Setting out and executing ‘cut and rubbed’ and ‘gauged brickwork’ for decorative architectural features, arches, aprons, cornices, pilasters, pediments, and niches. This is achieved through post-fired shaping the special individual rubbing bricks to produce a high degree of regularity, accurate dimensions and, with gauged work, extreme fineness in the joints. Also see brick making.
|Historic area of significance
|Netherlands, Belgium, Northern France, Italy
|Area currently practised
|England and, to a lesser extent, parts of Scotland and Wales
|Origin in the UK
|Cut and rubbed work largely from the 15th Century – late Mediaeval Period – gauged work largely from the second half of the 17th Century
|Current no. of professionals (main income)
|21-50 full-time professionals working at a sufficiently advanced level
(Data supplied by Dr. Gerard Lynch)
|Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
|There will be heritage building professionals carrying out this work but numbers and levels of skills are unclear.
|Current no. of trainees
|Current total no. serious amateur makers
|Current total no. of leisure makers
Brick as a popular building material dates back to the 13th and 14th Centuries but it was during the Tudor period that the craft of the brickmason became recognised as a skilled occupation and the choice of brick, instead of stone, for buildings of the wealthy merchants and aristocracy, saw brickwork become a prestigious building material. By the Tudor period the very best of English brickmasons, many of whom had moved across from stonemasonry, began to rival the Flemish craftsmen. This period is famed for its use of ornamental chimneys: a glorious riot of carved brick mouldings that were essentially an extension of the incredible craftsmanship of the previous century. The bricks for these, and other ‘cut and rubbed’ enrichments such as tracery, label courses, etc, were all skilfully shaped, post-fired, using the brick axe, and other masonry cutting and abrading tools, by craftsmen called ‘hewers’; who frequently worked within the cutting shed during the winter months, when fear of frost damage prevented any bricklaying. This period of ascendency saw the emergence of The Worshipful Company of Tylers and Bricklayers as one of the livery companies of the City of London. The organisation of Tylers (roof and floor tile layers) and Bricklayers had existed by 1416 but it was incorporated by a Royal Charter in 1568.
As the 17th and early 18th Centuries progressed, bricks became ever more popular and no longer just the preserve of the wealthy, and countless millions were made and laid. Architectural fashions moved from the highly decorative to the more refined as the effects and influence of the classical Renaissance spread across London after the Restoration (1660); when the influence of the Dutch use of brickwork came very much to the fore it led native bricklayers to follow their subtler utilisation of brick. The zenith of this was the skilful setting out and post-fired cutting of the low-fired bricks, or ‘rubbers’, with brick axes etc, for accurately laying within fine joints of lime putty: silver sand mortar, averaging 1mm 2mm, for a wide range of enrichments such as arches, aprons, pilasters, pediments, cornices and niches, etc; within the highest branch of the craft termed ‘Gauged Brickwork’.
The second half of the nineteenth century was largely characterised by revivalism in domestic architecture and industrial building, seeking a return to earlier types of building forms as a relief from what was viewed as the un-spirituality of an increasingly mechanised age. At the highest end of the craft the Victorian desire for lavishly enriched ornamentation was tastefully crafted, with the return of the prolific use of beautifully executed gauged brickwork, which after the 1870s increasingly utilised over-sized, often fully-washed, rubbing bricks, cut to precise size and shape within profiled mould boxes using bow saws fitted with twisted wire blades.
(Dr Gerard Lynch, April 2023)
Traditional constructed brickmasonry will include:
- Knowledge of various types and classes of building limes, different types of aggregates, natural pozzolana and artificial pozzolans, natural pigments from ochres and vegetable sources
- Hand preparation of mortars including the slaking of quicklime, various types and ratios of lime-based mortars and utilising and blending ochres to create pigmented pointing mortars
- Knowledge of bricks, clay types, methods of brickmaking and rules of bonding brickwork and the wide variety of bonding patterns on solid-wall construction
- Historic joint finishes, whether by jointing or pointing, e.g. the ability to accurately reproduce all forms of the many historic joint profiles with characteristic traditional neatness, including the most advanced called ‘Tuck Pointing’.
- Setting out and executing both cut and rubbed work and gauged brickwork for decorative architectural features, including ornamental chimney stacks, all forms arches, aprons, cornices, pilasters, pediments, and niches.
- The skilful preparation of special rubbing bricks to be shaped, post-fired, using hand tools such as the brick-axe for accurately replicating features executed in ‘cut and rubbed’ work, as seen from the 15th through to the early 17th centuries. Then to be also able to authentically recreate the more exacting skills of precisely preparing rubbing bricks, cut with the twisted wire blade within profiled moulding boxes, set with ‘fine-stuff’ mortar joints of 1mm in thickness, for architectural elements of Gauged Brickwork.
(Dr Gerard Lynch, April 2023)
- Brick gauging
- Brick rubbing
- Red-masonry (also covering brick sculpting – i.e. carving post-fired bricks)
- Brick carving
- Brick cutting
Issues affecting the viability of the craft
- Training and recruitment: The teaching the bricklayers receive doesn’t effectively address both the traditional and modern aspects of the craft. Those emerging out of NVQ Levels I, II and III Brickwork over the past 30 years are primarily trained in new build construction and the vast majority do not possess the required level of craft knowledge and high-level skills necessary to work on historic properties with empathy, competence and confidence. There is a pressing need for a well thought-out and carefully designed craft apprenticeship programme teaching the traditional aspects of the craft through education and training – covering its history, materials, related technology, calculations, building science, technical drawing, and geometry – alongside the elementary, advanced, and enhanced levels of practical skills required for applying them for quality conservation and restoration.
- Small business issues: Firms cannot access sufficient financial support to fund the training of apprentices and up-skilling mature artisans.
- Supply of raw materials: Raw materials, particularly handmade bricks, can be expensive due to the additional costs of specific clay preparation, making by hand drying and firing.
- Ageing workforce: The majority of the skilled brickmasons with years of meaningful experience are now mostly in their 50s or 60s.
- Legislative issues: Health and Safety is an unavoidable but significant cost. Conservation work generally falls within the construction industry and therefore carries responsibilities under current health and safety legislation; these are outlined principally under the CDM (Construction Design Management) Regulations.
- Worshipful Company of Tylers and Bricklayers
- The Guild of Bricklayers
- The British Brick Society
- The Brick Development Association
- Association of Brickwork Contractors
- The National Trust
- Historic England
- Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB)
- West Dean College
Craftspeople currently known
See Building Conservation Directory
- Dr Gerard Lynch, The Red Mason
- Emma Simpson, Simpson Brickwork Conservation Ltd
- John Gorman, Herts Renovation
- Derren D’Archambaud, DGD Builders
- Liam David Lynch – Redmason Heritage Masonry Services
- Charles Reilly, Georgian Brickwork
- Terrence Lee, Terrence Lee Conservation
- Andrew Dunster
- Ronnie Douglas, Douglas Brickwork
- Lynn Mathias
Short courses: A list of short courses can be found on the Building Conservation Directory website.
- Dr. Gerard Lynch, The Red Mason, internationally acknowledged as the premier authority and master brickmason, provides bespoke education and high-level skills training for craftsmen and women alongside a wide range of organisations both in the UK and abroad.
- Charles Reilley, Georgian Brickwork, offers training in partnership with Heritage Brickwork Training Ltd.
- Terrence Lee Conservation runs training and short courses.
- West Dean College offer courses in the conservation and repair of brick and flint masonry.
On-the-job training: Workplace NVQs at Levels 2 & 3 are available in Bricklaying and Heritage Skills.
- Gauged Brickwork: A Technical Handbook, by Gerard Lynch, Gower (1990)
Fully revised and re-published by Donhead Publishing (2006)
- Bricklaying: Theory, Technology and Practice, Volumes 1 and 2, by Gerard Lynch, Donhead Publishing, (1994)
- The History of Gauged Brickwork: Conservation, Repair and Modern Application, by Gerard Lynch, Butterworth-Heinemann, (2007)
- Lime Mortars for Brickwork: Traditional Practice, Modern Misconceptions, The Building Conservation Directory, The Journal of Architectural Conservation (Part 1 March & Part 2 July 1998)
- Gauged Brickwork – Tracing the Netherlandish Influence, Association for Studies in the Conservation of Historic Buildings, Transactions (2001)
- The Characteristics and Properties of Rubbing Bricks used for Gauged Brickwork, The Journal of Architectural Conservation (Part 1 March & July 2003)
- An Investigation of Hand Tools used for English Cut-and-Rubbed and Gauged Brickwork, The Second International Proceedings of Construction History (2005)
- Putting Value Back into Craft Education and Training, The Journal of the American National Trust, (2005)
- The Myth in the Mix, The Building Conservation Directory (2007)
- Colour washing and Pencilling of Historic Brickwork, The Journal of Architectural Conservation, (July 2005)
- Re-positioning Craft Education and Training to Re-connect Artisans to Designers, The Journal of The Association of Preservation Technology, USA, (2012)
- Joint Finishes on Historic Brickwork, The Building Conservation Directory (2016)
- Hot-mixed lime mortars and traditionally constructed brickwork, The Journal of the Building Limes Forum (2017)
- Website – www.theredmason.co.uk
- RW Brunskill, Brick Building In Britain
- Victor Gollancz Ltd, London, 1990 Historic England
- Practical Building Conservation Earth, Brick and Terracotta, Ashgate 2015
- M Jenkins, Traditional Scottish Brickwork, Historic Environment Scotland, 2014
- Nathaniel Lloyd, A History of English Brickwork, 1925, reprinted 2003. See pages 75 + following on gauged work