Bonding with bricks

My neighbor built a patio behind his house when I was a boy, and I watched with fascination as he laid three levels of curving bricks that served as walls for the patio and its narrow terraces. He slowly and methodically laid brown bricks while I watched, impressed that a man with an office job did so well at a skilled craft. He worked slowly because bricklaying requires a certain pace to get it right.
I’ve always loved bricks. I like their patterns and symmetry and earth tones, and I like historical buildings made of brick. Bricks lend strength and beauty to a building in a way that no amount of concrete and steel can accomplish.
When I was a child I had a toy brick set that included a garage door, windows and roofs, and I built suburban houses with my red plastic bricks. I preferred them to LEGOs because they looked realistic. I learned about proper arrangement, where each layer is staggered and the joints between two bricks lay in the middle of the bricks above and below so no vertical seam is deeper than one layer, imparting strength and giving the walls an appealing pattern. My Encyclopaedia Britannica calls this pattern the stretching bond. “Bond” is the term for the pattern of the bricks, and “stretching” refers to the pattern of using only stretchers in the bond. A stretcher is a brick’s long face and a header is its short end. These are two names for the same brick and describe which part of the brick faces out. The brick’s length is twice its width, so two headers equal one stretcher.
Stretching bond is also called running bond, which seems to be the more common term, at least in the United States. (I’m still learning, and I’m not quite sure. My EB is from 1954, so I don’t know if stretching bond is an English term or an old term for running bond.) It’s the bond I grew up with and the common bond in buildings of the 20th century from what I’ve seen so far. The wall is a half brick thick and is relatively simple to build compared to other bonds, although no bricklaying is simple, requiring accuracy to ensure horizontal beds and vertical walls.
EB says that four bonds are commonly found in England: English, Flemish, stretching and Flemish garden wall. The first three are used for buildings and the last for single-brick walls where both sides are seen. English bond consists of alternate courses of headers and stretchers and is regarded as the strongest. The wall is 1 1/2 bricks thick with a stretcher backed by two headers or two headers backed by a stretcher. Flemish bond consists of alternate headers and stretchers in the same course and is also 1 1/2 bricks thick, the bricks arranged in a square of four with a square half-brick in the middle. The EB author, Nathaniel Lloyd, author of the inimitable “A History of English Brickwork,” says Flemish “is inferior in every respect to English bond, though preferred by those who strive after ‘neatness.’” Flemish was introduced into England about 1630. He says of bonds the “primary object is to secure the greatest possible strength.”
Flemish garden wall, or Sussex bond, consists of three stretchers to one header in the same course. English garden wall bond consists of three courses of stretchers to each course of headers and is also called common bond. It is one brick thick and is twice as thick as a wall made of running bond. My photos from Colonial Williamsburg show English and Flemish bonds, and my photos of old industrial buildings in downtown Canton show running and common bonds.


This building stands at East Fifth Street in Canton, Ohio, where a north-south street and a northeast-southwest street create an oblique angle that led to the building’s Flatiron-style design.

Lloyd says the widespread belief that brick is “common” or inferior to stone is wrong. It is superior in strength and durability and in form, color and texture is unrivaled, he writes. Brick is also used in many decorative manners. Bricks are laid in arches and many patterns, and varied colors are used to create patterns. Chapman Hall at the University of Mount Union employs bricks in this way.

Chapman Hall was built in 1864 and totally restored in 1966-67. Photos of the restoration show only the walls standing.


Jonathan Hale built his house in the Cuyahoga River valley in the early 1800s using bricks he made across the road, and Hale Farm and Village preserves that tradition by making bricks and firing them each October. Colonial Williamsburg also makes bricks and recently made several thousand that were used to rebuild Charlton’s Coffeehouse.  See an article about the Williamsburg brickyard at http://www.history.org/Foundation/journal/Winter05-06/bricks.cfm.

Flemish bond was used in Williamsburg’s rebuilt Capitol.

This is the Williamsburg Gaol yard.

This is the Gaol.

More Flemish bond in The Red Lion.

The Prentis Store. The narrow spacers at the corners offset the layers so vertical joints do not align
Now when I pass a brick building or wall I no longer see just bricks; I look for the bond and the decorative touches. Brick is a connection with the earth that satisfies my love of symmetry and natural beauty.  Foundation Center on Market Avenue North in Canton, Ohio.

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