I am starting with bricks because they are the most common form of building material in East Anglia and were made of local clay until the 20th century. In other ways however there is little distinctively East Anglian about the use of bricks.
The oldest bricks seen in East Anglia are Roman which are still found in the remaining Roman walls, and are also reused in later structures which are nearly all ecclesiastical. The Romans did not use bricks as a building material for whole walls, they were probably too expensive. They only used them for courses in them. The bulk of a Roman building used the local stone (flint in East Anglia), or wood of course for the less important buildings.
The Anglo-Saxons built of wood frames with wattle and daub in-filling for several hundred years. They began to work in masonry (in East Anglia) only at the very end of the Anglo-Saxon period in the eleventh century. The stone they used in Norfolk and Suffolk was flint. After the Romans it was not until the late middle ages that bricks were again used in this country. They appeared in elements of flint built churches such as the voussoirs (arches), but also in whole buildings, notably fifteenth century Oxborough Hall in West Norfolk. St Augustine’s church in Norwich has a brick tower but despite its medieval appearance it is late 17th century in date. The earliest ecclesiastical to be built entirely of brick were all non-confirmist chapels after 1650. Abroad they were much earlier in their use of this material in ecclesiastical buildings; Kraków’s medieval Basilica (Poland) is entirely built of brick.
Bricks did not immediately adopt the dimensions that are now normal in British brickwork – based on Imperial measurements, 8½” x 2½” x 4”. Until the 20th century bricks were made of a single consistency of clay and sand mixture throughout, which meant they could be cut to size and rubbed to produce very precise joints where needed. Bricks are now made of clay with a sand coating for cosmetic purposes, meaning any cut surface must be turned inwards to be concealed by mortar. Our bungalow in Poringland which was built in 1928 was made of Norfolk Reds, old fashioned bricks of a rich colour throughout. These could be rubbed to shape. Our bungalow in Taverham (built 1984) is made of “Tudor” bricks, similar at first glance but only on the surface. These bricks cannot be rubbed; they are too hard , and even if they could be their appearance would be ugly.
To go with the traditional Norfolk Reds are Suffolk Whites. The colours of bricks are dictated both by the nature of the minerals which go into them, but also the amount of firing that goes into making them. Blue engineering bricks are very hard and the colour and hardness come from the heat in the kiln. When the production process was less closely controlled the headers received more heat than the stretchers and the blue headers could be used for decorative effect. Because this no longer happens when bricks are made by modern methods, when the new library at Norwich was being built a man went round with a paint pot, staining odd headers blue to make the walls look more interesting; have a look next time you are in the City!
Bricks are a fascinating and involved subject that it would take a book to cover, indeed many have been written on just this subject. However my particular slant is to examine brick as used in East Anglia. I will end with few word on the bonds used in brickwork. Today the commonest form of bond is stretcher bond used in cavity walls. It is the only bond for walls that are only one brick thick. When walls were two or more bricks in thickness Flemish bond became the norm. This bond simply alternated headers and stretchers. Stretchers are bricks laid lengthwise, and headers are laid end on. Stack bond has the bricks laid one above the other (the joints are not staggered), either horizontally or vertically – like “soldiers”.
There are many other bonds involving for example a course of headers followed by a course of stretchers (English bond), or a course of headers followed by three courses of stretchers (English garden wall bond). The picture accompanying this article is an example of an unusual bond. It is basically English bond, but the headers are laid soldier fashion – upright. This example came from a barn in Woodbastwick photographed over 40 years ago in the summer of 1971; I do not know if it still exists.