Different types of brickwork in England through the ages.

Throughout English history, the types of brickwork have evolved enormously. Since the late 14th century, brickwork has changed in accordance with fashion, technology and the materials available at the time.

The use of brick in construction may be traced back to the Tudor era, in which a shortage of local stone forced Tudors to find alternative materials to build with. Soon, brickwork gained in popularity and bricklayers were rivalling masons. Unlike bricks we tend to see today, Tudor bricks were not a standard size and were irregular in shape. Because of this, thick mortar joints of up to 25mm were required to even out the inconsistencies.

Brick was used even more towards the end of the 17th century and standards were rising. Brick manufacturers, who at the time made bricks by hand, had become better at moulding and firing and were producing more consistent bricks of a similar shape and size. Also, towards the end of the 17th century, a brick tax was imposed that was to be paid per brick. In response, brick manufacturers started making larger bricks so that less would be needed and bricks also fell in popularity until the brick tax was removed.

From the mid 18th century, the manufacturing of brick became mechanised. This further improved the consistency of bricks. Due to improvements in transport and national communication, these bricks were then transported across the country. This is why from the Victorian era, we can see fewer regional variations in the types of brickwork. At this time, bricks were made to be 8½ inches by 4 inches by 2½ inches and these uniform bricks were used England. By the mid 19th century, bricks had become the universal building material. This, of course, remains the case today, only that now bricks are made much smaller; the standard size is 65mm by 102.5mm by 215mm.

Looking at these different types of brickwork raises the question of historic brickwork maintenance. There have been attempts to apply modern brickwork techniques and materials to historic brickwork, but these are often unsuccessful. For example, using cement mortar on brickwork, which was built with lime mortar (as late as the early 20th century) and designed to move with the land, causes damp and cracking bricks. When repairing, restoring or maintaining historic brick, the appropriate materials and techniques must be used, taking into account when the building was constructed and the type of brickwork, too.