London was built with Bricks - Beautiful Bricks!

London is full of tourist attractions that you 'must see'. But not my London. I've seen them. My London is streets, terraced houses, corner pubs - and bricks, bricks and more bricks. Let me show you...

A Love for Bricks - the only way to love London!

sweet dreams are made of these - 9-inch walling, 2 bricks thick, in london stocks
sweet dreams are made of these - 9-inch walling, 2 bricks thick, in london stocks | Source

London Stocks - the finest bricks, all right Guv?

To love London, you have to love bricks. But not just any bricks. Most of London is built from London stocks, a mottled yellow, flinty-hard brick that lasts for hundreds of years. You have to touch brick walls, prayerfully, imagining the hand that laid each brick in place, for twopence an hour, all these years ago. Sometimes, you have to count bricks until you are overwhelmed. You have to wonder how many bricks make London. You have to be grateful, to the men, to their skill, and to the bricks themselves. They are London.

paul street, where I lived for a year
paul street, where I lived for a year | Source
london stocks, soft reds, black paint, with pigeon
london stocks, soft reds, black paint, with pigeon | Source
crude replacement of worn out soft red with new upstart
crude replacement of worn out soft red with new upstart | Source
feature - tile bricks, with street name
feature - tile bricks, with street name | Source
feature - fire hydrant location sign
feature - fire hydrant location sign | Source
feature - perfect london stock colours, in brick lane (east london)
feature - perfect london stock colours, in brick lane (east london) | Source
very weathered stocks arched over the grand union canal
very weathered stocks arched over the grand union canal | Source

Bricks around London - bear with me!

For a year, I lived above this newsagent in Paul Street, East London. These were my two windows: bedroom left, lounge right. Every morning, at six a.m. I was wakened by the steel roller-shutters being opened just below my mattress (I didn't have a bed - there seemed little point in buying anything superfluous). But about the bricks: London stocks, every one, and about a hundred and thirty years old. When you walk in London, you have to keep looking up. The ground floor shop front is probably no more than twenty years old. The gold is above, just out of reach.

Introducing Soft Reds

The soft red is another great London brick. It's called a soft red because it is red, and soft! It is a beautiful red-earth colour and a perfect foil to the yellow stocks. Soft reds were used to pick out the features in an elevation. Lintels, arches, corners - these were often built in soft reds.

I've never been a fan of painted masonry. Whoever commissioned this blackavised frontage (just off Brick Lane) was probably of the 'all mouth and trousers' fraternity. You'll notice the pigeon prefers the original, and is perfectly poised to leave a deposit on the innovation. Coo - coo!

Let's get serious (about bricks)

The problem with the soft red is not the red, it's the soft. They are more like brick-sized pieces of sandstone than true fired bricks. They look perfect when young, but they age disgracefully. They are susceptible to damp penetration, airborne pollution, smoke and smog particles and anything else nature or humanity throws at them. Add to that the fact that they were often placed in the high stress (but ornamental) locations such as lintels and corners, and it's no surprise that some have failed the test of time. See (right) where a recent replacement of a worn-out soft red with a modern durable lookalike has all but destroyed the integrity of a fine old corner. Sad.

Beyond bricks

Some areas in London, instead of the more normal street-name signs, use glazed black tile-bricks with white lettering. These always give the feel of gentrification. They say, in effect, this is Henry Road, and you are privileged to be here. Keep your voices down and don't leave litter. Or maybe they just say Henry Road, NW3. It really depends on your imagination, you know, that quality that keeps you out of the shops.

The Great Fire of London

I seem to remember my primary 4 teacher (one Mrs R__mond whom I once described as rather stout because I knew very fat was rude) telling us that following the Great Fire of London, in 1666, the city installed underground water mains and fire hydrants, which they marked with yellow H-signs. The two numbers apparently refer to the pipe diameter and the distance from the yellow sign to the access point. "Following" is a great word of course. The hydrants and signs certainly followed the Great Fire, but whether by one year or one hundred is a research question. Today, I'm just walking, looking and remembering.

Everyone knows Brick Lane

- as the best street in London to find a good curry. But today my subject is bricks themselves, and the beauty, strength and tranquility of a fine brick wall. Now, Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury, I put it to you that any artist, working in oil paints, would be more than proud to create the colours of this (right) simple detail of a brick corner in London's Brick Lane. These simple 'yellow' bricks run the full gamut of blues, ochres, pinks, even hints of green, but all within the restricted palette of an early van Gogh.

And finally

If you really want to test your bricks to the limit, don't just build them into a wall. Stretch them across a canal, in a shallow arch, where they will be forever damp and stressed. But don't do it now. Start a hundred and fifty years ago. Then leave them alone to hold up your new roadway. Drive over them with carriages and wagons, later with cars, trucks, taxis, buses. Forget they are there, under the metalled tarmac. Rediscover them when you open up the fashionable waterside walkway. And look at them with wonder, and gratitude, for all they have done for your London, and mine.

Thank you for reading!

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Comments 29 comments

Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 7 years ago from Upstate New York

Wow!! Really good hub! I got a lot out of it, because you put a lot into it. Thank you. I didn't know bricks could be so beautiful.


Guru-C profile image

Guru-C 7 years ago

Wonderful gem of a hub! A very light view of a weighty topic. Even more evocative than informative. For a moment I felt like I was taking my own walking tour.


maven101 profile image

maven101 7 years ago from Northern Arizona

I love walking in London...a never-ending adventure of discovery...now you have given me something more to discover: Bricks !...I shall be looking up and down now, as I walk the city...Wonderful, and such a beautifully written Hub....Now I'm looking forward to your Pub Hub ( hoping you will include Waxie O'Connor's in Soho )...Larry


melvinbyers594935 7 years ago

Great hub! thanks for sharing.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Paradise7 - bricks can indeed be beautiful, but less so with modern factory-made bricks where all are identical. The colours and patterns in London stocks are fantastic.

Guru-C - thank you for the visit. If you ever find yourself in London, set aside some time for 'aimless' walking. There's so much to see.

Larry - I hadn't associated you with London till now. I'm pleased to hear that you're a fellow street walker. It's one of the few truly free pleasures of the city.

Melvinbyers - thanks for the read and comment!


Sufidreamer profile image

Sufidreamer 7 years ago from Sparti, Greece

Interesting Hub, Paraglider - I love bricks, although the bricks in Lancashire always tended to be a little more uniform in colour. I love wandering around London - sadly, it has been many years. I agree with Maven about the London pubs - the best ones are the ones that you stumble across randomly, down some deserted backstreet.

This Hub reminds me of the first time I went to the Acropolis - I found a pile of ancient stones and spent hours taking photos of the toolmarks and workmanship. When I returned home, I realised that I had completely forgotten to take any pictures of the Parthenon :/

Thanks for the great read - Fred Dibnah would be proud! :)


Storytellersrus profile image

Storytellersrus 7 years ago from Stepping past clutter

Paraglider, I love this! One of my favorite picture books for adults is of London signs. That's it. Just a book filled with pictures of signs for pubs and homes- strange signs but signs you could only see while walking. This hub reminds me of all I loved about that book. It's as if I am there on the streets of London, noticing. It's all in the details, isn't it? Awesome. Thanks.


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 7 years ago from United States

Such a wonderful viewpoint of an everyday thing that most take for granted. Life is in the details, including in the life of brick appreciation. Next time I see London, I'll be looking a lot closer. I've made adobe bricks and buildt with bricks so this really had my interest.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Sufi - I met Fred Dibnah once, at a steam rally in Upton upon Severn, where he was showing one of his traction engines. He was at his happiest in overalls with an oily rag in his hands!

Storyteller - there will be more in this series. I've just spent three days walking the London streets and taking pics of anything that appealed. I can honestly say I wasn't tempted by a single shop. (But possibly one or two of the pubs..)

Jerilee - anything that does its job for more than a hundred years is worthy of our appreciation, even the humble brick. Thanks for the read :)


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 7 years ago from South Africa

Para - I love London too, though I might argue, just a little, about its being the "best city in the world!" That aside I have spent many hours walking the streets of London and appreciating its many varied delights (and I did notice the bricks, though I had no knowledge of London Stocks!) and soaking up the colour and history. Even did the Jack the Ripper walk with Donald Rumbelow back in 1995!

Thanks for a great Hub.

Love and peace

Tony


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hi Tony - There are probably many 'best cities', one to suit every mood and weather. Amsterdam and Rome would be my next choices, with San Francisco coming close. Nowhere in the Middle East though!


Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 7 years ago from UK

Hi Paraglider, I'd never thought about it before, but yes, the London bricks do contribute towards the feel of the streets there. My parents were both Londoners, and although I didn't grow up there, we were frequent visitors. Even now, when we go up for a nose round Covent Garden, or a visit to the galleries and museums, it's always a pleasure. Next time I'm there, I'll remember to check out the bricks a little more colsely!


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hi Amanda - in lots of cities, the ground floor shop-front level is modern, all plate glass and signage, but looking up reveals the true architecture. And it's free!


Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 7 years ago from UK

I know. I enjoy looking up at the buildings in Brighton's Western Road, too. There's some fabulous art deco work above street level, that I'm sure most people never notice. In your hub you mention the decorative use of different colour brickwork. When I studied art history, we were taught to refer to this as 'constructional polychromy', and the phrase still leaps into my head every time I see it.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

'Constructional polychromy' - hmm, I think I'll stick with coloured brick ;)


quicksand profile image

quicksand 7 years ago

Well I made two quick visits to London in the early eighties. Of course I did the traditional "walk around the city" for an hour or so on my second visit.

It was amusing too, as more often one can identify houses only by the number on the gate or by some other feature which is not part of the original construction!

Interesting hub indeed. Makes me wanna go again! Cheers! :)


Ambition398 profile image

Ambition398 7 years ago

Thanks for your Hub. I have never been to London, but always wanted to. Now even more. Thanks again.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Quicksand - Lots of newer houses are pretty anonymous in London too, but the older ones are full of character.

Ambition398 - something tells me you'll visit soon :)


neysajasper profile image

neysajasper 7 years ago

Nice hub Paraglider. I have some knowledge about london but your hub informs me a lot bout culture, monuments, etc. good keep writing.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Thanks Neysajasper - I took quite a lot of these detail pics on my last visit (last week) and will be producing a few more in the series soon. Thanks for the visit.


heyju profile image

heyju 7 years ago

Thank you for the brick tour!! Very interesting history.

Loved the hub.


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 7 years ago from Chicago

This is an interesting subject and you wrote about it beautifully. Thanks for a lively read.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

heyju - if you can enjoy bricks you need never be bored in an old city!

James - revisiting London from the Gulf where everything is the colour of dust, I'm very conscious about the wealth of colour in the old city. Thanks for the read!


prettydarkhorse profile image

prettydarkhorse 7 years ago from US

hi Dave, You always seem to look at things in different light. It must be real awesome walking through an old city, I went to Malta in 2003, and it is an old city, Valetta, I remember the bricks so well, beautiful, I like looking at bricks, i like the colored brown-red bricks, it just catches the eyes, I wonder at times it must be difficult putting them together, unlike the cement. I can also remember when I went to parts of Europe, have seen some small streets with brick establishments and houses. It would be lovely walking in London looking at the brick houses.

Just walking through it will make my day (not only my day) but my life..., someday!And you call it a home.....I have an Englishman who pursued me before and he likes to write about London and Wales....

And yes, London is a dream place for me to go, elusive..because I cant afford it also,

You have a good day always! Maita


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hi Maita - I'm a walker, and that's my way of getting to know a place. I'd rather walk around the streets than visit all the main tourist attractions (though I've done that too, usually to entertain visitors. Not everyone appreciates an aimless ramble of several hours!)

London was home for a total of five years, but not any more. But when I'm flying in or out of UK, I always take time to have a few days in London, revisiting favourite haunts. Thanks for the read :)


katie  6 years ago

ahh fellow brick lover, few and far between. i have an exhibition of brick and london history in june please get intouch for futher details www.katiebonham.co.uk


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 6 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hi Katie - Coming from a part of Scotland where everything was built of stone, at first I found London's brickwork very foreign. But it soon won me over. I'll check out your exhibition!


Lamme profile image

Lamme 6 years ago

Amazing hub. Thanks for sharing a different view of London.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 6 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Thanks Lamme - most welcome :)

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