Saturday, March 14, 2009

Back to the Grind: Part One

On Sunday, March the eighth, 2009, courtesy of ‘Barker’s Meat and History Books Delivery Services’, Phil (the Master Butcher himself), me and Michelle joined Ann, Bruce and Shirley (not forgetting Cassie the dog) once again at Little Marton Mill. (As you’ve probably gathered we like Little Marton Mill. Actually we like all our local mills…apart from Clifton Mill, of course…we hate that one. There’s no particular reason for us hating it. We just like to be awkward.) Here’s a photograph of Phil, attempting his Barbara Woodhouse impression:

What? It says, “SIT!” – only in a posh voice! (Seriously, you need to get your glasses checked.) Right, for those who don’t already know, that’s Shirley on the left, Cassie the border collie’s head at the bottom, Ann’s rear end in mill door, and Phil in the Laurel and Hardy baseball cap.
We weren’t there purely for pleasure, it should be said, although it’s always pleasurable to visit Little Marton Mill (if I hear the word ‘sycophant’ uttered by anyone out there, there’ll be trouble, believe me). No, we were on an investigative mission. Michelle needed to date some bricks. (Bricks! It says ‘Bricks’! So no comments about, “She’s been dating one of them for the last twenty odd years’ or you’ll be banned from this board.)
You see, the thing is, somewhere (don’t ask me where because I honestly don’t know) Shirley had found a reference to Little Marton Mill having been a tower mill (rather than a peg mill) back in the Tud
or period. We already knew that Little Marton Mill was rebuilt between 1831 and 1837 using ‘materials salvaged from the previous building’, so we wanted to check that Shirley’s information was right…by dating the bricks.
How do you set about dating bricks then?
Well, here’s a photograph of one of the interior walls of Little Marton Mill so that you can glean some sort of idea of what we’re talking about
about what we’re talking of of what about which we’re talking about which of what we’re sod it…just take a look at the photograph:

Let’s start with the frogging. No, we’re not talking about some sort of illegal nighttime practice here, or a schoolyard game or anything to do with the French. Frogging is the indentations in bricks where the mortar goes. You know what I mean -- those recesses on the top and the bottom of them? Filling the frogging with mortar helps give the bricks more stability apparently. Anyhow, frogging only came about after 1830, which, considering that Little Marton Mill was rebuilt between 1831 and 1837 is a very handy thing to know. Obviously if the bricks in the walls at Little Marton Mill had frogging on them, this would prove that they were manufactured at the time of the rebuild. If they didn’t, then they would obviously have been salvaged from the previous building. (Does that make sense? It does to me, and that’s what matters.)
The only problem is, most of the bricks at Little Marton Mill are sort of built into the wall and any possible frogging is already filled with mortar and covered with more bricks, so it’s a bit on the tricky side to see whe
ther the frogging is there or not.
At random locations around the building, however, there are holes in the wall where, spiders notwit
hstanding, one can insert a finger and have a good old rummage around. (Again, any comments about nostrils or bogies, and the perpetrators will be banned from this board forever.)
The other way to date bricks is by their size and texture.

I’m not going to go into the specifics of brick sizes and stuff here. You can always buy/borrow a copy of Collins’s Archaeological Field-guide if you’re really that interested.
What? Seriously, you want to know?
Okay…fair enough, but don’t blame me if you fall asleep about halfway through.
Right, the rule of thumb is that Roman bricks were smooth with a ‘soapy’ feel to them, but weren’t as hard as modern bricks. They vary in size nowadays due to a certain amount of shrinkage over the passing of millennia, but originally they generally measured five inches by two and half inches by one to one and a half inches. Roman hypocaust pillars, on the other hand, were constructed from square bricks, eight and a half inches per side, although occasionally eleven inch, seventeen inch and even twenty-three inch squares were used. The last of these could be up to three inches thick.

Roman bricks also came in different shapes such as hexagons and such, just to confuse the average brick enthusiast.
After the Romans buggered off, bricks fell out of fashion for almost a thousand years, but reappeared in the thirteenth century as large cumbersome looking objects (ten and half inches to twelve and half inches by five or six inches by one and three quarter to two and three quarter inches). Later bricks measuring eight to nine and three quarter inches by three and three quarter to four and three quarter inches by one and three quarter to two and a half inches were produced. (Still awake?)
From circa 1400 bricks became even smaller (six to eight inches by three to three and three quarter inches by one and three eights to one and three quarter inches). Look, I know this is confusing and, if you’re thinking, “How are we supposed to recognise all this lot?” it’s the proportions that count rather than the actual measurements really.
Besides, pre-Tudor bricks, in fact pre-industrialised bricks when I think about it, were filled with all sorts of flotsam and jetsam. Let’s face it, they just look and feel really cack-handedly made, which is always a good hint.

Between the Tudor and Georgian periods, just to complicate matters further, there was no standard size at all, although a few attempts to regulate measurements were introduced (mostly unsuccessfully), the first being in 1557 with the nine inch by four and a quarter inch by two and three quarter inch brick, then in 1625 the nine inch by four and three eighths of an inch by two and three quarter inch brick and in 1725 the nine inch by four and a half inch by three inch brick.
Leaving all of that aside, you can generally recognise ‘Tudor’ bricks because they look sort of long and narrow by comparison to modern ones.
Right…we could go on, but that’s enough for the average human brain to take in all in one go. Suffice it to say that most of the bricks examined – well, a sizable proportion of them at any rate – at Little Marton Mill, appeared to date from around the Tudor period.
Which was good.
One of them might even have been Roman, which would be very good – although, I have to be honest, we can’t confirm that just at the moment. It might just have been a locally made brick that, for reasons best left to those who ran the kilns, went slightly wrong and ended up looking and measuring the same as a Roman brick. On the other hand, it could have originated in an earlier Roman building on the site and was simply lifted from the rubble without anybody realising what it was, before being plonked into the wall during the rebuild. (What? It could have happened!)
At which point, with no particular explanation as to why, but with a collective sigh of relief no doubt, we’re going to stop.


Anonymous said...

The interior of the bricked-room looks quite cosy. Do you mind if I take up residence there?

Jayne said...

When the Brits wanted to give something up for Lent they really went all out!

Brian Hughes said...


Be my guest, although you might have to share it with a couple of mice and a few spiders.


The last thing I gave up for Lent was religion.

Ann oDyne said...

Border Collies are really smart dogs - get it on The Crew.

and if cows want to lick a brick then it must have tasted salty ... made with seawater ?

and are you excavating near the 'Nowhere Boy' location ?

Brian Hughes said...


Cows will lick anything...including metal detectors, stadia staffs and hiking boots.

Nowhere Boy is currently being filmed somewhere in was North Pier yesterday. I wonder if they're going to film at Colin's house in Fleetwood, which is where he actually used to stay.

John said...

Michelle is dating bricks? hasn't she been dating a brick for some time? :0)

As for dating the Mill, the dates are a little close to be worrying about frogging, so lack of frogging doesn't necessarily mean anything. Theoretically, even if made from local brick, there could have been piles of brick previously made but not used, if you know what I mean? Anyway, finding frogging would be significant, anyhoo.

As for images, that last photo doesn't so much look like a brick, as a piece of old toast. Are you sure these aren't bits of fossilized toast the cow was licking?

And might I suggest a nice chart, or graphic, instead of 500 words about bricks that makes one head feel like said brick? Honestly, just put some dates down one side, fance names at the top, and some little pictures of bricks in the middle to say what's what.

And you never did say if you found frogging, did you?

Cheers, JOHN :0)

PS Next week you can tell us how fast grass grows with minute to minute updates. :0) (sorry)

F.G. Marshall-Stacks said...

"Colin's place" ? ... you know someone who had the emergent JWL as a guest?
am very impressed and envious and saddened.
Has the site been geophysed?

Brian Hughes said...


"...lack of frogging doesn't necessarily mean anything."

Correct, that's why we were looking for frogging rather not for frogging. If the bricks had contained frogging then that would have made them post-1830 and we could have said with certainty that the mill wasn't a tower mill before the rebuild. That's the scientific approach, you see. Create a theory and then set out to prove it wrong. If you can't, then you were probably right in the first instance. As it turned out, the size and make-up of the bricks also met with the criteria for bricks from the Tudor period. And no, we never did find any frogging.


Colin's house in Fleetwood (Colin being a member of Wyre Archaeology of course) belonged to John Lennon's aunt and was where he used to stay during the summer holidays when he was a kid. We haven't geophysed the site yet, mainly because we'd have to pull his house down first and Colin might get a bit upset if we did that.

Anonymous said...

please put your foot up phil's nether regions as Bev wants those 5 books for the library ASAP

Brian Hughes said...


Phil has informed me that he delivered said books on Friday. Apparently he left them with a young chap...possibly a work experience slave? I've no idea what said young bod did with the box, but it's all out of my hands now. You might want to track him down and question him about it...preferably with a big mallet.

Anonymous said...

apologies tended by me and the afore mentioned Bev, the books were hiding in the local history centre as the box had no name on it!! sorry I have been off looking after my sick mother since thursday

Brian Hughes said...


You should have realised which box it was. Any box containing Harris & Hughes books gives off a golden glow.

You can tell Bev that there'll be another parcel of 'em arriving at some point -- as soon as our immediate cash flow is sorted (we're getting there).

Hope your mum's okay.

Ann oDyne said...

oh Colin-you shoulda got a guitar and joined the band.

shirley said...

Missed the banter in here as comp being a pain in the proverbial. I look like Dr Who in that hat although it did attract a full length green military silver buttoned trench coat on a day out. I think the coat and my hat (given to me by Anne from her Aunt Lol) had a fashion passion moment as I nearly had a crash. Actually I begged Ann for it as it is a little flirty felt nunber lumbered with me. I told Bruce (renamed Horatio) for his boat interest that I wore a hat like that in the 60's he replied no change there then Grhhh!!! Shirley just keep air brushing Brian. Has our butcher Phil published Gramps book yet do you know.
Paul Macartney went out with my friend Wendy!! When she lived in Liverpool he was a perfect gent.

Brian Hughes said...


Did you know that one of JWL's passions was archaeology? If he'd taken that up instead of music he might still have been alive today...although we wouldn't have Strawberry Fields, of course, so it's swings and roundabouts.


Michelle's got a hat just like that. She wears it when she's digging. My own hat's all battered and sagging...a bit like me. Not sure how Phil's coming along with his latest publication. I'll ask him next time I see him.

"When she lived in Liverpool he was a perfect gent."

That's because she didn't whack him round the back of his head with her wooden leg.