- A very brief history of London stock
- London stock in Rotherhithe
- After London stock
|Figure 1. Rotherhithe watch-house, 1824,|
St Marychurch Street
|Figure 2. London stock, Mills and Knight, Rotherhithe|
A history of London stock
|Figure 3. The distribution of London clay, |
used to make yellow London stock.
|Figure 4. William Gaitskell House, |
Paradise Street, Rotherhithe
Rotherhithe's London clay, being covered in several metres of Thames alluvium, was probably seated too far down for it to be cost-effective to dig down to it, and during the Georgian period her bricks were probably brought by river from elsewhere to be erected on the site. Later on, during the mid to late 1800s, it is entirely possible that it was extracted, along with other less useful sediments, during the excavation of the numerous enclosed docks that defined 19th Century Rotherhithe.
|Figure 5. A small sample of brick bonds used in English buildings. |
From Wikipedia, where a much larger selection can
be found: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brickwork
|Figure 6. London stock showing many small cavities caused |
by the burning of the inclusions in the brick mixture.
This contrasts with the much better quality
black decorative brick. Brandram's Wharf.
|Figure 7. London stock and polychrome brick decoration,|
After the 1840s, even though London stock was still the cheapest brick type in London, it became fashionable to add courses of red stock to improve the appearance of a building and provide it with some decorative flourishes. Red stock could be imported from outside London, from Sussex, Kent and Berkshire (made from a sandy loam they were called "rubbers" and "cutters"), but it was also made from clay found within London overlying the clays used for yellows and greys. The lack of lime meant that the red oxide was not suppressed and these clays produced red brick. Because they were specially used for decorative effects they tended to be fired in a fixed kiln so that the quality was much better than standard stock. We have some examples of these, too, in Rotherhithe, including Columbia Wharf, the Dock Offices, Brandram's Wharf and the Thames Tunnel Mill. At the other end of the scale second hand stock bricks were used for fill, where they could not be seen, or to build houses for the poor.
|Figure 8. Charles Hay and Son Barge Builders|
After the 1840s on-site brick manufacture was actively discouraged, as it was both disruptive and unattractive.
London stock in Rotherhithe
23 Paradise Street, formerly the old police station and now labelled William Gaitskell House, was built in 1814. (figure 4) With its symmetrical Georgian proportions, it is very typical of many contemporary and earlier London buildings, and similar to some along Jamaica Road, but it stands out in Rotherhithe peninsula as one of the few classic late Georgian buildings to survive. The quality of the brick is actually not much better than many of the commercial buildings, but the multicoloured stock bricks, including London stock, were laid with considerable care, in Flemish bond, with thick mortar helping to create even rows. The ground floor semi-circular and first and second floor flat segmental arches are made of a much higher quality brick, reflecting their more important structural role. This is a really lovely building and it is a considerable relief that it survived when so many others did not.
|Figure 9. Mills and Knight Ltd, Nelson Dock|
|Figure 10. Brandram's Wharf|
|Figure 11. St Peter and the |
Perhaps the most elaborately decorated of all of Rotherhithe's stock-built entities is the Dock Office complex, which were built in 1893 to serve the Surrey Commercial Docks (figure 14). Probably the most important building in the day to day operation of the docks, it was located at their main entrance, by Canada Dock (now Canada Water). The main structure is built of London stock, but it is liberally accessorized with red brick details and other architectural embellishments.
|Figure 12. Decorative and London stock brick at the |
Thames Tunnel Mill, showing the
unmistakeble signs of air pollution
After London stock
As well as the growing fashion for variation in brick work, both colours and textures, a trend that wa significantly facilitated by the expansion of the rail networks, the development of ever more sophisticated machines for taking over tasks that had formerly been done manually changed the way in which brick was produced.
From the 1890s fletton bricks began to take over in popularity, and these are what you see on most modern residential and commercial buildings today. Made of Oxford clay, fletton bricks, named after Fletton in Cambridgeshire, are also known as London bricks, named after the London Brick Company. They were particularly popular in the 1960s and early 70s. Hanson PLC, the company that now owns the form er London Brick Company works, estimates that over 5 million homes have been made out of fletton brick in Britain. It's not overwhelmingly attractive stuff, when compared with London stock and some of the lovely older bricks, but it was relatively inexpensive.
|Figure 13. Carpark wall at the Hilton, made with|
old London stock, clearly showing some of
the holes left by the burning of matter included
in the clay during firing, and modern mortar.
There is also a very good market in second hand London stock, from buildings that have been taken down, which are purchased to repair or extend existing buildings or to build new buildings in areas where the old brick dominates. Some of the walls on the Rotherhithe Street side of the Hilton, erected in the 1990s, are made with old stock brick using modern mortar (figure 13).
This post covers buildings that were built between 1814 and 1903, a span of nearly 100 years. London stock was used for nearly a century before this and is still in use today. It is one of the brick types that defines London's appearance. Not confined to any one form of building type, it was used for residential, ecclesiastical, municipal and commercial projects, and has proved to be very resilient to both weathering and pollution. London stock is as fundamental to our city as our rain, and a lot more attractive!
|Figure 14. The dock offices|