Dating buildings brickwork

Upon encountering a new site, the archaeologist immediately requires information about its age in order to set it in context with other sites.

In research into our heritage the conservationist or architect may be able to date the general period of a building he is working with from either the situation, materials of construction, type of timber joints or other stylistic features.

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. Its size is mainly determined by what a brickie can pick up in one hand, and keep on doing so for several hours.

Some houses have a recognisable style; they have clear Georgian, Gothic or Arts and Crafts features, for example. But many buildings, particularly more modest houses, have an eclectic mix of features.

From unsophisticated early work, brick building entered its heyday, rivalling stone in its popularity as a structural material.The census records, currently available for 1891, 1881 and previous decades can be used for an approximate date.Another source of information may be the original owners of the land; this may have been, for example, a religious trust or a member of the nobility.Previously considered to be an inferior material to stone, brick construction was rarely used in Britain until the close of the Middle Ages.Gerard Lynch looks at its historical development over the last 600 years and its conservation and repair.

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