you can see the range of colours, from almost slate grey to a orangy brown, caused by each individual's position in the kiln.  The dark ones are known as 'kiln bottoms' and are often used to make a pattern of alternating dark headers (the short ends) and lighter stretchers (the long sides).  Look closely at an individual brick.  Two in the centre of the photo have patches of different colours, which go under the lovely name of 'kiss marks'.  This is where the bricks touched in the kiln as they were fired.  The clay used to make them was stoney, and show up as little specks ('inclusions') in the surface.  Such a riot of detail is beautiful to behold, but at the time this barn was built, the bricks were considered sub-standard and not good enough for a grander building.

The bricks are beautifully laid in thin joints of lime mortar, mixed with lumps of chalk, and is still good after 150 years.  However, weather and pollution can cause mortar to deteriorate, as shown in the photo below.

The bricks are fine, but the mortar has almost gone  Not good news, either for keeping the damp out or for holding the building up.  The best way to deal with it is, of course, to repoint the wall, using the same mortar as the original builders so lovingly applied.  Unfortunately due to the ignorance of cowboy builders, many a wall has been ruined by the use of modern cement mortar.  The once beautiful and mellow wall ends up looking like this:

Gone are the lovely, thin, white joints, to be replaced by ugly, fat, grey, cement ones, with splashes and splosh marks all over the face, ground and surrounding parish.  Not only does it look appalling, but Portland cement is very, very hard, and will damage the lovely soft clay of the original brickwork.  After several years of frost and rain, the wall ends up like this:

Almost gone, thanks to bad pointing.  What a (expensive) shame.

Always best to use the right mortar!