Saturday, 2 April 2016

Headers and stretchers



The late 17th and early 18th centuries were a high point in the use of brick. Their manufacture was much improved, with blended clay, better moulding and more even firing which lead to greater consistency in shape and size. The colours of bricks changed in popularity from red, purple or grey bricks fashionable in the late 17th century until 1730, when brownish or pinkish grey stocks replaced the hot colours. These were followed in the mid 18th century by grey stocks, and, by 1800, the production of yellow marl or malm London stocks, which were closer to the stone colour desired for a classical facade.

Brickwork was generally of a very high standard, in mainly Flemish bond although header bond was also popular in the early 18th century.

Pointing was executed to a similar standard. As well as giving more protection to the weaker bedding mortar, fine detailing also helped to minimise the visual impact of the joints so that the classical details could be displayed more clearly. 'Tuck' pointing was the ultimate development in this quest.

A more expensive solution was to use 'gauged' brickwork popularised by Wren using a facade of fine, colour-matched bricks cut and rubbed to exact units, and laid in thin lime putty joints. However after 1730 this was considered too expensive and was reserved for window arches, aprons and other ornamentation only.

The Building Conservation Directory, 1993

Me, being me, fancied having a go at Flemish bond even though I know it increases the four thousand bricks I need to stick on by another third!  It isn't about pedantry and being a stickler for accuracy, if it were that I really would have to do a heap more 'modelling', I just wanted to give it a more interesting facade......  and....... OK then, I wanted it to be a bit more authentic.

Post script written several days later:  I am back to doing good old bog-standard running bond now I have actually started.  I came to the decision that no-one will ever notice or care and I would be doubling the work and frustration - so, yes, lazy kicked in.  Too late now to switch back to plan A as I am underway.

When I came back to this to finish off this post I decided to leave in the original bit about how you should do a Georgian house just in case you are doing one and are less lazy than me.

Here are a couple of pointers for anyone using Richard Stacey versi-bricks.

three at a time

Any PVA glue will do.  I am trying to use up some of the tons of Aleens Tacky glue that I seem to have acquired.  Ideally it is best if you butter one brick at a time on its back and press it in place.  That way you won't end up with shiny glue glinting between your bricks.  In truth though I often lay down enough glue for three or four bricks on the wall and then quickly apply the bricks before the glue goes off.  I then clean out the mortar joints with a toothpick as I go along.

simple kit needed

You will need a small amount of glue at a time.  I put mine on a glass tile.  Any tile will do and it will always clean up back to spanking new after a bit of a soak in warm water.  I have had this one four years and it has had every glue under the sun on it including superglue and all kinds of paints and finishes and they all come off just fine.  It is a glass tile from B & Q and might be a better choice than just a glazed one, but I doubt it would matter much.  

I put a little on the tile; it dries up quickly so if you put out a load you will be wasting a lot before you can use it.  I apply it with a toothpick but use whatever suits you - you can see a glue spreader in this photo and I might use that now and then.  There's also a small pair of sharp scissors to cut any bricks to make them fit and some pointy tweezers in case I have any really tiny fiddly bits to handle. 

A clean toothpick is also good for cleaning out the mortar joints if you are fussy like me.  I even use a dental pick for that sometimes.  

Choose your weapons.

wrapped edges

On this build I am wrapping the bricks around the inner edge of the door.  As I said in an earlier post I have a 3/16 inch gap so there is room and it gives a good finish.  I am not doing this on the hinge edge, of course, as it has quoins. (Pronounced 'coins' incidentally)   Notice the good match between the paint and the bricks.

The only real challenge you will have is keeping the bricks on a straight line.  The first time I did it I carefully measured the space that four rows took up and then ruled the whole board with lines so I could do four rows at a time and know they were straight.  It never really worked as I hardly every managed to 'hit' the lines smack on.  I did, however, realise that the lines kept me 'steady'.  

On my next build I just ruled lines, a ruler width apart, and used them as visual guides to keep me on the straight and narrow.  This worked very well.  The only downside was that sometimes the pencil lines showed through the gaps too much.  

checking the vertical

An occasional check on the vertical lines is good too.  It is easy to wander slightly to your left or right.  Up until now I have just put a ruler down occasionally to see how the lines are running.

grid system

This time I have moved on to a pencilled in 'grid' to help me to keep checking my verticals and horizontals.  I will also try to rub out any lines that remain after the bricks go on.

last way to keep on line
Finally, to make sure I can keep to the same spaces when I am working in broken up areas, I lay down a vertical row of single bricks.  I note where the first lot end up in relation to the horizontal guidelines, then I go across the board (between the windows for example) and do the same single guide row in each place and make it land on the same horizontal line at the bottom as the first drop did. Then, after I have filled in the cut up areas, I should arrive at the same place at the bottom right the way across (the line under the windows).  I can then do a single line right the way across under all those areas.

All this makes it sound very complicated - I promise you it isn't when you come to do it.

The bricks should have 1mm gap between them and I used the edge of an old credit card to get a uniform gap the first time I used them, but now I just do it by eye.  Real brickwork isn't that perfect by a long shot.

I have made a couple of videos (click on the link at the left of this post) if that helps you more.


  1. Hi Marilyn! I have to admire your Gumption in taking on a project like this which requires a lot of patience and precision. I gave up golfing because I couldn't hit the ball straight ( it would always take a right hand trajectory); I gave up trying to cut a straight line because the knife always slices to my left! If I tried to lay a straight course of bricks who knows which direction it might take, so I can only admire such determined accuracy as you are demonstrating and APPLAUD LOUDLY from this side of the pond!
    Because, I don't see any "laziness" AT ALL!!!
    Well done so far, and thanks for the interesting history lesson on English Brickwork! :D


  2. Thanks Elizabeth. I may have made the bricks sound worse than they are. I am sure you could just sit down and get on with them without being so pernickity but like you and most folk I do list to the left when haging pictures etc and always need a spirit level to straighten me up. So I try my hardest to keep my bricks on the straight and narrow. Bet your early 'colonial' houses were also headers and stretchers, compliments of English settlers. Marilyn