Rubbed and Gauged Brickwork

If you look at an average brick wall around Woodbridge you will notice that the individual bricks are separated by mortar, which is usually about 10mm thick. The mortar has several functions, preventing the passage of water through the bricks, bonding them together to form a single structural unit and also making up for the fact that bricks are fired like pottery and come out of the kiln varying slightly in size and shape.

However look at some brick walled buildings in Woodbridge and the mortar is different. Take the front elevation of Lloyds bank in the Thoroughfare (Photo 1). Here the first thing that meets the eye is the window details picked out in elaborately carved stonework, but look beyond this to the surrounding brickwork and you will see it is very smooth almost as if was carved from a single block and the joints (made of lime putty) are as sharp and narrow as the pin stripes on a city suit. How is this done?

The answer is with a great deal of hard work. Special bricks known as ‘rubbers’ are produced with clay sieved to remove all stones and were specially moulded and fired slowly at a relatively low temperature to give a uniform appearance and be soft enough to shape after firing.

Then the bricks were rubbed against a rubbing stone on at least five sides (the side facing inwards does not matter) and continually gauged (measured) as they were rubbed to ensure they are all exactly the same size and then they are laid on a very thin 1-2mm lime putty mortar. The effect is as stunning as the cost was large. If you look at the side walls of Lloyds bank (Photo 2) you will see they are built of conventional brickwork – the cost of gauged brickwork was too much (even for a bank!) to build the whole building from it.

The most widespread use of rubbed and gauged brickwork was in gauged arches. After the Great Fire of London buildings were rebuilt in brickwork and timber lintels above windows were banned because of the fire risk. As a response to this brick arches were used with rubbed and gauged brickwork and the fashion for this spread through the country.

The early 18th century Red House in Cumberland Street (former home of Sir Ian Jacob) is a good example (Photo 3). Here curved gauged arches are used over all the windows on the front elevation and rubbed and gauged brickwork is also used to form the Doric brick pilasters round the front door, these are decorated with carved brickwork (Photo 4) and repay close inspection.

Overall rubbed and gauged brickwork is generally reckoned to be the highest expression of the bricklayers art, usually it is reserved for high specification buildings, and there are many examples of its use in central Woodbridge that are worth looking out for.

Photo 1 – Front of Lloyds bank


Photo 2 – Side of Lloyds bank


Photo 3 – The Red House


Photo 4 – The Red House Front Door