Bricklayer Emily Hale reports on the latest stage of her Fellowship experience
The greatly anticipated third block of the William Morris Craft Fellowship started in mid-October seeing us going our separate ways to pursue our own interests. So far the visits have not disappointed.
The first week saw me hanging up my tools and putting pen to the drawing board, as I was extremely fortunate to visit Alan Baxter Associates to work in a design office and try my hand at structural engineering. It wasn’t long until the drawings were being turned out.
The second visit was one which combined two personal interests and saw me ditching modern day ways for rickets, a nasty cough and a bowl of gruel as I stepped back in time at Ironbridge Blist Hill Victorian Town to spend the week with travelling master brickmaker, Tony Mugridge.
Stepping into the candle-lit workshop, a marvel in itself, saw me literally stepping back in time, witnessing processes, using tools, and manufacturing masonry units true to the ways of the medieval brickmakers. Once a woodland craft, the art of brickmaking is now heavily industrialised, with the former Stewartby Brickworks being the largest. However, as witnessed in the early part of the Fellowship the production of handmade bricks and tiles are in greater demand more so than ever.
The Dickensian Workshop
Although I’d had the chance to mould some bricks before, as a bricklayer I’ve always wanted to witness the full production of my choice of material and Tony also felt it was important for me to witness this. So he very kindly organised for me to make and fire some bricks. In normal circumstances the making, drying and firing of bricks would not be possible in one week but luckily Tony had a small (literally) idea up his sleeve.
Using exactly the same, although slightly less mechanised process used in modern brick manufacturing we proceeded to prepare the clay for the dinky masonry.
Using the local Broseley Marl clay and some good old elbow grease the first task was to extrude the clay removing all air and creating sausage shaped lengths of clay and a few minor whoops and bangs. The clay was then passed through the extruder and attachment again producing a rectangular length which was later wire-cut creating the individual bricks.
Nearly two hundred bricks later it was time to hack them for drying in the drying shed – or, in this instance, onto the quaint stove. Once dry it was time to load the kiln. Taking all of a few minutes, the kiln was lit and left in overnight much to the fascination of visitors to the museum.
Finally, came the time to open up and see if the fruits of our labour had been successful! And would you believe it, there in the kiln were perfect scaled down bricks fit for the finest dolls house. (See below)
The rest of the week was spent making pavers and a selection of tiles, with a visit to the famous Jackfield Encaustic and Decorative Tile Works (below) squeezed in.
We spent the morning at the Craven Dunnill factory, learning how the variety of tiles were; encaustic, embossed, dust press and tube-lined.
Moving out of the factory we proceeded to walk through the Edwardian Tube Station, and 1930s ‘front room’ with their huge panels depicting mediaeval stories and nursery rhyme scenes which now grace the walls.
Travelling south from Ludlow, I ventured over the Somerset border to Shepton Mallet, to spend the week at Lime Repair Ltd , founded by Lime plastering specialist and former William Morris Craft Fellow Julie Haddow.
Lime Repair offer specialist historic and traditional building repair and construction services, ranging from lime plastering, structural repairs and decorative work. The week saw me turn my hand to plastering the underside of a staircase, fixing laths (breaking a few nail guns along the way..) and the rare opportunity to work on an eco-house near Bridport.
Getting to grips with a hawk and trowel
Under the watchful supervision of plasterer extraordinaire Sam Stephens, I was lucky enough to get the chance to help render a straw bale clad house and extension. Over the three days we spent on site I was taught to trowel, and float the coats of the lime render which is to be finished with a ‘Glaster’ coat.
After spending so much time witnessing conservation and building work further afield I decided it was time to see what was happening closer to home spending the fifth week at Bedford County Council’s building control, planning and conservation departments, a real eye opener with regards to planned building activity and the Townscape Heritage Scheme being introduced in Bedford, – Millennium fast food outlet being just one of the shop fronts having a facelift as part of the scheme to return Bedford to a Victorian high-street.
Week six was spent at Canterbury Cathedral in the glaziers’ workshop. Here I was shown the various techniques, the majority of which are unchanged since medieval times, used to produce the beautiful windows we now see in most churches and cathedrals throughout the country.
I was not the only visitor at the studio that week, also visiting the glaziers were panels of stained glass from Uppsala Cathedral, Sweden, sent to Canterbury in hope of solving the curious sooting on the glass. (Pictured above)
I got the chance to make two panels and some protective glazing, whilst there. Once cutting and painting on float glass had been mastered it was time to move onto creating a panel depicting a tower taken from one of the cathedrals’ own windows. Fresh out of the kiln it was time to lead the glass. Using tallow and solder I proceeded to frame the glass using my cutline diagram as a plan to make sure the heart of the lead and glass was aligned correctly.
Canterbury Cathedral by night
Whilst I was at the studio dismantling works to some of the Cathedrals windows were taking place. They were bound for an exhibition of Medieval English Glass at the Getty Museum, Los Angeles.
Lowering of Getty- bound medieval border
Now to get ready for the Fellows Presentation at Ironmongers’ Hall in London and the last few weeks of the Fellowship… eeek…
And here’s Emily with her Fellowship scroll, presented at Ironmonger’s Hall on November 20th