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Many of Hungerford's oldest properties in the High Street were originally timber-frame although many were "modernised" during the 18th and early 19th century to brick and tile. Some show the use of mathematical tiles. Just a small number still retain thatch and an even smaller number are of Bath stone, these mostly dating from the first decade or so after the Kennet & Avon Canal was opened in 1810.
The local geology:
To the north and south of Hungerford are extensive areas of cretaceous chalk. This is not normally a good building material, nor is the occasional outcrops of greensand and gault. The valley bottom is largely alluvial, with some areas of gravels and London clay.
It is not surprising that timber-framing was the commonest building material in the town until the 18th century.
Many of Hungerford's oldest properties in the High Street were originally timber-frame although many were "modernised" during the 18th and early 19th century to brick and tile.
The oldest timber-frame whose date we know from dendro-dating (in 2009) is 85 & 86 High Street, a two-bay cruck house, which had a single bay open hall at its north end (86 High Street). The roof of the north bay is heavily smoke blackened. Smooth single curved cruck blades are held by a saddle which carries square set ridge-pieces. It is the only property in Hungerford known to have a cruck frame construction, and it is very possible that 85 & 86 High Street are the oldest surviving properties in the town.
But many of the High Street properties are known to have timber-frame cores. Some of the best examples are 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 23, 24, 26, 28, 34 35 High Street on the west, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, 109-110, 111, 112 and 113 High Street on the east, but there are many more.
Most were re-fronted during the propserous coaching era of the 18th and early 19th centuries, often making use of brick, sometimes very decoratively laid, but occasionally by use of mathematical tiles (see below).
Along with timber-frames, it was natural in Hungerford to cover the houses with thatch. Thatch roofs require a fairly steep pitch of 45-55° to ensure rain and snow drain off readily. This steep pitch is evident on many roofs in Hungerford even when the thatch has been replaced by tile or slate.
Houses that retain their thatch roof include:
- 84 High Street,
- 24 Charnham Street
- 25 Charnham Street
- 28 Charnham Street
- 29-30 Charnham Street
- 22 Church Street
- 33 Church Street
But there would have been many more. Take a look at The Great Fire of Hungerford, 1566 and Fires and Fire Insurance in 16th-18th century Hungerford for more. Many houses still display the Insurance Fire Marks to this day.
However, when houses became upgraded in the 18th and early 19th centuries, and as new house were built during the 19th and 20th centuries, it was more common to make use of tile or slate.
History of Brick making:
The earliest bricks are those found in use around 7,000BC in Turkey and near Jericho. Baked clay roof tiles are known to have been used in Greece in the 2nd millenium BC.
All of these early bricks were simple sun-dried clay blocks.
The Romans introduced hard kiln-fired clay bricks all over their empire, and for building in Britain but the Saxons preferred wood for building and brick making died out in Britain.
Building with brick was only reintroduced from the Continent after the Norman Conquest and then only with imported bricks, many arriving as ballast in ships returning after transporting English wool to Flanders.
Brick making in England started in the early 1300s. Even then most brickwork carried out was to large public buildings and houses of high status. It was not until about the 16th century that bricks became more widely used for smaller houses.
The first English bricks were 12" long and were known as Great Bricks.
Bricks were often poorly made locally, and were of inconsistent size. Because they were usually sold by number they were often undersized!
In the time of Elizabeth I bricks that we recognise as Tudor bricks became standard. These were 9" x 4½" x 2¼", and these were fixed by law in 1571 and became known as "Statute" Bricks. Despite this bricks still varied greatly because of the way they were produced.
In the late 17th century, gauged brickwork was introduced and also during this period elaborate brick patterns became fashionable.
In the early 18th century designers began to favour bricks ranging in colour from light yellow to dull brown rather than the warm red bricks used by their predecessors.
By the mid 1800s great efforts were made to standardise brick size, which settled from 1840 at 9" x 4½" x 3½". Modern bricks (post 1970) have the metric size of 215mm x 102.5mm x 65mm.
Brick works were established at sites where there was suitable clay available. Brick clay needs to contain some sand, and also minerals, many of which influence the colours of the finished fired brick. Iron-rich clay and plentiful oxygen during firing results in bright red bricks; grey bricks result from low oxygen levels.
Many local bricks have a distinctive coating on the surface to give a grey or 'blue' colour. This is often achieved by firing in the hottest part of the kiln and with the addition of glass from broken bottles, sand and salt to the mould. The resulting bricks have a glassy or 'vitreous' appearance.
The quarry pit often became a pond. Such ponds can still be see at Dodsdown near Wilton, where over a million bricks had been made in preparation for the building of a huge palace for Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset and Lord Protector in 1548.
Other brick kilns locally included:
- Hopgrass Brick Works, near Kiln Cottage and Brickkiln Copse on the hill between Hopgrass and Chilton Foliat. This is clearly shown on the 1882 OS map.
After digging the clay, and adding sand, chalk or other products as necessary, the clay is cleaned of stones in a pug mill. The bricks and tiles are then formed in a wooden mould, and left in stacks to dry. Sometimes animal prints are seen from walking over the wet clay.
Enclosed "Scotch" kilns were normally used to fire the bricks - the dry bricks being stacked with fuel (bracken, twigs, sticks) in ducts between them. Those bricks exposed to the ducts often got very hot indeed, and the sand became vitrified like glass. Those bricks which were partly in contact with others might show the banding effect of varying temperature. Firing might last for 2-3 days.
The way bricks are laid when making a wall is called the bond. There are several common types in English walls, and examples of each are found in Hungerford:
- English bond: This is the oldest pattern, and was commonly used until the end of the 17th century. A course of stretchers alternates with a course of headers. This bond has two alternating courses of stretchers and headers, with the headers centered on the stretchers, and each alternate row vertically aligned.
- Flemish bond (also known as Dutch bond). From the beginning of the 18th century, the Flemish bond superseded the English bond. This style has stretchers and headers alternating within each course. Each course consists of alternate headers and stretchers. This bond is two bricks thick. It is quite difficult to lay Flemish bond properly, since for best effect all the perpendiculars (vertical mortar joints) need to be vertically aligned. If only one face of a Flemish bond wall is exposed, one-third of the bricks are not visible, and hence may be of low visual quality. This is a better ratio than for English bond, Flemish bond's main rival for load-bearing walls. A common variation often found in early 18th-century buildings is Glazed-headed Flemish Bond, in which the exposed headers are burned until they vitrify with a black glassy surface.
English Bond is considered stronger than Flemish bond, so continues to be used for civil engineering projects, such as bridges, viaducts and embankments. Laying the bricks in alternative courses, however, gives the impression of stripes, which is considered less pleasing than the appearance of Flemish bond.
As a result, Flemish bond, although inherently weaker, is widely used for house and small projects. has throughout history been considered the most decorative bond, and for this reason was used extensively for dwellings until the adoption of the cavity wall.
- English garden wall bond: A variation on English bond, this pattern has one row of headers followed by 3 - 7 rows of stretchers. As laying stretchers uses up fewer bricks than laying headers, this style is cheaper to produce than English bond. However, it is also less strong hence its use in traditional walled gardens and other modest structures.
- Header bond: Popular during the 18th century Header bond often employed contrasting brick colours to give a decorative effect. This bond produces a fine, tight wall, but uses so many bricks that it is usually reserved for very high-quality buildings. It is also used for curved brickwork, as the short faces are easier to build into undulating shapes.
- Flemish garden wall bond: Also known as Sussex bond, this is a version of Flemish bond that served the same function as English garden wall bond. It is made by using one header brick every three stretcher bricks.
- Stretcher bond: this bond consists of all bricks laid with only their long narrow sides (their stretchers) showing, overlapping midway with the courses of bricks below and above. It is the simplest repeating pattern, but, since it cannot be made with a bond to the bricks behind, it is suitable only for a wall one-half brick thick, the thinnest possible wall. Such a thin wall is not stable enough to stand alone, and must be tied to a supporting structure. It is common in modern buildings, in particular as the outer face of a cavity wall, or as the facing to a timber or steel-framed structure.
- Header bond: An expensive decorative bond where all bricks are laid with only their headers showing. This is especially used with heavily fired vitrified blue bricks, and there are several examples in Hungerford (including 107 High Street).
Local styles: The use of blue and red bricks and varying bonds allows a number of local vernacular styles to develop.
In Hungerford, much use is made of blue headers with red stretchers. Many properties have red bricks on window surrounds, on a background of blues. There are several examples of diamond "diaper" decoration.
Mathematical tiles: This refers to special tiles which were used to hang on a timber-frame building in order to give the appearance of a brick front. They were shaped in such a way as once in position, with the joints filled with lime mortar, it was hard to tell the difference from a true brick wall. They were used extensively in the south-east of England, especially Sussex and Kent. They were widely used in Brighton.
Mathematical tiles are easier to lay than brick, resistant to wind and rain, and, of course, lighter and cheaper when re-fronting a timber-frame building. They also avoided the Brick Tax (1784-1850).
There are many examples in Marlborough, and at least two in Hungerford - on 14 High Street (Co-op) and on 24 High Street (Hungerford Book Shop and Azusas).
Mortar is of great importance. Early mortars were lime, ash and (commonly) brick aggregate and brick or tile pozzolana. True pozzolana is a type of volcanic ash which was originally found near to Mount Vesuvius. The Romans discovered that if it was added to lime mortar it helped it to set more quickly. The term pozzolana is now used a generic term for any silica or aluminium silicate added to mortar. Ceramic or tile pozzolana is brick fired at low temperatures and crushed to a fine particle size which reacts with some of the lime to help it set.
These mortars were ideal for masonry use as their permeability, adhesion and ability to flex ensured good, long-term performance.
Some of the older buildings used a lime mortar. This changed during the 19th century with the advent of Portland Cement, although this has none of the flexibility of the lime mortar and so is unsuitable for many buildings.
There was also a fashion during the mid-19th century of painting mortar black or making it black by adding soot. There are several examples in the town.
The only local stone around the town is chalk - not normally a good building material as it weathers so easily.
However, as soon as the Kennet and Avon canal was opened in 1810 we had wonderful access to the beautiful oolitic limestone of the Jurassic period. Some of the best oolitic limestone is around the Bath and Corsham area - strong, resistent, fairly easily sawn and carved.
The first really big contract for the new Kennet and Avon Canal Company was the supply of Bath Stone for the building of the new parish church of St Lawrence in The Croft. The canal runs, of course, only a few yeards from the site.
In some ways it is a little surprising that there are not more Bath stone buildings in the town. They include:
- St. Lawrence's Church, rebuilt 1814-16.
- 41 High Street, Cameo House, an older building which was clad in Bath stone when it became the headmaster's house for the adjacent National School in 1814. [It is possible that the stone cladding was a little later. It is clear that the stone had been sawn with a circular saw. David Pollard kindly contacted the Virtual Museum (Jul 2016) to say that the tint of the stone suggests to him that it came from the "Murhill Quarry in Winsley parish. The earliest mention of the stone sawmill is about 1835. It almost certainly dates from 1825-1857, probably after 1835.". See Tools and Trades History Society website - Digging Bath Stones with Saws.]
- Westfield House, Parsonage Lane.
- The warehouse on the canal wharf, now 20 & 21 Canal Walk.
- 35 Charnham Street.
- A long boundary wall between the canal and 131 High Street "Bridge House".
- A few other areas where it has been used as decoration.
Flints are between 97 and 65 million years old, forming within the cretaceous chalk. When the sponges and other creatures that lived in the sea that covered the area in the cretaceous period died, the silica (silicon dioxide) in their skeletons dissolved and spread through the chalk sediment. When conditions were acidic, chalk dissolved, and silica precipitated as flint.
Alythough flint and knapped flint is used widely in the area, there is relatively little flint in Hungerford, and most of this is found in small areas of decoration or infil.
As with the use of brick, when timber-frame houses topped with thatch were upgraded in the 18th and early 19th century, it was natural in Hungerford to make use of tiles for roofing.
However, once the Kennet and Avon Canal was open, another option became available - slate roofing tiles from Wales.
Slate is much lighter than tile, and as a result the pitch of slate roofs can be much shallower (flatter). Just 20° was needed (or even 15° in the 21st century with lightweight materials).
Slate became much cheaper than tiles, and it is used fairly widely in Hungerford, including:
- 5 High Street,
- 9 & 9a High Street
- 14 High Street
- 17 High Street
- 19 High Street
- 20-22 High Street
- 25 High Street
- 30 High Street
- 38-39 High Street
- 40 High Street
- 41 High Street, Cameo House,
- 42 High Street,
- 43-44 High Street
- 49 High Street
- 51-52 High Street
- 66 High Street
- 77 High Street
- 82-83 High Street
- 85-86 High Street
- 94 High Street
- 95 High Street
- 107 High Street
- 111 High Street
- 112 High Street
- 113 High Street
- 114 High Street
- 115 High Street
- 116 High Street
- 117 High Street
- 119 High Street
- 124 High Street
- 125 High Street
- 126 High Street
- 127 High Street
- 128 High Street
- 129 High Street
- 130 High Street
- Hopgrass Brick Works, OS map 1882.
- Hopgrass Brick Works shown on 1914 OS map.
- Local bricks showing the banding resulting from varied temperatures during the firing process.
- Local bricks showing the reflective vitrification where sand is turned to glass as a result of high temperature firing.
- Graffiti on a wall at 107 High Street from Dr Harry Pike Major, 1888.
- Graffiti on a wall at 108 High Street. It is unclear who was HK.
- Dated graffiti "17W+S??" on a wall at 104 High Street. It is unclear who was WS, but probably a member of the Simmons family who owned this "house and malthouse" in 1783.
- Dated graffiti "E+S 1783" on a wall at 104 High Street. It is unclear who was ES, but probably Elizabeth Simmons.
- Dated graffiti "E+S 1783" on a wall at 104 High Street. It is unclear who was ES, but probably Elizabeth Simmons.
- Flemish bond (each course with alternate headers and stretchers) at 104 High Street. An added decorative feature is the blackened mortar. (Jun 2012).
- English bond (alternate courses of all headers and all stretchers) at 126 High Street (Crown Post Office). (Jun 2012).
- Header bond (all courses of all headers) at 107 High Street. (Jun 2012).
- Red corners and window surrounds on a background of blue - 127 High Street. (Jun 2012).
- A blue diaper diamond on a background of blue headers and red stretchers laid in Flemish bond - side elevation of 10 High Street. (Jun 2012).
- Mathematical tiles (dating from 1987) on the frontage of 24 High Street. They are laid with an unusual bond of three courses of stretchers and one row of headers. (Jun 2012).
- Mathematical tiles (lower ones modern replacements, but older above) on the frontage of 14 High Street. They are laid with an unusual bond of four courses of stretchers and one row of headers. (Jun 2012).
- Mathematical tiles on the frontage of 14 High Street. They are laid with an unusual bond of four courses of stretchers and one row of headers. (Jun 2012).
- Brick Tax 1784-1850