Thursday, October 18, 2018

Hurstbourne Tarrant, Hampshire

Down in the chalk country

In a lot of southern England the rock that underlies the fields, villages, and towns is chalk: there’s a lot of chalk underfoot in Dorset, Wiltshire, Hampshire, Sussex, Kent, and Surrey. You can build with chalk, but it’s a soft rock and not an ideal building material, but along with the chalk goes flint, which is found in the upper layers of the chalk and is used in many places for building. Flint, on the face of it, isn’t an ideal building material either. It occurs in rounded nodules, and to build a wall out of these small lumps of flint, you usually need a lot of mortar. When napped or split into workable pieces with a flat side to form the face of the wall it often looks black or grey, and this can be overwhelming in large stretches.

So for visual reasons and for structural ones (lots of mortar can make a weak wall) the builders of the chalk areas have devised lots of ways of combining flint with other materials – bands or strips or blocks of other more workable stone, or courses of bricks. This kind of combination of flint and brick, which I was looking at in Wiltshire and Hampshire the other week, can be particularly attractive.

These houses are in Hurstbourne Tarrant, where there are several such buildings. Brick is often used at the corners, and around windows and doors, as can be seen clearly in the left-hand house. In the thatched house to the right, the combination is more of a mash-up, probably because the building has been altered or rebuilt at some point (or at several points). One often sees houses that combine these flint and brick walls with walls of other materials – a side wall that’s all brick, for example, or, nearly as often, a front wall of brick and a side wall of both flint and brick. The resulting patterns are usually pleasing from whichever angle you view the building, with ingenuity and visual flair working well together: in places with this kind of architecture there’s never a visually dull moment.


per apse said...

Thanks Philip - great to see both chalk and flint acknowledged! Have you come across Stephen Hart's "Flint Architecture of East Anglia", dlm London 2000? A little laboured but a very large number of great illustrations. Noticed lots of flint (+ various other materials, including brick), across the Channel round Dieppe last month ....

Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

Though flints in mortar are apparently a weak material, flint buildings seem to be as resilient as any other: lots of church towers in flint in East Anglia from the Anglo-Saxon period (Howe, Weybourne, and a whole group inland from Sheringham), the main curtain wall of Pevensey Castle, Sussex, still intact from the Roman period. Supposedly not very good for corners: but large flints used for corners (somewhat out of true) at Framingham Earl, Norfolk and ordinary-sized on the full-height tower at Weybourne, which also has blind arches and other decorations. A flint-and-mortar field wall at Bishopstone, Sussex, which couldn't be more than a couple of centuries old, was seen to be splitting open, while the Anglo-Saxon/Early Norman flintwork in the nearby church was still intact. The answer seems to lie in the quality of the mortar - perhaps a flint wall is really a mortar, etc. wall with flints added to it? I noticed the mortar or whatever at Pevensey (which is not built directly on the chalk) has many little seashells in it. Judging from the colour, a chalky white, this is not "Roman concrete".

bazza said...

I think ingenuity is the keyword here. Thank you for your clear explanation of this architectural style. Hooray for using local materials wherever possible!
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Joe Treasure said...

I recently tried to explain napped flint, with less knowledge and clarity, to our visitor from Oregon who noticed some in Canterbury. I'll forward this post to her.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Thank you all for your comments.

Per apse: Not come across that book. I'll look out for it.
Joseph: Yes - it *must* be the mortar. I've seen similar variations in construction and condition. The case of Pevensey is interesting. I must have another look next time I go visit my Sussex friends.
Joe: Hope the explanation is helpful!