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 Tudor 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
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 whether the frogging is there or not.
At random locations around the building, however, there are holes in the wall where, spiders notwithstanding, 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.