21 March 2014
Bricks: The Building Blocks of London Shh...
London Shh is a collection of a diverse group of properties, built over a long period of time (1686-1939). But all of them have something in common; they were, like most of London, built with bricks.
Bricks have been used as a building material in Europe since the Roman period, but this was not commonplace until the seventeenth century. Before 1666, London still looked like a medieval city with most of its buildings made out of wood. The process of rebuilding London with brick had started before the Great Fire of London but the conflagration accelerated this change, as from then on all new buildings had to be made from brick or stone. Since then the material of choice for London and the surrounding area has been the dependable London Stock Brick, with its varying shades of brown and yellow coming from the clay beneath our feet.
Fenton House was built circa 1686 in a style that was to remain typical of London for over 200 years. The bulk of the brickwork is brown London Stock, which was both aesthetically pleasing and cheap. In an age when transport was prohibitively expensive, local materials were essential. London clay can be found throughout the Thames basin, and could therefore be dug up and made into bricks in a neighbouring field, thus eliminating transport costs. The house is not all London stock, the quoins and window arches are made from red brick, which was most likely imported at greater expense. The window arches in particular are made from gauged brick; soft red brick which is then cut and rubbed into very precise shapes to form an arch above the window with incredibly fine joints of pure lime putty. Most of the houses in the London Shh group are built with London Stock; some of them make use of red gauged windows including Burgh House (c.1704), Dr Johnson’s House (c.1700), and Handel House (c.1723), whilst others make use of yellow window dressings, for example Kelmscott House (c.1780) and Wesley House (c.1779). This basic formula was used and adapted for most London houses during this period.
The best quality and most expensive brickwork would typically be situated at the public facing front of the house, while the back of the house would be made from cheaper bricks with simpler windows. Some of the houses are stuccoed, for instance Benjamin Franklin House (c.1730) and 7 Hammersmith Terrace (c.1755), or rendered such as Keats House (c.1814). This was done to imitate the look of stonework and sometimes even to cover up any shoddy brickwork underneath.
With the advent of the railways, transport costs plummeted and it became more fashionable to use red brick, so that by the time that the property now home to the Freud Museum was built in around 1920, it was made entirely of red brick. The impact of brick on architecture in London was so great that even Erno Goldfinger used brick, in a non-structural way, for his home at 2 Willow Road (c.1939).
By Christopher Curtis, Operations Volunteer at Benjamin Franklin House
Image: Fenton House, Benjamin Franklin House and Freud Museum (Clockwise)