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Bonding with tradition

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CRAFTSMANSHIP: Michael Hammett meets a young man with the skills and dedication to follow the old ways

The grandeur and intricacy of traditional structural brickwork is widely admired, but the appreciation is accompanied by the regretful belief that such construction is a thing of the past, having long been superseded by more expeditious modern methods. Sadly, that resignation is bolstered by a supposition that craftsmen no longer have the necessary skills and knowledge to do such work.

Therefore, to find a substantial quantity of new brickwork built in the traditional manner is as surprising as it is exciting.

In the heart of the Sussex countryside the present owner of a former 16th century farmhouse was fortunate to engage a young bricklayer, Nick Evans, for some new work on his property. Nick, like his grandfather, great-grandfather and generations of his family before, is an enthusiastic and skilful bricklayer craftsman. He was engaged to construct the brick masonry elements of a new garden designed by landscape architect Nigel Phillips. This called for walls, gate piers, retaining walls, pond walls, steps and paving.

The masonry was built as traditional thick-bonded brickwork using red multi-stock bricks jointed with lime-based mortar. For example, the retaining walls are of thick, solid 'gravity' design, the thickness of the brickwork being about a quarter or a third of the height of soil to be retained. Today prestressed reinforced brickwork would be an economical alternative, but many engineers would use reinforced concrete and face it with brickwork for good appearance, although that would be more expensive.

Pleased with the results, the client engaged Nick to design and build further projects on his property. Two new decorative brick chimney stacks in the Tudor style now grace the roof of the main house. One is a twin-flue stack featuring contra-rotating spirals on the two shafts and connected at the top by a corbelled bridging terminal.

The other is a slender simple shaft with a decorative pinecone-like texture.

The Orangery

At the source of a cascade feature in the garden, Nick Evans created a crenellated pavilion with blind and open arcades of bonded semi-circular gauged arches. The brickwork is in English bond which gives it a suitably robust character and a corbelsupported attached chimney stack forms a strong decorative element on one of the elevations. Within the parapet a glazed roof structure is supported on cast-iron brackets.

Walled gardens

There are two walled gardens. One is a plain enclosure of 45 x 30m, surrounded by three-metre high walls.

There are two oak door entrances set in decorative brickwork openings with four centred Tudor arches of corbelled moulded bricks.

On two sides the enclosure walls are retaining walls to support the earth at a higher level beyond. They are 1.34 m thick (six bricks) in English bond and there is sectional bonding throughout, that is the bonding is arranged so that there are no continuous vertical joints within the wall.

Following 19th century structural brickwork practice, to strengthen the bond, herringbone courses are incorporated. These are occasional courses (one in ten or so) of bricks laid diagonally across the width of the wall within the space between bricks at the face and back surfaces of the wall.

The other garden is 25 x 20m with one entrance, again under a Tudor arch. Opposite the entrance is a sevenbay loggia. An arcade of wide Tudor arches, supported on decorative columns of spiral brickwork with square plinths and capitals enclose a barrel-vaulted ceiling. The three centre bays contain a water feature and seating. These bays are deeper than the others and have vaults at right angles to the main one. Carefully formed cut and rubbed special shaped bricks are used to form the groined intersections neatly.

Set in each of the two side walls of this garden enclosure, a 2m wide seating recess is formed below an elegant semicircular bonded gauged arch.

In other parts of the garden there are gate piers, some with rusticated design and others with chamfered and fluted arrises formed with bricks of special shape.

Nick Evans is responsible for the design of all the brickwork features described. In some parts where specialshaped bricks were involved, the CAD Design Advisory Service of the brick manufacturer supplying the bricks assisted with working up the details of their application.

Nick Evans trained at Lewes Technical College from 1985-88 where he obtained the City & Guilds Craft and Advanced Craft Certificates in Brickwork. He acknowledges the assistance provided by his workmate, not only in the role as bricklayer's labourer, but from time to time helping by laying the backing brickwork. But all the bricks seen in these projects have been laid by one skilful man following the time-honoured techniques of traditional bricklaying. It is an amazing tour de force.


Brickwork design and construction Nick Evans

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