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TEXTURE AND ARCHITECTURE

Published by the Society in the Ripon Gazette, 15th February 2008
Burton's store (left) in Flemish Bond, with the rebuilt façade of Boots in modern stretcher bond
 
Curry's Wall, Moss's Arcade
 
Market Square - English Garden Wall bond (right) and, in earlier, thinner bricks, an irregular bond based on it
 
Flemish Bond on the gatehouse of Sharow View, Allhallowgate
 
A building’s texture is almost as important as its architecture, says David Winpenny, Co-Chairman of Ripon Civic Society.

The quality of a building’s surfaces, the shade created by its materials and its carvings, the variation in the colours of its bricks and the way they are laid all have a major role play in deciding whether it has life or is merely dull.

Ripon is fortunate in having had a significant band of magnesium limestone for some of its oldest buildings – the cathedral, the chapel of St Mary Magdalene and the Old Deanery, for example. But quarrying, transporting, dressing and carving large quantities of stone has always been expensive. So Ripon used other materials, too.

Many buildings in central Ripon have timber frames, with wattle and daub infilling. Most of this is now hidden beneath later facades, but at the Wakeman’s House the timber frame is exposed – though it would not have been originally. Very humble walls were often built of cobbles from the rive beds, held together by plenty of lime mortar and with bands of stone every few courses to give it strength. The same technique was used to build the new public toilets at the top of High Skellgate, adjacent to the Wakeman’s House.

Brick has been even more important in the city. It is instructive to look around the Market Square to see how brick has been used. The way bricks are laid is called the bond – and there are many different bonds. Bricks can be laid with either their long sides (stretchers) or their short ends (headers) facing outwards. The strongest bond of all is where a row of stretchers alternates with a row of headers – that’s English bond, and there is very little of it in Ripon. But there is plenty of the next-strongest, Flemish Bond, where each row alternates a head and a stretcher. Then there are cheaper variations – bonds that have three (or five) rows of stretchers between rows of headers (English Garden Wall) or of alternate headers and stretchers (Flemish Garden Wall). There are plenty of these in the city, too.

Modern building techniques have largely done away with such variations. Most walls today are built just of stretchers, which is cheaper – but lifeless. And modern bricks are mostly machine-made, so there is not the variety of colour in the clay and in the firing. Used without care, modern brickwork can be lifeless – compare the rebuilt front of Boots store with the (not very old) façade of Burton’s next door, which uses Flemish bond. Architects do make an effort sometimes, though not always successfully, to vary a large length of wall. The side of Curry’s store that faces Moss’s Arcade alternates areas of blank wall with curved-end bricks set proud of the wall, to add texture – but it’s still a bit grim.

If we cannot have varieties of bond any more, then we should at least demand good-quality, carefully chosen bricks. Care should be taken to specify bricks that match the locally-made products of 18th and 19th-century kilns, rather that just what is cheapest. Cheap bricks can lead to problems, like the salts that are heavily leaching from some of the new buildings on the old college site. And colours can vary from a stabbing red to a dreary brown. These are things that matter when we look at a building in its context – but how often do builders and planners consider the textures and colours when they consider a planning applications? Perhaps not often enough.

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