An overview of the historical background to English Gauged Brickwork
What is gauged brickwork?

It is a term used to describe brickwork where a superior finish in the details of an important brickwork elevation is required, such as moulded reveals, arches, string courses and other forms of ornamentation.  A highly skilled branch of the craft of the bricklayer, it involved works to very accurate measurements that raised artisans of the craft to the status of the mason.  By definition, to gauge is to measure, set out and work exactly, objects of standard size so as they conform to strictly defined limits, and this term is eminently suitable for this class of brickwork.  Gauged work is where the bricks are worked or gauged to size and shape.  Special outsized ‘soft’ bricks known as ‘rubbing bricks’, ‘rubbers’ or ‘cutters’ are used.  These can be cut, filed or carved like cheese, yet their surfaces become hard with weathering, enabling them to survive the polluted atmospheres of the big towns and cities.

NEED FOR THE REVIVAL IN THE SKILL OF GAUGED WORK was Identified in 1980's by Gerard C J Lynch for the:

Restoration and renovation of traditional constructed properties – many of national importance.

Revival in use of architectural enrichments on modern brick properties.

Raising skill levels of the craft of bricklaying – dealt a severe blow with the advent of NVQ modular training, decline of apprenticeships and time-serving.

Promoting increase in range of moderately costed rubbing bricks – present costs prohibit wide-spread use.

© G C J Lynch

An overview of the historical background to English Gauged Brickwork
A development of post-fired working of low-fired bricks during the Medieval and Tudor periods ‘cut and rubbed’ brickwork – initially by Flemish influence and by end of 15th century English craftsmen highly competent in its use. Maser Masons/ Bricklayers could work in either stone or brick.
17th Century from the Netherlands

FACTORS CONTRIBUTING TO THE DEVELOPMENT OF GAUGED WORK:

The Renaissance — ‘rebirth’ of classical architecture
Shift from Italy to North European architectural styles
Movement to England of influential continental Master Craftsmen
Continuing use of brick for influential houses in and around London
High standards of skill, knowledge and self-esteem of City bricklayers and Worshipful Company (Guild)

INFLUENTIAL ARCHITECTS DEVELOPING GAUGED WORK IN 17TH CENTURY

Inigo Jones (1573 -1652) – Alterations to Houghton House, Ampthill Beds c1617
Sir Hugh May (1622-1684) -Chiswick House 1684
Sir Christopher Wren (1632 – 1723) – Hampton Court Palace 1690’s,
Royal Observatory Greenwich 1670’s, Kings Bench Walk 1670’s

ARTISANS MANNERIST STYLE

This centred on the Master Bricklayers/masons drawing inspiration from the vigorous forms of Netherlandish Classicism available in pattern books mainly out of Antwerp.
‘Mannerist’ because of liberties it took with Classical rules. Movement greatly influenced by Nicholas Stone the Elder (1586 -1647) – worked in Amsterdam from 1607 -1613. Strong possibly may have worked on Houghton House, Ampthill, Bedfordshire.

EXAMPLES OF ‘ARTISAN/MANNERIST STYLES:

Kew Palace ‘Dutch House’ 1630. For Samuel Fortrey a wealthy Dutch merchant; often given as first property to use gauged work in England. Not true. Brick work is not really gauged but more the gradual transitional phase from Tudor ‘cut and rubbed’ to the refined Classical use of:
‘Cromwell House, Highgate, London C.1637
Tyttenhanger Park, St. Albans, Herts, C.1655.
Master Bricklayer and Artisan Architect attributed these houses and the ‘Mannerist movement – Peter Mills (1598 1670)

INTERREGNUM – ROYAL COURT MOVES TO FRANCE AND HOLLAND – ARCHITECTURAL AND CRAFT INFLUENCES.

Restoration of King Charles II – 1660
1666 – Great Fire Of London – Sir Christopher Wren, Sir Hugh May, Sir Roger Pratt (1620 -85), Dr Robert Hooke (1635 -1703).
Refined gauged work directly under Dutch influence reaches the zenith of its development.
Wren’s master bricklayers , Edward Helder (d1683) & Morris Emmett (1646 -1694)
Rubbing bricks – high silica content (80%).brickearth. Bricks reserved as best from general clamp or kiln firing ; including ‘Malm cutters’ – best of the London stock range.
Use of ‘brickaxe’, Masons saws and abrasives etc to cut and shape rubbers.

AFTER 1730s DECLINE IN EXTENSIVE USE OF GAUGED WORK ESPECIALLY FOR COMPLETE FACADES DUE TO:

Cost
Changing architectural taste
Stucco
Stone
Brick tiles (mathematical tiles)
Speed of construction

GAUGED WORK RESERVED FOR ARCHES, APRONS, CORNICING AND DRESSINGS.

1870’s revival of Dutch style of 17th century due to the influence of ‘Arts and Crafts Movement’ and in turn revival of use of gauged brickwork became prolific.

Due to:

High skills of master bricklayers and the developments in revivals of Victorian apprenticeships; City and Guilds etc.
Beginning of use of twisted wire bladed bow-saw, and cutting/moulding boxes to cut and shape rubbers.
Rubbing bricks now often oversized, also made from specially selected and carefully washed clays kiln fired at 9000 c, such as Fareham Reds and TLB’s etc.

PROMINENT ARCHITECTS:

R.Norman Shaw, Cheyne Walk, Cadogan Square, London.
Basil Champneys Newnham College, Cambridge

DECLINE OF GAUGED WORK FROM EDWARDIAN ERA DUE TO:

1914 -1918 Great War
36,000 bricklayers 1921 – 92,000 before the war
Decline of the large house
Handmade bricks becoming increasingly expensive, particularly rubbing bricks
Labour costs – gauged work labour intensive
Reduction in period of apprenticeship from seven to five years.
On- going decline in Traditional hand making yard, in the face of mechanised production
Second World War – 1939 -1945
Demand for quick and cheap houses to rebuild blitzed cities and rapidly growing population
Loss of more skilled men in war
Influx of government short-trained bricklayers
1960’s housing styles basic – no enrichments
Further reduction in period of apprenticeship from 5 to 3 years, loss of gauged work
Unskilled operatives being allowed to practice craft.