[Footnote: A recent lecture delivered at Carpenters' Hall, London Wall, E.C.--Building News.]
By Professor T. ROGER SMITH, F.R.I.B.A.
Timber, stone, earth, are the three materials most used by the builder in all parts of the world. Where timber is very plentiful, as in Norway or Switzerland, it is freely used, even though other materials are obtainable, and seems to be preferred, notwithstanding the risk of fire which attends its use. Where timber is scarce, and stone can be had, houses are built of stone. Where there is no timber and no stone, they are built of earth--sometimes in its natural state, sometimes made into bricks and sun-dried, but more often made into bricks and burned.
London is one of the places that occupies a spot which has long ceased to yield timber, and yields no stone, so we fall back on earth--burnt into the form of bricks. Brick was employed in remote antiquity. The Egyptians, who were great and skillful builders, used it sometimes; and as we know from the book of Exodus, they employed the forced labor of the captives or tributaries whom they had in their power in the hard task of brick making; and some of their brick-built granaries and stores have been recently discovered near the site of the battle of Tel-el-Kebir.
The Assyrians and Babylonians made almost exclusive use of brickwork in erecting the vast piles of buildings the shapeless ruins of which mark the site of ancient Nineveh and of the cities of the valley of the Euphrates. Their bricks, it is believed, were entirely sun-dried, not burnt to fuse or vitrify them as ours are, and they have consequently crumbled into mere mounds. The Assyrians also used fine clay tablets, baked in the fire--in fact, a kind of terra cotta--for the purpose of records, covering these tablets with beautifully executed inscriptions, made with a pointed instrument while the clay was soft, and rendered permanent by burning. We don't know much about Greek brickwork; but it is probable that very little brick, if any, was made or used in any part of Greece, as stone, marble, and timber abound there; but the Romans made bricks everywhere, and used them constantly. They were fond of mixing two or more materials together, as for example building walls in concrete and inserting brickwork at intervals in horizontal layers to act as courses of bond. They also erected buildings of which the walls were wholly of brick.
They turned arches of wide span in brickwork; and they frequently laid in their walls at regular distances apart courses of brick on edge and courses of sloping bricks, to which antiquaries have given the name of herring-bone work.
The Roman bricks are interesting as records, for it was customary to employ the soldiers on brick making, and to stamp the bricks with names and dates; and thus the Roman bricks found in this country give us some information as to the military commanders and legions occupying different parts of England at different periods. Flue bricks, for the passage of smoke under floors and in other situations, are sometimes found. The Roman brick was often flat and large--in fact, more like our common paving tiles, known as foot tiles, only of larger size than like the bricks that we use. They vary, however, in size, shape, and thickness. Not a few of them are triangular in shape, and these are mostly employed as a sort of facing to concrete work, the point of the triangle being embedded in the concrete and the broad base appearing outside. After the Roman time, brick making seems to have almost ceased in England for many centuries.
It is true we find remains of a certain number of massive brick buildings erected not long after the Norman conquest; but on examination it turns out that these were put up at places where there had been a Roman town, and were built of Roman bricks obtained by pulling down previous buildings. The oldest parts of St. Albans Abbey and portions of the old Norman buildings at Colchester are examples of this sort. Apparently, timber was used in this country almost exclusively for humble buildings down to the 16th century. This is not surprising, considering how well wooded England was; but stone served during the same period for important buildings almost to the exclusion of brick. This is more remarkable, as we find stone churches and the ruins of stone castles in not a few spots remote from stone quarries, and to which the stone must have been laboriously conveyed at a time when roads were very bad and wheel carts were scarce.
About the time of the Tudors, say the reign of Queen Elizabeth, the making of bricks was resumed in England, and many dwelling houses and some few churches were built of good brickwork in that and succeeding reigns. We find in such buildings as Hampton Court Palace, St. James' Palace, and Chelsea Hospital examples of the use of brickwork in important buildings near London at later dates. The fire of London, in 1666, gave a sudden check to the use of timber in house building in the metropolis. Previous to that date the majority of houses had been of a sort the most ornamental examples of which were copied in "Old London" at the Colonial Exhibition. The rebuilding after the fire was largely in brick; and in the suburbs, in the latter part of the 17th and the 18th centuries, many dignified square brick mansions, with bold, overhanging eaves and high roofs and carved ornaments, entered through a pair of florid wrought iron high gates, were built, some few of which still linger in Hampstead and other suburbs. The war time at the beginning of this century was a trying time for builders, with its high prices and heavy taxes, and some of the good-looking brick buildings of that day turn out to have been very badly built when they are pulled about for alterations.
With the rapid, wonderful increase in population and wealth in this metropolis during the last 50 years a vast consumption of bricks has taken place, and a year or two back it was reported by the commissioners of police that the extensions of London equaled in a year 70 miles of new house property, practically all of brick. Brick were heavily taxed in the war time which I have referred to, and the tax was levied before burning.